I watched Martin Scorsese's phenomenal Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home again last night. One of my favourite moments near the start of the film, when Bob's recalling the music that affected him growing up, is the clip of Webb Pierce, the best-selling country star of the 1950s, singing his Number 1 hit There Stands The Glass.
I'd never heard of Pierce before seeing No Direction Home. Dressed in classic cowboy couture, he cuts an impressive figure and sings in a distinctive voice that Scorsese felt warranted subtitles. But what's most remarkable about the clip are the song's lyrics. This is the first verse: "There stands the glass/ That will ease all my pain/ That will settle my brain/ It's my first one to day". Even in the often maudlin world of country music, I'm not sure you'd get away with that today, let alone get to perform it on mainstream TV. This clip from the Grand Ole Opry is what's in No Direction Home.
In a culture where every beer bottle advises us to "drink aware" songs about boozing are less popular than they once were. By some distance. The excellent blog Barstool Mountain is solely dedicated to tipsy tunes, mainly of fine vintage, and last year compiled an impressive list of the Top 100 Drinking Songs of all time.
One of Bob Dylan's most enjoyable Theme Time Radio Hours was the episode about drinking. The best song I'd never heard of from that show was by a 50s R&B group called The Clovers. Their 1951 Number 1 hit One Mint Julep blames boozing for much more than a regrettable one-night stand: "I’m through with flirting and drinking whiskey/ I got six extra children from a-getting frisky".
Townes Van Zandt was a man who liked a drink. While in hospital to detox in the 90s a doctor told his third wife Leanne, "If anyone ever tries to dry this man out again, he will die." I know alcohol had an horrendous effect on Townes and those who loved him but I still find this song incredibly funny.
People do still write songs about drinking. Carolyn Mark is a Canadian singer-songwriter I first supporting Po' Girl at the Borderline some years ago. I don't mind a Muscadet or a nice Sauvignon Blanc but I still love this song.
The Felice Brothers are a proper modern-day boozing band. Joanne and I saw them support Justin Townes Earle in Nashville on our honeymoon. They wobbled near us, hammered, during the opening act and their subsequent set was full of songs of drunken violence like this one.
Whether you're tea-total or salivating at the thought of your next lager I hope you enjoy the songs. Please leave a comment to recommend your favourite drinking tunes.
Beer Fact: Jax beer was brewed in New Orleans between 1890 and 1974. The old brewery off Jackson Square is now a touristy shopping centre but the sign on top of the building still evokes its boozy past.