Rock Songs About Drugs
Recreational drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: It was fun until it wasn’t. The songs endure.
In the rock ‘n’ roll soundscape, recreational drugs (and alcohol…”it’s a drug, man”) are celebrated, shunned, laughed about, dreaded, welcomed, feared, recovered from, and waxed poetic.
I did my share of substances back in the day. I was a willing soldier in the Woodstock generation and then got serious about life. I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times, for which l am still paying the consequences, but have survived intact.
My friends will tell you that I despise drugs (except for my blood pressure pills) and the destruction they cause. But I still get a kick out of songs that harken back to times when we didn’t worry about the consequences, when it was okay to be reckless, when life was one long rock concert.
A time when “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” was worn as a badge of honor.
Songs About Drugs
Here are my favorite songs about recreational drugs and alcohol abuse. I feature five songs and then close with an exhaustive list of songs about drugs because there are so damn many. Now, who’s got the dope?
1) Under the Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1992
Shirtless wonders Red Hot Chili Peppers was formed in LA in the eighties. The band has sold over 120 million records and holds the record for 15 number-one singles on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart. They played the halftime show at the 2014 Super Bowl and were recently featured on a segment of 60 Minutes.
“Under the Bridge,” from the band’s fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was written by lead singer Anthony Kiedis, who was three years clean after a lifetime of substance abuse, most recently heroin. Kiedis had kept his recovery secret from his bandmates and wrote a poem about his resulting loneliness and isolation. Kiedis showed the poem to producer Rick Rubin, who said, “I thought it was beautiful. I said, ‘we’ve got to do this.'”
This remarkable song is an outlier from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ usual spirited, acrobatic sound. Here is the official music video of “Under the Bridge,” published by the Red Hot Chili Peppers via YouTube:
2) Smoke Two Joints, Sublime, 1992
Here’s another California band that started in the eighties: Sublime, from Long Beach, with its unique punk ska sound, cadenced rhythm schemes, and clever lyrics. The band had a brief revival in 2009 before moving on to other projects.
Actually, “Smoke Two Joints” was not Sublime’s clever lyrics. The song was written by a band called the Toyes, who performed it in traditional reggae style in 1983. Almost a decade later, Sublime released a cover version on their debut album, 40oz. to Freedom. This video captures Sublime’s snark, published by Eddie Villa via YouTube:
3) Needle and Spoon, Savoy Brown, 1969
Savoy Brown was a British blues/rock band formed in 1965. For a band that underwent a traffic jam of personnel changes over the years, it enjoyed the constant presence of guitarist Kim Simmonds, who’s in the conversation for best guitar ever. Simmonds died in 2022.
Savoy Brown’s salad days were in the late sixties with the release of the iconic song “Train to Nowhere” (1968) with Chris Youlden as singer/songwriter. The following year, the band released Raw Sienna which included the song, “Needle and Spoon.” Youlden’s vocal performance is both jaunty and tormented, a perfect portrayal of heroin’s menace.
Listen for yourself in this video plus lyrics, three+ minutes in length, published by Arnel Coronel Santos via YouTube:
4) Alcohol, Barenaked Ladies, 1998
Barenaked Ladies was formed in 1988 in suburban Toronto, Canada. This is the group that released “Be My Yoko Ono,” a popular 1991 smirk-fest. In 1998, they released their fourth album, Stunt, which yielded the band’s biggest hit, “One Week,” which very coincidentally spent one week as number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Stunt includes a clever song titled “Alcohol,” which informed their listeners that booze was a “permanent accessory” and “party-time necessity.” The song concludes by pleading:
Would you please ignore,
That you found me on the floor,
Oh, alcohol, please forgive me,
For I cannot love myself,
i’ll use something else.
All I could find is the standard sound version of “Alcohol,” published by Barenaked Ladies via YouTube. Listen to the words.
5) That Smell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1977
They need no introduction: Along with the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd occupies the pantheon of Southern rockers. You can read my profile about the band, especially about their friendly feud with Neil Young, here.
The lyrics of “That Smell” were written by lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, who was freaked out over his bandmates’ increasing drug and alcohol abuse. When guitarist Gary Rossington crashed his Ford Torino into an oak tree In Jacksonville, Florida, Van Zant had his first verse:
Whiskey bottles and brand new cars
Oak tree you’re in my way
There’s too much coke and too much smoke
Look what’s going on inside you…
Oooh that smell
The smell of death surrounds you.
“That Smell” was the second single released from the album Street Survivors. Three days after the album was released, a plane crash killed several band members, including Van Zant.
Here is a live performance of “That Smell,” dated July 13, 1977, at the Convention Center in Asbury Park, New Jersey. It’s black and white and grainy, but it’s the genuine article, published by Lynyrd Skynyrd via YouTube:
Rock Songs About Drugs: 30 of the Rest
Life in the Fast Lane – Eagles
Tomorrow Never Knows – the Beatles
Freddie’s Dead – Curtis Mayfield
Wine – the Electric Flag
Amphetamine Annie – Canned Heat
Sister Morphine – the Rolling Stones
The Bottle – Gil Scott-Heron
Heroin – Velvet Underground
Easy Rollin’ – the Rascals
First Call – NOFX
Cocaine – Eric Clapton
Kicks – Paul Revere & the Raiders
Fresh Air – Quicksilver Messenger Service
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix Experience
Casey Jones – Grateful Dead
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
Hard Monkeys – Ten Years After
Taxi – Harry Chapin
Sweet Blindness – Laura Nyro, the Fifth Dimension
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Cloud Nine – the Temptations
Rehab – Amy Winehouse
The Needle and the Spoon – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Needle and the Damage Done – Neil Young
The Pusher – Steppenwolf
I Got Loaded – Los Lobos
Arrested for Driving While Blind – ZZ Top
I Drink Alone – George Thorogood
Cocaine Blues – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
Eight Miles High – the Byrds
I know I missed plenty. I suppose you’ll tell me which ones.