The Top 10 Drinking Songs, Pt. 1


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The songs found on our Top Ten Drinking Songs list speak to our collective love affair with Lady Liquor. Prohibition or not, through good times and bad, at home or across the sea, red or white, shaken or stirred – these songs are the audio equivalent of a drinking buddy for all of us.

Choosing the Top Ten Drinking Songs is like choosing which fine alcoholic beverage to enjoy while listening to a drinking song. There are far too many choices, and it’s inevitably a subjective process. Choosing the right drinking song for the occasion depends on a number of factors. When choosing the appropriate drinking song, ask yourself these questions:

1) Why are you drinking? (If you need a reason.)

2) Who is drinking with you, if anyone?

3) What are you drinking?

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly:

4) How much have you had to drink already?

Not all drinking songs are depressing, woe-is-me tales. Some are celebratory and revel in the communal spirit found when kicking back a cold one in the presence of friends.

Some of the songs on the list are old, and some are new, but the majority of them encourage that old drunken favorite: the mass sing-along. That is, of course, if you can still remember the lyrics.

10) “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)” – Tom Waits

Tom Waits, troubadour of the seedy side of life, populates his songs with characters likely to enjoy a cocktail or four. Sailors, butchers, and drifters sip and chug their way through his discography. Whether it’s a Singapore Sling in Hong Kong or a Mickey’s Big Mouth in the San Fernando Valley, Waits’ junkyard poetry sounds best with a little nip on the side.

“The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)” comes from 1976’s Small Change. While Waits blames the piano for his lack of dexterity, his hilariously surreal lyrics riff on the Lord’s Prayer and ask us if we’ve noticed that the carpet needs a haircut. It’s not exactly a song to sing along to, but Waits’ boozy delivery and jumbled imagery is the perfect foggy window into the sloshed brain.

9) “Chug-A-Lug” – Roger Miller

Novelty-tune singer and consummate songwriter Roger Miller could turn a phrase and write a song faster than most. But if it wasn’t for his well-known procrastination, maybe the world would have more Roger Miller songs. Perhaps alcohol contributed to his liaise-faire attitude towards work?

If someone was making a case for that, 1964’s “Chug-A-Lug” would be Exhibit A. The song recounts the singer’s youthful experimentation with Lady Liquor beginning with some homemade wine one day after school. He soon graduated to moonshine and his first trip to a bar with his uncle. Most of us can relate to the illicit excitement and subsequent sickness that soon followed that first drink. Just buck up and take it down, pal.

The chorus says it all: “Chug-a-lug chug-a-lug / Makes you wanna holler hidey-ho / Burns your tummy don’t ya know / Chug-a-lug chug-a-lug.”

8) “Red Red Wine” – UB40

Originally penned by Neil Diamond in 1968, a number of other artists covered the song: Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Charles Mann, Tony Tribe, Vic Dana, and Roy Drusky, to name a few. Other than Diamond, do any of these ring a bell?

UB40, unfamiliar with Diamond’s somber original, recorded the track in a reggae style similar to Tony Tribe’s 1969’s version. UB40’s 1983 take on the song features an original rap (or toast, in the Jamaican dancehall tradition) that functions as a sing-along highlight. “Red red wine you make me feel so fine / You keep me rockin’ all of the time.” Try <i>not</i> rapping that after a few too many glasses of merlot.

UB40’s “Red Red Wine” hit number one in the U.K. in August 1983 and number 34 in the U.S. in March 1984. After a club DJ in Atlanta started spinning the track again, the song surprisingly rose back up the charts in 1988 and reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100. UB40 became a household bunch of letters and numbers.

Although Neil Diamond complained that UB40’s version was too sunny, that didn’t stop him from essentially covering himself when he performed UB40’s version of “Red Red Wine” on stage. Sometimes a song just has to hit the right vintage before it becomes a classic.

Look for the second installment of American Songwriter‘s list Wednesday.


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Allen Thompson