The story of rock and roll has always been informed by some type ofdrug. No rock and roller was necessarily a choirboy, and some of the best artists in the world had some form of chemical enhancement to write some of their best songs.
For these classic records, drugs are more than just an inspiration. It’s the reason we got here. Although every one of these songs can be played completely straight, the writing sessions were informed by drugs, either documenting the high they were getting or delving deeper into their addiction.
Addicts can come in all shapes and sizes, and not everyone has the same reaction to the drugs on the records listed below. Some talk about how amazing their vices can be, and some of them use these songs as a cautionary warning for anyone looking to dance with their own demons.
While the music holds up, the writers behind these songs didn’t always survive them intact, either losing their battle with addiction or taking years off their life. Drugs can spark creativity, and they might help you through writing sessions, but they can come back to bite you in the ass too.
Station to Station – David Bowie
There are always going to be artists who fess up to being drug addicts when they are making their best material. However, it’s not every day you find an artist who was so strung out that they don’t remember what they did. Although David Bowie was pushing himself forward onStation to Station,the arrival of the Thin White Duke is all a blur for him, saying that he doesn’t even remember making it.
For those who do remember, The Starman was not taking care of himself, living on a diet of cocaine, peppers, and milk in between his krautrock masterpiece. Even though Bowie made a classic, he also made it clear that he didn’t want to revisit this era of his music ever again, claiming that it brought up too many bad memories of what the recording process was like. Bowie may have multiple phases of his music life, but this is a peek into the darkest chapter that he would ever tackle.
Revolver – The Beatles
Towards the mid-1960s, The Beatles were growing out of their teeny-bopper rock band phase. After being turned on to marijuana by Bob Dylan in 1965, the Fab Four started to indulge in psychedelic drugs, withRevolverbeing their first jump off the deep end. AlthoughSgt. Peppersmight be the definitive sound of the Summer of Love; this record was the testing grounds for everything the Beatles would do later down the line.
After seeing the power of experimentation on ‘Rain’, John Lennon started to make his songs as hazy as possible with ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ and ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, both of which ride the line between being pretty and so distorted that they sound fuzzy. While Paul McCartney brought his fair share of ballads to the table, the definitive song here is ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, which took the band’s interest in Eastern music and blew everything wide open, from tape loops to backmasking. We had all grown up listening to the four moptops, but when you heard this track, things would never be the same.
Rated R – Queens of the Stone Age
If you’ve seen the title of this article, you knew some stoner rock had to be on this list. Although Joshua Homme classified QOTSA’s sound as robot rock, it’s pretty clear that some chemical enhancement is helping this record along. From the opening notes of ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’, Homme is just listing every narcotic he can think of over one chord, not bothering to fill out any other words because it would be too much effort.
The entire album is coated in a rock and roll haze, giving the listener a secondhand buzz on ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’, which spreads out into a jam that can only come from being at one with the music.Songs for the Deafmay have been around the corner, but even without a concept, Queens kicked ass as the best-stoned rock band you’ve ever seen.
Master of Reality – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath were metal before anyone knew what metal was. After being labelled as a rejected blues rock band by the masses, their brand of terrifying rock and roll struck a nerve with kids who wanted something heavier than Cream and the Rolling Stones. With fame comes a bigger budget, and a bigger budget means a lot more drugs. Kicking the entire album off with a massive bong hit,Master of Realityis the definitive stoner rock album, as Sabbath take you on a ride with some of the heaviest riffs imaginable.
It’s not really hard to point out the marijuana references on a song like ‘Sweet Leaf’, the rest of the album are some of the heaviest tunes Sabbath would create, whether talking about the end of the world on Into the Void or putting a knife through the heart of the hippy generation on Children of the Grave. The era of Flower Power may have been a prime time for drugs, but this is the bad trip that anyone could lose themselves in.
Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
By the end of the 1990s, most of the Red Hot Chili Peppers had raised enough hell for any other musician’s lifetime. Their excesses behind the scenes could have put the likes of Led Zeppelin to shame, and their sudden fame only led to them spiralling even more once they had cameras in their faces. Once everyone was on level ground, they went back into the studio with John Frusciante and finally cleaned up their act. Although not every song on this album is about Anthony Kiedis’s scar collection, most of them are informed by the hard road it took for the band to get here.
‘Otherside’ tells the story of Kiedis losing his lifelong friend Hillel Slovak to an overdose, and ‘Scar Tissue’ has a vivid image of what happens when you’re left with the lonely view at rock bottom. Even though the title track is another deconstruction of what Hollywood does to you, California is almost its own drug in this song, with everyone being sold on a dream that costs you your soul. After years of giving us a drug-fuelled funky time, The Peppers seem like they’re finally at peace.
