Before songs like the Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’, Jefferson Airplane‘s’ ‘White Rabbit’ and the Velvet Underground‘s ‘Heroin’ became commonplace, drug references in popular music were quite rare. When the aforementioned songs were sent out into the mid-’60s’ bubbling counterculture, they served as a secret handshake among like-minded people. Since then, the subject has become familiar on the rock ‘n’ roll landscape. Our list of the Top 10 Drug Songs looks at all sides — the good, the bad and the ugly.
During that dour period in the ’80s when hair metal and sugary pop ruled popular music, Guns N’ Roses broke through to remind fans that rock ‘n’ roll was supposed to straddle the fence between grit and glamour. No song in their catalog exemplifies this more than ‘Mr. Brownstone,’ which simultaneously celebrates and laments heroin addiction.
‘For Your Life’
Nobody in Led Zeppelin had any right to wag his fingers at outsiders when it came to debauchery. But a newly reflective Robert Plant felt the need to address the massive use of cocaine going around the rock scene at the time with this slow-mo groove of a tune.
Originally a B-side to a Marianne Faithfull single, ‘Sister Morphine’ is one of the most disturbing songs Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ever wrote. Jagger serves up one of his most desperate vocal deliveries as he wails on about faceless doctors, cocaine, morphine and crawling on the floor. The menacing slide guitar by Ry Cooder only adds to the cut’s jarring essence.
John Lennon was never afraid to expose himself through his songs. On ‘Cold Turkey’ he unfolds his withdrawal from heroin addiction with unflinching honesty. When he finally starts to lose it in the last minute or so with a series of wails and moans, things get downright terrifying.
‘Gold Dust Woman’
Looking back at it, it’s somewhat shocking that Fleewtood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ has such a soft-rock reputation. It was recorded by five people who were spiraling out of control in crumbling relationships, personal conflicts and drug abuse. In the album’s closing ‘Gold Dust Woman’, Stevie Nicks tries to make sense of all the emotional chaos and drug use going on around her, emerging with the album’s darkest cut.
Even though Jefferson Airplane aren’t officially advocating drug use in their counterculture classic ‘White Rabbit,’ the song is undoubtedly an anthem for the era’s burgeoning drug scene. A mix of hallucinogenics and Lewis Carroll will do that. Feed your head, indeed.
‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’
There’s always been speculation on whether or not ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ is about LSD. John Lennon claimed he wrote it about a drawing his son Julian drew, but with all those lyrics about looking-glass ties and kaleidoscope eyes, we’re a bit skeptical, to say the least.
‘The Needle and the Damage Done’
‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ may be one of the first precautionary songs about drug use to appear on a hit album in the early part of the ’70s. Neil Young wrote it about his Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten, whose heroin addiction was out of control at that point. He’d die within a year of ‘Harvest”s release.
The opening song on 1971’s ‘Masters of Reality’ is the ultimate stoner jam, beginning with Tony Iommi’s looped cough (presumably after ingesting too much of the devil’s lettuce) before launching one of the heaviest riffs known to mankind. Meanwhile, Ozzy Osbourne sings about the positive effects of a puff from time to time.
By 1967, it wasn’t all that rare to find references to marijuana and LSD in songs. But no one was ready for a seven-minute roller-coaster ride about heroin use in such a manner. After hearing Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground classic — which encompasses the rush of euphoria and the pang of despair — no one ever needs to take a ride on the white horse.
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