In a cruel, cruel irony, the day after the inaugural Flavorpill Media office piss-up karaoke night turns out to be… the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. The last thing anyone wants to be doing right now is thinking about alcohol, but this seems like an anniversary worth commemorating, especially since alcohol has had an all too intimate relationship with art over the years. In particular, it’s an integral part of music, for better or worse — and beyond the ranks of silly drinking songs, plenty of songwriters have investigated the pernicious nature of the demon drink over the years. So here’s a selection of songs about getting wasted, both celebratory and, well, less so.
Tom Waits — “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)”
No one does romantically dissipated better than Tom Waits, and if there’s a song that’s a better evocation of the sort of melancholy that alcohol brings, of wandering lonely foreign streets with a bottle in your hand as the rain comes down, well, I’d love to hear it. Also, this gets extra points for referencing “Waltzing Matilda.”
The Stooges — “1970”
By all accounts, the Fun House was quite a place to be, especially if making abstract art by squirting blood out of syringes onto the wall was your thing. This song captures the air of desperate hedonism that must have hung around the place, an evocation of the feeling you get when the party’s been going for days and you don’t really want it to continue, but you definitely don’t want it to stop — when Iggy insists “I feel alright!” again and again, he sounds anything but.
Snoop Doggy Dogg — “Gin and Juice”
If you haven’t gotten wasted to this at least once, you haven’t lived. (And shit, I don’t even like gin.)
The Doors — “Roadhouse Blues”
Jim Morrison was by all accounts a rather unpleasant alcoholic, which makes it all too believable that he really did get up in the morning and get himself a beer. Still, this is is an excellent ode to the multi-day bender. Like “1970,” its hedonism is of the faintly desperate kind, driving yourself onward into the night because the alternative is too awful to contemplate.
Elliott Smith — “Between the Bars”
And speaking of alcoholism, is there a better metaphor than the one around which this song is built? The “between the bars” double entendre refers to seeing a lover during one of the fleeting moments when you’re sober, but also alludes to the idea of addiction as a prison — which, of course, it is. Oh, Elliott.
Oasis — “Cigarettes and Alcohol”
Look, it probably seems like a bad joke now, but there was a brief period, circa 1994, when Oasis felt like a vital force in music. This was their finest moment, an evocation of the sort of hedonism that comes about because there’s nothing better to do: “Is it worth the aggravation to find a job when there’s nothing worth working for?/ It’s a crazy situation/ But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol.” (And cocaine, for the record.)
Kendrick Lamar — “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
A literal conversation between Lamar and his conscience, with a whole heap of peer pressure added in for good measure. If you’re comparing the amount of alcohol you’re consuming to a swimming pool, it’s probably time to admit that you have a problem.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins — “I Put a Spell On You”
Not about getting wasted, per se, but worth a mention for the simple fact that Screamin’ Jay was shitfaced when he recorded it. As per the man himself, a label executive “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version. I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”
Kanye West — “Hold My Liquor”
West has been reasonably open about his vexed relationship with alcohol over the years (“What’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” The latter, sadly). This Yeezus highlight catalogs falling off the wagon with a thud, and then taking an ill-advised drive to the house of an ex-girlfriend, with results both tragicomic (“When I parked my Range Rover/ Slightly scratched your Corolla/ OK, I smashed your Corolla”) and ultimately just plain old sad (“Shit’s all over the place… I wanna phone home”).
The Dead Kennedys — “Too Drunk to Fuck”
Hey, look, it happens.