The 411 Music Top Five 03.13.12: Top 5 Songs About Alcohol
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.13.2012
From Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice" and Lou Reed's "Underneath the Bottle" to Bob Dylan's "Moonshiner," Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" and more, the 411 staff readies for St. Patrick's Day with their lists of the top 5 songs about alcohol!
THE TOP 5 SONGS ABOUT ALCOHOL
5. "Fashionable People" - Joel Plaskett Emergency.
All the cool kids at a high school party getting drunk and doing stupid, horrible things. Sounds about right. The main 'narrative' of the song is a guy getting drunk and hitting on a girl his friend is dating, doing his best to take advantage of her questionable judgment thanks to booze so he can hook up with her. And all to an incredibly catchy tune.
4. "Alcohol" - The Barenaked Ladies.
Learning to love self-destruction and appreciate the joy of completely losing control. I love how the 'narrative' of the song follows a person from enjoying drinking as a social activity, but not as a tool to get drunk and, eventually, figures out that there's something pleasurable in that. Like a few of my choices, a somewhat comedic take on the subject that also speaks truth.
3. "Underneath the Bottle" - Lou Reed.
"Oooooh whee, son of a b!" makes me laugh. A semi-humorous/semi-serious song about an alcoholic that's playful enough to use 'tame' versions of profanity and mixes them with black-outs and DTs... It's the alcoholic that laughs off his addiction and the problems that come with it, because he's afraid to face the truth. He never really denies the bad things that happen; he just doesn't deal with them.
2. "Stay Drunk and Keep Fucking" - Hawksley Workman.
Hawksley Workman has some great booze-related lines in his career (lover/fighter beginning with "Fuck you, you're drunk" or the fabulous "Fighter soul alive in a whiskey-fueled rage" in "Anger as Beauty), but nothing touches "Stay Drunk and Keep Fucking." Using apocalyptic language, he tells the story of a doomed relationship where there are only two choices: let it die or, well, stay drunk and keep fucking. Not a detailed analysis of alcohol in any way, but the fact that it's necessary to stay drunk speaks volumes.
This is one of my favorite songs period. Sad and haunting, it's a shame that this was shunted to a bonus disc of Gold rather than taking its place on that album where it belongs. A sad, lonely self-destructive song... a man who can't help but keep drinking and making a fool of himself, driving away the woman he loves, unable to escape the horrid cycle that drags him down further and further. The piano is amazing and Adams's vocal performance is one of his best.
Honorable Mention: "Drinking Beer and Smoking Cigarettes", Jon Lajoie; "Subtle Art of the Breakup Song", Cage; "Hair", Atmosphere.
5. Let Her Cry" - Hootie & the Blowfish.
Folks, there's a reason why I had my first alcoholic beverage when I was 22, and it wasn't because I didn't know where to get a drink. This song was overplayed when I was a kid, but its story about a man trying to connect with a woman addicted to alcohol still hits hard. This might not have made it onto my list if I hadn't seen this sort of thing played out enough times in real life.
4. "Alcohol" - The Barenaked Ladies.
I love songs that are subtly depressing—"Alcohol" sounds upbeat, but the song is sung from the perspective of an alcoholic who is doing his best to justify his addiction. Ironically, though, this is a bit of a party jam, so if you're in college and you like being "that guy" at the party, put this song on blast and laugh at the hypocrites like your name is Chris Jericho. Don't give me that look—you know you want to do it.
3. "Say It Ain't So" - Weezer.
A common misconception about alcohol addiction (and most drug addictions, really) is that they are merely self-destructive. "Say It Ain't So" is a song about alcohol in which the protagonist stays dry, and it remains one of Weezer's best songs. I don't know what I can say about the song that it doesn't explicitly state itself other than Rivers Cuomo confirming that the song is more autobiographical than you might hope.
2. "Pour Me Another" - Atmosphere.
In essence, this is the opposite of "Alcohol"—"Pour Me Another" is presented from the perspective of a drunkard who realizes how alcohol has destroyed his life, but he's too far gone to help himself and digs himself deeper into his addiction to wash away his pain. You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having doesn't feature the best songs that Slug has ever written, but the highlights rank up there with his best work. This would have ranked lower if I hadn't read comments from actual alcoholics who had been affected by this song.
1. "Last Good Sleep" - Company Flow.
Much like "Say It Ain't So", this is more about the effect of an alcoholic on a child, but I'm counting it due to its chorus, "At night I cover my ears in tears/The man downstairs must have drank one too many beers/Now every night of my life he beats his wife". The common complaint I've heard about El-P's delivery and lyrics are that they feel too detached and lack emotion, but "Last Good Sleep" is one of the most emotional hip-hop songs I've ever heard and is sold mostly on understatement. Most of Funcrusher Plus is fun and effortless, so for El-P to stick this song near the end of the album makes it pack an even harder punch. Don't listen to this song if it is near dark.
