@TomTaylorFOSAT 21ST MAY 2022
The liberating boom of rock ‘n’ roll changed the world, propelling the sixties from the monochrome past into a new tie-dye swirled future. Therefore, it comes as quite the retrospective surprise to hear that The Doors were actually banned from The Ed Sullivan Show simply for refusing to change the “Girl we couldn’t get much higher,” because of drug connotations.
With this in mind, to get around censorship and label execs touchy about commercial viability, a trend began where bands would almost relish the proposition of working underground references into mainstream hits. It was a daring practice that almost made more fun of the bourgeoise than plainly stating illicit facts and it added an air of allure to the artistry almost like Russian literature greats trying to circumvent Soviet control while simultaneously making a mockery of them.
Since then, as the world did indeed become a more liberal place when it comes to such matters, the practice continued all the same in an artistic sense. Thus, there have been many great hits that have been belted out at weddings without realising that the singer is talking about love and devotion of a far more damaging variety. Below we have compiled some of the very finest of these covert anthems.
Five love songs about drugs:
‘Golden Brown’ – The Stranglers
The tune of the harpsichord in this classic hit is so beauteous that it’s hard to pay attention to lyrical undertones amid the transportive melody. However, when you delve into it, that blissed-out journey to another place is perhaps fitting of the sort of experiences that frontman Hugh Cornwall was thinking of when he penned the lyrics.
As anyone who has read the Junky by William S. Burroughs can attest, golden brown is the desired colour of the substance that wreaks untold havoc in the life of the protagonist, and it’s often a show of love that pulls him to a different sort of exultant high. Cornwall coupled the same things. “’Golden Brown’ works on two levels,” he once explained. “It’s about heroin and also about a girl. Essentially the lyrics describe how both provided me with pleasurable times.”
‘There She Goes’ – The La’s
Anything with the line “Racing through my veins” will prick up the ear of lyrical drug dogs. And when that line is soon followed by “No one else could heal my pain” along with the seeming beckoning come hither of addiction that is “She calls my name,” many have wondered whether it is a lover that Lee Mavers is going to meet on. the train or a fellow with a red right hand.
This has often been a topic of debate which is only exacerbated by the mystique surrounding Mavers who completely disappeared from the music scene just as he was approaching the height of Brit-pop. La’s bassist John Power has said, “I don’t know. Truth is, I don’t wanna know,” in the past. However, on the few times Mavers could be tracked down for questions, he admitted to having tried heroin but denies that the song is about that.
‘Just Like Honey’ – The Jesus and Mary Chain
‘Just Like Honey’ is another beauteous anthem whereby things sound so heavenly you can only imagine that it’s about the stars aligning and orchestrating a love liaison of the most sanguine sort. It’s also one where the band have kept their cards close to their chest regarding its inception—perhaps because it somewhat taints it when the whispered eudemonia is twisted with the irony of a sorry addiction.
However, it is the title of the album that contains the track that reveals the truth. Psychocandy is a far less veiled reference to cocaine. Given that context references to “Dripping” and the lines like “Walking back to you/ Is the hardest thing that / I can do” seem much more akin to an addiction that renders you a plastic toy to a substance.
‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ – The Beatles
“I remember it pretty well y’know,” Paul McCartney explains on the Adam Buxton Podcast, “We were staying in that hotel [the Delmonico in New York City] and we were on tour, so we were all together in the hotel suite. We were having a drink and then Bob [Dylan] arrived and disappeared into a backroom. Then Ringo went back to see him and after a couple of minutes Ringo came back into the suite looking a little dazed and confused and we said, ‘what’s up?’ and he said, ‘oh Bob’s smoking pot back there’, and we said, ‘oh, well what’s it like?’ and Ringo said, ‘the ceiling feels like it’s coming down a bit’.”
The direct effect of that evening – aside from a mild high and one hell of anecdote – is the song ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, which Paul explains is a veiled reference to the bands growing love of the devil’s lettuce and a burgeoning desire to smoke more of it. “So [it’s] really a song about that, it’s not to a person,” McCartney confirmed.
‘And She Was’ – Talking Heads
David Byrne often likes to load his lyrics with obscure references and patches of nonsense poetry. That seemed to be the case when he sang about a woman “lying in the grass/And she could hear the highway breathing.” As it turns out, his ode to an ethereal woman was actually his way of telling the tale of a woman getting in touch with the ether.
As Byrne explained in the liner notes, the bouncing anthem is about “blissed-out hippie-chick he knew in Baltimore, who once told me that she used to do acid and lay down in the field by the Yoo-hoo chocolate soda factory. Flying out of her body, etc etc. It seemed like such a tacky kind of transcendence … but it was real! A new kind of religion being born out of heaps of rusted cars and fast food joints. And this girl was flying above it all, but in it too.”