19th Nervous Breakdown (M Jagger/K Richards) 1966 and Under My Thumb (M Jagger/K Richards) 1966 and Ruby Tuesday (M Jagger/K Richards) 1967 and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan (S Silverstein) – Marianne Faithful 1979.
By 1963 the Rolling Stones line up was fully formed and they were getting regular gigs at the legendary Crawdaddy Club (Richmond) and the Ricky Tick Club (Windsor), which is where Mick Jagger met supermodel Jean Shrimpton’s little sister, Chrissie (above with Jagger). She literally crowd surfed her way from the back of the venue to the stage and planted a big kiss on the Stones’ front man, Mick was impressed and the pair commenced a tumultuous relationship which endured through 1963-66. Chrissie was a feisty middle-class girl who gave as good as she got, it was the era of Swinging London and the Rolling Stones were at the epicentre of musical and cultural change in Britain, the Stones were experimenting musically, pharmacologically, and socially, as relationships between band members and their respective partners evolved, and they released Aftermath, their first studio album of completely original songs, in 1966.
The album was a revelation as the band extended themselves beyond their Chicago blues and R&B influences to embrace pop, folk, country, psychedelia, Baroque, and Middle Eastern music, Jagger and Richards wrote the songs around the psychodramatic themes of love, sex, desire, power, dominance, hate, obsession, and the vicissitudes of rock stardom. Women featured prominently as characters in the songs, in often dark, sarcastic, casually offensive lyrics. Brian Jones had commenced a relationship with the intelligent and sophisticated German model Anita Pallenberg, who the other Stones envied while also being intimidated by her, they also made odious comparisons with her and their respective partners – Jagger with Chrissie Shrimpton and Richards with Linda Keith – both of whom were increasingly experimenting with drugs, Chrissie with LSD and Linda with Mandrax and heroin. Below L-R – Linda Keith and Keith Richard, Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenburg, Jagger and Faithful.
Jagger now sought a more glamorous companion commensurate with his newfound wealth, and the aura surrounding Jones and Pallenberg which Jagger coveted contributed to the end of his and Shrimpton’s increasingly acrimonious relationship. 19th Nervous Breakdown painted a neurotic character sketch of Shrimpton whose mental decline and increasing paranoia inspired a song which placed a torrent of images in the mouth of the girl, as narrated by Jagger, bewailing how the spoiled brat had been the victim of an uncaring wealthy family, who was incapable of dealing with the pressures of life. The sneering tone, unsympathetic sarcasm, and complete lack of empathy, was palpable, as the group chanted the countdown to the onset of her nervous breakdown until its arrival, and the girl’s mental disintegration was complete. The song’s edgy, dueling, guitar riffs and undeniable catchiness, certainly belied the sheer nastiness of its attitude, and as the chorus faded at the outro, Bill Wyman’s swooping bass lines moved in for the kill.
By the time the Stones released their fourth British studio album Aftermath, the misogyny, chauvinism, and scorn for women, particularly those close to Jagger, was unmistakable, and if Chrissie Shrimpton wasn’t convinced that Jagger was about to drop her, she would have been after she heard the lyrics to such songs as Stupid Girl, Under My Thumb, and Out of Time, as Marianne Faithful eased in to take her place.
Stupid Girl assailed the supposed greed and facile certitudes of women, and it was at least an indirect criticism of Shrimpton, while High and Dry expressed a cynical outlook on a lost romantic connection, and Shrimpton was apparently mortified when she heard the lyrics to Out Of Time and digested their meaning, as Jagger described Chrissie as “obsolete, out-of-touch, and old-fashioned“. Under My Thumb was a less than subtle hymn to male domination with Jagger claiming to have tamed the independent Chrissie “Under my thumb/It’s a sqirmin’ dog who’s just had her day/Under my thumb/A girl who has just changed her ways.” The track was notable for its novel instrumentation with fuzz bass lines by Bill Wyman, marimba riffs by Jones, and savage lyrics which compared the woman in question to a “pet”, a “Siamese cat”, as well as a “squirmin dog”, all of which provoked negative reactions from feminists at the time.
Ruby Tuesday was recorded at Olympia Studios (London) in November 1966 and was released in January of the next year as a track on the Stones album Between the Buttons, Richards wrote the song as he drew a lyrical sketch of his then-girlfriend, Vogue fashion model Linda Keith, and recorded it with Bill Wyman and Brian Jones. Linda was a frequent visitor to the clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village, and a well-connected member of the bohemian community in London’s West Hampstead, she was instrumental in connecting Jimi Hendrix with Chas Chandler and was Keith Richard’s muse for several years. Below L-R – Linda Keith, Between the Buttons, Ruby Tuesday.
Ruby Tuesday was atypically a wistful ballad by the Stones with Jones playing recorder and piano, while the countermelody comprised Bill Wyman fingering the strings of a cello while Richards bowed them, so giving the song a madrigal feel.
Linda drifted into drug dependency and her father Alan Keith brought her back to Britain from the States and made her a ward of the court, she would recover from addiction to ultimately raise her own family, but she lives on in the lyrics of Ruby Tuesday “Goodbye Ruby Tuesday/Who could hang a name on you/ When you change with every new day/ Still, I’m gonna miss you.” Below L-R – John Dunlop and Marianne, Jagger and Faithful, Collage of Marianne.