Honorable Exclusion: I will not be selecting "Whiskey In The Jar" by Thin Lizzy I picked it as my number one last time we had a Paddy's day Top 5, so this year, I'm going to mix it up.
5. "Glory Days" – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.
This is the best kind of drinking song, as it perfectly blends a bitter lament with the feel good charm and joy of reflection. The big college sports star spends his days talking at the bar about his glory filled youth, while secretly regretting letting the potential love of his life slip by in the wink of his eye. Now the Glory Days are gone and the star is stuck in the same all old ruts, and what is there left to do but hit the bar and don a fake plastic smile.
4. "Drunk Girls" – LCD Soundsystems.
"Drunk Girls" wasn't James Murphy's finest composition but it was one hell of a good time. Not only for its A grade video, but for the way the tired looking Murphy rattles off a list of sublime witticism. My personal highlights:
"Drunk Girls Wait An Hour To Pee"
"Love Is An Astronaut, It Comes Back, But It's Never The Same"
"Just Cause I'm Shallow Doesn't Mean That I'm Heartless…Just Cause Your Hungry Doesn't Mean That Your Lean"
"Drunk Girls Would Like A Night Of Simplicity, Drunk Girls Would Like A Lover Who Is Smarter Than Me"
3. "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" – The Smiths.
Quite simply, "Stop Me…" is one of the finest indie anthems ever penned - it's faye but menacingly incisive indie at it's most devastating. Morrissey is on top form dispensing timeless lines ("Nothing's Changed, I Still Love You, Oh I Still Love You, Only Slightly Less Than I Used To") with a wonderful put upon charisma.
So where does alcohol come in? Well everything goes wrong for Morrissey, his bike crashes, he nearly died, he spends his night at the Hospital, he didn't mean to stand up his lover, but she's having none of it. How does the Pope of Mope cure his ills:
"Oh So I Drank One, It Became Four,
And When I Fell On The Floor, I Drank More"
2. "Here Comes A Regular" – The Replacements.
The best songs about alcohol are always the depressing ones, and no track is more devastating than The Replacements' "Here Comes A Regular". The intentionally painstaking track depicts a man whose life is ruled by drink to the point where he's a lonesome shut in drowning in booze, pitifully alone.
The beautiful sting in the track's tale comes at the choruses end, as Paul Westerberg softly coos "Am I the only one who feels the shame?" Is it an inclusive out reaching gesture to unite the helpless and the distressed or is it a vile rejection of a society that glorifies alcoholism? You decide.
1. "Theme From Cheers" – Titus Andronicus.
I could have practically picked any Titus Andronicus track but no other effort feels more depraved, depressing, and yet vaguely uplifting as "Theme From Cheers". It starts with the immortal line "I'm Sorry Mamma, but I've Been Drinking Again", and it only builds from there, as the TA basically admit to being pathetic shits with worthless friends, and a wretched life whose highlight/lowlight is getting smashed.
The gorgeously sardonic hook advises the listener to suppress their depression and drink instead. The rage pours over as the singer contemplates his existence even momentarily as he violently demands "Whiskey". "Theme From Cheers" is a miserable track that subverts the rollicking drinking song, while still being a hellacious ride.
A Preamble: I'll be going into this in greater detail in this week's Ten Deep for St. Patrick's Day, so I'll make this short. I will be one year sober in two weeks. As such, the songs I've selected don't do much to aggrandize the party lifestyle. The surprising thing is that, when you start looking at it, there are far more great songs about the negative side of the bottle than one might think. It shouldn't really be a surprise though. Just think about the short list of musicians whose lives ended too early thanks to alcohol abuse; Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, Amy Winehouse, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Hank Williams, and Townes Van Zandt just take the tip. Past the clear irresponsibility of promoting the abuse of poison, the songs of recovery are the ones that I find myself more attached to these days.
Honorable Mentions - "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again) - Joe Jackson, "God Loves A Drunk" - Richard Thompson, "I Wish I Was Still Drinking" - Colin Hay, "When I Drink" - The Avett Brothers, "Too Drunk To Fuck" - The Dead Kennedys, "Alcohol & Pills" - Todd Snider, "Detox Mansion" - Warren Zevon, "My Alcoholic Friends" - The Dresden Dolls, "Drunk In My Past" - X
5. "Drinking and Driving" - Black Flag.
Well, if there is one constant about Henry Rollins, it is that the man doesn't pull his punches. He isn't going to write a song about why you shouldn't drink and drive. The the contrary, he wants you and your stupid friends to be blitzed and wrap yourselves around a pole. Just makes more space for him with a few less idiots in the world. I think that pretty much says it, doesn't it?
