Your Love Is a Drug: 20 Great Narcotic Love Songs
It can make you feel on top of the world, and plunge you into the deepest pits of depression. It can be disorienting, maddening, even ruinous; it can satisfy you and quiet your internal demons, but it can also cause you to make terrible decisions and question your very identity. And it's often in woefully short supply when you need it most.
We're talking about love, of course; but all of the above outcomes can easily apply to the mind-altering substance of your choice, as well. Which is why numerous artists and songwriters over the years have penned songs that liken love to drugs, or drugs to love, or both — the Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" being just the latest in a long and intoxicated tradition. Marijuana, cocaine, opiates, ecstacy, acid and alcohol have generally provided the points of comparison in such songs, but who knows — it may not be long until someone writes a song equating love with bath salts.
In honor of "Can't Feel My Face" and its recent conquest of the pop charts, we compiled a list of 20 great narcotic love songs, from the lightly buzzy to the deeply fried.
Huey Lewis and the News, “I Want a New Drug” (1984)
Drug songs don't come a whole lot less trippy than Huey Lewis's relentlessly jaunty 1984 smash, which finds Patrick Bateman's favorite singer running down a list of potential side effects and delivery systems, before deciding that the only worthwhile intoxicant would be "one that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you." A (hip to be) square message, perhaps, but it made perfect sense in the mid-Eighties, when the libertines of the previous decade were cutting their hair and renouncing their hard-partying ways, and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" supplanted "If It Feels Good, Do It" as the reigning pop-culture mantra.
The La’s, “There She Goes” (1990)
The perfect pop glaze of the La's greatest hit masks a seedier lyrical center, one easily ignored amid the song's jangly guitars and wistfully hooky chorus melody. Ostensibly a love song to an unforgettable girl, "There She Goes" contains several lyrics — "Racing through my brain … pulsing through my vein … no-one else can heal my pain" — that could also refer to a much more ominous mistress, especially in light of rampant rumors about La's leader Lee Mavers' subsequent descent into heroin addiction. Of course, no one apparently bothered to mention that to Christian pop-rockers Sixpence None the Richer, who released their own hit version of the song a decade later.
Kelly Clarkson, “Addicted” (2004)
Clarkson got uncharacteristically dark on this track from her second album, 2004's Breakaway. Co-written with former Evanescence members David Hodges and Ben Moody — and pretty much sounding like a lost Evanescence track — "Addicted" equates her lover with "a demon I can't face down," lamenting the sheer soul-sucking, dreams-invading power that he exerts over her life. She knows she's gotta kick it cold turkey, but she can't help going back for more. "I'll handle it, quit it/Just one more time/Then that's it." Unfortunately for her, that's not the way this stuff usually works.
Billie Holiday, “You Go to My Head” (1938)
Originally composed in 1938 by songwriter John Frederick Coots and lyricist Haven Gillespie, "You Go to My Head" has been recorded by dozens of artists, but none delivered the tune with more pizazz than the late, great Billie Holiday. Even without Lady Day's intoxicating delivery, however, the song's playful lyrics (which alternately liken love to "a sip of sparkling burgundy brew" and "the kicker in a julep or two") and languorous melody still conjure up something decidedly more adult in nature than Coots and Gillespie's most famous collaboration — "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
Nino Tempo and April Stevens, “All Strung Out” (1966)
This brother-and-sister duo was best known for their clean-cut 1963 easy-listening smash "Deep Purple," a fact which makes the blatant drug-withdrawal metaphor of this minor 1966 hit that much more jarring. The album of the same name featured several other love songs in a similar, um, vein as "All Strung Out" ("You'll Be Needing Me Baby," "I Can't Go on Living Baby Without You," "The Habit of Lovin' You Baby"), making one wonder if all the addiction references were just a misguided attempt to market the duo to the "turned on" youth market. Still, there's no denying the mood-elevating power of the song's Phil Spector–influenced production.
