Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day: a holy day for practitioners of the Catholic faith, celebrating the foremost patron saint of Ireland–or, as it’s better known here in the United States, a flimsy excuse for people of all creeds to start drinking at 10 a.m., wear stupid little green plastic bowler hats, and vomit in the streets for the first time in, oh, a month. So what better time than the day before this preeminent holiday of institutionalized alcoholism to celebrate some of the many pop songs dedicated to humankind’s oldest and trustiest intoxicant? Whether you’ll be spending this St. Patrick’s Day out on the town, or–like us–leaning out your upstairs window shaking your fist at the noisy revelers below, this playlist will have you covered. Enjoy it, with or without a stiff drink.
1. E-40 featuring B-Legit: “Alcoholism”
(from The Ball Street Journal, 2008)
Let’s begin with this 2008 cut from the 10th (!) studio album by Bay Area rapper E-40. As one of the better-known artists in the boisterous, chemically-enhanced hyphy genre–basically the West Coast equivalent of crunk–E-40 knows a thing or two about booze, and “Alcoholism” provides ample testimony of his expertise: “I stay with some sip in my fist, I drink like a fish / Sometimes I be sober but most the time I be blitzed.” These days, you and I can even get blitzed the E-40 way with his very own prebottled cocktail, Sluricane. Just remember what the vocal sample at the end of the song helpfully reminds us: “Please drink responsibly / Don’t drink and drive.”
2. The Who: “Who Are You”
(from Who Are You, 1978)
For many musicians (hell, many people) who came of age in the ’60s, the ’70s were like an extended hangover from the previous decade’s cultural and chemical excesses–one in which more than a couple hairs of the dog were being imbibed. Few were more aware of this generational malaise than The Who‘s Pete Townshend, who spent much of the latter half of the decade intimately chronicling his own struggles with age and alcohol on songs like “However Much I Booze,” “Empty Glass,” and of course, “Who Are You.”
The scalding, recriminating lyrics to this 1978 single—”My heart is like a broken cup / I only feel right on my knees”–are directed at Townshend himself, who wrote them after a long night of drinking with the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook, during which he passed out in a “Soho doorway” and was awakened by a sympathetic cop who allowed him to go home as long as he could “get up and walk away.” Really, though, the song’s unflinching portrait of drunken despondency could have applied to anyone in the group, about whose inebriated exploits Townshend once wrote: “Drinking around the Who is the greatest thing gutter-level life can offer. The bawdiness of the humor, the sheer decadence of the amount put away, the incredible emotional release of violent outbursts against innocent hotel-room sofas; all these count to get a body through a lot of trouble. But at the end of the orgy, the real cancer still lies untackled deep in the heart.” And, indeed, it’s hard in retrospect not to read the song as an epitaph for drummer Keith Moon in particular, whose own demons–drink chief among them–would lead to his death on September 7, 1978…just twenty days after the release of “Who Are You”‘s parent album.
3. W.A.S.P.: “Blind in Texas”
(from The Last Command, 1985)
W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless is arguably best known for his penchant for drinking “blood” out of a human skull onstage–well, that and his charming taste in codpieces. But this track from the glam metal act’s 1985 sophomore album shows that Lawless also has less sanguinary tastes in beverages: “white lightning moonshine,” “Dallas whiskey,” and “highballs in Houston” (“three for a dime”!), to name a few. The song ends when Blackie, having apparently consumed all the liquor in the Union’s second largest state, is forced to “get on a horse and ride back to L.A.” Say what you will about him, the boy can hold his booze.
4. Betty Davis: “Bar Hoppin'”
(recorded 1976, available on Is It Love or Desire)
Ribald deep funk queen Betty Davis will forever be associated with her ex-husband of one year, jazz legend Miles; but she spent her entire undersung career proving that she could sing, funk, and fuck as hard as any man. And on “Bar Hoppin'”–recorded for her unreleased 1976 album Crashin’ from Passion, and eventually issued on 2009’s Is It Love or Desire–she proves that she can drink as hard as any man, too. It’s a raw-throated mantra for living hard all night, crashing in the wee hours, and then starting all over again the next evening: “Drink it up, drink it down / Bar hoppin’, can’t stop it / Hangin’ out ’til Monday morning”…and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, while we’re at it. I don’t know where she gets the stamina, but she’s definitely got it: just listen to her holler at her companions toward the end, “hold me up!”
