Mary Jane & Little Susie


photos courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons License

Ryan Davidson, design editor

During the past 50 years, musical artists have written numerous songs about their experiences with drugs, and some of them are obvious recollections, ranging from Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” to The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” to Dr. Dre’s “Kush.” TKC ranks the best, most well-known songs from the past half-century that refer to drugs without clearly stating the topic.


10. “Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd
Album: Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)
One of the top songs of 2015, “Can’t Feel My Face” can easily be interpreted as a pop ballad about a girl The Weeknd is in love with. But really, this song is about a battle with addiction the character knows he’ll lose, as sung in the opening line: “And I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb.”

9. “Stolen Dance,” Milky Chance
Album: Sadnecessary (2013)
The German duo of Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch used a unique combination of folk and electronic styles in their debut single. While it appears as if Rehbein sings about his lonely life without a lover, he actually alludes to a life without drugs for an addict. The only true reference to drugs in the lyrics themselves are being “stoned in paradise,” so the rest of the song he references a much-missed girl to talk about his emotional remedy.

8. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Album: Southern Accents in the Sunshine State (1993)
From the title, most listeners can infer the song may have something to do with weed. But, a year before it was released, Petty divorced his wife Jane. According to Petty, listeners can interpret the song however they wish. While the song makes complete sense as a farewell, it also fits the story of a guy who has to say goodbye to the bud.

7. “Dead Flowers,” The Rolling Stones
Album: Sticky Fingers (1971)
Not one of their biggest hits, “Dead Flowers” sounds like country as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll. On the surface, the piece is about a man who runs with some “ragged company,” and he wishes to attract a classier woman who can afford a “rose pink Cadillac.” Underneath, listeners can see this rugged junkie actually spends his time shooting heroin in his basement through the line, “a needle and a spoon,” with another girl he calls “Little Susie.” Not coincidentally, the ancient Sumerians harvested opium for religious purposes, and their name for the opiate translates to “flower of joy.”

6. “Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind
Album: Third Eye Blind (1997)
This 1997 song is one of the defining tunes of the 1990s alternative scene. Its upbeat, happy rhythm generally wouldn’t remind listeners of drugs, but the fast pace is supposed to allude to speed and the feeling it gives users. Drug references are not hidden underneath the lyrics; one line reads: “Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break.”

5. “Purple Haze,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Album: Jimi Plays Berkeley (1975, song originally released in 1967)
“Purple Haze” put the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a revolutionary of the psychedelic rock scene, on the map with its timeless guitar riffs and obvious, but indirect, references to the reefer. Hendrix asks whether he’s happy or in misery, and whether it’s tomorrow or just the end of time. The 1967 hit single is so representative of the ganja there is even a lavender-hued marijuana strain named after it.

4. “Comfortably Numb,” Pink Floyd
Album: The Wall (1979)
A band associated with hard drug use, Pink Floyd truly digs deep into the listeners’ imaginations with this relaxing tale of a character under the operation of a doctor. The inspiration of the song comes from a time when Roger Waters, Pink Floyd singer, had to take heavy medication before a show because of stomach cramps. When onstage, Waters realized the fans didn’t care about his awkward mannerisms while under the influence, so he felt “comfortably numb.” Not only does this strange piece refer to prescription drugs, but clearly Pink Floyd was under the influence of some other drugs while they wrote it

3. “Baba O’Riley,” The Who
Album: Who’s Next (1971)
“Baba O’Riley,” The Who’s lead song off their most successful album, tells the tale of a couple that runs away from home to attend a music festival. The song is commonly called “Teenage Wasteland,” due to the repetition of the phrase. It alludes to young people getting wasted at a music festival: specifically, Woodstock. Singer Pete Townshend shouts at the end of the song, “They’re all wasted” to refer to the young crowd at the upstate New York gathering.

2. “Under the Bridge,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
Album: Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers has been one of the most influential rock bands over the past three decades, and without a doubt “Under the Bridge” is their most popular song. While listeners can interpret the song as a way for lead singer Anthony Kiedis to vent about his lonely days when his only friend was his hometown (Los Angeles), Kiedis referenced his days as a heroin addict. The June 1992 Billboard No. 2 hit was named after a bridge where he would buy and use heroin and give his life away.

1. “Hotel California,” Eagles
Album: Hotel California (1976)
There are multiple perceptions of the Eagles’ 1976 epic, “Hotel California.” A popular interpretation is once one enters the Hollywood scene, there is no way out; this would make sense, considering the album cover features an image of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Another popular view of the song is one’s descent into drug use, and their inability to escape, perfectly described by the last two lines of the song: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”