HIGH NOTES: 7 Songs About MDMA, Because It’s MDMAzing

Madonna in an MDNA era shoot by fashion photographers Mert Alaş and Marcus Piggott.

MDMA has long been closely intertwined with music. It’s many festival and nightclub-goers’ drug of choice, and for good reason: it has a way of making every song sound infectious and every flashing light look vivid and brilliant.

It’s not surprising either that a whole lot of artists have chosen to sing about this energizing, psychedelic substance. Here are the funniest, realest, and most poetic songs sung about MDMA.

MDMAmazing by Beans on Toast

Perhaps the most straightforward of the bunch, this song is relatable AF to anyone who’s rolled at a music festival. Beans on Toast narrates all the best and worst parts of an MDMA trip, from “we danced to an unknown DJ and sneaked a little kiss” to “I’m gurning my face off, but I’m really really glad.” It ends on a less cheerful note: “Well I’ve missed my lift to London / my moneys all been spunked / I’ve even lost my mobile phone/ I think I’m fucked.” But it’s all good, because then his dancing/kissing partner comes back with acid. All’s well that ends well.

“We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus

Is she singing “dancing with Miley” or “dancing with molly”? The eternal question. The truth is, it’s intentionally ambiguous. “If you’re aged ten [the lyric is] Miley,” she told The Daily Mail. “If you know what I’m talking about, then you know. I just wanted it to be played on the radio and they’ve already had to edit it so much.” With lyrics like “Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere / Hands in the air like we don’t care,” it’s easy to see how it could be molly, which Cyrus has called a “happy drug.”

“Take Ecstasy With Me” by The Magnetic Fields

This dreamy, nostalgic song will likely conjure memories of your very first roll. The Magnetic Fields convey the joyful and easily distractable state one might be in under the influence of MDMA with lyrics like, “I want to slide down the carpeted stairs / Or down the bannister / I got a new kaleidoscope / And I got a stack of records / It’s on your head so don’t dare move / We could be happy just listening to your pulse.”

“Molly” by Tyga

In this song, Tyga is on a mission: to find molly. He enlists the help of Siri, whose voice rhythmically repeats “molly” throughout the track, and raps about an adventure that seems to involve a number of other substances as well: “Weed so loud it’s distorted / Got champagne and we pourin’ it / She poppin’ it and she snortin’ it.” Let’s just hope he’s not mixing all these drugs.

“I’m Addicted” by Madonna

Madonna’s love for MDMA is well-documented; she did, after all, name one of her albums MDNA (presumably a portmanteau of MDMA and DNA) and ask a crowd at the music festival Ultra, “Have you seen molly?” She also sprinkles her fair share of MDMA references into her music. In “I’m Addicted,” she compares it to a lover, singing, “Now that your name / Pumps like the blood in my veins / Pulse through my body, igniting my mind / It’s like MDMA and that’s OK.” She then sings “I need to dance,” which… yeah, sounds appropriate, and closes the song by repeating the letters MDMA repeatedly.

“Empire State of Mind” by JAY-Z featuring Alicia Keys

“Came here for school, graduated to the high life / Ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight /MDMA got you feelin’ like a champion / The city never sleeps, better slip you a Ambien,” JAY-Z raps in this song. Great rhyme, though again, let’s hope he’s not actually combining those drugs.

“We Found Love” by Rihanna

Is the “hopeless place” Rihanna found love in an MDMA trip? Some think the “yellow diamonds” in the lyrics represent molly, but the real giveaway is the video, where Rihanna and actor Dudley O’Shaughnessy skateboard (possibly a subtle reference to rolling?) and have passionate sex amid montages of pills and dilating pupils. Anyone who’s ever taken MDMA with a partner will feel heartbroken by the unbridled joy shattered by the devastating comedown in this video.

ONLY NOISE: Real(istic) Love


ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Erin Lyndal Martin shares a selection of songs that jar her out of a sardonic mindset when it comes to romance.