5. Led Zeppelin: “Out on the Tiles”
(from Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was definitely a fan of the sauce. For proof, just consult the index of ex-Zep tour manager Richard Cole’s memoir Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored–sample entries include: “Gun-pointing incident, 211”; “Pissing his pants, 232”; “Shitting incident, 167”; “Shitting-in-shoe incident (1971), 159”; and, my personal favorite, “Urinating on a disc jockey in Tokyo (1971), 165.” It should thus come as little surprise that one of Bonham’s handful of songwriting credits in the Zeppelin discography is “Out on the Tiles”–a 1970 deep cut named after Bonzo’s pet expression for a night on the town, with an opening riff adapted from a ditty he used to sing: “I’ve had a pint of bitter and now I’m feeling better and I’m out on the tiles / We’re going down the rubbers and we’re going to pull some scrubbers because we’re out on the tiles.” And really, while Jimmy Page‘s guitar is also prominent, it’s Bonham’s riff: a tremendous, lurching clatter that, rock critic David Fricke wrote, “sounds like a drunk tumbling down a flight of stairs.”
6. Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas: “Más Tequila”
(from Red Voodoo, 1999)
As any devoted viewer of VH1’s Where Are They Now would know, Sammy Hagar–when he is not flagrantly flouting traffic laws and ruining Van Halen–is in the tequila business, with his own house brand of tequila sold at his chain of Cabo Wabo cantinas and distributed throughout the United States. His 1999 song “Más Tequila” is effectively a commercial for that brand, with a rollicking bar-band riff borrowed from Gary Glitter and a shout-along chorus praising the efficacy of Hagar’s “vitamin ‘T'”: “One shot–Más tequila! / Two shots–Qué veneno! / Three shots–Arriba!” And as if the fact that this is a song by Sammy Hagar doesn’t date things enough, he even manages to work in a reference to both Tone-Lōc and Los del Rio: “She did a mean Macarena to the Funky Cold Medina / Behind a body shot and three margaritas.” Gosh, that Cabo Wabo™ is strong stuff!
7. Ying Yang Twins: “Big Boy Liquor”
(from Chemically Imbalanced, 2006)
As duly appointed Crunk Ambassadors from the United States of Atlanta (full disclosure: I’m the one who just appointed them that), the Ying Yang Twins have no shortage of alcohol songs in this B-I-itch. But for this list, “Big Boy Liquor” gets the nod, because it actually sounds like drunken delirium: all off-kilter, New Orleans-style horn stabs, booming bass, and the usual booze-soaked, full-throated roars from the “brothers” themselves, which sound even more demented than usual given the tuneless cacophony taking place around them. Frankly, it’s one of the less pleasant listens in the Ying Yang catalogue, but it does perfectly capture the vibe of a bacchanal about to lurch even further out of control.
Speaking of which, an interesting footnote: back in 2008, the Ying Yang Twins were poised to join E-40 and Sammy Hagar in the branded liquor game, signing a $150,000 contract with Oregon’s Side Pocket Distillery to produce their own brand of vodka. But the distiller failed to deliver on its side of the bargain, and the Twins’ commercial fortunes–already well past their prime in 2008–soon declined far past the point where a liquor endorsement would be marketable. It’s a sad footnote to a career that, regrettably, seems to have fizzled out. Come back, D-Roc and Kaine. We need you. America needs you.
8. Busta Rhymes featuring Diddy: “Pass the Courvoisier”
(from Genesis, 2001)
Another cacophonous club banger–but one at least somewhat less likely to make you cover your ears–“Pass the Courvoisier” finds Busta Rhymes and guest Diddy demanding all manner of aperitif: not just the titular cognac and favorite of Leon “The Ladies’ Man” Phelps, but also Henny, Cristal, and Rémy–plus ass, dough, ‘dro, money, cars, cribs, and “whatever.” And Diddy, for his part, is definitely feeling the buzz: as he mutters at the end of the track, “that dark shit just make me…make me wanna fuck.” That’s great, Sean, now I’m just gonna go stand over there for a while.
9. The Doors: “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)”
(from The Doors, 1967)
The Doors’ Jim Morrison, once affectionately dubbed the “Bozo Dionysus” by Lester Bangs, was another rock icon with a legendary taste for drink; his infamous 1969 performance at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium is practically a masterpiece of outsider art in itself, a burlesque of sloppy belligerence that may or may not have ended in his drunkenly exposing his genitals to the crowd. But back in 1966, when the Doors were recording their self-titled debut album, Morrison’s taste for the hard stuff was at least as academic as it was actual. “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” is a cover of the song by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, from their 1930 opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny: a radical satire of capitalism that undoubtedly appealed to the Doors’ confrontational, theatrical, and (let’s face it) pretentious aesthetic. And they pretty much nailed it: between Morrison’s deadpan vocals and Ray Manzarek’s insistently plodding Vox organ and zither, their rendition perfectly captures the creepy, desperate mock-levity of Brecht’s lyrics, projecting all the carefree jubilation of a circus train rolling through the gates of Dis. It was a hell of a way to kick off 1967, while most of the other rock bands were gearing up for the Summer of Love; but in retrospect, seeing how the rest of the decade/century turned out, the Doors (and Brecht) probably had it right all along.
