Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Want to have my good time fun - favourite songs about booze

Despite having had to renounce alcohol almost a quarter of a century ago, it hasn’t affected my enjoyment of songs about booze and boozing one bit. If I spent every day pining for the bottle, it might be different – but I’ve never missed it that much (cigarettes are another matter altogether).

I know I promised to stop recording for a while, but I couldn’t resist doing a cover of The Big Bopper’s self-penned “White Lightnin’”, that hymn of praise to illicit moonshine whiskey production in the North Carolina hills. George Jones’s version sold more, but Mr. Richardson’s is incomparable. Here’s my attempt, complete with over-the-top sound effects:

Booze Songs fall into three categories: celebratory, regretful and observational. High in the celebratory column comes “Lightnin’ Bar Blues”, in which the singer just wants to be left alone to drink his Lone Star beer and “have my good time fun”. I love the Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Hoyt Axton versions: can't find the former, so here's the latter:

“Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee” was first done by Sticks McGhee, but was rapidly appropriated by a variety of Rockabilly perfomers, including Sun’s Malcolm Yelvington and the great Johnny Burnette:

It’s not to be confused with Gene Simmon’s rocking “Drinkin’ Wine”, another Sun recording. I often wonder whether Sun would have enjoyed such great success if so many of their artistes hadn’t recorded while under the influence - I hate to think what sort of condition Carl Perkins was in when he cut  “Dixie Fried”:

I remember once finding Willie Nelson’s "I Gotta Get Drunk" on a jukebox in a sweltering bar in Key West after I’d been travelling on my own for a while: it was like unexpectedly meeting an old friend and didn’t half cheer me up. I’ve always loved the lines: “I spend my whole pay cheque on some old wreck/And brother I can name you a few!” Unfortunately, the versions on You Tube aren’t a patch on the original, so here’s a version by Joe Carson:

I’m not generally a fan of defiantly feelgood anthems of a left-wing persuasion, but I’ve always been fond of  Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” (as is Homer Simpson). 

As for observational booze songs, my favourite is Sheryl Crowe’s first big hit, “All I Wanna Do”, which perfectly captures the sleazy horror of drinking beer in downmarket American bars while the sun’s blazing outside (“Billy likes to peel the labels from his bottles of Bud”).

Country music, of course, specialises in alcoholic regret. My two favourite self-pity masterpieces are Jerry Lee Lewis’s “What Made Milwaukee Famous” (what a singer he was!) and the terribly underrated Stonewall Jackson’s “Blues Plus Booze Means I Lose” (not available online, but deserves a mention). And if you’re not yet feeling bad enough, why not give The Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine”  - in which the singer described the hell of living with an alcoholic - a try. (“When you fell asleep with blood on your teeth” is an image that tends to stay with one.) 

As for what the Victorians used to call “the horrors of drink”, they’re memorably evoked in a version of the old classic, “Down Bound Train”, by Ken Collyer’s Skiffle Group – one of the high points of Britain’s skiffle boom. Chuck Berry’s version is pretty good too:

I’ll leave you with the Nick Lowe-penned “Milk and Alcohol” by Dr Feelgood. I’ve been listening to this for years without realising it was about getting drunk while listening to a sub-standard concert by John Lee Hooker:

If you’re feeling down after listening to this selection – please don’t take a drink!


  1. Great song! Really enjoyed it. The only improvement I can think of is maybe a higher pitched screech on the White Lightening punch-line!

    Interesting theme too. Of course, so much blues and rock & roll music is alcohol inspired. In fact, blues music seems almost inseparable from images of smoke filled sleazy bars in downbeat areas of the town.

    But, Scott, you left out of the most famous booze songs of all time - The House of the Rising Sun! If you want to suffer, I've just put up my own version on my equatorworld YouTube channel -! Lol

    Keep it up!

    Cheers (or maybe that's the wrong word!)
    Friday, September 16, 2011 - 08:59 AM

  2. Jelly Roll Morton:

    Ashes to ashes
    And dust to dust
    If the liquor don't get ya
    The women must
    Friday, September 16, 2011 - 11:08 AM

  3. CECIL INGRAM BASTARDO20 October 2011 at 23:28

    Y'all wanna hear our take on the classic drink to forget song, An Empty Bottle, a Broken Heart and You're Still on my Mind? We should be back in the studio some time real soon. Keep on with the fine rock and roll, Scotty.
    Friday, September 16, 2011 - 07:08 PM

  4. AULD ALLIANCE MAN20 October 2011 at 23:28

    Sir Harry Lauder' "Toddlin' Haim" and Gerard Depardieu's "Wedge it in a Bottle" are both pretty good.
    Friday, September 16, 2011 - 11:11 PM

  5. Really good. Your vocals suggest to me that a Big Bopper Tribute band is a good career opportunity if the interactive media stuff stiffs. Listening to it on an Amtrak train in the US added to the fun.
    Friday, September 16, 2011 - 11:42 PM

  6. TropicalRob – the guitar sounds great, but, if you keep recording on one microphone, you’re going to have to make the voice louder, because the guitar tends to drown it. I’ve never been brave enough to perform anything live (I make far too many mistakes) so I’ve never had to balance voice and guitar, and have no idea how you’d set about doing it. I'm looking forward to hearing your new new 12-string in action.

    Looking forward to that next production, Cecil!

    Yes, Auld Alliance Man – Gerard Depardieu. Hmmm.

    Ex-KCS – by God, you get around! Was this work or pleasure? And where did you get the train to and from? I’ve done thousands of US miles on Greyhound and in cars – but sadly have never been on an American train. I’ve always fancied taking a long train journey across vast, trackless, snowy wastes – America, Canada or Russia would do. Some day.

    Finally, for those of you who find that one drinking song’s too many and a hundred’s not enough - and for DM, who is a keen student of weird song titles - why not check out “I'm at Home Getting Hammered (While She's Out Getting Nailed)” by Jesse Dayton or the tender and romantic “Kiss Me I'm Shitfaced” by the Dropkick Murphys?
    Sunday, September 18, 2011 - 04:14 PM