Who Will Sing Us a Drinking Song?
by Eric Kendall
A boozy playlist for spring bacchanals
Drinks abound! As long as there has been alcohol, there has been music. (If you find yourself drinking alone in silence then I would recommend going to one of those special meetings I’ve heard so much about.) With St. Patty’s Day on the horizon, I offer you this boozy playlist to set the mood as you stumble along your merry way. This is far from an end-all-be-all list, so if you see anything missing, shake your shillelagh at someone else. Here you are, 17 songs to get you ready for March 17. Have a blast. And, as always, listen responsibly.
The Pogues — Streams of Whiskey
It would be a sin not to start things off with the Pogues, arguably the quintessential drinking band, responsible for all of the Flogging Mollys and Dropkick Murphys of the world. While you can pick a Pogues song out of a hat and call it a great drinking song, “Streams of Whiskey” stands out from the rest. It’s a happy jig with a moral to boot: Even when times are tough (you land in prison, your execution fails, etc.), you just need to hold your head up high and keep your eyes on the prize. “When the world is too dark and I need the light inside me, I’ll go into a bar and drink fifteen pints of beer!”
The Who — Whiskey Man
Drinking alone is one thing, but drinking with your imaginary friend is a completely different kind of messed up, as illustrated nicely by the Who. “Whiskey Man” is the short story of an unfortunate soul with a hilarious problem: an imaginary friend who only shows up when you knock a few back. Eventually this behavior brings about the men in white coats; “Two men dressed in white collected me two days ago/They said there’s only room for one and Whiskey Man can’t go.” What’s hilarious about this is his child-like affection for his sloshy companion once the men in white coats take him away; “Whiskey Man will waste away if he’s left on his own/I can’t even ring him ’cause he isn’t on the phone…hasn’t got a home.”
The Monks — Drunken Maria
This may considered more a semi-instrumental mantra than a song. It may be considered a word to the wise. “Drunken Maria” by these garage rock legends sums up so much in so few words: “Sleepy Maria, DON’T DRINK!/Drunken Maria, DON’T SLEEP!” ’Nuff said.
John Lee Hooker — One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
Where’d she go? Hey…where’d he go? If there’s one thing that the blues have taught us, is that heartbreak can be turned on its ear and transformed into a sexy and swaggering blues number faster than you can say, “I’ll have another.” Hooker turns the sad tale of a lover gone astray into blues masterpiece with ease: “Well, my baby she gone, she been gone two night/I ain’t seen my baby since night before last/I wanna get drunk till I’m off of my mind.” One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer. If a love gone wrong isn’t reason enough to hit the bottle, then I don’t know what is.
Tom Waits — The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
One of the most humorous things about being drunk is denial. Passing the blame for your sad state to strangers and inanimate objects. I know, right? Who do they think they are? This song is a mixed bag of ramblings that deserve a book’s worth of analysis. Whether it be a “carpet that needs a haircut” or a “phone booth that’s out of cigarettes,” there’s always someone (something?) else to blame, right? Pour another and let’s move on, shall we?
Jerry Lee Lewis — Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Actually a revival of a classic by Sticks McGhee, the legendary piano man’s version of this ode to cheap wine and a good time far outshines most of the other countless covers attempted over the years. Oh, the good ol’ days…apparently you could get a fifth of wine for 15 cents back then: “Well I got a nickel, have you got a dime?/Let’s get together and buy a little wine/Some by the fifth, some by the quart/When you buy sherry, you’re doin’ things smart.”
Robert Johnson — Drunken Hearted Man
This might be better filed under “songs to listen to if you want to stop drinking.” Death, sin, and heartbreak—a simple yet effective recipe for misery and a drinking problem, as told by a man who truly knew what he was talking about.
Dean Martin — Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me
Few of Martin’s other songs sum up so well his persona as the enigmatic and carefree lush. The swagger of this track almost makes you imagine it being recorded with Dean and the orchestra all squeezed into the same pub. The honky-tonk vibe and touches of harmonica are complemented by Dean’s “had a few before the show” drawl about travel, drink, and the one that got away: “I’m prayin’ for rain in California, so the grapes can grow and they can make more wine/And I’m sittin’ in a honkey in Chicago, with a broken heart and a woman on my mind.”
