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The Meaning of a Song "You Can't Always Get What You Want"


Interpretation of the Lyrics to Mick Jagger's song You Can't Always Get What You Want

The Meaning of a Song

Recently I watched a Trump rally on television. The rally ended with a song, composed by Mick Jagger, You Can’t Always Get What You Want. The song was one of many hits by the Rolling Stones on the 1969 Album, Let It Bleed.

This is my interpretation of the song.

During the decade of the 1960’s, heroin addiction raised its ugly head in New York City. During this period, Organized Crime imported drugs into the ports of New York and New Jersey. Very little heroin came from Vietnam and Thailand. Mexican brown dope, from the Baha Peninsula, was not transported to the East Coast.

A disruption in this Organized Crime, so called French Connection drug pipeline, would cause periodic dry spells of heroin on the streets of New York City. In the mid-1960’s, there were probably 100,000 heroin addicts in NYC and Northern New Jersey. In order to survive an uncomfortable, sickly, nightmarish withdrawal from heroin, substitute drugs were ingested.

A continuation of the lyrics of Mr. Jagger’s song, “I went down to the Chelsea drugstore to get my prescription filled.” The Chelsea drugstore I remember was not in London but in the Chelsea district of Manhattan near 8th Avenue and 23rd Street. The drugstores back then were mom and pop operations. It was not difficult to get a legal prescription from a local clinic for Doriden, a sedative, hypnotic drug, produced by Ciba Pharmaceuticals. The street name for the drug was Cibas. Doriden came in three dosages. This prescription for Doriden, usually thirty pills, no refill, was filled in the pharmacy. It was worth a short wait in line to get your prescription filled.

More lyrics, “We decided that we would have a soda, my favorite flavor, cherry red.” Some of the drug stores had soda fountains. However, this soda was codeine cough medicine. The best flavored was cherry red colored, Robitussin AC. It was perfectly legal to obtain four ounces of codeine cough medicine without a prescription. You just signed a register for the medicine.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need.” When a junkie ingested four ounces of codeine cough syrup and swallowed two mid-sized Cibas, the addict would get a heroin like rush. This combination of pills and medicine was the best replacement for heroin.

There are not many addicts alive from that era. Most drug abusers died from overdoses, either heroin, or pills or a combination of the drugs. Some users were murdered in drug deals. Those that survived into the 1980’s died of AIDS.

Unfortunately, history repeats itself and in the 21st century, young people are still dying from drug addiction. No doubt that fifty years from now, a drug survivor will remember a song that will relate to the drug addiction horror of 2016, the way I related this song to the drug addiction horror of 1966.


James Cage (author) from Orlando, FL on September 22, 2017:


Thank you.


Amanda B on September 22, 2017:

Really great interpretation! I've always wondered what that song was about, seems alot of people misunderstand or misapply! Thanks for your article.

MsLowrie on August 03, 2016:

It is definitely one of the best.

James Cage (author) from Orlando, FL on August 03, 2016:

Thank you. Let it Bleed is my favorite album.

MsLowrie on August 03, 2016:

Love love love love love that album. In fact, I used to have all of the Rolling Stones vinyl (my baby brother has my albums now). I would venture to say that your interpretation is spot on.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 02, 2016:

Interesting analysis.

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