Home Music Music Lists

15 Songs You Didn’t Know Were About Drugs

Under-the-influence tracks from Talking Heads to Third Eye Blind

RollingStones; MGMT; 10 Songs You Didn't Know Were About Drugs

Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty, Getty

One version of rock history could be told by the many songs that have been written about the alluring dangers of drug use. From “Purple Haze” and “White Rabbit” to “White Lines” and “Under the Bridge,” there’s a bottomless supply of popular music about cocaine, heroin, marijuana and hallucinogens. What follows is a sample survey of 10 songs that may not be quite as obvious as Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” or Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol” – but they’re no less about messing with your mind.

The La's

Joe Dilworth/Photoshot/Getty Images

The La’s, ‘There She Goes’

The strange saga of Liverpool's La's, who seemed destined for greatness when their 1990 debut came out, seems apparent in retrospect, especially given the heavy clues dropped in the band's signature song. On the surface, "There She Goes" is about admiring a girl. Break the skin, however, and the song tells another story (albeit one that certain band members have long denied): "Racing through my brain, pulsing through my vein."

Elliott Smith

Frank Mullen/WireImage

Elliott Smith, ‘Needle in the Hay’

Spotting the late Elliott Smith's obvious struggle with substance abuse was not exactly like finding a needle in a haystack. Still, one of the songwriter's sweetest, most aching songs dodges the issue ever so slightly with double-entendres: "You ought to be proud that I'm getting good marks." Ouch.

Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Fleetwood Mac, ‘Gold Dust Woman’

When Courtney Love quizzed Stevie Nicks about writing "Gold Dust Woman," Nicks couldn't recall the details. "It’s weird that I’m not quite sure," she said. "It can’t be all about cocaine." Well, yes, it can, given Fleetwood Mac's legendary intake around the time of the Rumours album. "Take your silver spoon," Nicks sang, "and dig your grave."  

Steve Marriott Small Faces

Andrew Maclear/Redferns

Small Faces, ‘Itchycoo Park’

"It's all too beautiful," sang the Small Faces' Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane on one of the all-time great psychedelic pop songs, and that just about sums up the Sixties: in the end, the drugs were overwhelming. The BBC banned the song until the band claimed it was just a harmless recollection of a childhood playground. "What did you do there? I got high," they sang, which seems clear-cut. But Marriott once claimed, "We didn’t smoke. We just got high from not going to school." Riiiight.

Andrew VanWyngarden MGMT

John Shearer/Getty Images

MGMT, ‘Time to Pretend’

MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser have said this song was inspired by a praying mantis that laid eggs in their college apartment. They put the egg case on a model pirate ship, "and the eggs hatched and all these baby praying mantises were climbing up the rigging of the ship." Oh, and the mama liked to dance to the Clash. You don’t need to check the lyric references to heroin and cocaine and choking on vomit to know what really inspired the song. 

Stephan Jenkins Third Eye Blind

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Third Eye Blind, ‘Semi-Charmed Life’

One of the most relentlessly sunshine-y songs of the Nineties was actually written from the dingy indoor perspective of a man and woman on a drug binge – crystal meth, to be precise. "Then I bumped again," sings Stephan Jenkins, whose refrain is the same as that of every drug user, ever: "I want something else/To get me through this life."

Damon Albarn Blur

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Blur, ‘Beetlebum’

Damon Albarn says this woozy, Beatlesque Blur song from 1997 recalls his drug experience with former girlfriend Justine Frischmann of Elastica. Besides the obvious title reference to the all-time Britpop band, the term "chasing the beetle" is a variation on "chasing the dragon," which describes inhaling the vapor from heroin or opium heated over tin foil.

David Byrne Talking Heads

Kirk West/Getty Images

Talking Heads, ‘And She Was’

David Byrne has said he wrote this 1985 MTV favorite about a girl he once knew growing up in the Baltimore area who took acid while lying in the grass near a Yoo-hoo factory: "And she was lying in the grass/And she could hear the highway breathing." The girl in the song has an out-of-body experience; Byrne, we're assuming, has been there once or twice, with or without chemical help.

Ed Sheeran

Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Ed Sheeran, ‘The A Team’

U.K. songwriter Ed Sheeran earned a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year for his deceptively upbeat hit single "The A Team." Sheeran has explained that the song was inspired by a gig he played as a naïve 18-year-old at a homeless shelter, where he heard stories about women struggling with Class A substances – "breathing in snowflakes."

Mick Jagger The Rolling Stones

Jan Persson/Redferns

The Rolling Stones, ‘Dead Flowers’

The Stones have written no shortage of songs about drugs over the years, from "Mother's Little Helper" and "Brown Sugar" to "Sister Morphine" and "Monkey Man." Somewhat less obvious is "Dead Flowers," the country tune from Sticky Fingers, which might sound like it's about ill-fated romance ("And I won't forget to put roses on your grave"), if heroin didn't come from poppies.  

Show Comments