songs about addiction
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Get Hooked: 15 Classic Songs About Addiction

Great artists suffer, so we don’t have to! Rather than face such personal demons ourselves, we list 15 classic songs about addiction for the morning after.

8. Green Day – “Geek Stink Breath” (Insomniac – 1995)

Lord knows we have our problems with Green Day. 1994’s Dookie was done to death, and the band made a career out of ripping off the three-chord proto-punk of earlier trailblazers like the Kinks and the Jam, something fierce. Later forays into ballads and Broadway also left us cold. But 1995’s Insomniac remains a deceptively complex work of pop-punk art, with the two-minute tornado “Geek Stink Breath” as its vicious standard-bearer. For those of us who never tried meth (sorry to disappoint), Billie Joe Armstrong does a yeoman’s job of keeping it that way. Kill our complexion? Rot out our teeth? No thanks, Bill. But the song is still fantastic.

7. Warren Zevon – “The French Inhaler” (Warren Zevon – 1976)

We contend that 1970s troubadours like Harry Nilsson, Gordon Lightfoot, and Warren Zevon lived, loved, and partied harder than all but the most degenerate rock acts of the era. Produced by Jackson Browne, 1976’s Warren Zevon was considered a do-over after Zevon’s forgotten 1970 debut, Wanted Dead or Alive. The strongest track on this justly revered touchstone may be “The French Inhaler”, about an ex-girlfriend Zevon saw with another musician after their breakup. It’s the kind of aching, romantic lament that paralyzes the listener at first impression, elevating the entire album around it. Mount a conversation about ‘favorite unknown songs’ of the 1970s, and “Inhaler” would make our top five. Zevon’s transcendent bridge contains one of our favorite all-time lines, worth quoting in full:

You said you were an actress
Yes, I believe you are
I thought you’d be a star
So I drank up all the money.

“Drank up all the money?” Drop the mic, Warren. Who else comes up with a catchphrase that damn good?

6. The Moody Blues – “Legend of a Mind” (In Search of the Lost Chord – 1968)

Yes, everyone thinks this song is called “Timothy Leary’s Dead”. The parent album, 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord, hasn’t aged very well and still sounds far too whimsical for its own good. But “Legend of a Mind” remains a glorious, spellbinding ode to psychedelic exploration. “Legend” is one of those ageless hymns whose meaning shifts as we move through life – from unfathomable mystery to ethereal pleasure to accepted historical documents. Although Justin Hayward, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas spent a week with LSD guru Leary in 1968, Thomas actually composed the song beforehand, in 1967. As Hayward told Vincent Barajas in 2000, “I must admit we always had a great time on acid. And those trips inspired a lot of our music at the time.” Well, duh.

5. Oasis – “Morning Glory” ((What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – 1995)

Never an Oasis fan, I had to look this one up from scratch. But there it was, in the mind-numbing, coke-addled mid-1990s, blaring from my speakers every hungover Saturday morning like a manic street preacher. The glam Britpop swagger, that scratchy, nails-on-blackboard riff, Liam Gallagher’s finger-pointing wail: Few songs capture the apocalyptic ‘morning after’ feeling quite like “Morning Glory”. Perhaps most frightening is the song’s matter-of-fact, slice-of-life perspective. “Another sunny afternoon… Chained to the mirror and the razor blade”? Thoroughly chilling. Overplayed standards like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” shall never grace our playlist, but this nettling Britpop J’Accuse! refuses to go away.

4. Styx – “Snowblind” (Paradise Theater – 1981)

If “Morning Glory” is accusatory, then 1981’s “Snowblind” represents cocaine’s primal siren song. Sly, seductive, irresistible – i.e., temptation in a nutshell. But this is also a fascinating, well-constructed slice of subversive pop, rising and fading from verse to verse with hypnotic complexity. Four times, Styx yell “Snowblind! Snowblind! Snowblind!”, segueing each chorus into a wildly different solo or progression – including the Queen-like fadeout, which may be the most gorgeous harmonic of the decade. Hilariously, in the early 1980s, fun police tried to convince the world that Styx embedded backward Satanic messages in the song. Talk about missing the forest for the trees! Those Puritan ninnies never understood that the powdery truth was far more horrifying.

3. Ozzy Osbourne – “Flying High Again” (Diary of a Madman – 1981)

Several tracks on this list float beneath a haze of subsequent denial from their creators – it wasn’t about drugs; it was about “fill in the blank”! Consider Ozzy Osbourne’s dubious claim, posted on Wikipedia, that the seminal “Flying High Again” was inspired by “his successful re-emergence as a solo artist after being fired from Black Sabbath”. Yeah, right. This 1981 buzzsaw harks back to a hazy, ‘anything goes’ era many recovered musicians would doubtless prefer to forget. But the proof is right here, in black, white, and bleeding red, with ‘Godzilla Smash Tokyo’ riffs and dead-on lyrics like “I can see through mountains, watch me disappear / I can even touch the sky”. Diary of a Madman would prove to be Randy Rhoads’ swan song after a tragic plane crash in March 1982. He and Ozzy made such joyous metal synchronicity together. Oh, what might have been!

2. Marillion – “Torch Song” (Clutching at Straws – 1987)

1987’s Clutching at Straws was Fish-era Marillion’s swan-song masterpiece and popular music’s greatest hung-over eulogy to the twin nightmares of stardom and addiction. The record’s ostracized cri de coeur is “Torch Song”, a tabloid dipsomaniac’s blistering touchstone of sacrifice and self-immolation, pissing on the hydrant and mocking all who came after. The famed spoken bridge, with a doctor’s ominous warning that “you won’t reach 30”, retains every ounce of its shocking power. Some of us may not sin the way we used to, but Clutching at Straws forever haunts the periphery, reminding us that we once did. And as any recovered addict will tell you, 95% of our problems reside in the mirror – along with their solutions. Truth hurts, doesn’t it?

1. Alice in Chains – “No Excuses” (Jar of Flies – 1994)

Let’s stipulate up front: I hated grunge. Yet somehow, 1994’s Jar of Flies sneaked its way into my haughty collection and remains in regular rotation three decades later. Basically a 30-minute suicide note from lead singer Layne Staley, this searing, unplugged masterpiece carries more emotional punch than most max-volume metal you can name. If we had to pick one song to scare kids off drugs, it might be “No Excuses”. Staley permits not a single ray of light to penetrate his feverish darkness because there isn’t one – just that initial heroin rush that grows ever harder to catch. Not me, you say? Couldn’t happen? Bullshit, my friend. As the man sings, “You think it’s funny? Well, you’re drowning in it, too”.