With all due respect to Karl Marx, religion will never be the opiate of the masses. Opiates themselves have it covered—as do stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. Drugs will always play a key role in human existence because human existence will always be hard. People use substances to escape reality. Unfortunately, they can also lead to addiction and come with side effects that are worse than whatever you were dealing with in the first place. The seduction and consequences are captured in what follows: the 15 best songs about drugs.
"Purple Pills," D12
Radically cleaned up and renamed “Purple Hills” for radio and MTV, this posse cut by Eminem and his hometown homeys D12 is one big chemical orgy. Em and the gang rhyme about everything from common street drugs to pharmaceuticals—all over a wobbly, oozy backing track that suggests any one of the MCs could pass out at any second. Props to Swifty McVay, aka Swift, for holding it together long enough to offer this gem: “Speed, ‘shrooms, down the valiums / even smoke weed out of vacuums.”
Chart Peak: No. 19 on the Hot 100, Aug. 4, 2001; No. 1 (three weeks) on Hot Rap Songs, July 28, 2001
"Move That Dope," Future featuring Pharrell, Pusha T & Casino
Over a menacing, mind-bending beat from producer Mike WiLL Made It, Future and Pusha T drop crazy verses about cooking crack and savoring the spoils of the drug game. Then comes Pharrell, a more family-friendly artist who wraps his verse with some socially conscious lines about opposing drone warfare. The message, such that there is one: smart hustlers move on from slinging product and devote themselves to next-level pursuits.
Chart Peak: No. 46 on Hot 100, May 10, 2014; No. 5 on Hot Rap Songs, June 21, 2014
"Can’t Feel My Face," The Weeknd
Canadian alt-R&B mystery man Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, went mainstream in a big way with this thinly veiled ode to cocaine. He got some help from Max Martin, the Swedish pop guru behind the infectious beat, and Micheal Jackson, whose inspiration is sprinkled all over this track. No drug song can be as addictive as the substance it’s about, but this one comes damn close.
Chark Peak: No. 1 (three weeks), Aug. 22, 2015
"I Want a New Drug," Huey Lewis
One thing about drugs: They’re lousy with side effects. On this fluffy pop-rock tune, Huey goes looking for a new substance—one that won’t turn him into an anxious dry-mouthed zombie who can’t stop talking. “One that makes me feel like I’m with you,” he sings to the lady in his life. If he’s looking for something that won’t mess with his body and mind, love might not be the prescription he needs.
Chart Peak: No. 6 on Hot 100, March 24, 1984
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," The Beatles
It doesn’t take a “Paul is dead” clue-spotting conspiracy theorist to notice the “LSD” embedded in this song’s title. While The Beatles were experimenting with psychedelics around the time of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, John Lennon always claimed he named this tune for a drawing his son Julian did in nursery school. The story checks out, but it doesn’t cancel out the super-druggy Alice in Wonderland imagery (“marmalade skies,” “kaleidoscope eyes,” etc.) It just makes this yet another mind-blowing coincidence in the story of The Beatles.
Chart Peak: *Beatles version did not chart during initial run* No. 23, Rock Digital Songs, Dec. 4, 2010
"Semi-Charmed Life," Third Eye Blind
Anyone who dismisses 3EB as a cheesy ‘90s band ought to take another listen to this 1997 smash. In between those “doo-doo-doo” choruses are verses about being strung out on crystal meth. Singer and songwriter Stephan Jenkins wanted the tune to be deceptively perky and exciting, just like the amphetamines ruling his characters’ lives. Only Lou Reed fronting Sugar Ray could’ve come up with something better.
Chart Peak: No. 4 on Hot 100, Aug. 9, 1997; No. 1 (eight weeks) on Alternative Songs, May 24, 1997
"White Rabbit," Jefferson Airplane
Like Lennon on “Lucy in the Sky,” Grace Slick and company get down on some Lewis Carrol business with this mega-trippy 1967 hit. There are pills to make you big and pills to make you small, Slick tells us, and they’re all more effective than whatever you can by at the drug store. The unorthodox health lesson ends with a reminder to “feed your head.” It’s like the FDA food pyramid has morphed into that creepy Eye of Providence on the dollar bill and taken flight to a new dimension called San Francisco.
