In Honor of Saint Patrick: Six Terribly Depressing Songs About Alcohol

That time of year has once again rolled around, with millions of green-clad dipsomaniacs flocking to the nearest watering hole for their yearly fix of faux Irishness in the form of green-colored beer and drunken singalongs to Dropkick Murphys songs. A religious holiday in observance of the lifting of Lent, the widespread perception of this day as an excuse to drink copious amounts of alcohol often leads to bad decisions, broken hearts and mega-sized hangovers. As it should.

In honor of those poor souls who will more than likely feel like death tomorrow (myself included), here is a list of six “why-did-I-do-that” and “what-am-I-doing-with-my-life” and “why-am-I-destroying-everyone-who-loves-me” hangover songs.

Elvis Costello- “A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety”

Let’s start off with some authentic Irishness. This is an especially caustic musical adaptation of the W.B. Yeats poem by the same name, with Costello playing all the instruments in this angular and punk-by-way-of-the-Balkans arrangement. Costello’s voice, usually rich with vibrato and sultriness, is ragged and abrasive in this performance, perfectly servicing the morbidness and menace in Yeats’s words.

Elliott Smith- “Between the Bars”

Elliott Smith famously battled with addiction his entire life, which fueled some of his most desolate and heartbroken songs. It really doesn’t get much more desolate and heartbreaking than this track, a sullen lullaby about alcohol dependency. What I really love about this is the performance– you can feel the quiet alcoholic haze in the hushed vocals, in the gentle arpeggios that move the song ahead. This would make a great Bedhead Melodies post.

Mad Caddies- “Last Breath”

The embarrassment and excruciating ugh-ness of the morning after. The anger at oneself for letting it happen. The scrambling for recollections. The hasty explanations and misunderstandings. The complete awareness that it’s all bound to happen again, no matter how hard one tries to break the habit… all in the form of a three-minute punk-tinged pop song.

Tanya Donelly- “Whiskey Tango”

A delicate ballad that manages to be simultaneously solemn and dripping with emotion. “Whiskey Tango” is an argument in a smokey, dimly-lit living room, with emotions past the point of contention and settling into fatigue and exasperated sighs; alcohol no longer facilitating communication but instead lulling you into a slumber of defeat and resignation. ¬†Also, how sweet is that bed of pedal steel? Very fucking sweet.

Tom Waits- “Town With No Cheer”

Possibly the saddest song ever written on a harmonium. Tom Waits’s catalog is filled with crushingly sad songs as well as deeply emotional alcohol-soaked ballads, but nowhere in his songbook is the combination as devastating as in this song: the bleak, sullen greyness of a town boarding up after having lost its last canteen as a metaphor for the boredom of sobriety. The depressing realization that you need this outside agent to make life worth living, let alone enjoy yourself. “There’s a hummingbird trapped in a closed down shoe store”.

The Mountain Goats- “Game Shows Touch Our Lives”

This song is part of one of the most brilliant concept albums ever recorded, the tragically¬†under-appreciated¬†gem “Tallahassee”; a portrait of a terribly bitter and resentful couple in their broken-down house and their symbiotic relationship. This particular track is heartwrenching in its depiction of a lazy Saturday morning spent watching game shows, drinking the last of the alcohol left and holding each other “with a desperate strength”. And though they’ve grown old and bitter, if they drink just enough– if they hold each other tight enough– the remnants of their younger love manifests itself, if for only long enough to make their current situation all the more disappointing. Mutually assured destruction by way of a living room couch and a bottle of cheap gin. “People say friends don’t destroy one another… what do they know about friends?”.

3 thoughts on “In Honor of Saint Patrick: Six Terribly Depressing Songs About Alcohol

  1. “Don’t Talk,” 10,000 Maniacs. “The drink you drown your troubles in is the trouble that you’re in now.”

    Nothing by the Pogues? For shame.

  2. Wellllll, as with all these list-type posts I make it’s nothing even remotely resembling a comprehensive list– just six songs that popped to mind immediately. In reality, what I SHOULD have included would encompass things like Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” and the entirety of Shane MacGowan’s back catalogue.

  3. Good selection. Sure there is more that could be added and different lists I would have made, but that is the beauty of alcohol – what if, could have, should have.

    Thanks for throwing these into the pyre.

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