There’s nothing wrong with sugary love songs. But I don’t trust them because they tend to be completely non-specific. The poet in me cries out for more details. The realist in me wonders how the people in these songs ever get their laundry done if they’re always high on love. And the cynic in me thinks of all the bad dates, all the times I’ve swiped left, all the lore about how undesirable women are after 30, all the fat shaming, all the dick pics. But I feel hopeful when I hear songs about smart, jaded people who’ve found love, often unexpectedly.

These are some of the songs that give me hope.

“Miss You Till I Meet You” by Dar Williams (from My Better Self)
Dar Williams is a talented singer-songwriter who frequently tackles real-life situations in songs that address coming of age, going to therapy, and finding one’s place among gentrification.

Bad dates are not all alike. Sometimes I’ve come home from a date feeling down because my date and I had nothing in common, or maybe it just didn’t seem like the right time, or my date asked me weird questions like if I wrote “human interest fiction” or “technical fiction.” Afterwards, it helps to think about telling these stories to someone I do want to hang around. Someone I want to hang around me.

“Papa Was a Rodeo” by The Magnetic Fields (from 69 Love Songs – Disc 2)
Helmed by Stephin Merritt, the Magnetic Fields bring an irreverent sensibility to matters of love, usually with a twist of magical realism, as on their 69 Love Songs trilogy.

At first, labeling this song as “realistic” is a tough sell. What are the chances that two people could bond over their childhoods spent roping steers, only to spend decades wrestling alligators together? But, like a lot of Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs, there’s a grain of truth here. At a certain point, you stop hoping you’ll meet someone who has zero baggage. Not only is it impractical, but it has ceased to even be appealing; instead, you daydream about meeting someone who understands your baggage, who sees you and sees your baggage and says “yeah, me too.”

“Something Changed” by Pulp (from Different Class)
Pulp is a Britpop band known for songs about perversion and classism (not usually at the same time).

I got the Different Class CD in high school and remember flipping through the booklet and seeing the request not to read the lyrics while listening to the music. I listened for the snotty Britpop protest songs and lurid perversions, and then this song came on – a love song written for acoustic guitar. I was surprised, but I trusted Pulp not to mess with me too much, and I thought about this as being a love song for the sort of people who trust sneering Britpop bands with love songs. I love that it retroactively assigns importance to all the little things done on a day that ends up coincidentally being the day one falls in love.

“I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” by Tom Waits (from Closing Time)
Tom Waits is an iconic songwriter and musician known for his gravelly voice, rich lyrical imagery, and jarring songcraft.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a bar alone with just a novel and a notebook, nursing a drink and scribbling down ideas while watching people around me. This song always reminds me of those nights. I’ve had many nights where that’s all that happens. If I’m lucky I write a few good lines or draw a cute picture of a cat. But those nights tend to blur together and I mostly remember the outlier nights, when a conversation with a stranger just happened, and I was excited and terrified to see where it went next.

“Yellow Brick Road” by Kris Delmhorst (on Five Stories)
Kris Delmhorst is a singer-songwriter-fiddler from Massachusetts known for her pithy lyrics and lovely melodies.

Once I was at a wedding where the best man’s toast included the line “now your real life can begin.” Wow. Just wow. As if there are any parts of our lives that aren’t real and everything we do before we have an official, government-sanctioned bond just doesn’t count. This song celebrates who we are as individuals within a couple. “I’m not on a yellow brick road/Got a mind and a heart and guts of my own/Not looking for someone to set me free,” Delmhorst sings. “I’m not on a yellow brick road/I’ll find my own way home/I just want someone to walk with me.”

“Kathleen” by Josh Ritter (from Hello Starling)
Josh Ritter is an acclaimed and prolific singer-songwriter once voted among Paste Magazine’s Top 50 living songwriters.

This song makes me happy. Very happy. It’s about a guy who drives a beautiful girl home from a party. He knows they’ll never fall in love, but he’s so excited to be the one who has that time alone with her, that “only both of us know about.” When you don’t have the love life you want, you learn to make the best of these little moments of connection: driving someone home; smiling knowingly at a stranger on the bus when a passenger shows the bus driver her groceries; standing next to someone while you look at a painting in a museum.

“Reservations” by Wilco (from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
Wilco is a highly regarded alt-country band, and their 2002 album is already considered a classic.