Heroin Diaries Soundtrack – SIXX:AM
To say that Nikki Sixx did a few drugs is one of the biggest understatements in rock and roll. The world of Mötley Crüe lived and breathed excess in the ’80s, and there was nothing standing in the way of Sixx and self-destruction. Once he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, he found some peace in putting his demons down on tape. On his first project outside the Crue,The Heroin Diariesserves as a soundtrack to the book of the same name that Sixx was writing around this time.
Containing bits of dialogue and excerpts from the book, each of these songs feels like it’s taking place at a different time in his strung-out phase, from missing Christmas to shooting up to fighting as hard as he can to find some light on ‘Life is Beautiful’. There are also a few moments where things can be almost a little too personal, like ‘Dead Man’s Ballet’, where you get to hear spoken word of a medical crew operating on him after he overdosed himself.The Heroin Diariesmight have its fair share of uncomfortable moments, but this isn’t about glorifying the excess of the Crue. This is a story of survival, and it’s a miracle that Sixx is still alive to talk about it.
Thirteenth Step – A Perfect Circle
When listening to a “drug” album, it’s easy to tell which member is struggling with some chemical vice. For A Perfect Circle,Thirteenth Stepisn’t about addiction in just one form. From start to finish, this record is a meditation of what makes an addict throw their life away, comparing those vices to a noose that you pull tighter around your neck every time you put that poison in your body. While it’s easy for this record to become a glorified D.A.R.E. commercial, it’s not patronising by any means.
Across every track, Maynard James Keenan is looking to get into both sides of the argument. He talks about how an addict can be at the mercy of their vice on ‘Weak and Powerless’, painting a grim picture of what the helpless bystanders think of their junkie friend on ‘The Outsider’. While there are definitely some harsh topics on this record, this is not meant to take one side of the argument by any stretch. These are just questions about life and what can happen when you decide to take it that one notch too far.
Dirt – Alice in Chains
From the start of their career, Alice in Chains never minced words on anything. Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell might have created beauty when they sang harmony together, but the lyrics behind those songs were always tackling some kind of demon. And when you listen toDirt,Staley is practically trying to perform a rug exorcism on himself. Looking to document his heroin habit, most of this album revolves around Staley’s dance with H, from how he’s soon going to turn to dust on ‘Them Bones’ to not listening to any narc who tries to tell him to clean up on ‘Junkhead’.
Even though songs like ‘Rooster’ have to do with Cantrell’s father and his time in Vietnam, Staley still brings that drug-addled haze to everything, as he feels defeated and on the verge of a breakdown when he screams on the track. While Staley might have been trying to get ahead of his demons, heroin had too firm a hold on him, passing away in 2002 after a fatal overdose. So now, when you listen to a song like ‘Would?’, hearing Staley ask the listener if they have the strength to forgive him is hauntingly prophetic.
Be Here Now – Oasis
According to Noel Gallagher, drugs are as simple as having a cup of tea in the morning. Oasis didn’t hide their bad boy reputation for a second, butBe Here Nowwas where everything hit the ceiling. Wanting to go bigger and better than before, Noel decided that the next phase of Oasis would be epic, stringing out decent songs to seven minutes in length with an endless amount of guitar solos.
Though the tunes might sound amazing when you’re high on cocaine, this is one of the most fatiguing listens of the 1990s as the band try to prop themselves up as the ’90s answer to the Beatles. While a song like ‘Champagne Supernova’ may have had its overindulgent moments, Noel applies that logic to every single song on this album, from writing aSgt. Pepperrip-off on ‘Magic Pie’ to turning one of Oasis’ first songs into a nine-minute monster on ‘All Around the World.’
Not even producer Owen Morris could rein them in since he was also strung out on drugs when the album was being recorded. Most albums can put you in the mind of the artist, but when you listen toBe Here Now,you can practically see the mountain of coke on the mixing console.
Draw the Line – Aerosmith
No band is called the Bad Boys From Boston by accident. By the late ‘70s, Aerosmith were tearing up the charts with their trademark brand of boogie rock, all while Steven Tyler and Joe Perry got strung out of their minds on anything they could get their hands on. All great highs have their lows, andDraw the Linewas the bad trip that wouldn’t end. After their management decided to lock them away in an abandoned convent, nothing got done for the first few weeks of the album, as Joe Perry shot up heroin in his room while also having a pistol range going in his wing.
When thinking back on that time, Tyler admitted not even being able to rhyme scheme for different words. The songs really echo the vibe as well, sounding like the band is strung out of their minds and trying desperately to work together. Compared to the bluesy rock and roll band behind ‘Walk This Way’, most of Aerosmith were drug addicts dabbling in music around this time instead of the other way around.