The Replacements — Nightclub Jitters
A laidback, jazzy tune that’s just dripping with cool. Good to mellow out too while getting ready for the night ahead, with a nod to the art of pre-game; “Nightclub jitters…I take a drink before I hit the town/Night life critters, they scurry to that sultry smoky sound/Oh, hurry now the sun is goin’ down.”
Gogol Bordello — Alcohol
These gypsy-punks pull off nothing short of a heartfelt love letter of forgiveness to the drink. A lyrical “no hard feelings” for all those poor decisions and hangovers; “Yeah o yeah you seen me fall in love with witches/and you know my brain is held inside by stitches/yet you know I did survive all of your lovely sieges/and you know that I’ll pick up every time you call/just to thank you one more time/Alcohol!”
Bette Davis — Bar Hoppin’
Leave it to the wild woman of funk to churn out this unapologetic anthem about getting hammered. It’s no wonder she was considered too crazy for even Miles Davis to handle: “Drink it up, drink it down/Bar hoppin’/can’t stop it, hanging out till Monday morning/SO DRUNK!”
The Magnetic Fields — Too Drunk to Dream
Who’s got time to pine over someone when there’s important drinking to do? A great ode to distraction, “Too Drunk Tto Dream” hits the nail on the head with its outrageous opening lament: “Sober, life is a prison/Shitfaced, it is a blessing/Sober, nobody wants you/Shitfaced, they’re all undressing/Sober, it’s ever darker/Shitfaced, the moon is nearer/Sober, you’re old and ugly/Shitfaced, who needs a mirror?/Sober, you’re a Cro-Magnon/Shitfaced, you’re very clever/Sober, you never should be/Shitfaced, now and forever!”
The Cramps — Let’s Get F*cked Up
Here it is. The part of the night when things take a turn from “just buzzed” to completely insane. (“Just one more shot, right? I’ll be fine!”) Think of this song as the soundtrack to the point of no return. I’m sure you’re familiar with that magical moment when things just turn…fuzzy. If blacking out could have a theme song, this is it. No quoting lyrics here. This is a family magazine, right?
Black Flag — Six Pack
The punk rock drinking song. Leave it to Black Flag to turn the concept of drinking alone because you’re bored into one of the most instantly recognizable hardcore anthems: “Thirty-five dollars and a six pack to my name/Six-pack!/Spent the rest on beer so who’s to blame/Six-pack!/They say I’m f*cked up all the time/Six pack!/What they do is a waste of time/Six pack!/I know it’ll be o.k./I get a six pack in me, alright!”
The Specials — Friday Night, Saturday Morning
This dub-infused slow burner is a simple, matter-of-fact account of the long-awaited weekend. The happily hypnotic lyrics describe an evening out, to a humorous and embarrassing end: “…but two o’clock has come again/It’s time to leave this paradise/Hope the chip shop isn’t closed cos their pies are really nice/I’ll eat in the taxi queue standing in someone else’s spew/wish I had lipstick on my shirt instead of piss stains on my shoes.” Aw cheer up, chap! There’s always next weekend.
Art Brut — Alcoholics Unanimous
Even though Art Brut are from England, this song could be an ode to Buffalo: home of the functional alcoholic. While we are undoubtedly “The City of Good Neighbors,” we can also be considered “The City of High Tolerance.” Folks who live here tend to have the superhuman ability to drink more than a couple nights a week and still hold down meaningful jobs and careers. This song illustrates how those fateful hungover workdays are hardly pleasant but ultimately doable: “I’ve been up all night/I’ve been making mistakes/I’m hiding it well/but I don’t feel great…Bring me tea! Bring me coffee!”
Hold Steady — Constructive Summer
I can’t think of a better song to sum up young adulthood, having fun, and the camaraderie of friends. About kids saying this is what we do: We get messed up together and that’s how we grow. “Me and my friends are like double whiskey, coke no ice/we drink along in double time/might drink too much but we feel fine/we’re gonna build something this summer/summer grant us all the power to drink on top of the water towers/with love and trust and shows all summer/let this be my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger.”
Stories Behind Famous Local Watering Holes
Shaken Not Stirred • Steaking our Reputation
Food For Thought • Boozy Playlist
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