Behind the Drug Crazed Song “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton

When you’re a young adult, going out to party with friends and people in your peer group is one of the most fun things to do. The idea of getting to a house full of energized folks with rock music playing and maybe a few adult beverages is a desired activity. And when you do something like that and a song comes on by a recognizable artist and it’s about, well, drugs, then things can really get out of hand. You might say to yourself, Wait, what? Eric Clapton is talking about cocaine so openly?

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Indeed, the answer is yes. Clapton is singing about “Cocaine.” But what is this song about? Is it really glorifying the white powder drug? Let’s dive in.


In the 1970s and 1980s, cocaine was everywhere. From Hollywood to the basketball courts and celebrities of all kinds were “enjoying” its effects. While people didn’t yet know the downside to drugs like cocaine quite yet, many indulged, from Studio 54 to the lyrics of popular rock songs.

Written and tracked in 1976 by J.J. Cale, the song “Cocaine,” which hit No. 1 in New Zealand for a week, was made much more famous thanks to Clapton a year later on his 1977 solo LP, Slowhand.

The lyrics for the song speak on the “advantages” of the drug, short-term anyway.

If you want to hang out, you’ve gotta take her out, cocaine
If you want to get down, down on the ground, cocaine

She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie

If you got bad news, you want to kick them blues, cocaine
When your day is done, and you want to run, cocaine

Wait, It’s an Anti-Drug Song?

Perhaps to the surprise of many—or perhaps to get the authorities off his back—Clapton has said that “Cocaine” is actually an anti-drug song that is meant to warn music fans about the addictive quality and harmfulness of the substance. Clapton said on The Best of Everything Show with Dan Neer, it is “quite cleverly anti-cocaine, adding:

“It’s no good to write a deliberate anti-drug song and hope that it will catch. Because the general thing is that people will be upset by that. It would disturb them to have someone else shoving something down their throat. So the best thing to do is offer something that seems ambiguous—that on study or on reflection actually can be seen to be ‘anti’—which the song ‘Cocaine’ is actually an anti-cocaine song. If you study it or look at it with a little bit of thought … from a distance … or as it goes by … it just sounds like a song about cocaine. But actually, it is quite cleverly anti-cocaine.”

Perhaps believing this, Clapton did not play the song live at many shows, despite its popularity. He even called it “that dirty cocaine” when he did play the song live, to underscore the anti-drug message.

If your day is gone, and you want to ride on, cocaine
Don’t forget this fact, you can’t get it back, cocaine

Maybe he made a big turn, given that, according to NPR, Clapton was doing “copious” amounts of cocaine around the time of the song’s original release.

Photo by Carl Studna / Warner Records

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