Chart Peak: No. 7 on Hot 100, July 29, 1967
"White Lines (Don't, Don’t Do It),” Grandmaster Flash
An early example of hip-hop tackling social issues, “White Lines” is all about the bad times you’ll have messing with blow. As Melle Mell raps with his inimitable old-school bellow, coke will get you hooked, leave you broke, and land you behind bars—unless you’re a respectable white businessman, that is. Then you’ll probably just get a slap on the wrist.
Chart Peak: No. 9 on Dance Club Songs, Nov. 12, 1983; No. 47 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Nov. 26, 1983
“Toy Soldiers,” Martika
Penned by Martika about a friend wrestling with cocaine addiction, this eery 1989 pop-rock jam gets at how drugs control people like kids playing with plastic figurines. It’s a disturbing image made all the more powerful by the singer’s haunting vocal performance. It’s the sound of darkness descending over the playground and innocence being lost.
Chart Peak: No. 1 (two weeks) on Hot 100, July 22, 1989
“Interstate Love Song,” Stone Temple Pilots
The focus here is neither drugs nor the person doing them. This chunky alt-rock driving favorite from STP is sung from the perspective of Scott Weiland’s girlfriend, who’s forced to live with the heroin-addicted singer’s constant lies. He claims he’s fine, but she knows better, and she knows there’s only one thing to say: “You lied / goodbye.”
Chart Peak: No. 1 (15 weeks) on Mainstream Rock Songs, Sept. 17, 1994; No. 2, Alternative Songs, Oct. 1, 1994
"Mary Jane's Last Dance," Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and a girl named Mary Jane is just that: an Indiana lass who’ll slay you in her party dress and then keep moving on. The title character in this Tom Petty song also alleviates pain and makes boring summers tolerable, though, so it’s possible she’s meant to symbolize the old wacky tobacky, as many fans suspect. The song is very much open to interpretation—especially when you’re high as hell and feeing chatty with your Petty buddies.
Chart Peak: No. 1 (two weeks) on Mainstream Rock Songs, Nov. 20, 1993; No. 14 on Hot 100, March 19, 1994
"Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35," Bob Dylan
Leave it to Bob Dylan to turn a silly joke into a pretty meaningful little song. The whole thing hinges on the dual meaning of “stoned,” and as Bob details the many ways the world with pummel you with rocks for simply being yourself, he seems to suggest that one way of coping is sparking up the occasional funny cigarette.
Chart Peak: No. 2 on Hot 100, May 21, 1966
“True Faith,” New Order
Bernard Sumner never got into heroin, but when he wrote this 1987 synth-pop classic, the New Order frontman reportedly tried imagining the life of a junkie. “I feel so extraordinary,” he sings to start the song, “something’s got a hold on me.” It doesn’t sound half bad—until he gets to the bits about being broke, out of time, and completely unconcerned with whether he seems tomorrow. At least this buzzkill comes with an awesome beat.
Chart Peak: No. 3 on Dance Club Songs, Oct. 3, 1987; No. 32 on Hot 100, Dec. 26, 1987
“I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me),” Marilyn Manson
The glammy groove is straight out of David Bowie’s “Fame,” and the message is a conservative parent’s worst nightmare. Illicit substances, Manson suggests, are the antidote to living the white-bread life available to most Americans. “There’s a hole in our soul that we fill with dope,” he sings, imagining a life where not all the sex has to be missionary. “And we feel fine.”
Char Peak: No. 25 on Mainstream Rock Songs, Feb. 13, 1999; No. 36 on Alternative Songs, Feb. 20, 1999
“Journey to the Center of the Mind,” The Amboy Dukes
Believe it or not, that’s conservative activist extraordinaire Ted Nugent playing lead guitar on this 1968 psych-rock classic. While it’s hard to imagine the Ted of today standing behind lyrics like “take a ride to the land inside your mind,” the tune packs enough fuzz-bomb firepower to blow the mind of even the staunchest anti-drug crusader.
Chart Peak: No. 16 on Hot 100, Aug. 24, 1968