Heroin has killed several of my friends. If you’re not taking it, don’t take it. If you are taking it, stop taking it you prick. And with that blunt disclaimer out of the way – and with The 1975 adding to the growing stockpile of classic pop hits about this awful shit with ‘It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You’ – let’s set about celebrating those fantastic songs inspired by heroin as a warm-up to a weekend on far more cuddly killer drugs. Drop the needle!
Neil Young – ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’
Young’s mournful tribute to the friends he had lost to heroin – notably Crazy Horse associates Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry – first appeared on 1972’s ‘Harvest’ and quickly became a smack-wary standard.
The Velvet Underground – ‘Heroin’
Lou Reed has denied that ‘Perfect Day’ is about heroin – and hey, benefit of the doubt, maybe he just had a nice trip to the zoo once – but Velvet classics like ‘Waiting For The Man’ and ‘Heroin’ are as overt as they can get, the frenetic drone rock of the latter reflecting the rush and calm of the addiction cycle. “When the smack begins to flow I really don’t care anymore about… all the politicians making crazy sounds,” Lou groans through the itch. Thank god we’ve got Snapchat now, eh.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Under The Bridge’
A heartbreaking portrait of the lost urban addict, ‘Under The Bridge’ catapulted RHCP to success with its bleak honesty, and it certainly paints heroin in a negative light. Who wants to take a drug that “kisses you windy”?
Blur – ‘Beetlebum’
“That whole period,” Damon Albarn said of Blur’s sweeping, Beatledelic 1997 hit in the documentary ‘No Distance Left To Run’, “a lot of people’s lives [were] fairy muddied by heroin for a lot of people… it’s in that place.”
Suede – ‘So Young’
‘Heroine’ might have been Brett Anderson’s slyest nod to a drug he wouldn’t get deeply involved with until the latter half of the ‘90s, but the opening track of Suede’s era-defining debut album arrived with a narcotic snarl of “let’s chase the dragon”. And he wasn’t talking Puff the magic one. Although rumours abound that Puff was a grotty smackhead too.
Spiritualized – ‘I Think I’m In Love’
Jason Pierce is notorious for not owning up to the blatant drug references in his songs, and few are more blatant than the centrepiece of ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’. “Love in the middle o the afternoon/Just me, my spike in my arm and my spoon,” Pierce sings, amid lines about “dope running down my spine”. Now that’s definitely not about going to the zoo.
The Beatles – ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’
Arguably the song that invented prog, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ is also takes one of the darkest turns on ‘The White Album’ when Lennon ditches the veiled references to hard drugs of previous songs and admits “I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down”.
The Stranglers – ‘Golden Brown’
No amount of harpsichords could disguise the smacky overtones of The Stranglers’ most (ironically) stylish moment. “‘Golden Brown’ works on two levels. It’s about heroin and also about a girl,” Hugh Cornwell has said. “Both provided me with pleasurable times.”
Iggy Pop – ‘Lust For Life’
Said to document a day in the life of a heroin addict from cocky morning hit to afternoon itch and evening asleep on the sidewalk. It’s inadvisable to “have it in the ear” though, we’re told.
The La’s – ‘There She Goes’
If ‘Lust For Life’ was incongruously lively enough to slip a heroin song onto adverts for Royal Caribbean Cruises, pity the poor hapless romantics who got married to The La’s ‘There She Goes’ – “there she goes again, racing through my brain… pulsing through my vein…”