Drugs are a part of life. They are also a part of rock ‘n’ roll, and sometimes a big part — as us avid rock listeners are undoubtedly aware. But this article isn’t about the plight of drug use in rock, nor the effects of alcohol or narcotics on rock stars’ wellbeing and livelihoods.
It’s just about rock songs written under the influence of such substances.
And not any ol’ rock songs, but alternative rock songs, in particular. One can already find much conjecture about the drug use that played into classic rock and heavy metal. Let’s go ahead and largely exclude grunge, too, since drugs’ influence there is also well tread.
What of lesser told substance stories in rock? Did you know that Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo ran a trippy little experiment one time himself and doubled dosed on drugs? Or that lo-fi titans Guided by Voices reportedly spent the bulk of a six-figure recording budget on beer?
And there’s more. Because, no offense to Guns N’ Roses and their ilk, but not every druggy rock story is all glittery excess and cigarette butts.
However, we at Loudwire do not intend to glorify drug abuse or addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, help is available now through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. To talk to someone, dial 1-800-622-HELP (1-800-622-4357) or text 1-800-487-4889.
Scroll below to see if you know each druggy alt-rock song.
When “Hash Pipe” emerged in 2001 as Weezer’s first single in five years, some were taken aback by the nerd rock kings’ newly suggestive content. The song, which paints a picture of a sex worker in Hollywood, was composed by bandleader Rivers Cuomo on a narcotic and alcohol-fueled bender specifically meant for songwriting. Maybe that’s why he intended it for Ozzy to sing.
Cuomo told NPR in 2009 of the process, “Step one was take a pill of Ritalin. Step two was take three shots of tequila. Step three was go out in the backyard, sit down on a chair. Step four was close your eyes and imagine the song. And that’s how I wrote ‘Hash Pipe.'”
Oasis enjoyed cocaine, and they enjoyed writing songs on it. Guitarist Noel Gallagher said the Britpop stars wrote many tunes in the ’90s gakked on the gunk. He singled out 1994’s “Supersonic” as a highlight.
“I’ve written songs on coke and it’s been complete gibberish and it has been f***ing amazing,” Gallagher told the Irish Independent in 2019. “‘Supersonic,’ for instance. Then I’ve written s*** like a lot of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants  where I had nothing to say. And I was literally trying to make the words rhyme.”
Who knew U2 were still out hitting the bars in 2004? Lead singer Bono said he and guitarist the Edge wrote How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb‘s “Crumbs From Your Table” after a night of binge drinking as the sun was coming up.
“I’m not a late-night person, but Edge is like an owl,” the singer is quoted as saying in 2006’s U2 by U2. “He didn’t want to go to bed and we ended up getting the guitar and singing, off our faces, one of those moments where two mates are not talking sense but they’re doing it at the same time and then, eventually, it sort of coagulates into a thought and out came this beautiful song.”
Disturbed, ‘Fire It Up’ (Cannabis)
Disturbed lead singer David Draiman got high on marijuana and wrote a song about his love for it, Immortalized‘s “Fire It Up,” with the alt-metal act. So this one doubles as being both written on and for drugs.
“You know what? Ninety-five percent of the songs I’ve written in my life, I’ve written them while high,” Draiman told Loudwire in 2015. “I’ll have a very skeletal musical idea in my head, and then I’ll light one up, go in the shower and let the steam kind of build up. … It helps me relax, and I can see the gaps.”
Beastie Boys, ‘Fight for Your Right’ (Alcohol)
‘Licensed to Ill’ (1986)
Beastie Boys’ breakout anthem, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” was intended as a parody of the tipsy crowd it subsequently symbolized. The satire was missed by many, including, one might say, its composers — the Beasties got drunk while writing it.
“It was summer 1986, we wrote it in about five minutes,” Mike D remembered, according to Far Out Magazine. “We were in the Palladium with [producer] Rick Rubin, drinking vodka and grapefruit juice, and ‘Fight for Your Right’ was written.”
Amid the sonic bombast of Muse’s Origin of Symmetry is a dystopian drug story. And in a quote attributed to bandleader Matt Bellamy that still gets debated on Muse message boards, the singer clarified that its lead single, “Plug In Baby,” was created by the rockers while they were high on mushrooms.
Undoubtedly, the forked guitar figure that drives the song makes a lot more sense if it came from drug-induced delirium. Bellamy reportedly explained, “When we recorded ‘Plug In Baby,’ we were off our face on mushrooms. There was this big field next to the recording studio, filled with magic mushrooms. So we ate them all.”
Elliott Smith, ‘St. Ides Heaven’ (Methamphetamine)
‘Elliott Smith’ (1995)
R.I.P. Elliott Smith. Though the singer-songwriter got clean before his untimely death at 34, his catalog is full of harrowing, beautiful songs about drug use. And while some of the others may have more cache, “St. Ides Heaven” — assuredly the only non-hip-hop song in ode to the malt liquor brand — is one of the best.
With no irony in his voice, Smith subtly sings from a first-person perspective, “Everything is exactly right / When I walk around here drunk every night / With an open container from 7-Eleven … High on amphetamines.” (For more punk with your meth, see Green Day’s 1995 single “Geek Stink Breath.”)
Guided by Voices, ‘A Salty Salute’ (Alcohol)
‘Alien Lanes’ (1995)
Basement artists Guided by Voices have a reputation as indie rock’s biggest drinkers. That comes with the territory when you blow a $100,000 record advance on beer, as legend holds. Is that why Alien Lanes sounds that way?
Well, it sounds that way because it was recorded on 4-track cassette, and that was seemingly a consequence of the beer-soaked budget. But, really, it was Guided by Voices’ whole shtick. Opener “A Salty Salute” welcomes the other drunks to the bar: “Proud brothers / Do not fret,” singer Robert Pollard blearily waves. “The bus will get you there yet … The club is open.”
It’s no secret that The Brian Jonestown Massacre bandleader Anton Newcombe was in the throes of heroin addiction while making Strung Out in Heaven — just ask The Dandy Warhols. But did that contribute to the Massacre’s seemingly singular shot at mainstream success going up in smoke?
Their 1998 album, issued on the now-defunct TVT Records, didn’t do much to raise the group’s profile. Still, the psychedelic rockers continue to this day with Newcombe at the fore. Strung Out‘s musical foil, Matt Hollywood, is long gone. The listener can still decide if heroin is passé.
Superdrag’s 1998 album is called Head Trip in Every Key; it opens with a tune called “I’m Expanding My Mind.” So you probably already have a pretty good idea of where the band’s heads were at when they made it.
And though the album’s concept is clear, Superdrag singer John Davis has categorically claimed he was trippin’ balls when he wrote the hazy deep cut “She Is a Holy Grail.”
In the warped, shuffling love song, a twinkling piano goes progressively more out of tune, mirroring a drug comedown. Don’t bring Superdrag down, man.
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