10. Frank Zappa: “Wonderful Wino”
(from Zoot Allures, 1976)
In contrast to many of the other artists on this list, Frank Zappa was a notorious teetotaler; one thing he never could resist, however, was memorializing a character from the margins of society in song. Hence “Wonderful Wino”: originally recorded by ex-Mothers bassist Jeff Simmons in 1970, it’s a lightweight but entertaining slice of mock-cock-rock, written from the perspective of a drunken derelict as he downs a bottle of wine (even consuming the label), talks dirty to “a fine lady,” and eventually relieves himself on an unsuspecting woman’s front lawn. Zappa relates the whole torrid tale with his usual ironic distance: he’s not wholly contemptuous of the subject, but he’s not exactly sympathetic either. Or, as his character shrugs, “I’m so ashamed / But I’m a wino man, I can’t help myself.”
11. Kendrick Lamar: “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
(from good kid, m.A.A.d city, 2012)
From Zappa’s crude caricature, we now move to a much more well-rounded character study by Kendrick Lamar. Considering it’s the song that propelled Lamar into the mainstream consciousness, “Swimming Pools” is awfully bleak, psychological stuff: the rapper reflects on his childhood around “people livin’ their life in bottles,” then watches himself start to succumb to the disease, eventually having a conversation with his conscience and realizing that if he “take[s] another one down,” he’ll “drown in some poison.” Part of the song’s brilliance, though, is the way it tries to have its cake and eat it too; the infectious chorus could almost get it mistaken for a party anthem if one were to squint hard enough. “Swimming Pools” is a powerful song, but it’s not a P.S.A.: it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the image of diving into a “swimming pool full of liquor” is both glamorous and profoundly sad, and that’s what makes it so haunting.
12. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: “Barstool Blues”
(from Zuma, 1975)
Country music has a long, storied tradition of drinking songs. Hank Williams, George Jones, Johnny Cash: such is the deep, dark well from which Neil Young drew on 1975’s “Barstool Blues”–but not before muddying the whole damn thing with the help of his gloriously sloppy backing band, Crazy Horse. A bitter, wounded reflection on the dissolution of Young’s relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress, “Barstool Blues” is a fantastic example of a song’s musical performance serving its lyrics: Crazy Horse has rarely sounded as ramshackle as they do here, and Young’s voice when he sings about a “friend” who “trusted in a woman” and “died a thousand deaths” sounds as ready to come apart at the seams as his life clearly is. If “Barstool Blues” were an actual bar patron, I’d tell it it’s had enough and send it home. And that’s high praise.
13. KISS: “Cold Gin”
(from KISS, 1974)
As they’ll both proudly tell anyone within earshot, KISS Army co-commanders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley don’t indulge in excessive drinking or substance use. Ex-guitarist Ace Frehley, however, decidedly did–and who can blame the poor guy, after having to hang around with Gene and Paul all the time? I like to think this was the personal experience Ace drew on when he wrote “Cold Gin,” a binge-drinking anthem that proclaims hard liquor as “the only thing that keeps us together.” Of course, even the strongest gin could keep KISS together for only so long: Frehley and drummer Peter Criss both departed at the beginning of the ’80s, due in part to tensions related to their substance abuse. But Ace definitely gave it the old college try, and for that we salute him.
14. Del the Funky Homosapien: “Corner Story”
(from Future Development, 1997)
Most drinking songs understandably focus on the act itself–or, if they’re meant to be poignant, on the destructive aftermath thereof. But in his 1997 song “Corner Story,” Oakland M.C. Del the Funky Homosapien’s seemingly routine plans to “roll to the corner” and pick up “some brew” with his “crew” are themselves the focus, as the struggles of the inner city throw a series of obstacles in their path: panhandlers, a crime scene from a shooting that’s taken place down the street, the bakery run by the Nation of Islam whose proprietors will “look at us mean” if they walk past with a beer, and a white-owned grocery that doesn’t care about the local community. It’s less a song about alcohol than it is an incisive slice of working-class Black urban life, where even a simple beer run can become a “mission” fraught with tension, and drink holds the promise of an all-too-temporary escape.
15. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z: “Drunk in Love”
(from Beyoncé, 2013)
Alcohol and sex have been intimately intertwined since the first time Bacchus threw a wine mixer and it turned into an orgy, and it’s these aphrodisiac powers of booze that are the subject of Beyoncé‘s 2013 hit “Drunk in Love.” The great thing about the song is that it captures the woozy, buoyant feeling of being buzzed and horny, while avoiding the awkward, fumbling, unglamorous parts of actually having sex while drunk: so we hear about their “beautiful bodies grinding off in that club” and how Bey gets “filthy when that liquor get into me,” but not about Jay-Z‘s whiskey dick. Or, I guess, in his case, D’Ussé dick. Anyway, my point is, listening to “Drunk in Love” is probably more erotic for most of us than actually having drunk sex. You win again, Jayoncé.
16. Kanye West: “Hold My Liquor”
(from Yeezus, 2013)
Some people, when they get in their cups, will drunkenly call or text an ex-lover and say some things they’ll regret in the morning. Kanye West, on the other hand, will record an epic song about that ex-lover, enlist Justin Vernon and Chief Keef to sing the hook, and then make it the emotional centerpiece of his big summer album. And that’s “Hold My Liquor”: a Kanye West drunk dial with a beat and a melody, so raw and wrenchingly intimate that one almost feels guilty for listening to it. In classic inebriated fashion, Kanye’s verse moves from aggressive bravado (“Bitch, I’m back out my coma”) to lying (“When I park my Range Rover / Slightly scratch your Corolla / …Okay, I smashed your Corolla”) to pleading (“One more hit and I can own ya”) to anger (“Bitch, you don’t even know us”). In the end, he’s left alone to pick up the pieces: “Callin’ up your uncle’s place / Shit’s all over the place.” It’s an astonishing song, the likes of which few other artists of West’s stature would have the audacity to release. But more importantly, it’s a reminder to maybe stay away from your phone (or the recording studio) if you’ve been drinking too much.
17. Rick Derringer: “Cheap Tequila”
(from All American Boy, 1973)
In assembling this playlist, we’ve tried to highlight the widest possible variety of feelings associated with drinking: pleasure, mania, sadness, arousal, self-loathing, and so on. With this 1973 album track by Rick Derringer, we can add another emotion to the list: resignation. “Cheap Tequila” is an ironic anthem about giving up and settling for the lowest pleasures in life: roses in a “low-rent tomb,” a “sad young hag” with “clothes that hide the early sag.” The country-flavored chorus sounds uplifting enough, but the lyrics tell another story: “Drink up and be happy / Live just for today / Drown in cheap tequila / And flush yourself away.” It’s a thin veneer of hedonism to cover the black abyss stretching out endlessly below…which is to say, pretty much a typical Saturday night.
18. OutKast featuring Slimm Calhoun, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, and Mello: “Last Call”
(from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 2004)
It wouldn’t be a drinking playlist without at least one appearance from Lil Jon: a man who, from 2002’s “Get Low” to 2013’s “Turn Down for What,” has probably inspired more body shots than any other recording artist of his generation. And, on this guest spot with fellow Atlantans OutKast, Mr. Jon has one thing to say to anyone with the audacity to “be holdin’ the wall”: “FUCK Y’ALL!” “Last Call” admittedly isn’t quite as balls-to-the-wall (or to-the-window) as a typical Lil Jon joint; the production by OutKast’s own André 3000 (who doesn’t rap on the song) adapts the squealing keyboards and party rhymes of crunk to something more organically funky. But it perfectly captures the intended vibe of peak turn-up time, with clever verses from Big Boi as well as guests Mello and Slimm Calhoun–and, of course, plenty of shouted ad-libs from the King of Crunk himself.
19. Bob Dylan: “Moonshiner”
(recorded 1963, available on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991)
And now, for the inevitable comedown. An outtake from The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan‘s cover of this traditional Irish-American folk ballad is one of his most haunting recordings. Dylan’s 22-year-old voice sounds decades older as he sings from the perspective of a man for whom “the whole world’s a bottle / And life’s but a dram“; “when the bottle gets empty,” he concludes, “it sure ain’t worth a damn.” Maybe not the most uplifting sentiment for this St. Patrick’s Eve, but hey: you’ll be hearing enough empty revelry everywhere else you go. May as well remember that, while alcohol is a great social lubricant, it might just also leave you an empty husk of a human being. Happy St. Paddy’s!