Top Ten Addiction Songs
Who can really name the best songs about addiction? We can. Or at least we can give you our completely biased and in no way thorough Top 10 list.
Picking the best songs about addiction is an impossible challenge. The most influential and iconic figures in music, from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan to The Velvet Underground, have covered the subject so magnificently that it’s easy to forget that there are many current artists who are tackling the topic as well. But over the last decade (give or take a few years), some highly unlikely acts have written songs about addiction and recovery that are, variously, funny, provocative, and heartbreaking. These excellent recent songs aren't classics, but might just deserve to be.
I Feel Like Dying (Lil Wayne)
Lil Wayne’s lyrics have always tended toward the self-aggrandizing, which makes the honesty of “I Feel Like Dying,” in its mournful self-loathing, all the more compelling. Leaked from a 2007 mixtape, the track samples Henry Ate’s acoustic ballad “Once” on its hook, the vocal now a hyperprocessed whine against the skittering backbeat: “Only once the drugs are done/That I feel like dying.” The track was the subject of a 2008 lawsuit, which has prevented its formal release, but the lyrics — lines like “Jumping off a mountain into a sea of codeine” and “I am a prisoner locked up behind Xanax bars,” that are at once tongue-in-cheek and painfully unironic — are as evocative as anything in Weezy’s catalogue.
Semi-Charmed Life (Third Eye Blind)
Considering that this middle-of-the-road pop-rock smash dominated the airwaves for much of the late 1990s, it’s surprising that more people don’t realize that—the infectious “do do do, do do do do” hook aside—“Semi-Charmed Life” is one of the most thought-provoking songs about addiction to emerge from the post-grunge canon. The fact that the PG13 radio version of the skng excuses the most explicit lines—“Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break,”-- doesn’t help. But behind the crisp production, frontman and lyricist Stephan Jenkins captures the descent from the symphonic euphoria produced by amphetamines (“And I speak to you like the chorus to a verse/Chop another line like a coda with a curse”) to the ugly place where it the judge? ends (“We tripped on the urge to feel alive/And now I’m struggling to survive”). Sometimes the simplest statements—like, “I want something else to get me through this life”—can be the most profound.
Everyone’s At It (Lily Allen)
Lily Allen has always been too clever for her own good, and “Everyone’s At It” may contain her tidiest little couplet: “I’m not trying to say that I’m smelling of roses/But when will we tire of putting shit up our noses?” The song is a tongue-in-cheek attack on drug culture that avoids picking one particular target: powder cocaine, prescription narcotics, crack, and SSRIs are all fair game for Lily. Between the charming glibness of the lyrics and the paranoid squealing of the pop production, it’s so damn likeable that you barely even notice how hypocritical the whole thing is.
Never Did (Perfume Genius)
"Learning," the debut album by Seattle-based singer-songwriter Perfume Genius, was one of 2010’s most remarkable releases, due in no small part to the themes of addiction and redemption that make the album’s crackly, lo-fi production and fragile vocals all the more haunting. Recovery is everywhere on this record, but nowhere is it more explicit in its evocation of 12-step programs than it is in “Never Did”: “It’s all part of His plan/It’s all in His hands/In the basement.” Broken never sounded so beautiful.
As a song, “Sober” is doggedly literal—but then, P!nk, née Alecia Moore, has never been known for her subtlety. (This is, after all, the woman who titled her fourth studio "I’m Not Dead.") The track was written with mega-hitmakers Kara DioGuardi and Nate “Danja” Hills, and it shows; “Sober” is a radio-friendly dirge, melodramatic and bombastic. But more than the occasionally trite lyrics—“Why do I feel this party’s over?”—what P!nk captures best in “Sober” is the addict’s earnest self-pity, unsullied by wisdom or insight. “Look how bad I hurt,” she seems to be saying, and for better or for worse, we do.
No Children (The Mountain Goats)
The Mountain Goats’ concept album "Tallahassee" tells the story of a fictional marriage, and “No Children” is that couple’s absolute nadir—possibly the loneliest song that I’ve ever heard, and a bracingly accurate photograph of the utter hopelessness of advanced addiction. Vocalist John Darnielle’s abrasive, nasal voice, coupled with the abject misery of the lyrics—first, “I hope I never get sober,” and better still, “I am drowning/There is no sign of land/You are coming down with me/Hand in unlovable hand”—makes the song almost comical in its heartbreaking sincerity.