The Heroin Hit Parade

The best smacked-up songs about the heaviest drug in Rock-N-Roll

As the counterculture’s love affair with psychedelics cooled in the late-’60s, heroin slithered in and cut through the highest ranks of Rock-N-Roll’s glitterati like wildfire, killing – or significantly contributing to the deaths of – monster talents like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons and Danny Whitten (of Crazy Horse). Wild, bright lights snatched from us in their glory.Morrison71

Morrison reportedly died of a heroin overdose in 1971

And then there were the lucky ones – legends like Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Keith Richards, John Lennon and Gregg Allman – who didn’t die but fell deep into the abyss of hardcore heroin addiction. Clapton refers to that dark time in his life as “the lost years.” It would take everything he had to kick the habit – becoming a hardcore alcoholic before getting clean and sober in 1987.

More recent victims of the world’s cruelest narcotic include Pete Farndon (The Pretenders), Hillel Slovak (RHCP), Jonathan Melvoin (The Smashing Pumpkins), Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia, and Allen Woody (The Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule), all of whom tangled with smack, and ultimately lost. Some overdosed. The drug wore others down to the point of no return.

HillelSlovakHeroin

For decades, heroin has been a plague on the House of Rock-N-Roll, leaving a long trail of tragedy and despair in its wake. The silver lining is that junk has led to an exclusive guild of powerful, brutally authentic and deeply personal songs.

Heroin took the super-talented Hillel Slovak at 26

Here is our ragged hit parade – memorializing the pain and devastation wrought by heroin and remembering those beloved members of the tribe who were lost along the way.

Dead Flowers

The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers (1971)

Keith Richards was (admittedly) a hardcore smack addict for years, and so was his close friend and Country-Rock pioneer Gram Parsons – the Harvard-educated southerner who steeped Richards in the Country cool that produced the twangy, edgy feel of “Dead Flowers.”

It’s an irrepressibly catchy, honky-tonk take on the classic Rock themes of lost love and recovery – and reveling in the ragged, heroin-honed Rock-N-Roll lifestyle.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

“Essence” grinds and churns its way through Lucinda’s hopelessly entangled love affair with heroin. It’s messy and raw (even by Lucinda’s standards), and it takes her Louisiana-weathered authenticity to a whole new level.

“Essence,” the title track off Ms. Williams’ sixth studio album, was released in 2001 when the 61-year-old rocker was in her late-40s. It arrived, with wide-eyed anticipation, three years after her breakout LP Car Wheels On A Gravel Road rolled to greatness. Ironically, Essence is the car crash you can’t help but stop and gawk at – and her steamy, sexually charged ode to smack piles on the wreckage.

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She Talks To Angels

The Black Crowes
Shake Your Money Maker (1990)

Frontman (and smack-happy Jesus look-alike) Chris Robinson has been refreshingly blunt over the years about his star-crossed relationship with drugs – and the Crowes’ haunting, soul-stirrer “She Talks To Angels” is a heartfelt case in point from the band’s debut album. It’s a crisp, solemn acoustic take on a seedy but poignant story of unrequited love in which a female junkie needs heroin more than she needs a man or lover.

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The Needle And The Spoon

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Second Helping (1974)

Arguably the best hard-rockin’ anti-heroin song there is. It’s classic Skynyrd through and through – wall-to-wall and tree-top tall – a triple-guitar barrage that goes balls-out from the steamroller opening riff to the slo-mo fade. In between, guitar god (and junkie) Allen Collins – quite possibly the primary subject of the song – unleashes a blues-studded, wah-loaded Gibson Firebird solo that masters Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix would be proud of. Think “White Room” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” respectively (not to mention respectfully).

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Brazenly titled after the light brown color of (diamorphine base) heroin, this love-junk ballad – from Brit rockers, The Stranglers – takes you on a dreamy, mystically adorned heroin ride.

There’s a matter-of-fact assurance from the famously ill-behaved, post-Punk band (some refer to them as offspring of the Sex Pistols) that there’s “never a frown with golden brown.”

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An aching, masterfully melancholy journey to the center of a junkie’s mind, weaving its way through “a day in the life” of heroin addiction. “Running” beautifully captures the junkie’s conflicted tangle of helplessness, euphoria, regret and emptiness. It’s messy but Bono and The Edge pull it together with extraordinary beauty and grace in this slow-moving ballad – bleak and forlorn – that floats through rainy reverie and smack-addled delirium.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Mr. Brownstone

Guns N' Roses
Appetite For Destruction (1987)

“Mr. Brownstone,” code for heroin, is a whirlwind ride through the day in the life of a smack addict.

Lead guitarist Slash and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, both junkies at the time, wrote “Mr. Brownstone” (reportedly) while sitting around at a girlfriend’s apartment griping about the ills of heroin addiction. Go figure.

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Frontman Lowell George lays down a strung-out, bluesy ode to smack’s seduction – an affair, however red-hot at the outset, can only end in disaster. “China White” is part gospel, part Blues and part New Orleans Jazz, all wrapped up in a howling, deeply anguished “cautionary tale.”

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Heroin

The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Smack-enthusiast Lou Reed serves up his version of the heroin high in just over 7 minutes. It’s the opiate roller-coaster ride of a lifetime, careening from the ethereal opening to the heart-racing, head-spinning abandon of the rush to sweet, settled euphoria.

“Heroin” ultimately flows into the brutal, nails-on-the-chalkboard comedown – every user and junkie must reckon with – as the song sizzles wildly to its close.

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Many songs about heroin are somber tales of suffering and loss – the torture of addiction. “Time Out Of Mind” isn’t one of those sad, melancholy numbers. In fact, if heroin needed a promo song (which it doesn’t), this uptempo, funkadelic, silky-smooth tune from the Dan would have to be on the short list.

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The Needle And The Damage Done

Neil Young
Harvest (1972)

Heroin seduces and kills, and few rockers have repeatedly seen the damage up close like Neil Young. He pours what feels like a lifetime of mournful rage and disillusionment into “The Needle And The Damage Done,” a dark, foreboding song that memorializes the downward spiral and untimely death of his close friend and junkie, Danny Whitten.

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The title says it all. “Comfortably Numb,” a Roger Waters-David Gilmour collaboration, may capture the essence and insulated feel of the heroin high better than any other song in the immense Rock-N-Roll catalog.

The lyrics emerge from deep inside the heroin rush, as the drug drapes the user in a warm, cottony blanket and the world and everything in it recedes to a comforting numbness.

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Under The Bridge

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

It doesn’t get any more personally poignant than “Under The Bridge.”

The song originated as a haunting, despondent poem (not a song) by Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, detailing his former struggles with cocaine and heroin addiction (tspeedballs), and the accompanying loss of personal relationships.

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Fire and Rain

James Taylor
Sweet Baby James (1970)

Few know heroin addiction better than James Taylor – the love and hate, the highs and lows, the fire and rain. He’s done battle with Rock-N-Roll’s toughest habit (exacerbated by deep bouts of depression), falling in and out of rehab centers during his early career in the latter half of the ’60s.

“Fire and Rain” – in part, at least – is a desperate, personal plea for help as Taylor struggled to escape the death grip of addiction.

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