Marianne Faithful would partner Mick Jagger in the period 1966-1970, she had been discovered by the Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and her debut hit in 1964 was the Jagger/Richards composition As Tears Go By. She was convent-school-educated, possessed an angelic face, a beatific smile, and had married and divorced her first husband John Dunlop, and bore him a son, by the time she was nineteen. She became friends with Anita Pallenberg, and like her started smoking marijuana, she quickly replaced Chrissie Shrimpton in the affections of Mick Jagger and they became a notable couple in the Swinging London scene of the 60’s. She provided vocals on the Beatles’ song Yellow Submarine, and continued to have her own solo hits with Summer Nights and Come and Stay With Me. She was found wearing only a fur rug by police executing a drug search at Keith Richard’s house in Redlands, Sussex, and later admitted that she had been slut-shamed by the incident, which badly affected her career, by 1968 she was addicted to cocaine, and miscarried a daughter conceived with Jagger, en route to his country house in Ireland.
Faithful slept with Keith Richards and Brian Jones as well as Jagger and certainly inspired a number of the Stones songs, including You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed), Wild Horses, and I Got the Blues (Sticky Fingers).
As Faithful’s hard drug use spiralled out of control she was increasingly the inspiration for songs about the pushers and parasites who inhabited the nether world of the junkie “ I saw her today at the reception/ A glass of wine in her hand/ I knew she was gonna meet her connection/ At her feet was her footloose man…”(You Can’t Always Get What You Want)
Although Jagger has denied that Faithful was the inspiration for Wild Horses “Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally,” the lyrics seem to contradict this and indicate his growing concern about her health and their future, as touring caused them to be apart frequently “Graceless lady/ You know who I am/ You know I can’t let you/ Slide through my hands…”
Faithful earned a co-write for the song Sister Morphine (Sticky Fingers), the lyrics of which would become painfully true for Marianne as she slid into long-term heroin addiction. “The story is about a man in a car accident in hospital, who is very damaged, and wants to die… my feelings were the same at the time…I was hospitalized in Sydney after an attempted suicide…” she commented years later, after which she split with Jagger in 1970, lost custody of her son, and began a doomed affair with society photographer Lord Paddy Rossmore. Below Faithful and Lord Paddy Rossmore.
Throughout the 1970’s Faithful barely survived as a homeless junkie on the streets of London’s Soho, she became anorexic, and prostituted herself to feed her habit, several attempts at controlling or stabilising her addiction failed and for the next ten years her recording career was virtually non-existent.
Drug abuse and severe laryngitis seemed to have permanently damaged Faithful’s vocal cords, but surprisingly in 1979 she was signed to Island Records, and released her comeback album Broken English, a new wave rock album with elements of punk, blues, and reggae music; all sung in the now-cracked, raspy, low-pitched vocals of Faithful, no longer the whisperly quiet, innocently enunciated, contralto cadences of her earlier hits. Below L-R – Broken English, Ballad of Lucy Jordan, Shel Silverstein.
The album was a million-seller and nominated for a Grammy award, two singles were lifted from Broken English, the raunchy Why D’Ya Do It and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, but it was the latter that became a timeless classic. Written by American author and tunesmith Shel Silverstein, it was originally recorded by Dr. Hook in 1974 but never charted, Silverstein had already written several hits for the band including Sylvia’s Mother and Cover of the Rolling Stone, as well as A Boy Named Sue for Johnny Cash, so he was well-known for writing silly, subversive songs that poked fun at the status quo, rather than angsty psychodramas about bored, suicidal housewives.
The song opens with a dismissive depiction of the housewife’s life “The morning sun touched lightly on the eyes of Lucy Jordan/ In a white suburban bedroom in a white suburban town…” then to the chorus where we learn that Lucy Jordan has regrets: “At the age of thirty-seven she’d realized she’d never/ Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair/ So she let the phone keep ringing and she sat there softly singing/ Little nursery rhymes she’d memorized in her daddy’s easy chair.”
Many interpreted the song as pro-feminist because of its putdown of bored housewives trapped in suburbia, cleaning house, raising kids, arranging the flowers, and popping Valium, women who never experienced the fantasy of a glamorous life, that would only come with liberation and empowerment.
The song was written in 1973, the same year that Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying was published, so it’s easy to equate Jung’s character Isadora Wing, a smart, educated, sexually-liberated woman, who also sought bliss in an open-top sports car, with the person that Lucy Jordan aspired to be.
But in the hands of a singer like Marianne Faithful, this song became something less condescending, more edgy, fragile, intimate, and tenderly engaging. Working in the studio with Steve Winwood she weaved her way through a sparse arrangement of dark synthesiser passages, evoking a punky sensibility and spiky realism, which she wrapped in an intimate cabaret-style performance, both threatening and at the same time seductive in its implications. Marianne Faithful transformed Silverstein’s song and in so doing made it her own, her throaty voice and crackling wail did not demean or demonise Lucy Jordan, rather it evoked empathy and dignity for a woman who was sick of living once “the laughter grew too loud”, but who was ultimately delivered from her intended demise, and in so doing Marianne made pain look cool – for her it was just art imitating life. Below L-R – Marianne as a child, images from the 1970’s.