Drugs In Music: Part 1

drugs

Drugs have played an important part in music, both positively and negatively. They’ve inspired songs, affected careers and taken great artists before their time. This is the first part of a continuing saga which identifies the individual chemicals that stimulated some of the best known recordings.

Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit (1967)
Written by Grace Slick
Influenced by – L.S.D./Amphetamines

One has to remember that at the time neither L.S.D. or Amphetamines were illegal, so many artists from the 60s “counter culture” freely experimented. Grace Slick’s intention was to interpret the hallucinations of the trip in song, and based the lyrics on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” which has imagery of altered realities including the smoking caterpillar and mushrooms. The music was influenced by two pieces of music; Miles Davis’ “Sketches Of Spain” and Ravel’s “Bolero”.

Alice In Chains – God Smack (1992)
Written by Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell
Influenced by Heroin

Seattle grunge heavyweights Alice In Chains devoted a number of songs to drug intake and its effect on their 1992 “Dirt” album. Lyricist and singer Layne Staley would endure continuous problems right up to his untimely death just ten years later. The Billboard magazine review for “Dirt” stated “It’s a primal, sickening howl from the depths of Layne Staley’s addiction, and one of the most harrowing concept albums ever recorded. Rolling Stone magazine needed fewer words saying that the album “is the musical equivalent of coughing up blood”.

The Beatles – Doctor Robert (1966)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Influenced by Amphetamines

A song that partly refers to John Lennon’s pill popping days with further partly hidden inferences to New York Doctor Robert Freymann who had a reputation for giving vitamin B-12 injections laced with large doses of amphetamines. Lennon would tell writer David Sheff “It’s mainly about drugs and pills. It was about myself. I was the one that carried all the pills on tour. Well, in the early days. Later on the roadies did it. We just kept them in our pockets loose”.

The Byrds – Eight Miles High (1966)
Written by Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn and David Crosby
Influenced by L.S.D.

Various members of The Byrds had been experimenting with different chemicals during the period. In order to avoid the possibility of a radio ban they concocted a story that the song was written solely about the band’s first flight to London. In later years both David Crosby and Gene Clark confirmed the drug reference with the former stating “Of course it was a drug song! We were stoned when we wrote it”. The cover story couldn’t sway authorities in many U.S. states and the song was banned from radio airplay to millions of Americans.

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