22 July 2008

Psychopharmacology & Rock n Roll


A hedonistic lifestyle practically prescribes sex and drugs, with rock n roll bringing up the rear. It seems these three activities combine well: Case in point, I Googled "psychopharmacology" and this image came up on the first page. Songs about sex seem almost as popular with rockers as having sex on drugs... while listening to rock. Anyway you slice it, the sinful trifecta of pleasure had been done.

But what of songs about drugs? Not nearly as many as about sex, and they have always tended to be more cloaked in mystery than in outright bragging joy. Out of curiosity I compiled a mix of songs when I noticed that so many particular drugs were mentioned by name--which seems to be a relatively recent development, far as song writing goes.

These are listed in chronological order. In general, there's clouded discussion starting in the late 1960's and 1970's to the well-known illicit substances at the time. With poetic metaphor, description and nicknames for the drugs of the era, acid (LSD), cocaine, marijuana and heroin were sung of in terms of various degrees of love/hate relationships. Should the topic of a song be called into question, it could all too easily be passed off as a cryptic tune about a lover.

As we progress into the 1980's, we see the appearance of those old standbys come out as more boldly spoken about, especially in the context of getting rehabilitated for addiction. "Angel dust" (PCP) peaked in popularity in the early 1980's so it should be no surprise that this song was written then (imminent to the group's disbandment).

In the 1990's, however, the drugs get more complex, as do the songs about them. Newer, "designer" drugs (Ketamine, Ecstasy) and commonly abused name-brand prescription drugs, most commonly painkillers, (Thorazine, Dilaudid) make their rise in music. The question is, is this a reflection of a rise in the use of said substances, or just a commentary on a culture that more openly tolerates discussions about it? (Perhaps, if you can answer this question, you deserve the Master's degree and not me.)

Finally, in most recent years we see a longing to return to the days when drugs were just the medicine in great-grandpappy's medicine kit. Morphine? Codeine? I'm waiting for a song about whiskey being used as a toothache cure before the year is out.

The Beatles - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.mp3

The Velvet Underground - Heroin.mp3

Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf.m4a

Peter Laughner - Amphetamines.mp3

The Ramones - Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.mp3

Odyssey - Angel Dust.mp3

Nirvana - Lithium.mp3

Eels - Novocain for the Soul.mp3

Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - Tea & Thorazine.m4a

The Magnetic Fields - Take Ecstasy With Me.mp3

Jolie Holland - Old Fashioned Morphine.mp3

Placebo - Special K (Timo Maas Remix).mp3

the Mountain Goats - Dilaudid.mp3

John Vanderslice - Tablespoon Of Codeine.mp3

Sia - The Girl You Lost To Cocaine.mp3

Finally, one for the namesake of this post:
Firewater - Psychopharmacology.mp3

7 comments:

Ian M. Ireland said...

I don't know if this example will support your thesis or undermine it, but for an interesting morphine song check out Shaking Hands (Soldier's Joy) off Michelle Shocked's 1991 Arkansas Traveller album. Pretty good song, it was recorded with Uncle Tupelo.

Julie said...

i would say both. and neither. hmm. if i were a songwriter, i wouldn't necessarily want to write about illegal drugs, lest i be harassed by the Man, although i have a perception that people were not as worried about that back in the day. certainly the criminal penalties weren't as harsh pre-reagan as they are post-reagan.

it is also true that there has been a serious development and ascension of prescription drug use to do what people used to self-medicate for. sure, there was always valium, but we weren't giving it to our kids back then. now we start the kids early on the scripts. it's a whole new culture.

so how many songs have been written about the -codones? and are they coming? hmm ...

Andrew said...

woah! what about cocaine blues? there's a thousand of those... different entire songs, even.

also

Let Me Dream if I Want to (Amphetamine Blues) by Mink Deville

Anonymous said...

Nice post. My drugs of choice are coffee and cigarettes. I guess that's not quite as rock and roll though huh?

Anonymous said...

you might want to check out erowid.org; there's a plethora of information there about drugs / drug culture / etc.

-your arts correspondent.

Urban Gypsy said...

Fascinating post! Very insightful and excellent choice of songs, I really enjoyed this! Buffy Sainte-Marie has a great song about codeine too :)

Anonymous said...

Another song for your list: Paul Westeberg, of The Replacements and solid solo career, has a song titled Psychopharmacology on his "Grandpboy" CD. His version is a little more relevant to the rock and roll lifestyle, with lyrics like "Need somethin to calm me down, need something to keep me focused, narcoleptic and paranoid, and borderline hopeless, ADD, PCP, F U C K E D, that's me"