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The Best Drug Albums of All Time


A while back, we wrote about the age-old music industry debate regarding whether drugs catalyze creativity. There’s a huge amount of silliness written about musicians’ drug use — compare the hugely asinine “pro” position with the reasoned and rather sensible alternative here, for instance — but while we generally don’t buy into such destructive rock ‘n’ roll mythology, there have undeniably been some fantastic albums that’ll always be associated with drug use. With the band that made at least one such record — Spiritualized, with the all-time classic Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space — gearing up to put out their new album Sweet Heart Sweet Light, we thought we’d use this week’s release of their hugely strange, NSFW “Hey Jane” music video as an excuse to round up the best records that reflect both the highs and the lows of drug use. We’re of course aware that there are plenty more — what are your favorites? (And no, before you ask, The Dark Side of the Moon isn’t here. Just because everyone under the sun appears to have gotten wasted to this album at least once doesn’t mean it’s about drugs. So there.)

Cypress Hill — Black Sunday

If your teenage years didn’t involve getting heinously baked at least once with bad-influence friends while listening to this, well, we admire your commitment to Sparkle Motion.

The Chemical Brothers — Surrender

Despite their name, The Chemical Brothers themselves were never known for having especially herculean drug intakes, but this is in our humble opinion the single best ecstasy album ever recorded. The record’s trajectory pretty much exactly mirrors the MDMA experience — initial peaking rush; long, blissful mid-section; slow, whacked-out decline. Or, um so we’re told. (Of course, it conveniently omits the crushing comedown the next day.)

Primal Scream — Screamadelica

While we’re on ecstasy, as it were, here’s the album that’s as intrinsically associated with that particular drug as, arguably, any drug/album combination ever. For what it’s worth, this was voted the best drug album in NME‘s “Druggiest Albums Ever” list a couple of years back, and it’s certainly a contender for any such prize. All together now: “We want to be free to do what we want to do! We want to get loaded and have a good time!”

Lou Reed — Berlin

Yes, everyone’s going to scream about omitting The Velvet Underground and Nico from this list, but we’re only choosing one Lou Reed-related album, and while there’s no “Heroin” on Berlin, there’s plenty of drugs nonetheless. A portrait of a doomed junkie relationship, Berlin is bleak, callous, nihilistic and was famously branded “a gargantuan slab of maggoty rancor that may well be the most depressed album ever made” by Reed’s critic/nemesis Lester Bangs. Lester was probably right, but that doesn’t change the fact that Berlin is also genius. (A fact that, in Bangs’ defense, he also recognized, calling the record “disgustingly brilliant.”)

Sly and the Family Stone — There’s a Riot Goin’ On

Few albums do a better job than There’s a Riot Goin’ On of capturing the awful, creeping paranoia that descends when the coke stops being fun and starts being anything but. The story behind the record is well-documented — Sly holed up in his LA compound with a host of shady characters, consuming frightening quantities of coke as he cataloged the disintegration of the ’60s dream. The result was an album a world away from the joyous positivity of The Family Stone’s earlier output, and remains one of the most darkly compelling records anyone’s ever made.

The Mountain Goats — We Shall All Be Healed

Meth addiction reportage from one of rock’s finest lyricists, drawing on John Darnielle’s teenage years in Portland, Oregon. As you’d expect from Darnielle, the characters that populate these songs are keenly observed, as are the landscape and the lifestyle they inhabit — flat, empty, endless. The lyrics depict the destructive spiral of meth abuse in a way that’s matter-of-fact without being mawkish or sensationalist, and the result is something like Larry Clark’s Tulsa set to music — confronting, depressing and yet strangely beautiful.

Sleep — Dopesmoker

The name rather speaks for itself, eh? This hour-long one-song opus is the sound of strapping yourself to a bucket bong and embracing ego death. (Incidentally, last time we posted about Dopesmoker, a reader wrote in the comments section that she’d given birth with this album as a soundtrack. This is all kinds of awesome as far as we’re concerned.)

David Bowie — Station to Station

Apparently Bowie can’t even remember recording this. Which says it all, really.

The Red Crayola — Parable of Arable Land

You can keep your Aoxomoxoa and your Piper at the Gates of Dawn. As far as we’re concerned, the pinnacle of acid-drenched ’60s psychedelia came with this record, which is best approximated as like experiencing a whole album’s worth of that weird tripped-out bit in Easy Rider. Turn on, tune in, and start to believe that maybe the acid really was better in the 1960s.

Gowns — Red State

Like We Shall All Be Healed, this album is about the sort of drug abuse that unfolds away from the cities, far from headlines and focus groups and hand-wringing politicians, the sort of drug abuse that involves cough syrup and prescription pills and anything else bored kids can get their hands on. The songs read like narratives — indeed, the short lyrical vignettes of “Fargo” and “Rope” could just as easily be excerpts from a memoir or a short story — while the music does an uncannily effective job of simulating the way time stretches and warps when you’re on a shitload of downers. Making music like this, it’s no surprise Gowns eventually fractured — with Erika M. Anderson reinventing herself as EMA and making one of our favorite records of last year in Past Life Martyred Saints — but their one and only album remains a harrowing masterwork.

The Stooges — Fun House

The “Fun House” of the title is the house where Iggy lived in the late 1960s. There’ve been all sorts of hair-raising stories about the goings-on there related over the years, both by Iggy himself (especially in his memoir I Need More) and by horrified observers. Ron Asheton recalled how Iggy and various other reprobates would squirt the blood from used syringes all over the walls: “I wish I was smart enough to take pictures of it because it would have been a masterpiece.” Somehow, out of the madness emerged a record that captured the chaos of The Stooges’ lives and distilled it into some of the most amazing music that anyone’s ever made, anywhere. Who’d have thought it?

Spacemen 3 — Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To

We mentioned Spiritualized before, but for all that Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is one of our favorite records ever, drug-related or otherwise, but for this topic, it’s hard to go past this hilariously-titled collection of Spacemen 3’s early demos. It’s pretty much as utilitarian as drug music gets.