Because you guys really (and weirdly) liked that little Christiane F. post I scratched out last week, I wrote a list of classic heroin songs.
Before we get into it though, I should mention that I do not like heroin, and I do not condone its use. Heroin is literally the worst. If it doesn’t end your life it will almost definitely ruin it beyond repair, so heed my warning and take a very wide berth. Why so preachy, bro? Because I’ve lost a couple of friends to that garbage and the downward spiral was inexorable and swift. Plus, my parents made me watch Christiane F. when I was seven and it frightened the piss out of me. Now the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s take a light-hearted look at my favourite songs about the drug that will rob you of everything and leave you nodding off in sweatpants on a train during peak-hour. With sick on your jumper.
The Velvet Underground ‘Heroin’
With lyrics like ‘When I put a spike into my vein’ and ‘When the smack begins to flow, I really don’t care anymore,’ this song is obviously about heroin use. Plus, the title is literally ‘Heroin’, so duh. Reed wrote this one when he was a songwriter for Pickwick Records in 1964. Oddly, Pickwick rejected the tune and it was released three years later on The Velvet Underground & Nico. It’s an amazing song from perhaps the most important record to come out of the 60s, but does it condemn or endorse heroin use? Hard to say. The picture of escape and oblivion Reed paints might sound terrific to someone in the grip of crippling ennui, but Reed’s frank description of the heroin experience could also be frightening to someone like, say, me, who watched the film Christiane F. when he was seven.
Neil Young ‘Needle and the Damage Done’
‘Every junkie’s like a setting suuun.’ This one definitely does not glorify heroin use. It’s a heartrending bummer about Young’s Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten, a brilliant guitarist (famous for the song ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’) who began taking heroin in 1968—69 to alleviate the symptoms of his rheumatoid arthritis. By 1972 he was 29 and dead. ‘Needle and the Damage Done’ is a tribute to Danny and a warning to others about the dangers of smack. Of the song, Neil said, ‘I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men.’ Sad but true, like Metallica song, but that’s another stupid list.
The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’
Who knew this one was about smack? Not me, that’s for sure. In his 2001 book, The Stranglers: Song by Song, lead strangler Hugh Cornwell wrote that ‘Golden Brown’ works on two levels: ‘It’s about heroin and also about a girl—both provided me with pleasurable times.’ Eww. Lyrically, this song doesn’t give much away: Golden brown texture like sun/Lays me down with my mind she runs/Throughout the night no need to fight/Never a frown with golden brown. I get it now, though: heroin is brown, it makes you lay down, and you never frown, even after you’ve passed out face-first in the pram containing your baby. I actually saw that on a tram in Melbourne. Seriously, don’t do smack.
Again, who knew? I was sure this song was about a bug’s arse, but it turns out it’s all about lead singer Damon Albarn’s doped-out relationship with Elastica singer Justine Frischmann. Lyrically, this one has the same never a frown vibe of ‘Golden Brown’: And when she lets me slip away/She turns me on, all my violence is gone/Nothing is wrong/I just slip away, and I am gone.’ ‘For me, [heroin]was incredibly creative,’ said Albarn in a 2014 Q mag interview. ‘It freed me up… But it’s a cruel, cruel thing. It does turn you into a very isolated person and, ultimately, anything that you are truly dependent on is not good.’ Why ‘Beetlebum’ though? The enduring theory is that it’s a reference to the little beetle-like spots left on the foil when you’re smoking heroin. Either that or Justine Frischmann has an arse like a wasp.
Suede ‘So Young’
If it weren’t for a reference to ‘chasing the dragon,’ you’d have to assume the opening track from Suede’s eponymous first album was about a bug’s arse, but no, it’s about the deadly pleasures of Lady Heroin. And again, it’s a song inspired by a romantic coupling with Justine Frischmann. In fact, the whole album was inspired by Frischmann, who dated Suede lead singer Brett Anderson for a couple of years before running off with Damon from Blur. Anderson was crushed, but he wrote his best stuff as a result. Then he really got into heroin and his career took a massive skag shit.
Elliot Smith ‘Needle in the Hay’
This is the best song about heroin because it makes you really not want to do heroin. Your hand on his arm/Haystack charm around your neck/Strung out and thin/Calling some friend trying to cash some check/He’s acting dumb/That’s what you’ve come to expect. Ugh. That sounds awful. There’s nothing romantic about Elliot Smith’s struggle with addiction, and ‘Needle in the Hay’ is testimony to that. God, it’s sad. Although, in a 1998 interview with the NME, Smith said, ‘There’s things about my songs that are sad, but that’s not the point of them. People overlook the happiness. It all depends on your point of view.’ Five years later he committed suicide by stabbing his own heart… God, how miserable is this list? You’re welcome. Don’t do heroin!