Recently, a romantic partner I hadn’t seen in years came to visit and I was really stressed out, which was funny because I realized I had zero anxieties about this particular person. We know each other well and have a great time together. But the thought of sharing my living space with anyone, even for a few days, was terrifying. I wanted everything to be perfect. In the end, he was an amazing houseguest who did my dishes and bought me good bourbon and let me play him videos of goats and magicians. And I did get sick towards the end of his visit, something I feared, but that won’t be what I remember. What I will remember is that even the worst anxieties can disappear with someone who really sees me.

“Unison” by Björk (from Vespertine)
Björk is an Icelandic musician known for her conceptual albums, creative collaborations, and quirky individuality.

Unsurprisingly, Björk is wonderful at writing songs that balance realism and reverie. She has a number of them, but “Unison” is my favorite. “I will grow my own private branch of this tree,” she sings, celebrating her individuality. But trees — and people — can bend, and the refrain continues, “I never thought I would compromise.” When you’re single, it’s so easy to get lost in thought loops about who you want to be with and if you’d even want to make room in your life for another person. Björk reminds us that we don’t have to choose between ourselves and being with another person.

ONLY NOISE: Summertime Blues

The shorts are out. The pasty, prickly legs wearing the shorts are out, too. It’s sunny every day and we’re starting to remember that we own arms, and shins, and sandals. Birds chirp in the morning, cats moan at night, and hemlines rise with the temperatures. Isn’t it great?

That all depends. Sure, we’re in pleasant weather now, but before you know it you’ll be sweating through pants and underpants, kicking your bedmate away at night, and trying to schmooze your way into the esteemed echelons of friends with air conditioning units.

Summer is upon us early this year, prompting me to address my fellow shade seekers. Don’t worry, I can’t #summer either. How could I? I don’t play ultimate Frisbee. My surfing lessons started and stopped on a wave-less day at Rockaway Beach. I can “ride a bike” only in the capacity that I can “cook” – for survival purposes alone. And until they can make a bikini out of a black turtleneck and a motorcycle jacket, I will feel perpetually out of place in summer outfits, or as some call them, “dresses.”

So what are we supposed to listen to on the 85-degree days, crouched under patches of shade while everyone else at the BBQ dances to “summer jamz”? Don’t we get an anti-Ibiza anthem? In fact, there are plenty of songs commiserating with our Heliophobia. And yes, most of them are by Morrissey. The lugubrious Brit couldn’t have possibly maintained that sallow glow by overexposing himself to the UV Rays, now could he?

Songs like “The Lazy Sunbathers,” “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning,” and Morrissey’s cover of Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach” wink at the singer’s grotesque relationship with warm weather and those who enjoy it. The former seems to correlate catching a few rays with mass public ignorance. “The lazy sunbathers,” Moz croons, “Too jaded/To question stagnation/The sun burns through/To the planet’s core/And it isn’t enough/They want more.” Only an Englishman could vilify sun seekers so much.

But it’s the melodramatic “Lifeguard On Duty” from 1990’s Bona Drag that injects a common summer job with existential weight.

“The work you chose has a practical vein/But I read much more into your name/Lifeguard” Morrissey intones.

The only mention of Moz getting wet at this beach, however, is when he walks back through the center of the town, “Drenched in phlegm every time that I come home/Lifeguard save me from life/…Save me from the ails and the ills/And from other things.” Other things…like phlegm.

Another known hater of the heat is Philly’s oddball balladeer David E. Williams, whose menacing “Summer Wasn’t Made For You And Me” really sums life for the sunless.

Stalking a snowy Coney Island in a suit and tie, Williams drones, “Summer wasn’t made for you and me/With its screaming children and the heat’s obscenity/And all the stupid palefaces from town/Ridiculously fashionably brown.”

It’s a real beach party.

In my defense, I’ve gotten much better at summering in the past 15 years. My black clothing and I have come a long way since our first punk rock summer together in 2003, when I refused to wear anything but a patched hoodie and skinny jeans regardless of the season. I went three full years without revealing more than my hands and head to the sun, covering myself like a Victorian aristocrat.