Kesha, “Your Love Is My Drug” (2010)
While the slick disco-pop groove of Kesha's 2010 single isn't the sort of thing that would be held up at customs for further examination, the song's lyrics find her hitting the love-as-addiction metaphors hard and fast, and debating whether or not she needs to go to rehab. "My friends think that I've gone crazy/My judgement's gettin' kinda hazy/My steez is gonna be affected/If I keep it up like a lovesick crackhead," she sings, before ultimately rationalizing that "the rush is worth the price I pay." Spoken like a true addict, girl!
The Beatles, “Got to Get You Into My Life” (1966)
There are plenty of trippier-sounding songs in the Beatles' catalog — and at least five on Revolver alone — but the brassy "Got to Get You Into My Life" is an actual ode to drugs masquerading as a love song. As Paul McCartney told writer Barry Miles, the Revolver track was "one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot. … So [it's] really a song about that, it's not to a person." Indeed, lyrics like "Say we'll be together every day" and "Did I tell you I need you/Every single day of my life" are positively radiant with the single-minded exuberance of the newly converted pot smoker.
The Association, “Along Comes Mary” (1966)
Another winning entry in the extensive "You should totally smoke pot, man" canon of the 1960s, the Association's snappy 1966 breakthrough hit was piled high with breathlessly tongue-twisting lyrics — courtesy of songwriter Tandyn Almer — that made a lot more sense once you realized that the "Mary" in question was a weed, not a woman. But the song's sunny harmonies and ingratiating melody distracted most listeners from ever wondering what a line like "And does she want to set them free and let them see reality from where she got her name?" was really about.
Justin Timberlake, “Pusher Love Girl” (2013)
JT might not be the first artist that comes to mind when it comes to drug references, but the eight-minute opening track from 2013's The 20/20 Experience finds JT rattling off a veritable roll call of controlled substances and love-as-addiction metaphors over a squelchy baby-making groove. "I'm just a j-j-j-junkie for your love," he admits from his current position of "high on the ceiling," describing the object of his affections as "My heroin, my cocaine, my plum wine, my MDMA." Your plum wine, dude? Damn, this shit is serious!
Rihanna, “Diamonds” (2012)
"You're a shooting star I see/A vision of ecstasy" sings Rihanna on her Sia-penned 2012 hit, and the pun is definitely intended. From the warm glow of the mid-tempo electronic groove to euphoric lyrics like "Palms rise to the universe/As we moonshine and molly/Feel the warmth, we'll never die/We're like diamonds in the sky," the song is equal parts love trip and MDMA bliss-out, with both halves morphing together for an excursion into the sparkling realms of the universe on a chemical built for two.
The Gun Club, “She’s Like Heroin to Me” (1981)
"I'm like a train shooting down the mainline," cries the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce on this punk-blues raver from Fire of Love, the Gun Club's 1981 debut. No stranger to the needle, Pierce — who would contract HIV, cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis before his death from a brain hemorrhage in 1996 — sings of a girl who "cannot miss a vein" with all the raving obsessiveness of a junkie who needs his fix now, and the runaway intensity of the band's attack makes you feel like you're right there with him on that hellbound train.
Roxy Music, “Love Is the Drug” (1975)
While Bryan Ferry generally plays the world-weary romantic in his songs, the romance of Roxy Music's first big U.S. hit is strictly clinical in nature. "Love is the drug and I need to score," Ferry admits, on his way to staking his place at the singles bar in yet another attempt to "catch that buzz." He scores, of course, as illustrated in the nudge-nudge-wink-winking couplet, "I say go/She say yes/Dim the lights/You can guess the rest" — though the song's clockwork art-funk groove is so gum-numbingly precise, no jury would convict you for mis-hearing "I say go" as "I say coke."
Robert Palmer, “Addicted to Love” (1985)
"You'd like to think you're immune to the stuff," sang the late Robert Palmer on his worldwide 1985 smash, which was built around as straightforward a love/addiction analogy as has ever been waxed. Though the exact addiction in question was never specifically mentioned, everything about the song — from its lyrical references to sweating hearts and grinding teeth, to the pinched guitar tones and piercing synth horns — absolutely screamed cocaine abuse, making "Addicted to Love" the ideal theme song for chopping and snorting lines, whether at the club or in the corporate bathroom.
