Rolling Stones songs: Mother’s Little Helper
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
“Life’s just much too hard today”/ I hear every mother say/ The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore…
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
This song is about a housewife who abuses prescription drugs to “get her through the day.” It turns around the image of a suburban housewife, who is usually portrayed as cooking and caring for her family, by showing her as a drug abuser. The Stones could get away with this because their image was that of cynical, somewhat dangerous rockers.
Mick Jagger explained: “It’s about drug dependence, but in a sort of like spoofy way. As a songwriter, I didn’t really think about addressing things like that. It was just every day stuff that you I’d observe and write about. It’s what writing is for really. There is a sort of naivety, but there’s also a lot of humor in those songs. They’re a lot based on humor. It was almost like a different band, a different world, a different view when we wrote them.”
Keith Richards on his guitar work: “The strange guitar sound is a 12-string with a slide on it. It’s played slightly Oriental-ish. The track just needed something to make it twang. Otherwise, the song was quite vaudeville in a way. I wanted to add some nice bite to it. And it was just one of those things where someone walked in and, Look, it’s an electric 12-string. It was some gashed-up job. No name on it. God knows where it came from. Or where it went. But I put it together with a bottleneck. Then we had a riff that tied the whole thing together. And I think we overdubbed onto that. Because I played an acoustic guitar as well.”
Jagger: “I get inspiration from 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 beside pop stars.” >>
Stones guitarist Brian Jones played the sitar on this track – it was one of the first pop songs to use the instrument. The Beatles “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” which came out the year before, was the first.
Jones also played sitar on “Paint It Black”; he added lots of interesting musical textures to the group’s mid-’60s output but became less of a factor in the years leading up to his 1969 dismissal. Not long after he left the band, he was found dead in the bottom of his swimming pool at age 27.
This condemns the many women in England who were abusing prescription drugs, even though The Stones were becoming heavy drug users themselves. The band wanted to make the point that housewives popping pills what not that much different than rock stars taking smack, even though drug laws in England strongly favored the housewives.
This was the first track on Aftermath, the first Stones album with all original songs. Their earlier albums were full of Blues covers.
In the UK, this wasn’t released as a single. In America, it was the group’s eighth Top 10 hit.
The Stones recorded this in Los Angeles in a custom built studio. It had no windows, because The Stones did not want to know if it was day or night.
Stones drummer Charlie Watts said of this song in the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones: “We’ve often tried to perform ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and it’s never been any good, never gelled for some reason – it’s either me not playing it right or Keith not wanting to do it like that. It’s never worked. It’s just one of those songs. We used to try it live but it’s a bloody hard record to play.”
(Ref. the rolling stones mother’s little helper)
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
Keith Richards probably composed this number during the Stones’ sixth
British tour (September 24 to October 17, 1965) or else during their fourth
North American tour (October 29 to December 5, 1965). Mick Jagger wrote
the words. What a drag it is getting old: the first line encapsulates the theme
of the song. Jagger turns the spotlight on wives and mothers who have not
noticed the passing of the years, but suddenly find themselves exhausted,
yet still having to take care of all the household chores. In order to get
through their dreary daily routine, and more importantly to help them cope
with the lack of understanding, or indifference even, of their husband and
the incessant boisterousness of their children, they turn to little yellow pills,
the tranquilizers they hope their doctors will prescribe.
As always with the Stones, and with Mick Jagger in particular, there is
no shortage of mockery and cynicism. Or of audacity, because to deal with
the subject of drugs and the frustration of housewives and mothers in such
an explicit way was still, at the time, unusual, even in Swinging London.
“Mother’s Little Helper” does, however, bear a resemblance to the topical
songs written by Bob Dylan during the same period. It is a reasonably
realistic description of Western society during the mid-sixties, in this case
focusing on the immoderate consumption by British housewives of a
tranquilizer called diazepam (nicknamed “blues” or “vallies”). They just
helped you on your way, through your busy dying day, sings Jagger in the
last line of the song.
Dave Hassinger would later reveal that the lyrics were inspired by his
wife Marie: “… Jack or somebody wanted some downers, not real downers,
just something mild… She brought down these little pills, I forget exactly
what they were, Valiums I think… But this song was written for her. I heard
that through Jack.”
(Ref. the rolling stones mother’s little helper)
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