Come freshman year of high school I decided it was finally time to embrace my Spanish heritage and get a tan. This was largely prompted by the fact that my best friend at the time, Daniel, criticized my forced paleness. “You tan naturally. Trying to force yourself pale is the same as all of the pale girls in school going to tanning beds.” Touché. Cocky with the knowledge that I’d never sunburned before, I lay out for hours one day sans sunblock – and subsequently turned a painful shade of cooked crustacean.

Since then I’ve found a safe space between full-body coverage and UV searing, but it’s still a struggle to exist in the summertime. Perhaps denial would be a wise approach to our collective heatstroke; it certainly worked for The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt in the deliciously sullen “I Don’t Believe In The Sun.”

“So I don’t believe in the sun,” Merritt wails. “How could it shine down on everyone/And never shine on me/How could there be/Such cruelty.”

Whether it is the sun, or summer love that left you scorched, Merritt assures us that ignoring our problems will definitely make them go away. Like Morrissey, The Magnetic Fields write recurring fuck-yous to the hi-temp months. In “Summer Lies” we hear a tale of deception.

“All the sweetest things you said and I believed were summer lies/Hanging in the willow trees like the dead were summer lies/I’ll never fall in love again.”

Perhaps summer-lovers are better at summer love, but Merritt and his Magnetic Fields may never know.

The odd thing about both Merritt and Morrissey is that although they are insufferable miserablists, they write such goddamn catchy pop songs that their melodies often outshine their dour lyrics. So bring the boombox to the beach, and from beneath your umbrella and wide-brimmed hat, sing along:

“The only sun I ever knew/Was the beautiful one that was you/Since you went away/It’s night time all day/And it’s usually raining, too.”

I bet no one will even notice.

The greatest betrayal of summer is one we don’t understand until we graduate and join the workforce. Summer becomes a myth; a vestige of childhood when adults paid our rent, fed us, and all we had to worry about was what to do on Saturday night. But now we have what Eddie Cochran (and Robert Gordon, and Joan Jett, and Marc Bolan) referred to as the “Summertime Blues.”

“I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler/About a-workin’ all summer just to try to earn a dollar.”

As kids we used to play in the woods (where there’s plenty of shade), go on long camping excursions, and eat ice cream without an ounce of regret. But here we are: staring at desktops and clicking away, still waiting for the school bell.

But at least we have The Magnetic Fields and Morrissey to crouch in the shade with – what’s that you say? Moz moved to Hollywood, got a tan and abandoned us? He is a Lazy Sunbather now, too?

Well, in the words of David E. Williams:

“Was summer made for them?/Well, yes, maybe/But summer wasn’t made for you and me.”

And let’s not forget, that in addition to sunburns and heatstroke, summer also=SHARKS.

ONLY NOISE: Love From Afar

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They say everyone is good at something. My mom can tie cherry stems into knots with her tongue. My tenth grade English teacher looked alarmingly natural in pirate shirts. I once saw a man scale a 30-foot coconut tree with his bare extremities. Personally, I have a long history of romancing incredible men…who live very far away from me. It is a history that dates back to the preteen era: my first kiss occurred at a punk show (Clit 45, inappropriately enough) in Costa Mesa, California, approximately 1,000 miles south of my hometown. His name was Kevin. It didn’t work out.

A couple of years later, I fell head over heels for a punk rock Adonis at a tiny gig in Seattle. I can’t remember my exact tactics, but I somehow acquired his email address, which was surely a Hotmail account. That was it. I would finally have my mohawked boyfriend I had so longed for throughout my rural Washington existence. I gathered the courage to e-ask him out. He e-laughed, and informed me that he lived in New Jersey.

I don’t want to sound like Ludacris by saying I have hoes in different area codes or anything, but I must admit, traveling romances and meeting men who are just passing through has turned into an unwanted skill. I think guys can just smell the unavailability when you step off the plane, ya know? Whether it’s Portland or Paris, I’ve found myself loving from afar more than a couple of times. It has turned into some cruel joke at this point, but fortunately, I have a wonderful sense of humor. Ha. Ha.

