Friday, 12 September 2008

Six-Pack To Go

Half A Dozen Great Songs About Booze

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.

MP3: Webb Pierce - 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".

MP3: The Clovers - One Mint Julep

Another song Bob played on his show portrays the darker side of the demon drink. Loretta Lynn is famous for her forthright lyrics and this song is pretty self-explanatory.

MP3: Loretta Lynn: Don't Come Home A Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)

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.

MP3: Townes Van Zandt - Talking Thunderbird Blues

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.

MP3: Carolyn Mark - The Wine 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.

MP3: The Felice Brothers - Whiskey In My Whiskey

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.


Samuel James said...

There is a slightly shambolic Wirralian punk rock version of 'there stands the glass' on this Half Man Half Biscuit session, performed for a highly appreciative Andy Kershaw. Third song after two of their own classics.

Anonymous said...

The Bar Is A Beautiful Place by the sometimes great Ryan Adams. I Got Drunk by the always great Uncle Tupelo. Many songs by the extremely mysterious band Bartleby are clearly penned by a world class boozer. Good luck tracking them down.

Anonymous said...

Oh and also Falling Down by Tom Waits - the favourite song ever of that great drinking (and druggy) band Arab Strap. Their song Here We Go is a perfect evocation of a boozy night gone wrong after one too many. 'How'm I supposed to walk you home / When you're at least 50 feet ahead / 'Cause you've walked off in a huff / And I'm that pissed I can't remember what it was I said.' Juicy.

Martin said...

Since Tom Waits drinking songs have been evoked....We can't leave out "The Piano Has Been Drinking."

Nigel Smith said...

Thank you for the recommendations. I have found the HMHB Kershaw session. Wonderful stuff. The other songs mentioned are all great too (though am I right in thinking I'll only hear Bartleby's music if I travel to deepest Suffolk?)

I'll post them all shortly.

Anonymous said...

The current whereabouts of the band Bartleby are unknown despite the frenzied speculations of their dozen or so fans. But if we leave out Jockey Full of Bourbon we might just be committing some kind of mortal sin.
'Two pairs of pants and a mohair vest / I'm full of bourbon I can't stand up'
Tom Waits is an above average lyricist.

Sam Jordison said...

Loved these. Don't forget The Dubliners 'Jar Of Porter'

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