THERE ARE LOTS OF SONGS ABOUT DRUGS OUT THERE. Honorable philosophers will argue for centuries hence that they’re all about drugs, from “Der Erlkönig” to “Gangnam Style.” In attempting a definitive list that weighs out proper, I hoped to sort the junk from the real stuff. Any song full of cut had to be, er, cut. Apologies to the sixties: Drugs and songs existed before and after you did. I know, total drag!
1. “Der Erlkönig” - Franz Schubert and Goethe
What could be considered the original drug song tells of the peril that may befall a parent who tries the parenting “strategy” of acting like drugs don’t exist. Kids grow up fast, don’t sleep on it, or your kid might wind up dead!
2. “Windmills of Your Mind” – Michel Legrand
This is really the most well-rounded description of humanity’s experience with drugs. Torme sounds like he’s going to pass out, and the timing is all weird. You may be looking forward to limos and white top hats. This pointless stream of consciousness and paranoid navel-gazing is what you can expect.
3. “Reefer Man” - Cab Calloway
This is only here because it’s probably the first very in-your-face mainstream drug song. No “mary jane” or “white rabbit” euphemisms here, no sir.
4. “Let’s Go Get Stoned” – Ray Charles
Much cooler than the similar Bob Dylan song, because it’s about alcohol. And if you’re going to drink, “stoned” is the best outcome you can hope for. It’s all about being gentle with it.
5. “Sweet Leaf” – Black Sabbath
A solid tune. Doesn’t beat you over the head with the message, if you’re into that sort of thing.
6. “Steppenwolf” – The Pusher
Hoyt Axton wrote this song but was maybe too stoned to record it fast enough. Steppenwolf got the tone right with this groovy rendition. And it has a message, man…
7. “Mr. Brownstone” – Guns ‘n’ Roses
Some drugs are about tripping and opening your mind. Others are about making you feel like you’re awesome, and acting like you’re better than everyone is what he/she/mom/dad wants you to do. The shiny guitars and slick riffs, Axl’s way-out vocal range, all the chord changes all over the place, these elements do a good job of representing the kind of baseless confidence provided by mainlining the most powerful painkillers in nature.
8. “Heroin” – The Velvet Underground
Some people would say ‘Waiting for the man’ is the better song. I’ve definitely listened to it ten times more than this seven-minute babbling mess. But Lou’s Pickwick songwriting days show on that last line “but then you gotta split because you got no time to waste”… the line doesn’t tell me anything, it’s just cool, like you’re a busy junkie with things to do, cool. Meanwhile, on this track, you get the buildup to not caring about “everybody puttin everybody else down, and all the dead bodies piling up in mounds…”
9. “The Needle and the Damage Done” – Neil Young
This track is just Neil and his guitar, and an audience that you don’t realize is there until the song ends. It ends abruptly on a diminished, sad chord, and then you hear this quick, polite applause. It kind of feels like society’s average interaction with junkies. Neil threw in the famous two words “cellar door”, which are famous because people think it’s worth celebrating the fact that some people think this pair of words is the most beautiful-sounding combo in English. Ok, stoners…
10. “Losing Touch” - Spacemen 3
These guys put out a record called “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”. They understand the teachings of V.S. Ramachandran on mirror neurons. If I watch you wave your hand, the part of my brain that lights up is the same part that’s active when I wave my own hand. So, yes, these guys were high when they recorded this, and it’s enough to get you high to listen to it. They were real junkies, and predictably their best material was accidentally recorded, but when they really tried, it just kind of reeked of effort, dude.
11. “Funtime” – Iggy Pop and David Bowie
“Lust for Life”? Forget it. It’s simple, “I just do what I want to do”. This is the acceptance stage. Like accepting a huge screwup in the guitar part right on the landing of the first chorus. The second time around he just nails it.
12. “My Fault” – Eminem
This is what a drug song should sound like. There’s an awkward beat, a dorky-sounding guitar part, Eminem singing falsetto out of tune, and gross sound effects of a girl sort of crying. This is what drugs are like, kids, this is as glamourous as it gets. You and pimply friends with frosted tips and “interesting” pants in a suburban clapboard with your insecurities all night.
I should mention that Eminem saying “shut up slut” and clowning about incestual rape for laughs is detestable, and 99% of Eminem fans will one day love children or flowers and hate this shit. So, weaved in with the tune is the lesson. Goofing with drugs put you at risk of being a cruel idiot. Drugs are for healing a sickness, not for perpetuating it. Focus, people. Be a medicine man/woman, and get high on love already.