Typically, when someone sees a continual pattern in their life, they might try to thwart it, or at least analyze why it keeps happening. But I tend to just score the phenomena with appropriate songs. Which is kind of like giving someone who’s starving an issue of Food and Wine Magazine instead of making them a sandwich?

I guess my point is, this week I am saluting the long-distance love song. We’ve all missed someone, so naturally, there is an entire canon of music to nurse such a woe. One of my favorites is the unbearably obvious, but undeniably good “So Far Away” by Carole King from her groundbreaking LP Tapestry. “So Far Away” exists within a mini-theme of the album, which includes “Way Over Yonder” and “Where You Lead-” tracks that likewise express a longing for faraway things. “So Far” takes the trophy, however, as it is the only song with the required dose of hopelessness lyrically. What can I say? I don’t like half-assed sad. Might as well do it right. King laments her solitude by wryly asking: “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” No, Carole. No.

The great thing about love songs is their ability to be universal, but also to be even more universal in their specificity. I am in utter admiration not only of the fact that humans went beyond inventing the wheel and created the love song, but also that there are so many iterations and sub-genres of such. I can’t think of a more absurdly specific faraway tune than “Come Back From San Francisco” by the morose Magnetic Fields, who excel at writing a particular brand of pathetic love song. It is probably one of the most alienating miss-you tunes, with its nods to bisexual, novelist city dwellers, but, being a pretentious music journalist living in New York City, I’d say it’s right on the money for me.

When we zoom in on music this much or any medium for that matter, there is always the risk of ruining things; it’s fair to ask if we are accidentally taking the soul out of it all. Getting too close can expose blemishes, imperfections, or worse, isolate the beautiful abstract from the mere molecules; like reminding someone that gravy is essentially boiled blood. I want to keep these songs categorized as gravy, but I like to dig a little deeper. I like to see how the gravy is made.

It is funny, and also frustrating that though all of humanity has felt the sensation of longing for another person, only a select few of us can distill that longing into an art form. Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, and of course, songwriters write songs. The rest of us make playlists, mixtapes, CDs. They are in a way collages or monuments of found objects…a kind of paint-by-numbers for those of us who know dick about color theory. It feels democratic, even like recycling to use someone else’s song to express your adoration for a far off lover. Because in the age of text and email, how do you expect to get your weightiest points across? Emoji?

There is, of course, snail mail, but what’s in a letter that hasn’t been bested by Tom Waits singing about slow-grown love in “Long Way Home” off of Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards? Chances are what you pen in that note won’t be sticking in anyone’s head the way a ballad can. To forge an association between yourself and a song in someone else’s mind is like snagging free ad space during the Super Bowl. That sounds creepy, but you know what I mean.

A classic phrase for the faraway is: “Wish You Were Here,” but I will spare you the Pink Floyd and Incubus references. Nick Lowe has his own version from 1983’s The Abominable Showman, which could sneak by as an upbeat number if it weren’t for the subject matter. Because despite all of the puns and harmonies, there is still a lack that can only be answered thus: “having said that my dear/how I wish that you were here.”

Of course, at the end of the day, someone has to offer a solution to all of this wanting. Who better to lay down a piece of his mind than Bob Dylan, who closes 1969’s Nashville Skyline with one of my favorite songs in this category, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” It is the quintessential, end-of-the-romantic-comedy song, in which the protagonist disrupts some form of transportation to spend at least a little more time with the object of their affection. In movies, it’s usually a plane. With Dylan, it’s obviously a train.

“Throw my ticket out the window/Throw my suitcase out there too/Throw my troubles out the door/I don’t need them anymore/’Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

I should have left this town this morning/But it was more than I could do/Oh, your love comes on so strong/And I’ve waited all day long/For tonight when I’ll be staying here with you.”

It’s the end we all hope for, but that few can afford. Finding a new suitcase and train ticket were obviously within Dylan’s realm of financial capabilities. But I’d like to end with this one, because despite the rest, it’s the one song within this hyper-specific class that at the very least offers a modicum of hope…that maybe throwing caution, and one’s worldly possessions to the literal wind and living off impulse is a very good idea. That remains to be seen, but at least we can commiserate with a few songs before taking that leap off the train, so to speak.