Songs That Say Sober
Songs That Say Sober
Kelly Clarkson, "Sober"
On this 2007 single off Clarkson’s heavier and more personal My December album, the American Idol champ had fans wondering what she had been up to in her time off, declaring that “three months and I’m still sober, picked all my weeds and kept the flowers.” Yet Clarkson made it clear that the song wasn’t about a drinking problem. “I’m not an alcoholic,” she said. “It’s just a metaphor. This song is about surviving something you can get past or over. Everyone has something that they are addicted to that they can do without in their life, so it could be about whatever your addiction is.” Although the song tanked on the charts—appearing for one week on the Billboard Hot 100 before promptly falling out—it received critical acclaim and is considered to be a favorite among fans.
The debut single off Evanescence’s 2006 album The Open Door was a highly unsubtle reference to the drug problems of her ex-boyfriend, Seether frontman Shaun Morgan, and released the exact same day that he checked himself into rehab.
This brassy diva has plenty of chart-topping songs about getting drunk and raising hell—"U + Ur Hand" and "So What," among others—so music lovers may have been surprised to see a “Sober” song released as the second single off her 2008 album, Funhouse. The song was less brazen and more vulnerable than most of her previous work, rich in insecure lines like “How do I feel this good sober?” But for Pink, who wrote the song at a party where she was the only one not drinking, the song has ended up becoming one of her staple choices. “Sober is a dark, kind of sad song,” she said. “It’s about the vices that we choose...it’s just a really personal, beautiful song, one of my favorites.” Fans felt the same way—the song cracked the top 10 in 13 different countries, including peaking at No. 3 in the US.
Released as the second single off the American rockers 1993 debut album Undertow, this is one of the only “Sober” songs to truly take on addiction at its lowest depths. Lead singer Maynard James Keenan highlights themes of self-hatred by asking, “Why can’t we not be sober, I just want to start this over,” before declaring he’s just a worthless liar and an imbecile. “The song and video are based on a guy we know who’s at his artistic best when he’s loaded,” said guitarist Adam Jones. “A lot of people give him shit for that. I don’t tell people to do or not to drugs...but you have to take responsibility for what happens. If you become addicted and a junkie, well, that’s your fault.” The song reached No. 13 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock charts while Undertow went on to sell just under three million copies in the US.
Evanescence, "Call Me When You’re Sober"
Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down. The debut single off Evanescence’s 2006 album The Open Door was a highly unsubtle reference to the drug problems of her ex-boyfriend, Seether frontman Shaun Morgan, and released the exact same day that he checked himself into rehab. Claiming that he never called her when he was sober, lead singer Amy Lee tells him that he “can’t play the victim this time” while declaring that she’s sick with shame. “I think it’s impossible to hide how obvious it is,” she said. “I was trying to kind of be discreet about it, and then he totally came out and said he was going to rehab. It kind of made for a more interesting story.” Perhaps unfortunately for Morgan, he wouldn’t be able to avoid the song anywhere he went—it cracked the top 10 in 12 different countries and reached No. 10 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100.
Paloma Faith, "Stone Cold Sober"
Potentially desperate to find the second coming of Amy Winehouse, the UK music scene gave us sassy soul songstess Paloma Faith, who released her debut album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? in 2009. Her debut single off the album isn’t related to drug addiction, but the lyrics could certainly apply to newly sober folks who aren’t ready to mend their party loving ways, as Faith boasts she’s “in a whole other dimension dancing doubles on the floor, you think I’m crazy, a little bit hazy, but I’m stone cold sober.” “It’s about the human condition, the constant striving for love and companionship,” she said. Stone Cold Sober was a success on the UK and Scottish charts, but Faith’s success didn’t cross over the pond and she’s openly expressed frustration about the delays on her yet-to-be released second album.
Jennifer Paige, "Sober"
With her 1998 teen-pop ballad Crush hitting No. 1 in seven countries, Paige was one of the biggest one-hit wonders of the ‘90s. But the follow-up single from her self-titled debut album took a more, ahem, sober approach to love. Speaking of an emotionally abusive lover in terms that could rival any drug addiction, she sings about how he “takes every opportunity to play on every insecurity and get her back on track.” Finally, Paige sees the light and declares that she is sober, “seeing the you that I never knew.” Sadly, fans didn’t respond well to this sugarless pop ballad—it failed to chart in the US and although Paige released two albums afterwards, none of them came close to the success of her debut single.
Noir Desir, "Sober Song"
On their 1992 album Tostaky, French rock band Noir Desir perfectly laid out the thoughts of a painful morning after. Lead singer Bertrand Cantat, one of France’s biggest rock stars, opened up with a plea to God that “you have to make me sober,” promising to “drink water until I die.” Cantat’s lyrics about alcohol excess hit close to home in 2003, when he was arrested for drunkenly hitting girlfriend Marie Trintignant 19 times during an argument, causing irreversible brain damage that led to her death. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for murder committed with indirect intent, but was released on parole in October 2007 after completing less than half his sentence. Noir Desir never shared the stage again and broke up in November 2010. Cantat released an album in French this past November, his first release of new material in over a decade.
This song from the British alt-rock band’s 1999 debut album Showbiz sounds anything but sober at first. Led by a catchy and dance fueled guitar riff, lead singer Matthew Bellamy gives thanks to Royal Canadian, Wild Turkey and Jameson, among others, for being “the only reason that I remain unfrozen.” Building up into a synth-heavy and falsetto-voiced chorus, Bellamy finally flips the switch and declares that for all the comforts his favorite spirits have given him, he “suppose it stands to reason that you would turn on me.” Although critics initially panned Muse as a derivative ripoff of Radiohead, their long-lasting presence on the international rock scene has earned them a reputation as one of the best bands of this generation.
Nate Walka, Kyle Lucas and Machine Gun Kelly ft. Mat Musto, "Over Being Sober"
You know you aren’t endorsing sobriety when your music video opens with a disclaimer that Ciroc isn’t responsible for anyone laid out drunk in the video. The bottles of P. Diddy’s drink of choice are unsubtly displayed throughout this video’s raucous house party, but that’s no surprise, given that Machine Gun Kelly is signed to Diddy’s own label. In this 2011 frat-boy rap anthem that urges partygoers to “bring your girls and medicine, roll one up and let’s begin,” cleavage and drunken shenanigans are the ever-present theme. With extremely rare exceptions—we’re talking to you, Eminem—white boy rappers usually head straight for the one-hit wonder pile (if they’re lucky), but these boys gain some street cred with Grammy and BET award winning songwriter Walka opening up the track. Since the video was released, it has earned over 140,000 hits on YouTube.
Rod Stewart, Stone Cold Sober
This song off Stewart’s 1975 album Atlantic Crossing is all about the days of excess that Stewart was more than familiar with during this period. The British crooner sings about being high with his buddies “up on cloud 33” and how he would “never get to bed before sunup.” His only stint of sobriety would come the morning after as he’d wake up “down in the alley again.” The song was never released as a single, but Atlantic Crossing got to No. 1 on the UK charts.
McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among other topics, for The Fix.