B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin

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*Image taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

Is it just me, or does it seem like the bad guys are winning a lot lately? January was one of the most awful months that I’ve ever endured… personally, professionally, politically… you name it. Of course it was a Dry January… that might have had something to do with it. I just sort of feel better with a tumbler of bourbon in my hand. At least I have my local NFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl as a distraction. Otherwise I might be found downtown at the bus station, screaming “The End is Nigh” at all the passersby. It’s hard to watch my country lurch ever closer toward the specter of authoritarianism while Australia burns. The 1% has the world bought and paid for while so many of us struggle. Even Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have been knocked out of the Australian Open. Dammit.

On top of all this, Big Pharma has gotten rich cramming so many pain pills down our collective throats we are now in what is called “The Opioid Crisis.” I guess the ruling class wants to keep us all mildly sedated so their rapaciousness won’t be noticed. The horrible side affect of all this opioid stuff is its caused a resurgence in that most evil of drugs, heroin. Call it what you want – smack, junk, dope, China White, Chasing the Dragon, horse – its death in a syringe by any other name. It’s going to be hard to calculate the human cost of all of this, because human life is priceless. When people’s doctors cut them off the opioids, they have no where to turn but heroin or worse, fentanyl.

This resurgence in the use of heroin has me thinking about when I was a young kid back in the 70s. Just the word “heroin” was enough to strike fear in our hearts. I used to love the TV cop show, Kojak. Say what you want, but there hasn’t been a decent cop show on television since they cancelled Kojak in 1978. Telly Savalas had a style that all of us here at B&V absolutely loved… “Who loves ya, baby?” I watched that show religiously when my parents weren’t around… they could be strict about programming. There was often some character who was a heroin addict as part of the plot line of so many episodes. The way that show portrayed heroin is probably what kept me far, far away from that stuff – despite a healthy curiosity about all things nefarious. You gotta draw the line somewhere, and heroin was certainly way over the line for me.

I may have felt that way, but back then heroin was everywhere. John Lennon, Keith Richards were the vanguard of cool and rock and roll and they were both on heroin. Janis OD’d on heroin. Heroin was cool and subversive. William Burroughs was a junkie. Even as late as the early 80s, John Belushi died from doing a speedball, a combination of heroin and cocaine. Sounds like one foot on the gas, one foot on the break to me, like putting booze in Coca-Cola or coffee. Finally as the 80s wore on we saw the scourge of heroin recede like floodwaters back where it came from. Although, admittedly that was probably because cocaine replaced it. I remember when Grunge took over the world in the 90s the media would talk about “heroin chic,” as if there was such a thing. Cobain was on heroin… I don’t think it helped him. So many of that generation OD’d or killed themselves later after recovery…Scott Weiland, Layne Staley… Why do we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over again?

And now, here we are 30 years on, and heroin is back and bigger than ever. I thought by the time we got to 2020 problems like heroin would be all gone. Of course I thought we’d have flying cars by now too… Whoever said “Greed is Good” must have worked in Big Pharma and was lucky enough to not have a heroin addict in their family.

As usual, musicians and artists are always in the vanguard of drugs and subversive culture. We’ve lost too many people to heroin overdoses. There’s so much music we might have had… it’s a staggering loss. These poor people. At least they’ve left behind an impressive body of work. You’d think a list of songs about heroin would be harrowing…or at least a bummer, but actually there’s a deep range of emotions and styles that make up my list of favorites. I’m sure I left a few off, so please mention your favs in the “comments” section and I’ll add them to the BourbonAndVinyl.net Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin playlist on Spotify.

I put this list together to honor all those we’ve lost to heroin and opioids. I want to honor all of those people and families that have been upended and touched by this tragedy. It’s a dark ride folks – take care of each other.

