Drugs In Rock: A Demonization or an Exaltation?

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Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll: three things that have sculpted the realm of music since the early days of the hard-living jazz and blues pioneers.

The counter-culture revolution of the 1960s spawned some of the most popular rock bands and musicians of all-time, and drugs were a long-standing prevalent theme in much of the music produced during this time.

In the growing decades since, popular music has continued to reflect the ever-changing drug culture. Here is guide to the twisted, reckless and inspirational lyrics of 15 of the most popular drug-inspired rock songs of the past few life-changing decades.

Heroin by The Velvet Underground, 1967.

The Velvet Underground had a well-known habit to investigate the seedier aspects of society, and made no attempt to mask the subject of their 1967 hit Heroin, which detailed the power and numbness associated with the using the drug.

It might have been done merely for shock value, or because Reed liked gritty subjects, or as a dark poem of addiction; the beauty of this song is that it works on all of these levels, and many more, at the same time. In many of his songs, we have cases where Lou Reed kept the focus on providing an objective description of the topic without taking a moral stance on the matter.

Cause when the smack begins to flow, then I really don’t care anymore."

Morning Glory by Oasis, 1995.

Morning Glory tackles the subject of a powerful cocaine addiction and its ramifications on the user. According to songwriter and singer Noel Gallagher, he originally titled the song Blue.

All your dreams are made, when you’re chained to (your) mirror with (your) razor blade."

What’s your story morning glory was a catch-phrase long before the Oasis song. I remember my dad saying it often when I was a kid, just because it sounds. It comes from a 1939 song, which was revived in the late 50s and early 60s. That song mentions morning glory because it is very blue. It is unknown why Oasis referred to it. Morning Glory was often interpreted as the erection that young men tend to get as they are waking up, but it can’t be guaranteed that Oasis were thinking of that.

Hotel California by The Eagles, 1977.

Hotel California was rumored to be about heroin addiction or Satan worship, but band leader Don Henley had more prosaic things on his mind:

We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest,“ he said. ”Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.“

Recording the six-and-a-half-minute song posed its share of problems: Working in Miami, the Eagles were initially unable to re-create Felder’s 12-string intro and elaborate twin-guitar coda. Panicked, Felder called his housekeeper in L.A. and sent her digging through a pile of tapes in his home studio so she could play his demo back over the phone.

While the song carries with it a wide range of interpretations, there are noticeable drug references sprinkled throughout.

Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air…"

Purple Haze by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967.

Hendrix wrote the lyrics on the day after Christmas in 1966. He wrote a lot more than what made it to the song. The track was developed at a press function that he attended at East London’s Upper Cut Club, run by the former boxer Billy Walker. Hendrix launched into the scorching riff in the club’s compact dressing room and every head turned.

I said, write the rest of that, said Chandler. That’s the next single!

It was premiered live on 8 January 1967, in Sheffield in the north of England.

Rolling Stone named it the #2 greatest guitar song of all time, and common investigation says that the song chronicles Hendrix’s use of marijuana and LSD. Interestingly, although a well-known drug user, Hendrix denied the interpretation, claiming he wrote it about a dream in which he was walking under the sea.

Purple haze, all around. Don’t know if I’m comin' up or down."

Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1992.

Lead singer Anthony Kiedis openly admits his battle with heroin, and Under the Bridge chronicles his struggles as a drug addict in Los Angeles.

Under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood."

Kiedis explained that he wrote this song’s lyrics because he felt alienated from the rest of the band. He was sober for about three years, and this had distanced him from the other bandmates — bandmates John Frusciante and Flea often smoked marijuana together, ignoring Kiedis. He felt a deep sense of loss as well as his former relationship with British actress Ione Skye. His feelings of alienation led him to believing that his only companion was the city of Los Angeles.

Fire and Rain by James Taylor, 1969.

Written in part from drug rehab at age 20, Fire and Rain portrays Taylor’s personal highs and lows, including his recovery from a heroin addiction.

Taylor wrote this in 1968 at 3 different times. He started it in London, where he auditioned for The BeatlesApple Records. He later worked on it in a Manhattan Hospital, and finished it while in drug rehab at The Austin Riggs Center in Massachusetts. In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, Taylor explained:

The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend. The second verse is about my arrival in this country with a monkey on my back, and there Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it. And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs which lasted about five months.“

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend…"

So… does Rock promote drugs or does it disgrace them? Do you interpret Hendrix’s ecstatic dream sequences as a wondrous painting of drug toxicity. Or do you see James Taylor’s loneliness as a heeding warning of the destruction of drugs?

It is undoubtable that drugs have had a colossal impact on music. From The Beatles technicolor masterpiece Sgt. Pepper to the mournful recordings of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

Truth be told, the interpretation, as always, is up to the listener, let us know what you think! Stay positive maintain control.

-Reuben