Substance Abuse Playlist
1) Drink Drank Drunk — The Atomic Fireballs: Led by the atomic bomb lead vocals of John Bunkley, this one is the musical equivalent of being knocked out cold and hitting the floor after a serious bender. The Jump Blues arrangement helps here. You would imagine this one would have been in the soundtrack to Lost Weekend had the Fireballs been around.
2) King Of The Mountain — Southern Culture On The Skids: Leave it to SCOTS to craft a poppy ode to a bootlegger who also happens to have a side business as a hillbilly pornographer. What really nails it are the descriptive details, the leisure suit, the menthol cigarettes etc. one has to assume songwriter Ric Miller actually knew such a cat. What a sight he must have been.
3) Pills — Bo Diddley: And we move into the hot topic of prescription drug abuse. Except this one was written more the 60 years ago. The tale here is innocent and it is all a supposed metaphor for love but it is a unique perspective to say the least. Pills for his toes, pills for his heart, pills for whatever he’s got and they went to his head. That is the rock and roll nurse went to his head. Bo being Bo in his prime nails this one with ease and 20 years later The New York Dolls gave this one a much more literal read given how things went for them.
4) It’s Martini Time — The Revered Horton Heat: This was The Revered’s contribution to the 90's Swing revival. Remember that? You know, The Cherry Popping Daddies, Brian Setzer, The Squirrel Nut Zippers etc. Anyway, this captures the real spirit of both the thing and the drink. I believe there is the sound of a drink being stirred in the mix or maybe the song just conjures the image so well. Killer line: “I live my life on a layer of ice.”
5) Before They Make Me Run — The Rolling Stones: There must be some “regret” drug songs out there but they are harder to find then you might think. Anyway, the only regret Keith Richards has here is giving up drugs. Listen carefully, and you will catch it quick. What else could he mean when he sings, “Another goodbye to another good friend. After all is said and done, I got to move because I’ve had my fun. I gonna walk before they make me run.” Then again, what else would you expect from Keith?
6) One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer — John Lee Hooker: The Blues will get you drinking. And what would be the motivation? A failed relationship of course. John Lee is pitch perfect here as the theme of the song matches his angry/anguished delivery.
7) Why Don’t We Get Drunk — Jimmy Buffet: Naturally the Blues mirror Country and vice versa. So just as songs like One Bourbon and I Ain’t Drunk tell the tale of romantic woe drowned in alcohol, Country can more then hold its own liquor. Except that here we have the upside — if there is such a thing — to being sloppy drunk. Regardless, the sentiment and tone seems perfect and between consenting adults, why the hell not?
8) Marijuana — The Reverend Horton Heat: To be clear, this one is essentially an instrumental. There is one word repeated throughout and a vocal sound effect. Take a guess on the effect? Anyway, this is a galloping fun tune and it captures the cartoonish nature of those famous 1930's anti-drug movies like the Devil’s Weed and so forth. Listen and see!
9) Margaritaville — Jimmy Buffet: I know, I know, two Jimmy Buffet tunes in one list and this one is a warhorse to say the least. But it is a Country tale of romantic woe via alcohol and Key West. And it was fun the first thousand times you heard it. Still, do yourself a favor, rehab yourself from this one. Avoid it at all costs. Then when the mood is right and you have a bit of a buzz going and you are a little blue because of a lover, crank it up. You’ll be singing along before you know it. Just watch out for those pop tops if you are wearing flip flops and stay away from the local tattoo shop.
10) Medical Marijuana Card — Jack Denim: A top notch shaggy dog story about — take a guess. As time marches on, the story here may become moot. So listen while it is still relevant!
11) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds — The Beatles: John Lennon was always a bit of a provocateur throughout his adult life. Remember the whole, “We are bigger the Jesus” controversy? At the same time he knew when to pull back for the sake of the band’s popularity. Which leads us to this song which, when asked, he always denied was about drugs in general and LSD in particular. Rather, it was — or so he claimed — inspired by a drawing his young son Julian presented to him. So here is the thing, at the time, it was totally understandable that John would give this explanation. The blowback from admitting a drug reference just was not worth whatever “hip” credibility he would have scored. But long after Beatlemania ceased to be critical cultural and political fodder, he continued to stick to the Julian drawing story. So it must be true…or not. To the end, John had some ambivalence about the hoopla surrounding The Beatles artistry, so he may have had some residual cheek toward this “controversy.” My recommendation is to just give this one a listen and decide for yourself. It is still glorious all these years latter and the second best track of this legendary album.
12) Heroin — The Velvet Underground: And speaking of Mid-Sixties drug reference controversies, here comes the Velvets to stick their collective thumbs in the eyes of the establishment. Except that this was New York and the band’s profile was way, way, way, less then The Beatles. So they “got away” with it. And what was the “it” they got away with? In short, this song is easily the most nakedly frank look at the use of heroin. Because it does not really dwell on the negative aspects of using this substance, the band was charged with endorsing the use of heroin. And the Velvets being the Velvets and, in particular, songwriter, Lou Reed being Lou Reed, their denials were muted if not entirely absent. Later in life, Lou came to regret his comments surrounding this song at the time of its release and for a number of years thereafter. By that time he had dealt with his own addiction issues. Life has that habit of shaping our attitudes via experience and age. But as music, this is still a metaphorical rush if not a literal one.
