Top Ten Songs About Addiction

By Sam Lansky 06/02/11

Can anyone really identify the best songs about addiction? We can. Or at least we can publish a smart, admittedly haphazard and insanely subjective Top 10 list on the subject. Just to start a fight.

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Top 10 songs about addiction
Lily Allen: giving addiction a melody Photo via

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.

See also:

*Even More Great Music

*10 Greatest Songs About Recovery

*10 (More) Greatest Songs About Recovery

 

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.

Sober (P!nk)

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.

The Co-Dependent (Sia)

Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler has taken on themes of recovery in her music before—her 2007 song, “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine,” is a memorable example—but “The Co-Dependent” explores fascinating new territory, if only because it’s so aggressively cheerful. When she’s at her best, Sia’s music marries spunky beats—handclaps and stomping feet—with sour lyrics, to often surprising effect. Here, the refrain says it all: “I’m gonna watch you drink it all/I’m gonna watch you fall/You’ll find me by your side/If you find me at all.”

This Place Is a Prison (The Postal Service)

The Postal Service—a collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie vocalist Ben Gibbard and producer Jimmy Tamborello—have taken an undeserved beating for being so twee and so pop, for diluting the traditions of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) into something mainstream and palatable. But “This Place Is a Prison” is glitchy and gloomy, with some marvelous lyrics, like “I know that it’s not a party/If it happens every night.” It may not have all the critical heft that it could, but it gets the job done.

Everyone Nose (Remix) (N.E.R.D. – featuring Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco & Pusha T)

In terms of sheer lyrical density, rap allows for much greater space to tell a story than a song ever could, and this star-studded remix of N.E.R.D.’s single “Everyone Nose” features some of the best rappers in the game spitting lyrics that are as cutting as they are smart, lyrics about a girl who loves her cocaine a little too much. The chorus, which is simply the sentence “All the girls standing in the line for the bathroom” repeated over and over again, is just weird, but the verses (“Talkin’ that Paris, Lindsay, Britney/Mary-Kate and Whitney/People say that they clean/Don’t bullshit me,” and my favorite, “Your brain is Magic City/Your nose is Atlanta") are gems.

Not If You Were the Last Junkie On Earth (The Dandy Warhols)

The Dandy Warhols have done a fine job of blending well-crafted pop hooks with biting social commentary, as they did in 2000’s ubiquitous “Bohemian Like You,” but their 1997 track “Not If You Were the Last Junkie On Earth” is even more acerbic as it lambastes its subject: Not only is she a heroin addict (this was the ‘90s, remember), but her efforts to be fashionable are painfully transparent: “I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passé.” Even 14 years later, the message still rings true.

Sam Lansky is an editor at Wetpaint. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/samlansky.  

 

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.

See also:

*Even More Great Music

*10 Greatest Songs About Recovery

*10 (More) Greatest Songs About Recovery

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Sam Lansky is the West Coast Editor at TIME. He has written for Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, Grantland, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, OutBillboard and more. He is also the author of The Gilded Razor. You can find Sam on Linkedin and Twitter.

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