It’s St. Patrick’s Day! And let’s face it, while the world is supposed to be cherishing the memory of the Saint who drove the snakes from Ireland, most of us choose to spend the 17th March downing pints and sinking shots. So after Guitar Planet celebrated Ireland’s greatest guitarists in 2011, we’ve decided 2012 is the year to pick out 15 of the finest songs about alcohol and drinking.
Over the years practically every guitar great from Johnny Lee Hooker (One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer) and BB King (Sloppy Drunk) to Van Halen (Bottoms Up!) and Pearl Jam (Crazy Mary) have taken a stab at delivering an alcohol-fuelled anthem. However, there’s more than one way to write a classic ode to the bottle. There are carefree drinking songs, dark cautionary tales, and some tracks that occupy a murky middle ground.
Therefore, to ensure we celebrate the true breadth of the drinking song oeuvre, Guitar Planet has split our top 15 into three sub categories, and we start with the…
Nightrain: At the height of their powers there was no duo more perfectly suited to one another than Slash and Axl Rose. On this heavy drinking anthem from debut album Appetite For Destruction, Axl’s vocal soars as Slash’s chords crash and drive, making “Nightrain” one of the most irresistible adrenaline rushes in hard rock history.
Lyrically, the track and album paint a dark portrait of the depraved streets of Los Angeles full to the brim with hopeless addicts and pitiful violence. The subjects are often debauched but Axl and Slash successfully capture and revel in the gloriously fleeting thrill of the moment.
Have A Drink On Me: You can trust AC/DC not to pass judgment. On this typically monolithic rocker Brian Johnson and Angus Young promise only two things: they’re going to drink until they’re sodden and there’s going to be a fight tonight. Or in their words:“Come On Have A Good Time, And Get Blinded Out Of Your Mind/ So Don’t Worry About Tomorrow, Take It Today”
Drunk Girls: When most people think LCD Soundsystem they imagine immaculate electronics and weary mid-life crisis insights however, on “Drunk Girls” James Murphy embraces the guitar and tales of drunken lunacy. Aside from the track’s brilliant Bowie inspired solo, “Drunk Girls” is essentially three minutes of quick fire witticisms. Everyone will have their own favourites, but here are two of mine:
“Drunk Girls would like a night of simplicity, they need a lover who’s smarter than me”
“Drunk Girls know that love is an astronaut, it comes back but it’s never the same”
Cigarettes And Alcohol: Definitely Maybe, Oasis’ debut and defining statement, was an escapist masterpiece. A rallying cry record for anyone who wanted to swap their 9-to-5 and their inner city flat for the life of a rock’n’roll star. While encouraging everyone to “make it happen”, “Cigarettes And Alcohol” offered more immediate motivation and a quick fix in the form of a stiff drink and a pack of fags.
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before: The Smiths’ sublime portrait of an unreliable lover is less a cautionary tale and more of a laugh out loud riot. Right from the word go Morrissey has his tongue firmly placed in his cheek as he bellows “I Still Love You, Oh, I Still Love You, Only Slightly, Only Slightly Less, Than I Used To, My Love.
Morrissey then proceeds to run through every lame excuse in the book (he crashed his bike, he was beaten up, he broke his knee and his spleen too) before resigning himself to the bottle with one of indie’s greatest punch lines:
“Oh, So I Drank One,
It Became Four,
And When I FellTo The Floor,
…I Drank More”
Theme From Cheers: Titus Andronicus’ ironically titled “Theme From Cheers” is a remarkably frank and disgustingly bleak track from an album full of harrowing confessions and pitiful lows. Stuck in a go nowhere town, the protagonist of this vile anthem cries desperately “Give Me A Whiskey” as he contemplates a life wasted in a crushing job, in boring town, with “asshole friends”. Shivers are invariably sent down spines by the track’s hope extinguishing finale:
“Those Dreams Are Lying In The Still Of A Grave,
What The Fuck Were They For Anyway?
So Let It Be On A Stretcher That I Get Carried Away,
What The Fuck Was It For Anyway?
