In honor of the late great Merle Haggard, a look back at the drunkest, most exquisitely miserable songs to wallow in.
Do we drink because we’re miserable, or are we miserable because we drink?
Alcohol is the ultimate self-pity delivery system. In its intoxicating grip, kings and peasants alike — whether they’re joyful or insufferably sad — inevitably finish their nights in tears, wondering where everything went wrong and pleading to a higher power for help.
Many turns that drunken fear and self-loathing into bad poetry. Some turn it into great songs.
Chart Attack presents 10 Great Songs About Drunken Self-Pity, on a descending scale of misery. It hurts the most at rock bottom.
The Avett Brothers, “When I Drink”
On this tune from The Gleam, the North Carolina folk-rockers examine alcohol-inspired Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome: “When I drink/I say things I don’t want to say/I do things I don’t wanna do/I talk mean to you.” Their proposed resolution for this predicament — “Just do your best” — allows them to keep drinking and feel a little better about themselves at the same time.
The New Pornographers, “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”
It’s never easy to tell what A.C. Newman is on about in his lyrics, but on this bouncy cut from The New Pornographers‘ Mass Romantic debut, we can at least decipher that alcoholism has cost him his girl, his common courtesy and the change he was going to use for parking (should he really be driving?). The video is a priceless drunken romp with the dudes from Fubar.
Art Brut, “Alcoholics Unanimous”
The hangover is the great equalizer. On this Art Brut vs. Satan number, singer Eddie Argos whines for someone to bring him tea and coffee to fix his aching head. He isn’t sure what happened the night before, but he does expect that he made a lot of mistakes. Can remorse exist without memory of the deed?
The Magnetic Fields, “Too Drunk To Dream”
In this sarcastic ditty from 2008’s Distortion, Stephin Merritt and friends examine the inflated sense of self-worth that comes with over-indulgence: “Sober, you’re a Cro-Magnon/Shitfaced, you’re very clever.” Merritt then explains how getting plastered is the only way he can forget about his “heartless bastard” of a lover. He seems especially concerned about what his habit is doing to his bank account.
Guided By Voices, “Drinker’s Peace”
Guided By Voices singer Robert Pollard is as legendary for his ability to drink beer as he is for his band’s discography. Every GBV song is brief, but here, he gets to the point in the first line: “At times I wish I were dead.” Pollard eventually recovers from his downward spiral and examines the moment-of-clarity headspace that’s generated by excessive consumption or, sometimes, the right girl.
George Thorogood And The Destroyers, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”
Originally written by Rudy Toombs and first made famous by Amos Milburn, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” was reimagined by George Thorogood in 1977 on George Thorogood And The Destroyers. “One drink ain’t enough” for this man. He lost his job, he lost his home and he lost his girl. He needs “a triple shot of that juice.”
Quasi, “Drunken Tears”
On this catchy number from their album Hot Shit, Portland’s Quasi examine the good, the bad, and the inevitable events that come from a night spent with the bottle: “Warms you up inside/Soothes your wounded pride/But your gold turns to lead/As it goes to your head/And you cry/Drunken tears once again, my friend.” If present troubles aren’t enough to do you in, “Long lost love that might have been” will have you balling for sure.
Merle Haggard, “Misery And Gin”
This giant of American country knows that booze and sorrow are a dangerous combination and he’s hitting the gin regardless. Haggard (doesn’t his name alone make him sound like a wreck?) realizes this mess is his own fault, but he’s only making things worse by wishing for his “baby to just walk in.” It’s not going to happen, Merle. The video: old men do it best because they’ve been drinking for a long time.
Arab Strap, “Who Named The Days?”
Aidan Moffat is the most miserable soul in Scotland. On this lamentable track from Arab Strap‘s boozy masterpiece, Monday At The Hug & Pint, he admits he’s no longer in control and can only watch in horror as one day bleeds into the next. The “oldest friend” that he keeps spending all his time with — that’d be the bottle. There’s no denial here, but there’s no hope, either.
Hank Williams, “There’s A Tear In My Beer”
This may be the saddest song ever written. Williams has lost his lady and all he wants to do is drink until the pain goes away. As if that weren’t bad enough, his last nine beers have been ruined by tears.