Alcohol. Also known as the hard stuff, giggle juice, lunatic soup, moonshine, the poison, booze, and so many other names. It’s the thing college kids fawn over, something parents enjoy, and every cowboy’s favorite pastime. Alcohol, whether it be an ice-cold beer or hard liquor, has been the main subject of countless country songs.
When it comes to drinking songs in country music, it seems like alcohol can mean only one of two things. Either the singer and his girl just broke up and he’s drinking his pain away in a bar alone and sad, or the singer is knocking back an unreasonable amount of alcohol and partying like his life depends on it. Lately it’s seemed like drinking songs have been solely about party drinking, which could really tick off some dry country listeners. It’s even led to some injuries at country concerts, adding fuel to the anti drinking fire.
Jimmy Buffet is known for his island sound and fun music. In 1977 his song “Margaritaville”, written by Jimmy himself, was released. This song would definitely fit into the drinking for fun category, although not necessarily the party drinking we hear about today. This song was everyone’s idea of a good time, putting your worries on hold and getting lost in your margarita. I mean why not? Jimmy doesn’t try blaming his drinking on a women and the beat of the song is pretty peppy, making it one of the more happy songs.
According to songfacts.com, “’Margaritaville’ has come to symbolize a carefree Caribbean lifestyle.” This makes it a song that speaks to people who want to get away from the troubles of life and their nine to five jobs. So basically everyone. I guess you could say “Margaritaville” encouraged people to let loose with some tequila-inspired fun. Not necessarily a bad thing, but could this lead to some excessive drinking behavior?
On the other end of the spectrum are the songs about drinking until you can’t feel any pain. In 1980, Merle Haggard released a song called “Misery and Gin” written by Snuff Garret and John Durril. This mildly depressing ballad is about a man drinkin’ the pain of his breakup away and “looking at the world through the bottom of a glass.” Unlike “Margaritaville,” this is definitely not a song you would blast over the speakers of your boat while out on the lake, but it was still a successful country song. It set a standard that drinking to get over heartache was okay and perfectly acceptable, although it didn’t necessarily mean you would be happy.
Similar to Merle Haggard’s song, George Jones’ “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)” followed a similar theme. Released in January of 1981 and written by Harlan Sanders and Rick Beresford, this song literally admits that drinking can kill you, but it’s okay because the memory of a lost love will do it anyway. I guess you could call his drinking excessive, I mean he even says “Lord it’s been ten bottles/since I tried to forget her.”
Like in Merle’s case, this song takes on a sadder feeling, you can picture George sitting alone surrounded by his bottles, drinking until he’s too drunk to feel anything. Adam Wright described these “old guys as regretfully drunk” which I would say sums it up pretty perfectly. Basically, these singers sent a message that drinking out of heartache was acceptable, but yet they still found no peace.
In stark contrast to Merle and George is Alan Jackson’s song “It’s Five O’ Clock Somwhere.” Released in 2003 and featuring Jimmy, this grammy winning song was written by Jim Brown and Don Rollins. This fun and upbeat song embodied the good time aspects of drinking something “tall and strong” in the middle of the work day because “it’s five o’ clock somewhere.” This song also has the island sound that “Margarittaville” has. Jackson talks about taking a Jamaican vacation and getting away. It’s a song about everyone’s dream of picking up and going on a trip, and a dream that my college self has just about every day. The song is described as being “very much Buffet” because of the “acoustic guitars and steel drum samples,” so it was a different sound for country singer Alan Jackson, according to an article by Erin Duvall.
Enter the bro-country subgenre of country music, which became prevalent around 2010. Bro-country is known for drum machines, bass and electric guitar, and even a little keyboard. With Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan exemplifying every bro aspect of the subgenre, country drinking songs changed from the drunk and sad sounds of Merle Haggard and George Jones, to being proud of being drunk. The idea that drinking makes you cool and everything is better when you have a beer in your hand become leading themes in the music of this genre.
Luke Bryan released his song “All My Friends Say” in 2007, written by Jeff Stevens, Lonnie Wilson, and Luke Bryan himself. This song was a party starter, sing at the top of you lungs in the car with all the windows rolled down, kind of song. Like many alcohol themed country songs that came before, Luke’s number is about drinking after heartache. His ex walks into the bar with someone else and that makes him a little crazy, so he starts “shooting doubles”. His friends even describe him as a “rock star, party hard/ Getting over you comeback kid.” Everything his friends say about his drunken actions the night before are positive, he was drunk so therefore he was awesome. It’s the ultimate story from a night out in college, and clearly the best way to prove that you’re over someone is to drink until your liver gives out.
Like Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley has a few drinking songs that rocked the charts. One of his latest songs is “Crushin’ it”, which was released in January 2016 and written by Brad with some help from Kelley Love and Lee Thomas Miller. “Crushin’ It” is a song about “getting unwound” on the weekend. Brad claims that “by this time Friday night/ I’ll be done with my third can/ of cold bud light.” He can even take the can and “crunch it with [his] fist” or” smash it on [his] forehead.” As far as impressive talents go, I’d say this takes the cake. No matter what your opinions are on drinking in general, its clear from this song that Brad Paisley fully supports the college debauchery drinking stereotype. In fact, the music video for this song is filled with alcohol puns and references.
This music video is one for the books. It’s an alcohol themed story about country stars as superheroes and flying beer cans attacking a city. Derks Bentley is featured, but is instead referred to as “Derx Skydrinker” and all of the beer cans in the video are wittingly labeled “Brad Light.” Apparently, Brad hand drew all of the characters in the video, but it’s unclear how many of the stars featured in the video actually knew it was happening, according to CMT.
While there may not be any drunken people falling over each other or college students getting wild, the idea is still clear- drink alcohol and you’ll be cool. Or in this case, drink and you’ll become a super hero. It’s interesting to think about how a little kid watching this video would view alcohol, and what thoughts they would have about drinking.
All of these drinking themed songs have to have some sort of negative influence on listeners. In fact, at a Keith Urban concert in July, 55 people were arrested due to alcohol related incidents, as well as 46 people requiring medical treatment. Keith released a statement about the incident, saying “this type of behavior stands in stark contrast to the spirit of our shows.” While this may be true for Keith Urban’s concerts and musical style, we definitely can’t say the same thing about other country stars. It would be easy to picture this happening at a Luke Bryan or Brad Paisley concert after hearing one of the songs featured earlier in this article.
Regardless of the consequences of alcohol related song, it’s hard to imagine country music without them. I guess you could say it’s engrained into the genre. But it may be time for a change. Maybe a more restrained outlook on drinking, perhaps? It’s clear that these recent songs about drinking in excess to have a good time are creating some bad situations; the incident at the Keith Urban concert is clear evidence of this.
But how can a genre that’s so beer loving and tequila toutin’ change their ways? There’s no real answer yet it seems, but Joel Raab concludes that things like this always “rights itself…it goes too far in one direction, and then we swing back.” Jeff Stevens agreed and claimed “things are gunna change [and] when they do, we’ll move onto something else.”
Hopefully this is true and no more lives, or livers, are put in danger due to country music. Alcohol is great and all, but when it comes to a substance that is abused so commonly, its better to be safe than sorry.