When you’re a teenager, you start to realize that a lot of the songs you liked as a kid were about sex. Then, when you reach your 20s, you start to realize many of them were actually about drugs. A lot of drug terminology can fly right over your head if you’re not a user and don’t know any users. But becoming familiar with a drug culture is sort of like learning a new word – suddenly, it’s everywhere.
“Sex, drugs, and rock and roll” famously go together, so it’s not surprising that many songs either are about drugs, were inspired by drugs, or mention drugs. Here are a few songs you listened to (and quite possibly sang along to) as a kid without ever realizing they contain drug references.
“Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
I remember humming along to the “do do do dos” in this song, not realizing that the rest of it included not only overt sexual references like “she comes over and she goes down on me” but also lyrics like “Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break” and “then I bumped up, I took the hit I was given, then I bumped again.” Yup, this song is definitely about meth.
“There She Goes” by The La’s
Ever since I heard this song in The Parent Trap while Lindsay Lohan gets to know her long-lost mother, I thought it was a sweet tribute to some woman the songwriter loves. But said woman might actually be heroin. “She” is “racing through my vein” because the narrator has literally injected “her” into their vein, according to some interpretations. The band’s singer-songwriter Lee Mavers was rumored to have a heroin addiction, so you do the math.
“Burn One Down” by Ben Harper
You had to be pretty oblivious to miss this, but I was. I thought that what is now clearly a stoner anthem was just a song extolling a “live and let live” ethos and wanting other people to let you live, too. Which it is. But it’s also about the desire to “burn one from end to end.”
“Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith
You don’t need to understand the lyrics to know this song is depressing as hell. But once you do know that “6th and Powell” is an intersection in San Francisco where drug addicts hang out and “taking the cure” is a phrase used to describe heroin rehab in William S. Burroughs’ Junkie, it becomes even more sad. So let’s move on to something a little more light-hearted.
“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by The Flaming Lips
“Those evil-natured robots / They’re programmed to destroy us / She’s gotta be strong to fight them / So she’s taking lots of vitamins.” What fun imagery! Also, it’s highly likely that Wayne Coyne was on acid when he wrote this (or at least came up with the idea). He’s a fan of the drug, and the cover art for the song’s eponymous album features a girl (presumably Yoshimi) casting a bird’s shadow, as well as the number 25, potentially referencing the drug’s lab name LDS-25.
“Pepper” by The Butthole Surfers
Some have speculated that the lines “They were all in love with dying / They were drinkin’ from a fountain /That was pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain” reference heroin. What we do know is that lead singer Gibby Haynes struggled for some time with a heroin addiction. Another fun fact: The band members “sprinkled LSD on their cornflakes every morning,” Mark Kramer, a former touring member of The Butthole Surfers, told Noisey.
“Loser” by Beck
In this social outcast anthem, Beck slips in lyrics like “Butane in my veins so I’m out to cut the junkie” and “One’s got on the pole shove the other in a bag with the rerun shows and the cocaine nose job.” Other lyrics like “With the plastic eyeballs / Spray paint the vegetables / Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose” make you wonder if he was on drugs when he wrote it, but he’s actually anti-drug.
“Walkin’ on the Sun” by Smash Mouth
This sounded to my seven-year-old self like a fun song about space exploration, but it’s actually about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, spurred by police brutality toward black taxi driver Rodney King, the band’s guitarist Greg Camp told Songfacts. “I’d like to buy the world a toke,” frontman Steve Harwell sings in reference to the chaos of the time; though he sees marijuana as a peace-maker, he warns about the perils of harder drugs with a prescriptive in the last verse: “Put away the crack before the crack put you away.”
“Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba
PSA: Alcohol is a drug. Once you understand that, it becomes clear that this is the most drugged-up song on the list. The British version of the album booklet reads, “‘Tubthumping’ is Shouting to Change The World (then having a drink to celebrate). It’s stumbling home from your local bar, when the world is ready to be PUT RIGHT…'” It then quotes Charles Baudelaire as saying, “It is essential to be drunk all the time” — or, as the band might put it, “pissing the night away” (nope, they’re not saying “kissing,” though Americans unfamiliar with the British slang phrase might have thought otherwise). Now that we’re older, hopefully we’ve learned that mixing whiskey drinks, vodka drinks, lager drinks and cider drinks is less a recipe for revolution than it is for a brutal hangover.