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Be it about alcoholism or drinking just in good fun, alcohol consumption will always be a popular theme in music. The most timeless of these songs tend to be quite obviously about alcohol; however, not every drinking song is as obvious as "Drinking Song" by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Some tell a tale through poetic lyricism, others might be straightforward after a more concentrated listen, but most songs you didn't know were about drinking will, at the very least, hide its true colors beyond the title and take a true second listen to fully comprehend.
"Brass Monkey" by Beastie Boys
One of the biggest hits from the debut Beastie Boys record Licensed to Ill, "Brass Monkey" could come off as nothing more than a catchy 80s hip-hop track for those unfamiliar with the song's namesake.
A brass monkey is a premixed cocktail that was distributed and named as such by the Heublein Company in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. A popular drink of the times, it was one part dark rum, part vodka, and part orange juice. Though not my drink of choice, if you want to fix yourself up the cocktail, stir together and serve over ice in a highball glass.
"Chandelier" by Sia
Upon one's first listen when this song just hit pop radio, "Chandelier" by Sia likely seemed nothing but another hit from the surrealist songwriter; but if you ever took a deeper look at the lyrics you were belting in your car, then a darker meaning may have lit the lightbulbs of your metaphoric chandelier as you had your epiphany. The perfect example of that poetic lyricism, Sia sings the sad life of being the "party girl," describing her own battle with alcohol and drug addiction that so many artists face. Lyrically, "Chandelier" has to rank as one of the best songs you didn't know were about drinking (and so much more).
"Family Tradition" by Hank Williams Jr.
We all have family traditions, right? Well, some of them aren't always as happy as getting together with all our loved ones for the holidays. Unfortunately, alcoholism has been linked to genetics, and to be prone to this form of substance abuse can be passed down from generation to generation. Many country songs appeal to the beer drinkers in us, as well as those with an affinity for bourbon and whiskey, but "Family Tradition" by Hank Williams Jr. may hit you on a more emotional level than other songs you didn't know were about alcohol.
"Piano Man" by Billy Joel
A classic by the piano man himself Billy Joel, we have all sang the chorus of "Piano Man" at some point or another, but did you know it was based on his real life as well as being one of the best songs about drinking? When Joel was first starting out as a musician, he would play piano in the loneliest local bars. Sometimes a sad scene, Joel played with hopes to lift the spirits of those in attendance—though he was later quoted in saying it wasn't all that bad:
"It was all right, I got free drinks and union scale, which was the first steady money I’d made in a long time."
"White Lightning" by George Jones
Another country classic from the singer of one of the top country songs of all time, this one from even earlier, the 1959 George Jones song sits atop the list of the all-time greatest drinking songs with the likes of Dean Martin. Not only is "White Lightning" one of the best songs you didn't know were about drinking, but fun fact: Jones recorded his first hit under the influence of "a great deal of alcohol," and the song took 80 takes (give or take) to record.
Damn...and I can't even sing sober (but I'm not the biggest beer drinker, so get a couple heavy brews in me and my lightweight ass will sure as hell try to!).
"Icarus" by Bastille
Similar to "Chandelier" by Sia, Dan Smith's vocals sing a sense that "Icarus" will be more uplifting than what the lyrics literally mean.
"Icarus is flying too close to the sun,
and Icarus' life, it has only just begun."
In one of my personal favorite songs you didn't know were about drinking, this chorus isn't just a reference to Greek mythology, but it is also referring to the lifestyle that younger generations tend to lead: A life of alcohol, drugs, and partying hard. In "Icarus," Bastille is speaking to the band's fans who struggle with substance abuse, with hopes that their words may turn someone's young life around before it is too late.
"Man Overboard" by blink-182
Although never confirmed by the band, fans have always assumed that "Man Overboard" was written about the departure of original drummer Scott Raynor. Raynor was another artist who had unfortunately fallen to the fate of substance abuse—in his case, alcohol. A couple of noteworthy lines, "You're out of line and rarely sober" and "I remember shots without a chaser," may not paint the prettiest picture of Raynor's time with blink, but hopefully he went on to live a better life after Travis Barker took over on drums.
"Roadhouse Blues" by The Doors
Live fast, die young. A member of the "27 Club," Jim Morrison was one of the greatest artists who ever lived—who sadly did not live the long life a man of his genius and character deserved.
Furthermore, when Morrison would drink, he often liked to sing the blues with the band. This is the inspiration behind "Roadhouse Blues," easily one of the best songs you didn't know were about drinking. (Well, until now...) Seriously, though, this is another anthem, also up there with Dean Martin, George Jones, and Billy Joel.
"Captain Jack" by Billy Joel
Speaking of Billy, another Joel song you didn't know was about drinking (maybe?) is the iconic "Captain Jack" from Piano Man. Rounding out that record that truly put Billy Joel on the map, "Captain Jack" speaks to teens of the times who were turning to drugs and alcohol, blaming their abuse on all the wrong reasons.
I assume "Captain Jack" refers to Jack Daniels, however, I'd like to add that the drug Billy Joel wrote about was heroin, an epidemic that can sadly still be seen over 45 years later.
"Closing Time" by Semisonic
I know. I know. Now, before you say, "Everyone knows this song is about drinking," please just hear me out. Please. Because guess what. This song isn't actually about the closing of a bar, making last call before kicking out all the stragglers. Yes, you read that right. Semisonic fooled all of us and now I'm left with no choice but to fool you as well. In poetic lyricism at its best, "Closing Time" was actually written about the birth of frontman Dan Wilson's son. It's one of the best songs you didn't know were about drinking that was actually not about drinking in the first place; the bar's "Closing Time" was but a metaphor.
"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."