The Rolling Stones

19th Nervous Breakdown

Composed by Keith Richards / Mick Jagger

Song Review by

Another in a series of white-hot classic singles reeled off by the Rolling Stones in the mid-'60s, "19th Nervous Breakdown" was a number two hit in both the U.S. and the U.K. in early 1966. As the title indicates, it's also one of their most neurotic character sketches. And, as is the case in much of the Rolling Stones' mid-'60s work, the neurotic character is not the accusatory narrator, but the girl that the song is directed toward. In musical terms, the song brilliantly reflects the neurosis depicted by the lyrics, with edgy, dueling guitar riffs that form the backbone of the track. The lower-toned of the riffs in the opening instrumental bars, it has rarely been mentioned, is very similar to the one featured in the Bo Diddley song "Diddley Daddy" -- a song that the Rolling Stones were undoubtedly familiar with, as they had recorded it in early 1963 as part of an unreleased demo tape (and has been widely available, as part of that tape, on bootlegs since the 1970s). "19th Nervous Breakdown" is a torrent of images, put in the mouth of a girl by narrator Mick Jagger, bewailing how the spoiled brat has been the victim of an uncaring, wealthy family and unable to deal with the pressures of the modern, urban world. The unsympathetic sarcasm with which the lyrics are delivered makes it clear that the group does not empathize with the tune's target; more likely, they're tired of hearing about these problems, and would just as soon leave her to work out her problems herself. The onset of the nervous breakdowns habitually suffered by the song's subject is deftly mirrored by the song's dramatic pause after the lines instructing her to stop and look around. A particularly enervating fuzz guitar riff follows, as the Stones chant with increasing authority about how the nervous breakdown's on its way, finally ending with a full-out exclamation confirming that it has arrived. Also clever are the slightly more lighthearted bridges, which end in particularly cruel stop-start mimics of how nothing seems to work for the girl in question, climaxing with eerily descending high harmonies that illustrate her repeated descents into mental collapse. As in many a Stones song, the track's catchiness belies the sheer nastiness of the attitude. Most likely, it was inspired by the jet-setting socialites the Rolling Stones began to hang out with -- and date, and sometimes marry -- as their fame and notoriety gave them access to upper-class debutantes who wanted some of the debauchery the Stones sang about for themselves. The cleverest musical trick of "19th Nervous Breakdown" is saved for last: as the chorus is repeated on the fadeout, Bill Wyman plays nerve-shredding descending bass lines that sound like fighter planes swooping in for the kill. Also note how the song contains an early drug reference to tripping that was virtually unnoticed at the time, due to both its flashcard brevity and the fact that censors weren't yet hip to the lingo that tripping represented.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) 1966 Universal Music 3:57
Got Live If You Want It! 1966 Universal Music 3:31
Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 1972 Universal Music 3:56
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 ABKCO Records 3:58
Stones Story 1976 Decca 3:55
No Image 1977 Arcade Music
The  Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 Universal Music 3:56
No Image 2000 Rattlesnake Records 4:34
Forty Licks 2002 Virgin
No Image 2002 3:59
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 3:58
Singles 1965-1967 2004 ABKCO Records 3:56
The Rolling Stones 1964-1969 [Vinyl Box Set] 2010 ABKCO Records / Universal Distribution 3:58
GRRR! 2012 Universal Distribution 3:57
The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1964-1971 2013 ABKCO Records 3:58
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 3:58
blue highlight denotes editor's pick