Alex Fredkin, Arts Editor
Since the dawn of time, musicians have been inspired by the use of drugs. Whether they look to the mind-expanding effects of hallucinogens such as acid, the calming effects of weed, the amplification of cocaine or the lonely solace of alcohol or heroin, drug and music culture are forever united. Many artists have taken it upon themselves to base entire songs on a single substance, whether it be celebrating it—or speaking openly about its dangerous effects. Below is a compilation of songs that are synonymous with those certain drugs that nobody seems to tire of.
Peter Tosh “Legalize It”
The Rastafarian movement gets a bad rap for only being concerned with smoking the ganj and having dreadlocks. These two entities are actually based on religious beliefs, and the Rastas believe marijuana to be a sacred plant. While almost any reggae song can be related to smoking herb, “Legalize It” is probably the most direct. With the chorus “Legalize it, don’t criticize it,” and Tosh’s long list of people and animals that use the leaf, from doctors to lawyers to ants and goats, he openly and blatantly praises the plant. Almost anyone who knows from experience can relate to this song’s message.
Black Sabbath “Sweet Leaf”
The rock pioneers laid the groundwork for a whole genre called “Stoner Rock” and oh yeah, something called metal as well. With “Sweet Leaf,” the group lets the world know that those sissy hippies aren’t the only ones who smoke weed; hard rockers like it too. Infamous vocalist Ozzy Osbourne laments, “Straight people don’t know what you’re about/They put you down and shut you out/You gave to me a new belief/And soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” Can’t get any more obvious than that, and with the slow, trudging guitar riff, the tempo lends itself to a little indulgence.
Sublime “40oz. to Freedom”
With upbeat reggae instrumentals that seem perfect for a sunny day, the lyrics of late Sublime front man Bradley Nowell make Sublime a dark and depressing band in disguise. On the surface, “40oz. to Freedom” may seem like a song celebrating the joys of drinking, but this is not the case. Amid a bouncing bass line in the first verse, Nowell confesses, “But life is one big question/ When you’re starin’ at the clock/And the answer’s always waiting at the liquor store.” This leads to the charging and emphatic chorus, “Oh, I’m not going back,” and perhaps the most poignant line of all in the next verse, “A 40oz. to freedom is the only chance I have/to feel good even though I feel bad.” While many can relate to this sense of darkness, Nowell’s ability to capture it so exactly is as unsettling as it is impressive.
Tom Waits “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
One of the all-time famous drinkers, Tom Waits’ mysterious and sad ode to lonely not-so-sober nights can be the perfect accompaniment to a dive bar and a scotch on the rocks. With his gravelly, dingy, cookie-monsterish voice and sporadic piano accompaniment, this song is as all over the place as a Freshman sorority girl on a Friday night. And while most of the lyrics make no sense on the surface level, you just somehow get what he means. As he lists off different calamities: “The telephone’s out of cigarettes,” “And the box-office is drooling,” “And the ash-trays have retired,” there is only one logical conclusion to this story, “The piano has been drinking, not me.” Naturally.
Sublime “Pool Shark”
In just under a minute and a half, Bradley Nowell’s dark confession to his heroin addiction hits you hard and fast. Serving almost as more of a poem than a song, the recording of just Nowell’s vocals and acoustic guitar allows the listener to get a deeply personal and direct look into the man’s struggle and soul. As he talks about his hardships in life and the fact that lying down on his bed and shooting up makes him feel better at first, he knows it is not the answer. With the last few lines, “Now I’ve got the needle/And I can shake/But I can’t breathe/I take it away, but I want more and more,” the listener truly feels for Nowell, and in a heart-stopping prediction of his own death due to overdose, the songs ends with his lament “One day I’m gonna lose the war.”
With the all too famous suicide of Kurt Cobain, it was clear that this was a young man who was fighting many demons in his life. In the melancholy and revealing song “Dumb,” Cobain’s lyrics immediately resonate with anyone who has ever felt lonely, whether or not they use drugs to cope. With references to having a light, inhaling and glue, it is not a stretch to believe he is talking about heroin, the drug Cobain struggled with up until his death. The song is supported beautifully, yet hauntingly by strings in the background, with acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies up front. Lyrics “I’m not like them/But I can pretend,” and the chorus, “I think I’m dumb/Or maybe just happy” are as wrenching as they are relatable. Songs like this reveal that drugs are not always used for pleasure, and sometimes only for artists and people in general to be able to get by in life.
Eric Clapton “Cocaine”
One of the most famous bluesmen of all time lays down his sorrows on the aptly named “Cocaine.” While she can be a crutch “If you got bad news,” or “If you wanna hang out/You’ve got to take her out,” but at the end of the day Clapton warns would-be users from his own experience “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie, cocaine.”
Buckcherry “Lit Up”
Alt-rockers Buckcherry deliver this high-flying, drag-racing tune expressing singer Josh Todd’s unadulterated love of cocaine. With a hard-hitting riff reminiscent of AC/DC and the opening line “I’m on a plane/With cocaine,” you know you are in for a wild ride. Todd has no qualms of loving the thrill of a night on the white horse, and makes it very clear in this song with his chorus “I’m all lit up again,” “I love the cocaine.”
Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze”
Who’s better than good ole Jimi on the guitar? Not many, that’s for sure. With one of the most recognizable guitar riffs of all time, this song just rocks. Hendrix was known for enjoying many types of altered states, and it came through in his music. While he never explicitly stated that “Purple Haze” was about L.S.D. (rather saying it is about a woman), the comparisons are too easy to make. With the opening lines “Purple haze all in my brain/Lately things just don’t seem the same/Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why/’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” and Hendrix’s documented drug use, this song remains an unofficial anthem for the effects of acid.
The Beatles “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
The Beatles are well-known for their experimentations with different substances, just as much as their willingness to push the boundaries of music and sound as we know it. While John Lennon has gone on record saying this song was based on a drawing his son did, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine it is about L.S.D., of which “Lucy” is a common street name. Its far-out instrumentation and irregular time shifts complement the hazy lyrics. Lennon’s colorful imagery such as “tangerine trees,” “marmalade skies,” “newspaper taxis” and “kaleidoscope eyes,” could be about many different things, so just use your imagination.