13) Beer Run — Todd Snider: A great sing-a-long shaggy dog story in which the underage subjects are forced to jump through several hoops to score some beer before attending a Robert Earl Keen concert. Note that last part. Todd’s songs never skimp on the small details which add depth and charm. It also helps perpetuate a mutual admiration between the two artists as Mr. Keen would go on to cover one of Todd best songs, Play A Train Song.
14) Mr. Tambourine Man, Doctor Robert and I’m Waiting For My Man — Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Velvet Underground: Here we have three tributes to each artist’s drug dealer. And each ode is in character with each artist’s style and attitude at the time. Bob’s song is a romantic and poetic tribute while John Lennon’s is comic with the word play intentionally subtle to hide the song’s meaning and The Velvets contribution here is just plain seedy. No surprises in the approach but great stuff for listening.
15) Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas Money — Commander Cody: How many bases can the good Commander cover here? 1) A county weeper 2) About drinking 3) Set during the Christmas holiday season. Check out the steel playing a bit of Silent Night. A fun one if your sense of humor runs dark.
16) Alabama High Test — Old Crow Medicine Show: A musical documentary about the methamphetamine crisis set in the rural south. The arrangement is a bit bright for the material here but the message breaks through.
17) Bales of Cocaine — The Revered Horton Heat: From the serious to the silly. A fun story song about a mis-delivered bale of cocaine. Best line is when the farm boys are trying to figure out what they got and one says to the other, “Horton that’s some blow.”
18) Parallel Bars — Robbie Fulks: A fun country duet in which the disappointed lovers are both drinking and guess the location from the title. The duet partner here is Kelly Willis and she has a fine, strong voice but the real story is the under appreciated talents of songwriter Robbie Fulks. This guy writes so many great songs that a stellar track like this didn’t even make it onto a proper album. Somewhat unfortunately, he tends to tour solo. I say that because the arrangement here is full and thus lost in a solo setting. But check him out here and elsewhere. Great stuff.
19) Cocaine — JJ Cale: Recognize this one? Eric Clapton essentially lifted the entire thing — arrangement and all — and just substituted his vocals. My understanding is that JJ didn’t mind as he and Eric were good friends and he made a ton of money from Eric’s mega-seller status. So alls well that ends well. But here is the original in all it’s Oklahoma shuffle step glory.
20) Winning The War On Drugs — Asylum Street Spankers: How to categorize these guys? Acoustic Hot Jazz and Bluegrass? As to the song, the band makes some pointed comments on the contradictory nature of Americas war on drugs. Not to worry, however, the band’s signature humor is not affected by the serious subject. If you never heard these guys, check them out. The smutty humor is balanced by classy playing and singing. A real treat.
21) Bad Liver and a Broken Heart — Hayes Carll: This as close to lightning up as Hayes can get. Meaning, all the classic Country comic tropes are here but the delivery seems a bit more serious. Which is Hayes’ sweet spot. He is a serious artist in all senses of that word and you should check him out if you haven’t already done so.
22) I Drink Alone — George Thorogood: A superb comic number. The joke is in the word play as George works the various names of beverages into his angry tale of woe. He also delivers a textbook Blues-Rock guitar riff.
23) Little White Pills — The Meat Purveyors: Slightly similar to the Spankers, these guys usually deliver an acoustic form of whacked out Bluegrass/Country. For this one off tribute to speed, however, the band kicks it into high gear with some frenzied electric guitar. This is a rocking little number and singer Jo Stanil Walston matches the guitar work with some frenzied vocals. I am sure she didn’t actually use speed to sing this one but she nails the effect.
24) White Light/White Heat — The Velvet Underground: And speaking of speed, we have yet another drug tribute to it from the Velvets. Once again, like the earlier Heroin, the idea is to capture the drug’s effect musically and, once again, songwriter/singer Lou Reed sadly delivers from experience. The song is white hot, with a furious arrangement and works as a Proto-Punk number.
25) Chinese Rock — The Ramones: And speaking of Punk, we have this driving heroin number curtesy of the “brothers” from Queens. On the surface, it would seem this is classic Ramones cartoon rock. But check out Dee Dee’s lyrics here. There is regret here as Joey sings about digging a Chinese ditch. Fun fact, convicted murder Phil Spector produced and allegedly threatened Johnny with a gun during the recording process. The facts surrounding that incident are eerily similar to what happened 20 years later to land him in jail for murder. In any case, this is a long way from Da Doo Ron. Ron…
26) Last Call For Alcohol — The Fabulous Thunderbirds: The lights flicker and the call goes out. A timeless moment for any late night revealer. I am positive the Thunderbirds closed out many a venue back in the day because they certainly capture the spirit of the thing. A pitch perfect instrumental.