We hardly ever listen to one song and then stop. And while many times we do listen to random songs, sometimes one just leads to another for whatever reason. This is not a playlist, though. It’s just a pairing. These two songs are great on their own, but they’re even better together.
I guess it all depends on the order, but let’s start with “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones. This country ballad from Sticky Fingers, at first listen and to those not in the know, could just be about an outlaw type who hooked up with a rich girl. And that’s certainly part of it, but it doesn’t take much to realize the dead flowers are poppies and that this song is really about junk, tar, horse, H, smack, yam yam (ok I might have made that last one up). That’s right, it’s about heroin. This isn’t a “‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ is about acid” situation, either. Not only is it well documented that the Stones were into the white lady, skag, brown sugar, chasing the dragon (ok, I’ll stop), but Mick Jagger sings about being “in my basement room with a needle and a spoon” in this song. Where the song breaks ground is that it manages to both glamorize and wallow in the gutter of drug addiction. The sense of abandon and nihilism is palpable and comes across as genuine. It’s not an anti drug song by any stretch of the imagination, but the country twang does create an honest outlaw atmosphere. See also the great cover version by Jerry Lee Lewis, featuring Mick Jagger.
At this point, I can’t hear that song without immediately bringing up this one, or vice versa. Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” paints a similar picture to “Dead Flowers,” complete with similar melodies and chords, but it has less glamour to it. This is more matter of fact. Maybe the fact that the protagonist in this song is not content with his situation, but is rather asking for help and to be held tighter, makes it come across as the flip side to “Dead Flowers.” Also, while Mick Jagger is in his basement, Warren is on the outskirts of town. This song has a much more western feel to it, too. It’s rooted in Southern California and Mexican mariachi music. It still carries with it that outlaw appeal, but I find the sadness of it, which is made real by the great “I think I’m sinking down” lyric, is more of a deterrent to any potential invitation to drug addiction, so I tend to listen to this after The Stones, because I’m not a junkie and don’t really want to be. There are a couple of great covers of this song by Linda Ronstadt and G.G. Allin, but not together, though that would have been amazing.