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15 of the Most Popular Rock Songs Inspired by Drugs

  1. Phungushead
    Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll: These three things that have co-existed in the world of rock music since the 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 prevalent theme in much of the music produced during this time. In the decades since, popular music has continued to reflect the ever-changing drug culture. Here is a list of 15 of the most popular drug-inspired rock songs of the past few decades.

    White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, 1967.
    White Rabbit captured the free spirit of the 1960s, in which drugs were considered vessels to a deeper understanding of the world around us. The song alludes to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland as an escape through drugs, specifically acid.
    Notable lyric: "One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small."

    Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix, 1967.
    Rolling Stone named it the #2 greatest guitar song of all time, and common speculation 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.
    Notable lyric: "Purple haze, all around. Don't know if I'm comin' up or down."

    Heroin by Velvet Underground, 1967.
    Velvet Underground had a well-known tendency to explore 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.
    Notable lyric: "Cause when the smack begins to flow, then I really don't care anymore."

    Jumpin' Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones, 1968.
    Guitarist Keith Richards and the rest of the Stones were no strangers to the drug scene. Jumpin' Jack Flash is a reference to heroin use, and, according to front-man Mick Jagger, "a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things."
    Notable lyric: "I'm jumpin' jack flash, it's a gas! gas! gas!"

    The Pusher by Steppenwolf, 1968.
    Featured in the late 1960's landmark drug film Easy Rider, Steppenwolf's hit depicts the "pusher," or drug dealer, as a criminal after nothing but the money.
    Notable lyric: "Oh, but the pusher is a monster. Good God, he's not a natural man."

    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.
    Notable lyric: "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend..."

    Casey Jones by The Grateful Dead , 1970.
    While based loosely on a character featured in the 1902 Ballad of Casey Jones, band front-man Jerry Garcia cites a different interpretation: "I always thought it's a pretty good musical picture of what cocaine is like."
    Notable lyric: "Driving that train, high on cocaine."

    That Smell by Lynrd Skynrd, 1977.
    After guitarist Gary Rossington was involved in an accident under the influence of drugs and alcohol, band members wrote That Smell to express the dangers of the descent into drugs.
    Notable lyric: "There's too much coke...and there's too much smoke."

    Hotel California by The Eagles, 1977.
    Don Henley called it "our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles." While the song carries with it a wide range of interpretations, there are noticeable drug references sprinkled throughout.
    Notable lyric: "Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air..."

    Running to Stand Still by U2, 1987.
    Off the band's popular Joshua Tree album, this song paints a picture of the heroin epidemic that swept through the poverty-stricken flats of Dublin, specifically the Ballymun Flats area, during the 1980s.
    Notable lyric: "Suffer the needle chill, She's running to stand still."

    Mr. Brownstone by Guns n' Roses, 1987.
    Singer Axl Rose preaches the power of heroin over an addict, and in particular the experiences of the band members as they made their start on Hollywood Boulevard. Off the mega-popular 80's rock albumAppetite for Destruction.
    Notable lyric: "I used to do a little, but the little wouldn't do, so the little got more and more."

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

    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.
    Notable lyric: "All your dreams are made, when you're chained to (your) mirror with (your) razor blade."

    Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind, 1997.
    Despite its catchy and breezy sound, Semi-Charmed Life personifies a drug user's decent into the world of crystal meth. Band member Stephen Jackson likened the song's "bright and shiny" guitar riff to the feeling of taking speed.
    Notable lyric: "Smiling in the pictures you would take, doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break."

    Black Balloon by The Goo Goo Dolls, 1998.
    Black Balloon characterizes a girl dying from a heroin addiction, and the lover trying to save her. Some speculate that bassist Robby Takac's wife was the inspiration for the song, but this remains unconfirmed.
    Notable lyric: "Baby's black balloon makes her fly. I almost fell into that hole in your life."

    Sep 15, 2011

    Joe Zemla


  1. Balzafire
    COCAINE by Eric Clapton comes immediately to mind.
    This was written and originally recorded by Oklahoma blues guitarist J.J. Cale. Clapton recorded his version a year after Cale's was released.
    The lyrics are about drug addiction.
  2. Ellisdeee
    Sweet article. Surprised Comfortably Numb didn't make it on the list. Looked up some background info on the song from Wiki, was pretty sure the song was semi drug inspired. I cut out some of the wiki text and got to the points.

