Drug use in music  

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A central axiom of rock criticism is that when the drugs change, so does the music. Each musical revolution has been characterised by the use of particular drugs: Rock'n'Roll ignited by the post-War abundance of amphetamines; the languorous Summer of Love hallucinated by LSD; Punk Rockers' nihilism expressed by Sniffin' Glue; the Eighties' Acid House upheaval loved up on MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy. In conjunction with their drug of choice, however, each successive generation has also consumed cannabis. As Harry Shapiro tells, in his seminal Story of Drugs and Popular Music, Waiting For The Man, 'The drug (cannabis) features throughout the history of popular music, experienced differently by divergent sub-cultural groups: jazz age swingers, cool beboppers, cosmic hippies and Trench Town roots rockers from Jamaica.' --Russell Cronin[1]

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Recreational drugs and popular music have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of jazz at the fin de siècle. As stated in the old saying 'wine, women and song', association of music with using various substances go back centuries. References to recreational drug use in various forms have been common as the modern record industry developed, particularly in terms of popular music genres such as pop rock singles, dance releases, and the like. Social, cultural, legal, and economic challenges to the existence of music referring to recreational drugs have prompted several studies on the link between such references and increased usage among teens and young adults. Findings over multiple decades have had mixed results. Many complicating factors exist; in particular, a song that describes substance abuse in a depressive, emotionally blank fashion may trigger curiosity for one listener as well as revulsion for another. Sporadic calls for music censorship in different counties over the past decades have also had vastly different outcomes.

Several studies on the link between references to drugs in music and increased drug use among teens and young adults have been published.

Released in the 1930s, jazz songs such as "Reefer Man" and "If You're a Viper" were among the few songs that mentioned drugs in their lyrics.

The genre is still popular in the 21st century with songs such as "The Next Episode".



Released in the 1930s, songs such as ""Reefer Man" and "Viper's Drag" were among the few songs that mentioned drugs in their lyrics before the 1960s. The majority of post-Depression music had portrayed positive, uplifting lyrics in attempt to encourage listeners in the midst of harsh economical times as well as the great number of unemployed individuals. When World War II began, the subject of songs continued to shift, promoting “American fight-songs.” Then, in the midst of the Vietnam War, that shift continued and began sending anti-war messages to listeners. A Cumberland University article states, “It was not until the aftermath of the sixties youth counterculture, however, that drug lyrics became a recurring musical motif.” These early references to drugs can be found most abundantly in folk and rock music during this time. Psychedelic music started becoming mainstream in 1966, with the release of the Beatles Revolver album featuring the song Tomorrow Never Knows, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album and The Byrds single Eight Miles High. This time in music was rapidly changing with many more music groups filtering into the American media. Concept albums with drug references such as Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band became popular and with the music the culture started changing. Drugs became much more common and easier to obtain, and new genres of music such as Acid Rock were made popular by artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. The media was affected by this change and references to drugs in songs became normal. Eventually, the deaths of music artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, all from overdosing, may have contributed to anti-drug messages becoming more prominent in popular music.

The Beatles, widely regarded as the greatest and most influential act of the rock era were often influenced by drugs and referenced them in their music. In 1972, John Lennon said "Rubber Soul was the pot album and Revolver was the acid." Beatles' songs about drug use include "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Got to Get You into My Life" and "Day Tripper", among others.

In the mid 2010s, MDMA was usually referred to in pop music, specially "molly", a purportedly purified version of the drug. This coincided with the rising popularity of electronic dance music, which had developed a drug culture around MDMA and LSD since the Second Summer of Love of 1988–89. Examples include hits "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus (which also references cocaine use), "Diamonds" by Rihanna, and Madonna's album MDNA, whose title refers to the drug. Hip hop artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Trinidad James and Rick Ross have referenced "molly"·in their music. Many media outlets, including The Guardian, The Huffington Post and Fox News, reported the increasing referencing of the drug in pop music in 2013.

Songs referencing drugs

There are a great number of songs which are very commonly known for hints towards drug use in the lyrics. Some songs, such as "Blunt Blowin'" by Lil Wayne, "Because I Got High" by Afroman, and Cab Calloway’s "Reefer Man", plainly state, even by the title alone, that the song is referencing drugs (though some differ in whether they portray drug use in a positive or negative light; "Because I Got High", for example, includes lyrics focusing on the negatives of drug use. Although some have claimed that The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" refers to LSD, The Beatles themselves denied this. Also by The Beatles, the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" is rumored to be describing an experience of getting high by injection - the phrase "strawberry fields" referring to needle tracks. However, even though this rumor about the song's meaning is floating through the media, it is important to remember that it may simply be a song about fields of strawberries or the property on the outskirts of Liverpool called Strawberry Fields. The famous song "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones, said by the band to simply be a song about a friend ‘“Jumpin’” Jack Dyer’, is commonly said to be written about a method, called Jumpin’ Jack Flash, of injecting heroin through the tear ducts. This idea is reinforced by the lyrics; “a spike right through my head.” There are songs, such as "Colt 45" by Afroman that have lyrics that could not be mistaken for anything besides referencing drug use, with lyrics such as, “Smoke that tumbleweed. As the marijuana burn we can take our turn…so roll, roll, roll my joint, pick out the seeds and stems.” Some songs even show the subject of drug use in a negative manner. For example, Neil Young’s "The Needle and the Damage Done" suggests that drug use could take your life: “Every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.”


A study sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy took a close look at how movies and lyrics affect teens. Looking at chart-topping songs of 2007, it was found that one-third of these songs referenced either drugs or alcohol. Researchers found that 37% of all country songs sing about drugs or alcohol. However, in another survey, it was found that 63% of the most popular rap songs contained references to illicit drugs. Studies show that only 6% of a list of famous songs studied referencing drugs depicted them as harmful. However, the same study mentions, “It is important to acknowledge that the mere existence of a certain type of media portrayal does not ensure that audiences will be influenced by it.” As drugs have been mainstreamed more than ever into the media, the numbers of teens trying these substances has also increased. Whether or not this is a coincidence is unknown. From 2008 to 2009 alone, the percent of youth using harmful drugs has jumped from 9.3% to 10% of the whole population. Research from the SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health states, “In 2008, an estimated 20.1 million Americans ages 12 or older were current illicit drug users.” Many researchers have taken it upon themselves to study this situation, looking into whether or not lyrics stick with a person and affect them. As most teens claim “listening to music” as one of their pastimes, even going as far as calling it “their most preferred non-school activity,” one must wonder what effect the lyrics in those songs have on them. Researchers are not completely positive about whether or not these songs steer their listener into a numbness on the topic, instill a positive message that drug use is harmful, or have no effect at all on the listeners.

More drug songs


See also

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