The 8 Ball 3.15.14: Top 8 Songs About Drinking
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.15.2014
From Metallica's "Whiskey in the Jar" and Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" to Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)," Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 songs about drinking!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Welcome to the 411 Music 8 Ball, folks! We're back as always and just in time for Saint Patrick's Day. The day of Ireland's patron saint is this coming Monday and has been recognized as one of the most prevalent days for doing a bit of drinking. And by "a bit," I mean a lot. That brings us to this week's topic. Popular music has songs in just about every genre about alcohol and like all music, they range from the terrible to the transcendent. This week we're going to take a look at some of the best songs about drinking in popular music history.
Caveat: This week was a simple one: the song had to be about drinking alcohol. It could involve either positive or negative aspects of such; as long as booze was involved directly within the lyrics than it was eligible.
Just Missing The Cut
• George Thorogood - "I Drink Alone" (1985)
• The Doors - "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)" (1966)
• Jamie Foxx - "Blame It" (2009)
• Guns N' Roses - "Night Train" (1987)
• The Champs - "Tequila" (1958)
#8: Hank Williams Jr. - "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound" (1979)
First up on our list we have a country classic. I'll admit to generally not having a lot of country songs on my lists because, frankly, I'm not generally a fan of the genre. But you can't discuss songs about drinking without touching on the genre as there are so many great songs about alcohol within country and western music. Hank Williams Jr. has done no small number of songs about the subject ("Tear in My Beer" is another great one), but this one is his best. This is the first track on the 1979 album of the same name and hits all the right notes for both country music and alcohol songs. The song tells the tale of a man who, when his "good woman at home" isn't there to stop him, just can't help but go out to the bar and gets blitzed on Jim Beam and goes home with a honky-tonk special. It's a song that simultaneously shines a light on the good and bad about having a bar habit. Williams may be known best these days for the Monday Night Football theme and the controversy that got that song jettisoned, but he's one of the all-time country greats and this is a great example of that.
Not every song about drinking is good times and celebration. The rap genre is another one that, like country, touches on the idea of intoxication with regularity. It seems in hip-hop that songs about the perils of booze are particularly rare, which is what makes Kendrick Lamar's breakout hit stand out so well. Lamar wasn't a fresh, wet-behind-the-ears rapper when he hit it big with his debut studio LP; he had been rapping since 2003 when he was just sixteen and had seasoned his skills during that nine-year period. "Swimming Pools" is a perfect example of just how good of a songwriter he is. This song tackles the dangers of binge drinking and alcoholism beautifully, touching on temptation, peer pressure and many of the other issues that someone in a party environment might have to face. The back and forth between Lamar and his conscience is particularly inspired and hit has a wonderfully moody sound as well, with Lamar and producer T-Minus doing some fantastic things here. It's one of the best songs on an amazing album and a fantastic, thought-provoking rumination on the topic of alcohol.
#6: Metallica - "Whiskey In The Jar" (1999)
Coming in at #6 is the oldest song on this list, at least in its original form. "Whiskey in the Jar" predates its Metallica iteration by a good 300 years or so; it's a traditional Irish drinking song and has been covered by everyone from Thin Lizzy and The Pogues to The Highwaymen and Peter, Paul & Mary. Everyone has their favorite version and for many it's the Thin Lizzy version, which is undeniably fantastic. But for my money, none of the others had quite the bite of Metallica's. The musical delivery from Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted all deliver the fiery energy as only Metallica can, but for me what pushes this over the edge is James Hetfield's vocal delivery. He has a more weathered voice in this number than we had previously heard and that fits perfectly within the context of this song. He has a grit to his voice in this one that approaches a country element and works incredibly well. It's a classic given a metal spin that just rocks and definitely earns it a place on this list.
#5: Garth Brooks – "Friends In Low Places" (1990)
Another country song, and perhaps one of the best-known country songs about drinking. A lot of the songs on this list look at alcohol in a negative light, in terms of alcoholism or the dangers of being under the influence. Brooks, on the other hand, takes a celebratory tone as he sings about getting past a failed relationship by spoiling a formal affair and then going to hang out with his friends at the bar. Brooks was already a country music superstar on before this song and the rest of the hits from No Fences; he had sold thirteen million copies of his debut self-titled LP. But No Fences pushed him to impossible heights and "Friends in Low Places" became one of the most well-known songs of the early 1990s, making him a true household name. Go into any karaoke bar and you're guaranteed to hear this song performed at least once a night. It's a fun, catchy country number that hearkens back to the idea of country before it was so pop and rock-infused, which was already happening at that point in the '90s. It's safe to say that country music hasn't yet found its way back to that level of quality over the past couple of decades.
#4: Lynyrd Skynyrd - "That Smell" (1977)
Here's another great song about alcohol that has nothing to do with good times and parties. I've always had a distinct weakness for Southern rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd has to be considered one of the greatest groups in the genre's history. They created 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, its 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.
#3: Underworld - "Born Slippy .NUXX" (1996)
Mention "Born Slippy" to most people and they'll give you a strange look, like they have no idea which song you're talking about. Mention the song from the final scene of Trainspotting and they quickly change their expression to one of fond recognition. This EDM number this was actually the first song I thought of for this list. Underworld is one 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. It's proof positive that EDM is more than just dance beats in a computer; when done right it can create truly great music.
#2: Dead Kennedys - "Too Drunk To Fuck" (1981)
You've got to give it up to the Dead Kennedys when talking about songs involving drinking. "Too Drunk to Fuck," in addition to being the least PG-13 rated title on this list, is one of the funniest songs for obvious reasons. It's the exact kind of thing you might expect from a punk band talking about booze; getting wasted at a party, dancing like a madman, getting in a fight and then falling down the stairs because you're so intoxicated that you can't even find the coordination within you to perform a carnal act. The song was banned from BBC Radio for obvious reasons and when it hit the top 40, it was referred to as "a record by a group calling themselves The Dead Kennedys" and nothing more. That the song became as well-known as it did despite not being stocked in most record stores is a testament to its relentlessness as a song; it's a hilarious yet angry number that describes a situation that anyone who's had too damn much to drink has probably been in at some point in their life.
#1: Snoop Dogg - "Gin and Juice" (1994)
Leave it to Snoop Dogg to come up with the greatest ode to alcohol ever conceived. To be perfectly honest, my favorite version of this song is the country take by alt-country band The Gourds, which you can hear further down. But in terms of pure quality and impact it is the Snoop original that hits the top of this list, and deservedly so. It's one of the rapper's more iconic songs, a laid-back, feel-good party song about just having a good time with friends. Sure, that good time includes using all sorts of substances and all the other assorted excesses, but when you're talking about one of the most well-known and lauded rap songs of all-time it comes with the territory. It's been used in so many different elements of pop culture that you can't not give it up for the song. It's Snoop's greatest song and, for me at least, the greatest song about drinking that's been done yet.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
As promised, this week's Music Video A-Go-Go is my favorite cover of Snoop's "Gin and Juice." Check out the Gourds' cover of the song from their album Gogitchyershinebox below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.