Say It Ain’t So: On the beautifully composed “Say It Ain’t So” Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo highlights the scarring effect that alcohol abuse can have on family members, or in this case, a son. His father’s alcoholism proved so severe that the sight of a solitary bottle in his stepfather’s fridge had the young Rivers fearing the break up of his mother’s newfound stable relationship. Backed by a gorgeous riff and a series of startling shifts in intensity, “Say It Ain’t So” stands as a deftly composed masterpiece of traumatic paranoia.
Here Comes A Regular: Taken from The Replacements’ landmark album Tim, “Here Comes A Regular” tells the story of a life reduced to nothing. Sitting indoors drunk and alone, the track’s protagonist gives up at the first chance he gets. Stuck in a hopelessly nihilistic state where he can’t even summon the willpower to rake the leaves on the grass, let alone get the job or kick the habit.
Tim Westerberg delivers the track with haunting aplomb, supplying two perfect lines that cut right to the heart of the listener: “Am I The Only One Who Feels Ashamed?” and “The Fool Who Wastes His Life, God Rest His Guts”.
That Smell: You’ve got to give it to LynardSkynard, even when facing up to the destructive effects of their own addictions they still deliver a rollicking rocker with a spiralling solo. “That Smell” slickly runs through the band’s every destructive vice. Cocaine, heroin, alcohol; they’ve got every base covered. Fearing for his band mates’ lives Ronnie Van Zandt sublimely captures a shameful lifestyle where “The Smell Of Death Surrounds You” on “That Smell”.
However Much I Booze: The Who By Numbers was Pete Townshend’s attempt at a confessional singer-songwriter LP. It was highlighted by the wirey “However Much I Booze”; a track that saw the guitarist facing up to his addiction and reconciling himself to the fact that alcoholism offered no escape from the responsibilities and hardships of life.
Drunken Lullabies: Okay so time to come clean, while “Drunken Lullabies” does feature guitars, and slamming ones at that, it’s actually driven by a brilliant bouncing banjo line. Still, how could this brilliant ode to drinking and singing generations of bloodshed away not make the list? Flogging Molly offer a simple but enduring message: as long as there are hateful lies and inhumane acts there will be cause for “Drunken Lullabies”.
Whiskey In The Jar: Thin Lizzy? The Grateful Dead? The Dubliners? Metallica? Honestly who cares? Regardless of the band this is one of the finest anthems ever penned with one of the coolest riffs and solos imaginable. A tale of betrayal, swordplay, gunshots, and whiskey that will forever endure.
Moonshiner: Another classic folk song of disputed origin, but this time there’s only one version worth considering. In 1963 Bob Dylan delivered the single finest vocal performance of his career when he recorded this observational lament as part of his acclaimed Basement Tapes. The tack is full of gorgeous lines, but there is something about the way Bob frailly delivers the line “God Bless Those Pretty Women, I Wish They Were Mine/Their Breath Is As Sweet, As The Dew On The Vine” that makes time stand still.
Drinking And Driving: We’ve had plenty of good time rockers and dark tales of self destruction on our countdown, but “Drinking And Driving” by Black Flag offers a new line of attack. Rather than offering a cautionary tale, Henry Rollins simply debases and ridicules every lame excuse the drink driver and alcoholic traditionally hides behind. This brilliant accusatory blast of punk is highlighted by a sardonically repeated chant of “Make Sure To Tell Yourself…You Can Quit, Anytime, You Want”.
Alcohol: Closing out our alcohol soaked retrospective is The Kink’s “Alcohol” taken from their brilliant return to form LP MuswellHillhillies. Ray Davies does what he does best, using his wicked eye for social observation to tell the tale of a urbanite driven to the bottle by the pressure of the office and his fanatically ambitious wife. Employing a woozy off time waltz The Kinks set the stage for Davies’ brown beaten croon to unveil the track’s sad finale: the wife is struck, the floozies abandon the drunkard in the gutter, and the one time socialite is left penniless, “a slave to demon alcohol”.
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