There are tons of songs out there about drug use and drug addiction, but the songs on this list I feel best represent the comprehensive aspects of this subject. Included here are both pro and anti-drug songs, although as you’ll read you’ll notice how thin the line is between the two. (Songs that almost made this list were “Auto-Pilot” by Queens of the Stone Age and “The Pusher” by Steppenwolf).
You may feel that many drug-related songs are not included on this list, however I will be writing an upcoming article on songs which relate to specific drugs, as well as an article on the top five songs about marijuana (as I feel this “drug” deserves its own article). In no way am I endorsing the use of drugs by making this list, but rather I’m examining how certain songs can change or persuade certain attitudes towards heavy subjects.
Number Five: “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” by Queens of the Stone Age. “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” is a song by Queens of the Stone Age, off of their 2000 album, Rated R. This song is clearly about drugs, as the lyrics contain only eight words; seven of which are drugs: “Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol / Cocaine!” Supposedly Josh Homme thought of the idea for the song after a long party for the new millennium, however the band has stated that the song was partially a joke, and that never in the song does the band technically endorse using drugs.
Number Four: “I’m Waiting for the Man” by The Velvet Underground. “I’m Waiting for the Man” is a song by The Velvet Underground, featured on their 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. It was written by Lou Reed. This song is essentially about a drug user “waiting for the man,” or waiting for his drug dealer. The song specifically sets the scene, describing the drug user as having “twenty-six dollars” to spend, as he waits on “Lexington, 125” (Lexington Avenue and 125th Street in NYC,) and eventually goes “up a brownstone / up three flights of stairs” in order to make his purchase.
The song describes the state of mind of the addict (“feel sick and dirty / more dead than alive”,) the underlying rules regarding drug deals and drug dealers (“he’s never early / he’s always late / first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait”) and what happens in a drug deal (“he’s got the works / gives you a sweet taste / then you gotta split because you got no time to waste”). The song ends with the user using (“I’m feeling good”), which brings about a type of euphoria that allows him to not think or worry about the future. (Although this song is specifically about heroin, I feel it does a great job at portraying the overall depraved and sleazy process of scoring drugs).
Number Three: “Junkhead” by Alice in Chains. Alice in Chains is a grunge/rock band that wrote many songs about addiction; however one of their most famous is “Junkhead,” a track off of 1992’s Dirt. At first this song seems to be pro-drug, as it describes how only addicts understand their addiction and why they choose to live their lives that way; the “hypocrite norm” and those with “books and degrees” can never understand the “elite race” of “stoners, junkies and freaks,” and therefore should not pass judgment on them. The chorus echoes this sentiment: “What’s my drug of choice? / well, what have you got? / I don’t go broke / and I do it a lot.”
However, the band’s late front-man Layne Staley stated, “I wrote about drugs, and I didn’t think I was being unsafe or careless by writing about them…I didn’t want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I’ve had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they’re high. That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen.” (Although this song specifically was about heroin use, I feel the lyrics covered a broad area of what it feels like to be addict, from the inside looking out).
Number Two: “Sugar Man” by Sixto Rodriguez. “Sugar Man” is a song by folk musician Sixto Rodriguez, off of his 1970 debut album, Cold Fact. The ‘sugar man’ in the song seems to be a drug dealer, evidenced by the lines, “silver magic ships you carry / jumpers, coke, sweet mary jane.” The beginning of the song almost sounds like the narrator is begging for some type of release: “Sugar man, won’t you hurry / cause I’m tired of these scenes / for a blue coin won’t you bring back / all those colors to my dreams.” This begging seems to turn into worship, portrayed by the lines, “sugar man, you’re the answer / that makes my questions disappear.” At first glance, this song seems to be pro-drug, however, there are lines which mention “a false friend” and a “lost heart” which “had turned to dead black coal”; this suggests that more so the song is about the pseudo-security that drugs bring.
Number One: “Toy Soldiers” by Martika. “Toy Soldiers” is a pop song by Martika off of her 1988 self-titled debut (Eminem would later sample the chorus of this song in “Like Toy Soldiers,” off of his album Encore ; however, Eminem’s song focuses on violence in the hip-hop music scene rather than drug addiction).
Although many believe this to be a love song, especially because of the vagueness of the first verse, Martika has said that she wanted to write a song for her friend that was wrapped up in cocaine addiction. Knowing this, the first two verses can be seen from a different perspective. She starts off by saying, “It wasn’t my intention to mislead you / It never should have been this way,” followed by, “It’s true, I did extend the invitation / I never knew how long you’d stay.” In these lines, the narrator seems to be talking to the drug itself, describing how when you try something new for the first time, the experience has a quality of innocence to it; but the narrator seems to be saying that she tried the drug several times, not thinking of the possible consequences, and as a result, the drug is now part of her life.
The second verse is a bit less ambiguous, as she straight-up mentions the word ‘addiction’; in this verse, the narrator is clearly now a drug addict and fears that she will become another victim to her drug of choice. The second bridge, which is, “only emptiness remains / it replaces all the pain,” simply and tragically explains how much a drug-addicted person loses in the haze of their addiction, while also suggesting that overall ‘pain’ is the reason one tries and eventually gets hooked to a drug.
Before the chorus, we hear the chilling back-up vocals of children echoing the power of the drug scene and the drug itself by saying, “Won’t you come out and play with me?” Here is the chorus that’s repeated throughout the song: “Step by step / heart to heart / left right left / we all fall down / like toy soldiers / bit by bit / torn apart / we never win / but the battle wages on / for toy soldiers.” Essentially, this chorus is comparing drug addicts to toy soldiers in that once you’re addicted, you lose all self-control and freedom to the drug you’re addicted to. This chorus also portrays the many devastating and unnecessary deaths that have occurred in the ‘battle’ of drug addiction and even raises the question of who or what is really to blame for this, as it seems to be an ongoing war with no end in sight (Although this song was written about someone battling cocaine addiction, I felt that the lyrics express the generality of someone battling addiction to any drug).