The Everly Brothers, “Mary Jane” (1967)
Few Summer of Love anthems were more thinly veiled than this underrated 1967 Everly Brothers track, which found Phil and Don looking for comfort and security in the embrace of a "girl" named Mary Jane. As if the off-kilter fairground calliope and psychedelic fuzz guitar on the intro weren't already a dead giveaway, lines like "Clouds so sweet/Cloud my mind" and "I found the key to tomorrow/Through a chauffeur from the past" helpfully underlined the herbal essence of the titular entity — which may be why the single failed to receive much in the way of actual airplay.
Rick James, “Mary Jane” (1978)
If the Everly Brothers' "Mary Jane" is a paranoid pot freakout, then Rick James' 1978 paean to the same "lady" is a stoned-to-the-gills soul picnic, a feel-good funk buffet featuring only the dankest of sticky buds. "I'm in love with Mary Jane/She's my main thing," James proudly exults over the summery, oft-sampled groove — a song which is so wonderfully playful and positive, it ultimately makes you wish that the man had simply continued to party with her, rather than getting all mixed up with that nasty bitch Cocaine.
The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face” (2015)
And speaking of cocaine, the first line of this brittle pop-soul jam —"And I know she'll be the death of me/But at least we'll both be numb" — makes it pretty clear from the outset which aisle of the candy store the Weeknd has been shopping in. Whether the high he's reveling in comes from the drug, or from his girl, or from doing both at the same time, he knows the long-term prognosis isn't a healthy one. ("She'll always get the best of me/The worst is yet to come.") But when it feels this good, who can think about stopping?
XTC (as the Dukes of Stratosphear), “You’re My Drug” (1987)
As with most of Psonic Psunspot, the 1987 album from XTC's paisley-swaddled alter-egos, this druggy declaration tiptoes the fine line between a tribute to and parody of the original psychedelic era, when bands with names like Tomorrow, Kaleidoscope and the Strawberry Alarm Clock reveled in the Technicolor horizons newly available to the third eye. Still, this track's Byrdsy 12-strings, "stun"-level phase shifters and slinky "So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star" groove make it a great psychedelic love song in its own right, while lyrics like "You take me to heaven from deeper than hell ever dug/You fly me higher than a trip on a magical rug" have a legitimately lysergic ring to them.
D’Angelo, “Brown Sugar” (1995)
With its sensual groove and bedroom croon, the title track of D'Angelo's 1995 neo-soul debut comes off at first like a straight-up seduction plea — at least, until you start catching the references to bloodshot eyes and "a big sister by the name of Chocolate Thai." The clouds of pot smoke grow thicker the deeper you go into the song, until the contact high ultimately becomes unavoidable. "Yo, I don't think y'all hear me," pleads D'Angelo towards the end. No, brother, we hear you loud and clear — we're just not quite as stoned as you think we should be!
Eric Burdon and the Animals, “A Girl Named Sandoz” (1967)
One of the finest purveyors of British blues, Eric Burdon took a hard left turn into hippiedom after dropping acid for the first time. The experience resulted in this sublimely over-the-top lysergic love letter from 1967 — "Sandoz" being the name of the Swiss pharmaceutical company that discovered the psychedelic effects of LSD. As guitars shudder and swirl over a dancing xylophone, Burdon describes his trip ("It was hot/But the snow lay on the ground"), proclaims his eternal gratitude to the girl "who taught me love," and insists that "we could all learn something from your world," before letting loose with a "YEEEAAAH BABY!" so primal, it sounds like Austin Powers being catapulted back to the Paleolithic Era.
A$AP Rocky, “L$D” (2015)
While the title of A$AP Rocky's summer smash ostensibly stands for "Love, Sex and Dreams," the song itself contains some notable traces of that other LSD. The blissed-out, spacy lope of the verses is trippy enough — ditto for lines like "My tongue had a loss for words/'Cause my feelings just said it all" — but the unexpected shift to the "Excuse me, Mr. Bill Collector" part brilliantly mimics the way one's thoughts can suddenly warp when they're cruising through the astral plane. "Can you feel it?" he asks his girl, but she's too transfixed by the sight of his melting face to answer back.