7 Songs With Explicitly Anti-Drug Messages

By Maggie Serota 08/20/14

Relax... don't do it! These songs go against the druggy image of the hedonistic music industry, advocating self-control or abstinence instead of excess.


Many people think of popular music as an endless celebration of sex, drugs and unmitigated hedonism. However, we managed to find some songs that advocated either self-control or outright abstinence, at least when it comes to drugs. Songs that carry an explicitly anti-drug message seem to transcend era and genre. Here are just a few. 

“Not If You Were The Last Junkie on Earth”  The Dandy Warhols

Anyone who has seen the 2004 documentary Dig! knows that the members of The Dandy Warhols are no strangers to drug use. However, despite the fact that the members of the band can be seen vacuuming white powders up their noses in the party scenes, they have to draw the line somewhere. The particularly on-the-nose refrain “heroin is so passé” was a jab at frenemy Anton Newcombe, singer and songwriter of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Newcombe hit back with the Brian Jonestown Massacre single "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth," which was meant to be a playful response.

“Prescription/Oxymoron” ScHoolBoy Q

Rapper ScHoolBoy Q, aka Quincey Matthew Hanley has experience on both sides of the drug trade, as both a dealer and an addict. In “Prescription/Oxymoron,” the now emcee chronicles the horrors of Oxy addiction and he would know given that Oxy was the drug he dealt in Seattle before his music career took off.  Unfortunately, Hanley has had on and off again dependency on prescription pills. In a February 2014 interview with Hot 97 DJ Angie Martinez, Hanley claimed that he quit pills, but still drank “lean” (a soda and codeine cough syrup mixture) from time to time.

“Night of the Living Baseheads” Public Enemy

The 1988 track was a scathing indictment of the crack epidemic in the Reagan era. In this case, “base” is 80s slang for crack and the name of the song is a play on the titles of the old George Romero zombie movies. The chorus poses the question “How low can you go?" meaning how far can “baseheads” sink into addiction. One of the greatest ironies concerns the fact that hype man Flavor Flav thought Chuck D wrote the song was about him because he was using the drug at the time.

“Angel Dust”  Gil Scott-Heron

Musician, spoken word artist, and “jazz poet” Gil Scott-Heron wrote a concise and haunting warning against the dangers of PCP. Despite having such a cautionary message, the track was a minor hit and managed to reach #15 on the  R & B charts after its release in 1978. Unfortunately, the artist credited with being one of the forefathers of hip-hop couldn’t live up to his own anti-drug message and was slapped with a six month prison sentence after being arrested for possessing a crack pipe in 2003. The song lives on via samples in various other tracks. Kanye West worked it into the The Game track “Angel.” Also, Queens rapper Royal Flush worked a sample into the appropriately titled track “Angel Dust.”

“Beware of the Man (With The Candy In His Hand)” - The Dramatics

Detroit soul legends The Dramatics outright demonized drug dealers in this 1973 jam. Fortunately, the group never sacrificed the music when it came to putting a message in their songs. With lyrics like “He’ll give them hope/Then he’ll watch them slowly die” one would be hard pressed to find a more scathing indictment of the street level drug dealer couched within a seductive slow jam. The cautionary drug message was a recurring theme in the group’s discography, as demonstrated by the track “ The Devil Is Dope.”

“White Horse” Laid Back 

For the most part, cocaine essentially fueled a lot of the music and aesthetic surrounding synthpop, especially in the early 80s. So, it seems fairly ironic that Danish duo Laid Back wrote this 1983 post-disco club banger cautioning people not to “ride the white horse.” Oddly enough, the song was a b-side to the duo’s other single, “Sunshine Reggae,” but “White Horse” ended up being a huge hit in America. Go figure. It’s another song that has found a second life in samples and it’s been used in songs by The Black Eyed Peas and Snoop Dogg.

“Cod’ine” Buffy Sainte-Marie

In the early 60s, folk artist and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie had a nasty battle with codeine addiction resulting from treatment for a throat infection. It turns out she and SchoolBoy Q have more in common than they realize.  Her recovery led to this 1963 cautionary song that documented the horror and desperation the dependency entailed. There was apparently a universal in the despair and desperation in the lyrics given that the song has been covered quite a bit. Some of the artists that have put their own unique spin on “Co’dine” include Donovan, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons and fittingly enough, Courtney Love.


Maggie Serota is Music Editor at The Fix. You can follow her on Twitter @maggieserota. She last interviewed the great Mike Doughty.

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Maggie Serota is a staff writer at Spin. She has contributed to Glamour, NBC News, Esquire, Rolling Stone,BuzzFeed, and many other publications and outlets.  You can find Maggie on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.