Rolling Stones songs: 19th Nervous Breakdown
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
You better stop/ Look around…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, USA, Dec. 3-8 1965
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
The title describes how Mick Jagger felt during a US tour in 1965. He explained in the Rolling Stones Monthly magazine: “We had just done five weeks hectic work in the States and I said, ‘Dunno about you blokes, but I feel about ready for my nineteenth nervous breakdown.’ We seized on it at once as a likely song title. Then Keith and I worked on the number at intervals during the rest of the tour. Brian, Charlie and Bill egged us on – especially as they liked having the first two words starting with the same letter.”
The lyrics are an attack on spoiled brats who are given everything and are still unhappy. Jagger took pains to explain that the song was not autobiographical. Regarding the lyrical inspiration, he said, “Things that are happening around me – everyday life as I see it. People say I’m always singing about pills and breakdowns, therefore I must be an addict – this is ridiculous. Some people are so narrow-minded they won’t admit to themselves that this really does happen to other people besides pop stars.”
There are some drug references in this song:
On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind
But after awhile I realized you were disarranging mine
Many turned on listeners picked up on this, but most didn’t, especially since the lines are mixed low into the background. Over the next few years, the Stones drug use became more apparent, and it was reflected in their songs. British authorities took note, leading to a series of arrests and run-ins among band members and their associates.
Mick Jagger: “That’s a very Los Angeles period, I remember being in the West Coast a lot then. 19th Nervous Breakdown is a bit of a joke song, really. I mean, the idea that anyone could be offended by it really is funny. But I remember some people were. It’s very hard to put yourself back in that period now – popular songs didn’t really address anything very much. Bob Dylan was addressing it, but he wasn’t thought of as a mainstream Pop act. And anyway, no one knew what he was talking about. Basically his songs were too dense for most people. And so to write about anything other than the normal run-of-the-mill love clichés was considered very outre and it was never touched. Anything outside that would shock people. So songs like “19th Nervous Breakdown” were slightly jarring to people. But I guess they soon got used to it. A couple years after that, things took a sort of turn and then saw an even more dark direction. But those were very innocent days, I think.”
Bill Wyman’s dipping bass line at the end was inspired by the guitar work of Bo Diddley, in particular “Diddley Daddy.”
This was one of three songs The Stones performed on their Ed Sullivan Show appearance on February 13, 1966, the first time they were broadcast in color on US television.
Mick Jagger had been dating an English model named Chrissie Shripton when he wrote this song. Theirs was a tumultuous relationship that began in 1963 and ended three years later amid allegation of Mick’s philandering (he began seeing Marianne Faithfull). According to Philip Norman’s biography of Mick Jagger, Shrimpton overdosed on sleeping pills in December 1966 after Jagger stood her up when they were supposed to go on vacation together. While Jagger didn’t write this song about Shrimpton, her overdose drew parallels to the pill-popping character in the song. It was rumored that the line “On our first trip” is a reference to the first time Jagger dropped acid with Shrimpton.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
The Rolling Stones were in Los Angeles at the end of their second US tour
of 1965, when the phrase “19th Nervous Breakdown” occurred to Mick
Jagger. The verses then came to him almost as a matter of course. “19th
Nervous Breakdown”… the words sound good, they sound right, above all
because they describe the state of extreme fatigue in which the five
musicians found themselves by the end of the year. The screaming crowds,
the fans trying to climb onto the stage, security staff who were
overwhelmed by events, outbreaks of violence… the nervous tension was at
its peak when the Stones were performing live. Brian Jones in particular
found it harder and harder to live up to the demands of his rock star status,
and his consumption of various substances did nothing to help matters. “He
had been pushing himself too far, too fast and too long,” writes
biographer Laura Jackson.
Mick Jagger was no doubt thinking of Brian Jones’s increasingly erratic
behavior when he wrote “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Beyond this, and as
always (one might say), the song was another tirade against women—an
“anti-girl” song just like “Stupid Girl,” as Keith Richards would later write
in Life. This time the Stones’ singer had in his sights the spoiled children
of the well-to-do—girls who have everything and care for nothing, the type
whose mothers owe a million dollars tax. But perhaps there are extenuating
circumstances in the life of this egocentric young girl who talks far too
loudly, not least a father who has failed to notice that the times have
changed, to the extent that he is still manufacturing sealing wax. The
narrator wanted to help her—but to no avail: On our first trip I tried so hard
to rearrange your mind/But after a while I realized you were disarranging
mine. Should this be seen as a reference to hallucinogenic, consciousness-
“19th Nervous Breakdown” was released as a single in the United
Kingdom (with “As Tears Go By” as the B-side) on February 4, 1966, and
in the United States (with “Sad Day” as the B-side) on February 12. It shot
to number 2 in both countries, and left a permanent impression on the
singer Alice Cooper: “… ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ was a modern rock
song. It didn’t sound like Chuck Berry or an old blues. It sounded like
something brand new, fresh and exciting.”
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