The late Bill Hicks probably had it right when he espoused his views on the links between musicians and drugs.
You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years — rrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.
And so I found, when I started casting around for suggestions for this list. It didn’t take long (with the assistance of Daisy and a few workmates) to have way over twenty suggestions for this list, and I suspect that I’ll pretty quickly get yet more that I may have missed.
Obviously, and thankfully, perhaps, not all songs about drugs (and in drugs I mean legal and illegal, including cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs) glorify them, and indeed in some cases are detailing the darker sides of addiction. So, here goes: ten songs on the subject of drugs.
Feel Good Hit of the Summer
…and where else to possibly start than QOTSA’s legendary opening track to Rated R, a sub-three minute rush that reads like the band’s shopping list. All together now: “Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol… c-c-c-c-c-cocaine…”
I Wanna Get High
There are a few artists who have made plainly clear their love of particular substances, either in particular songs, or, in some cases, over entire careers. And here’s one of them – Cypress Hill’s love of marijuana was never exactly made less than obvious, and this shambling, appropriately stoned-sounded track was the opener to their biggest selling album Black Sunday. I’ve not listened to this album in a long, long time and upon hearing this track again…well, it’s not dated all that well!
Fun With Drugs
Fun With Knives
Another artist with something of a “history” when it comes to drug references in his music is Bryan Erickson, aka Velvet Acid Christ, even to the point of detailing which drugs certain albums were made under the influence of. Probably the most blatant (and, indeed, one of the artist’s best known tracks) references is Fun With Drugs, a deceptively upbeat-sounding track built around stacks of samples from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…
Talking of blatent references to drug use…this single is possibly the most blatent drug song ever to be a big hit. I don’t think it was ever admitted by the band, but could this cheeky-chappie of a dance-crossover-riot ever have been about anything other than ecstasy?
Sorted For Es and Wizz
And while on the subject of ecstasy…time for a bit of a come-down. Jarvis Cocker, with a typically cynical take on life, looks back on his time at raves in fields, and questions his state of mind at the time, and how life unfolded while off his box. Not everything is great, of course, perhaps one of the few songs about this kind of thing where the negative sides of drugs are alluded to in a non-preachy fashion…
Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth
Another track that takes a rather different approach to an unnamed drug user – a vicious put-down to a heroin user, done in such a way that if you didn’t listen to the lyrics, you were left with a marvellously summery-sounding pop single.
Levelling The Land
Alcoholism is a subject that I struggled to think of too many songs that cover it, but this will do as a good example for now – one of the Levellers’ biggest hits from the early nineties, a surging folk-rock anthem that details the decline of a man whose home is a stool at the bar of his local…
On the flip side is Gogol Bordello’s love-letter to a “good friend” of theirs, as they introduce it live. A slightly shambling, slurred track that appears to have been written and performed to sound as if they are drunk – maybe they were!
Come Find Yourself
Drugs are, of course, used by many as an escape from real-life – and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals took this one step further by imagining themselves in their songs as New York gangsters, and creating a fun little world that for a while many people bought into. Their most memorable song – if not their best – was Scooby Snacks, an anthemic track that sampled from Quentin Tarantino films. I did always wonder what the ‘Scooby Snacks’ in question were – according to the Wiki page: “the lead singer Huey explained that ‘Scooby Snacks’ in this case were diazepam (Valium) tablets allowing bank robbers to be so cool“.
The last of the ten isn’t a song, but more an entire career. Drugs have never been far away from Jason Pierce, either in his current band Spiritualized or with Spacemen 3 before that. It never became any more bloody obvious, though, than on the now-classic Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, which in it’s initial run came packaged in a box that looked like tablets, the CD was in a pill case (with the foil to break to get into it), the liner notes were in the form of a leaflet that you would get with a packet of pills, oh, and the songs. But what songs. References to heroin use abound through the album, and the whole album has a hazy, blissed out quality made even more astonishing by the use of gospel choirs through much of it. Possibly the ultimate album about drugs?