Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The Rolling Stones: “19th Nervous Breakdown”
Entered the chart on: 3/5/66
Peaked on: 3/19/66
Weeks at #2: 3
Song at #1: “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Ssgt. Barry Sadler
So we come at last to the “bad boys” of the British Invasion. Which is a bit silly, if you ask me; the Beatles weren’t exactly saints. That said, it’s obvious the Stones’ music was a lot more raunchy, with darker lyrical undertones. There weren’t any smooth vocal harmonies here, no George Martin sweetening, just Mick Jagger’s snarling vocals and Keith Richards’ violent guitar. You could definitely see their appeal as something your Perry Como/Joni James-loving parents were guaranteed to hate.
This isn’t one of the first songs to come to mind when I think of them, but it’s not exactly “obscure” these days (In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard it on the radio within the past two weeks).
Well, Nobel has gone on to canonize Bob Dylan for his lyrical skills, so let’s use this little review to shine the spotlight on Mick Jagger. Yes, it’s probably “Like a Rolling Stone” that opened doors for songs like this, because this is far from the “love and loss” lyrics that had been part and parcel of popular music heretofore. Hell, even the early Beatles sides were essentially love songs. Here we have something different: an analysis of a young woman who’s lost her mind, and how she got there.
Which begs the question: why nineteenth nervous breakdown? Presumably because it was attention-getting, euphonious and fit the rhythm of the song. As near as I can tell, the hapless subject of the song’s lyrics is spoiled by her wealthy but neglectful parents, and turns to recreational drugs which only makes matters worse. So...not exactly painting a rosy picture, then.
Musically, the highlight is—as it so frequently is with Stones songs—Keith Richards’ dazzling lead guitar work. This isn’t quite the firestorm of that harsh, broken-speaker beehive buzz found on “Satisfaction,” but this was still harder and edgier guitarwork than people were accustomed to hearing at the time. Soon the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page would descend onto the scene and ear-bleeding guitar timbres would become the norm. Let it be noted that Keith, for better or worse, got there first.
I don’t know if this is my favorite Stones song of this era, but listening to it again, I realize it’s not only good, but really first-rate! Well done, guys!