4. "Moonshiner" - Bob Dylan.
This early Dylan song is an unsung classic from the beginning of his career. The tale of a Southern booze runner that has resigned himself to a death in the bottle is nothing short of staggeringly beautiful. Sometimes I wonder is Dylan is overblown as a songwriter, then I hear a song like this. No one could have told this story but Dylan. I've included the great Uncle Tupelo version of the track below.
3. "However Much I Booze" - The Who.
There are a lot of commonalities between alcoholics. One that continually pops up is the utter frustration of turning to a medication that only seems to make things worse by the day. We know what will happen, but we do it anyway. After watching friends like Hendrix and Joplin succumb to addictions and seeing his bandmate Keith Moon deteriorate by the day, Pete Townsend was one of the first members of that great wave of rock to discuss the issue in an honest and open way. This guy is a legendary songwriter for a reason.
2. "Drinking Song" - Loudon Wainwright III.
At the beginning of his career, I don't think there was anyone writing better songs than Loudon Wainwright. He finally got national commercial attention with his third self-titled record with the hits "Dead Skunk" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe". It was "Drinking Song" however that really sells me on the record being one of his very best. In his own signature way, Wainwright uses searing humor and touching compassion to paint the utter desperation of alcoholism as a diseases that effects all people.
1. "New Drink For The Old Drunk" - Crooked Fingers.
I'm a huge Eric Bachman fan. His early stuff with Archers of Loaf is fantastic, but it is the work he has done as the leader of Crooked Fingers that is simply brilliant. Among all of those great songs, "New Drink for the Old Drunk" is my clear favorite. Once Bachman belts it's no crime to resign misery to the bottle, I'm forever sold.
Honorable Mention: "Margaritaville" - Jimmy Buffett, "Streams of Whiskey" - The Pogues, "I Drink Alone" — George Thorogood, "The Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)" - The Doors. "Tequila Sunrise" - The Eagles
5. "Seven Drunken Nights in Space" - Tom Smith.
First on my list is a humorous song that most people are likely unfamiliar with, though they may be familiar with the basic tune. "Seven Drunken Nights" is a well-known humorous Irish folk song about a man who continually comes home to his wife, finding increasingly-obvious hints that she's being unfaithful. It's been performed and covered many a time, but my favorite is filk singer Tom Smith's space-age rendition. It carries most of the bawdy humor of the original but in a sci-fi geek setting. The last verse in particular is awesome, when Smith comes out with "...what the fuck is that?" Great stuff.
4. "Blame It" - Jamie Foxx.
This is a song that people either really dig or really hate; there isn't a lot of inbetween on it. I am obviously a fan. This song...well, it's kind of ridiculous in the sound, because it's Auto-Tuned up the ass and the video is equally ridiculous. But I think it's Auto-Tuned for the right reason; like most of T-Pain's use of the technology, it's not an attempt to make someone sound like a good singer but to distort the voice to an electronic style. This became a huge hit for Foxx and to be honest, I really don't mind. It's got a smooth sound to it and the lyrics are pretty fun. Nothing wrong with that.
3. "That Smell" - Lynyrd Skynyrd.
See, not every song about alcohol is about good times and parties. Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote one of the best cautionary tales about drinking and drugs to excess with this song, which was inspired by Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington getting drunk and crashing his new car into an oak tree. Ronnie Van Zant wrote the song in order to send a message to his bandmates about how out of control they were getting. Rather creepily, it's debut to the public as part of Street Survivors, with lyrics about the "smell of death" and how "tomorrow might not be here for you," was three days before the plane crash that devastated the band and killed Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines and others and seriously wounded the rest. But I digress...the point is as a tale about the dark side of alcohol, this one's one of the best.
2. "Born Slippy .NUXX" - Underworld.
Otherwise known as the song from the final scene of Trainspotting, this was actually the first song I thought of for this list. Underworld is one of of the pre-eminent groups within the trance scene, and "Born Slippy .NUXX" is easily their most well-known song thanks to its placement in the aforementioned Danny Boyle film. It might not be the first song that comes to people's mind when they're thinking of alcohol-themed songs; the pounding rhythm and electronica style obviously bring to mind some kind of hallucinogenic trip. However, those more familiar with the track know that the lyrics are intended to sound like an alcoholic's train of thought. When you think of it like that it's actually a kind of depressing song, but it also gives the song context and the realization makes it a better song.
1. "Gin and Juice" - Snoop Dogg.
In all honestly, my personal favorite version of this song is the cover by the Gourds (you can hear it here). However, in terms of pure quality and impact the Snoop original is definitely the rendition that makes this list. It's one of Snoop's more iconic songs, instantly recognizable. It's a laid-back, feel-good party song and well-deserves its spoit on this list.
The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:
5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it