    According to Rolling Stone, the lyrics came from Roger Waters' experience when he was injected with tranquilizers for stomach cramps by a doctor prior to playing a Pink Floyd show in Philadelphia on the band's 1977 In The Flesh tour.[7][8] "That was the longest two hours of my life," Waters said, "trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm." The experience gave him the idea which eventually became the lyrics to this song.

    Film version-

    A large group consisting of Pink's manager (Bob Hoskins), the hotel manager (Michael Ensign), paramedics, and roadies burst into Pink's hotel room to find an unconscious Pink sitting in a chair. The hotel manager does not take kindly to Pink's untidiness, but Pink's manager insists that "he's an artist". After injecting a drug into Pink's arm, the paramedics drag Pink out of the hotel and to his limousine.

    During this time, the drug causes Pink to hallucinate that his body is decaying. He sees himself as a child walking in a field in his room and touching his TV, then walking away. It then cuts to a scene where Pink explodes in a rage and tears up his hotel room.
  3. jon-q
    Great article which includes some great songs, i am a little surprised that the author chose “Running to Stand Still” by U2 though, as songs go its ok but it isn’t great, and i imagine it’s not that well known. I’m surprised they didn’t go with “Bad” by U2 which is also about Heroin and Heroin addiction and is surely the better known of the two songs.

    Notable lyric: If I could, you know I would... If I could, I would let it go... This desperation... Dislocation... Separation... Condemnation... Revelation... In-temptation... Isolation... Desolation.

    Still this article rocks Phungushead.

  4. spamman
    The Stranglers Golden Brown and Dont Bring Harry. Curtis Mayfield's Pusherman. Velvet Undergrounds Waiting for the man, White Light White Heat and Lou Reed's Perfect Day. The Who's My Generation. The La's There she Goes. Gil Scott Herons Angel Dust. Steely Dan's Kid Charlamaine. Bowie's Station to Station. Little Feat- Sailin' Shoes. The Ramones Chinese Rocks
  5. Tillianne
    Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
  6. Slidedaddy
    Wowh,Wowh,Wowh Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was written by Lennon as children s song. It had nothing to do with LSD...

    From Wiki:

    Lennon's son, Julian, inspired the song with a nursery school drawing he called "Lucy — in the sky with diamonds". Shortly after the song's release, speculation arose that the first letter of each of the title's nouns intentionally spelled LSD.[3] Although Lennon denied this, the BBC banned the song.
  7. Tillianne
    That may, or may not be, but most people associate that song with drugs.
  8. Ellisdeee
    I personally think it could be LSD inspired without wanting that fact to get out. Like if I was a star and wrote a song inspired from my child and slipped in an ambiguous reference then directly asked by the media "did LSD inspire this?" You bet I would say no. I don't think subliminal titles are far fetched though and I don't think the artists prefer to spell it out for people even if it does exist. Syd Barret wrote many 'child' type songs but his stuff was probably drug inspired. Drug inspired != not for children or inappropriate but it also wouldn't be the type of thing you would want to go on record saying necessarily imo. :) And yes, the media and society was different back then. Drug references WAY did not fly easily. Like Cypress Hill could have never released a song called "hits from the bong" in the 60's or 70's and get away with it playing. I think artists didn't want their songs to be seen as drug associated for their own success sake.

    Like (S)hine on (y)ou Crazy (D)iamond, I don't think coincidentally has the initials Syd in the title. But did Floyd ever go on record stating this?

    Just mah 2c cause after all, there is no conclusiveness, just speculation + Lennon denying it to the limelight. It could sway any way I think.
  9. MikePatton
    My kind of article, thank you very much for posting, though I'm in heavy need for some Alice In Chains (Heroin) and Pink Floyd (LSD) on that list among many others.
  10. dornacher750
    A few come to mind surely like Lucy in the Sky, i know they say its not inspired by lsd i beg to differ. I also dig smoke two joints covered by sublime !

    In reading the original post I am a huge fan of Mr. Brownstone and Purple Haze they are brilliant songs in my opinion
  11. questforstarfish
    I used to listen to Semi Charmed Life ALL THE TIME when I was a kid! Me and my dad loved it!

    I just looked up the lyrics after this post and holy crapamoly I had NO idea the lyrics were what they are :O
  12. Troussman
    Good article, great songs. Many of pink floyds songs are about drugs and I think Zeppelin has a few too. I'm about to go listen to all the songs on that list.
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