film / tv / streaming / politics / web / celeb/ industry / video / love / lists / think pieces / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / politics / web / celeb

February 4, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | February 4, 2009 |

There was a hilarious moment in November 2007 when, for about ten minutes, my mother harboured the suspicion that I was a junkie. And who can blame her: I’m really quite thin, and always short of money — good work picking up on those tell-tale danger signs, Mum! What she flatteringly neglected to factor in, though, is how much of a geek her son is. I would have no idea where to get hold of heroin, and I’m not good with needles. Hell, I don’t even know how or where to procure any weed, and even if I did just find some on the ground somewhere, there isn’t a hope in hell that I could roll it into an even half-way presentable doob.

But I’ve seen Trainspotting and “The Wire,” and listened to some pretty, pretty, pretty dangerous music, so I know everything there is to know - and can often be heard at parties disserting wisely on the subject of ‘dope fiends, yo’ or ‘that cruel mistress, Mary-Jane’. And, having so firmly established my credentials, here are my top ten drug songs.

memphisjug.jpgThe Memphis Jug Band recorded their take on the traditional “Cocaine Habit Blues” — also known as “Take A Whiff On Me” — in 1930, and I love their really jovial take on it, with sweet harmonies, kazoo and harmonica. It’s a popular old blues, and one also recorded by the great Leadbelly around the same time. In 2006, country band Old Crow Medicine Show produced a riotous cover of it for their album Big Iron Worldocms2.jpg; it fits very snugly into their pantheon of drug songs.

On their latest album, Tennessee Pusher, the song “Methamphetamine” is one of the stand-out tracks: it has urgency to it, and the lyrics are deceptively harsh - the song warns ‘It’s gonna rock you ‘til you’re out of a job’. Not very rocking, then.

wainwright.jpgRufus Wainwright’s struggles with the same drug are well charted — his song “Go or Go Ahead” deals with crystal meth, in particular — and on the elegant “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” (my pick of the bunch) he addresses his problems with addiction in more general terms, saying “Everything it seems I like/ Is a little bit sweeter/ A little bit fatter/ A little bit harmful for me”. That verse starts cute, and ends with a deadly euphemism: typical Wainwright sucker-punch.

velvetunderground.jpgI’ve got two songs about heroin, here: the classic Velvet Underground number “Heroin” — so dark and woozy and hard to listen to — and Bert Jansch’s beautiful warning song, “Needle of Death”, on which the guitar hero plucks a delicate, simple tune on the ol’ acoustic. Needless to say, from these songs you really get the sense of what a difficult bitch heroin is: how overpowering, and how dangerous.

thea.jpgTwo folky female singers talk of drugs as if in a relationship - in Thea Gilmore’s “Benzedrine” it’s almost a love song, set to a thumping, violin-backed guitar workout. Gillian Welch in “My Morphine” talks of a relationship going awry, saying ‘my morphine’ll be the death of me’. This almost tender yet co-dependent relation seems very evocative to me.

And so to something happier: the Magnetic Fields deliver a typically wry, pop-inflected ode to E in the charmingella.jpg “Take Ecstasy With Me”.

Also, here’s Ella Fitzgerald’s gloriously sassy “When I Get Low, I Get High” - like the Memphis Jug Band song, recorded in the Depression — is a fighting song about getting through life with a little help from your drugs. It’s just a really fun, swinging song, and therefore the one my mix ends with.

ghostface.jpgBut before that we have Ghostface Killah, whose brilliant song “Kilo” - from the brilliant Fishscale, which is practically all about cocaine - gently reminds us that drugs are first and foremost a trade, and a symptom of poverty and social inequality. His writing is spare and straight to the point, and this is a fantastic song.

The Playlist:

Old Crow Medicine Show - Methamphetamine

(ed. note - for whatever reason, we couldn’t add this to the actual playlist below. -TK)

Caspar likes book, music and films, and would never be described as “enigmatic.” Read more about him at his blog, Straigh Outta Crouch End.

Pajiba Music

If You Don't Believe Cocaine Is Good, Ask Karl Rove And Elijah Wood

Drug Songs - A Wednesday Afternoon Playlist / Caspar Salmon

Music | February 4, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

Slap Shot Remake

Pajiba Love 02/04/09

The Pajiba Store


Privacy Policy