Personally, I’m far too old to dabble in semi-legal psuedo-narcotics, but I’ve long felt the value of any drug worth taking can be measured in the quality of music it’s helped facilitate. It’s still too early to ascertain the effect of bath salts on music, and blaming it for the existence of dubstep would easily give it too much credit. So, contrary to what my preface would suggest, I’m just looking at the impact of drugs on music in general.
As often as chemicals giveth, they most certainly taketh away. So my rating system here in regards to their value for music is based on a scale of -5 to 5.
THE GOOD: Just as The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” wears its influence wrapped around its arm like a leather belt, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, easily the Nevermind of hip-hop, could just as easily be (and practically is) called “Weed," so it's hard to imagine the creation of this album without the aid of many green days of hard work. Additionally, some of the world’s best-loved jams are affectionate devotionals to THC. “Little Green Bag," “Sweet Leaf” and "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35."
Bands like Wavves, Best Coast, Cypress Hill, etc., have based half their gimmick around potent potables. I can’t say if it’s made their music any better or worse, but it’s probably scored a lot of free green on tour.
THE BAD: Conversely, it does have its downfalls. Just like anything done under the influence of the peace pipe, much of its beneficiaries can be over-thought and under-reached. Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson’s half-baked collab a few years was ago, if anything, a strong case against ganja.
CONCLUSION: As a medicinal miracle drug, the wacky tobacky in some states is now prescribed for everything from glaucoma to writer’s block. On the whole, it certainly can’t hurt a band to go a toke or two over the line before picking up a guitar.
THE GOOD: On one hand, most of the songs about heroin are written to warn the world of its threat. On the other, those songs still got written, and most of them are great. Case in point: “Mr. Brownstown," “Needle and the Damage Done," “Dead Flowers” and “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth."
To quote Bill Maher, "Look, I don't like heroin, I've never used heroin. But it hasn't hurt my record collection." As a less literal influence, Keith Richards, Dizzy Gillespie, Kurt Cobain, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Dee Dee Ramone all did some of their best work under the needle.
THE BAD: The black tar seems to have cut short more careers than any other on the list.
CONCLUSION: Heroin isn’t an entry-level drug. So don’t go getting your fix before opening the bill at Exit/In. I’d suggest making a few gold records first and being considerate enough to solidify your last will and testament before tying off.
THE GOOD: While you may equate it more now with glow sticks and the noxious thump of modern house music, E was instrumental in creating the epic fusion of dance music and psychedelic rock that created England’s “Madchester” scene in the late '80s and early '90s, spawning acts like The Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, New Order and James.
THE BAD: By the mid-'90s, any DJ with a dozen records and the ability to count to four could move a dance floor of zombified E-tards so long as he or she kept the BPMs high enough.
CONCLUSION: Ecstacy is better left as an end-user supplement than a studio aid. Let your fans eat the happy pills because you can’t track vocals while grinding your jaw anyway.
THE GOOD: Much like heroin, most of the good songs are about how coke sucks — as explained to us by Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton by way of J.J. Cale. But also, just about any great, danceable record from the 8'0s was no doubt recorded between the lines (Yacht Rock, anyone?). Unlike heroin, the white stuff at least burns up enough studio time to ensure the band at least produces a shitload of whatever it is they’re trying to do. So even if most of it ends up on the rarities comp, it has traditionally fueled some decent albums (i.e., Sticky Fingers, Ziggy Stardust to name a couple).
In the hip-hop realm, the value of blow is immeasurable. The likes of Jay-Z, Clipse, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross have made terms like “keys," “traphouse” and “fishscale” household words your grandma is probably using out of context as we speak.
THE BAD: Noel Gallagher blames cocaine for ruining Oasis’ Be Here Now. Then again, a bad workman always blames his tools. It’s probably also responsible for David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s cover of “Dancin’ in the Streets” and a slew of other ideas that no doubt seemed genius at the time.
CONCLUSION: Coke is a quantity-over-quality drug. If you’ve got the money to burn and talent to waste, dive in.
THE GOOD: The only good songs about or inspired by crack seem to be rap songs about the process of cooking it up and slinging it on the streets. There are also quite a few simply regarding its plague on the urban community. Within my limited research, I cannot seem to find a decent, un-ironic pro-crack anthem at this point in time.
THE BAD: It’s a legend made popular by the film 24-Hour Party People, wherein The Mondays went to record in Barbados specifically so they could do so without access to heroin. In the end, they were so busy trying to score crack, they couldn’t even be bothered to write lyrics for the songs. Oh yeah, that record also sucks.
CONCLUSION: Overall, crack is more so affiliated as the lubricant for a tragic decline rather than the fuel to the top. Save the rock for rock bottom.
THE GOOD: Psychedelic rock on the whole pretty much owes the bulk of its origins to blotter.
THE BAD: Lords of Acid.
CONCLUSION: Lysergic hasn’t really done much good for us lately, has it?