  1. AC/DC, “Gone Shootin'” – One of my all time AC/DC favs with Bon Scott on lead vocals singing about his lady whose gone out to score smack.
  2. The Beatles, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” – Took years before I realized Lennon, who was using at the time, was singing “I need a fix, ‘cuz I’m going down…”
  3. The Tubes, “White Punks On Dope” – A personal favorite I remembered from college. Rich white kids in Hollywood going off to score heroin.
  4. Warren Zevon, “Carmelita” – His best song…”I’m all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town.”
  5. Alice In Chains, “Junkhead” – “What’s my drug of choice? Well, what have you got?” Layne Staley was alas a casualty of heroin. RIP.
  6. Guns N Roses, “Mr. Brownstone” – I don’t know who was on heroin, I just know Axl was not happy about it.
  7. Black Sabbath, “Hand of Doom” – “You push the needle in…”
  8. Pete Townshend, “Somebody Saved Me” – Pete singing about his recovery. The first part is about someone saving him from a woman or infatuation that would have killed him… I’ve been there… but then he sings about a friend who nursed him while he got clean… only to find his friend dead when he did.
  9. David Bowie, “Ashes to Ashes” – Poor Major Tom… “we all know Major Tom is a junkie.”
  10. Lou Reed, “Perfect Day” – Reed insisted this was just about spending the day with his woman… but that part about “you just keep me hanging on” at the end has always made people think he’s talking about a perfect day, on heroin.
  11. John Lennon, “Cold Turkey” – This might be the only song I know of about quitting heroin cold turkey and suffering through it.
  12. Alice In Chains, “God Smack” – Another gripping track from AIC. Perhaps the hardest track here.
  13. The Black Crowes, “She Talks To Angels” – “She never mentions the word addiction, in certain company…” but she’s going to “smile when the pain comes.” Lovely song about the local hot chick on heroin.
  14. U2, “Bad” – Epic and full of emotions, one of U2’s best songs ever. “I took the poison, from the poison stream and floated… out of here.”
  15. The Rolling Stones, “Dead Flowers” – Sticky Fingers was such a druggy album, I could have included most the tracks here. I left off “Brown Sugar” even though it was rumored to be about heroin and not black women… This song finds Mick sitting with a “needle and a spoon.”
  16. The Velvet Underground & Nico, “Run, Run, Run” – Running to meet the drug dealer…
  17. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge” – Autobiographical lyrics from Anthony Kiedis, about where he used to score his heroin.
  18. The Rolling Stones, “Coming Down Again” – This time with Keith on lead vocals… the loneliness of coming down alone. Desolation personified.
  19. Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb” – I never felt this was about heroin, but the doctor does give the guy a shot (“pinprick”) and I couldn’t resist adding a Pink Floyd track.
  20. Placebo, “Song To Say Goodbye” – The Rock Chick bought this album and I sort of ignored it, until I heard this song. A friend is frustrated with his friend turned junkie.
  21. Ozzy Osbourne, “Junkie” – Ozzy rocking out and preaching baby.
  22. Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – Not specifically about heroin, but Mike Ness is a recovered heroin addict… what else could it be about?
  23. Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt” – I was so tempted to put Johnny Cash’s version here but this version feels more on the nose.
  24. Billy Joel, “Captain Jack” – Captain Jack was a drug dealer. Joel used to watch suburban kids scoring heroin from him across the street in his apartment.
  25. Jane’s Addiction, “Jane Says” – Another song about a pretty junkie.
  26. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Fight Like a Brave” – “When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired…” I love that Kiedis wrote lyrics about the struggle of wanting to get away from heroin.
  27. Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down Again” – The singer asking heroin to never let him come down. Scary when you think about it.
  28. The Velvet Underground & Nico, “Heroin” – The track that inspired this whole list.
  29. Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne” – Great track about a heroin dealer… “I think the people down the hall know who you are…” All the paranoia you need is in this song.
  30. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Knock Me Down” – “If you see me getting high, knock me down.” A cry for help, really.
  31. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “The Needle And the Spoon” – “And any trip to the moon…”
  32. U2, “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” – Another song about heroin by U2 off the great Zooropa album.
  33. Mike Ness, “Dope Fiend Blues” – Call it what you want, it’s all heroin.
  34. Iggy Pop, “Lust For Life” – Vague references to itchy skin here. The use of this in the movie, ‘Trainspotting’ made this a must.
  35. The Rolling Stones, “Sister Morphine” – Again from Sticky Fingers. 
  36. James Taylor, “A Junkie’s Lament” – People forget JT was an addict.
  37. Humble Pie, “30 Days In the Hole” – A song about being arrested for possession. That Newcastle brown isn’t the famous beer.
  38. James Taylor, “Rainy Day Man” – Once again a song where the addict waits for his dealer.
  39. Velvet Underground & Nico, “I’m Waiting For the Man” – Ditto what I wrote about #38. Of course in this case, the addict is in Harlem waiting to meet his guy.
  40. U2, “Running To Stand Still” – One of my all time favorites. “I see seven towers but I only see one way out…”
  41. Prince, “Sign O the Times” – All the bad shit that Prince sang about back then, is current here. I liked the line, “In September, my cousin tried reefer for the very first time, now he’s doin’ horse, it’s June.”
  42. Neil Young, “The Needle And the Damage Done” – A perfect place to end. Neil saw plenty of damage…

There you have it folks. Give us a listen on Spotify and let me know what you think. Cheers!

And, Go Chiefs!