Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Ian Dury

Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll / Razzle In My Pocket  © 1977



Ian Dury’s 1977 punk anthem, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll seemed to confirm and champion risk behavior and the excesses of the Rock and Roll lifestyle. In fact, Dury explained in later liner notes that this song was misunderstood by listeners who focused only on the song’s title and chorus and ignored lyrics that clearly challenge and ridicule this way of life, …The wisdom of your ways, I've been there and I know Lots of other ways, what a jolly bad show If all you ever do is business you don't like…


There are numerous “anti-drug” songs that warn about the dangers and risks of substance abuse. Neil Young’s 1972 song The Needle and the Damage Done laments the heroin related death of Crazy Horse band member, Danny Whitten. The song lyrics provide a personal account of a close friend's struggle and eventual death as a result of heroin use, …I watched the needle take another man, gone, gone the damage done…


Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1977 song, That Smell warns about the dangers of drug and alocohol use. Singer Ronnie Van Zant co-wrote this song after band member and guitarist Gary Rossington had an alcohol related accident. The song begins, Whiskey bottles, and brand new cars, oak tree you're in my way. There's too much coke, and too much smoke, look what's going on inside youThe smell of death surrounds you…


Red Hot Chili Pepper’s 1989 tribute song, Knock Me Down was written by lead singer Anthony Kiedis in response to the heroin overdose and death of RHCP guitarist Hillel Slovak on June 25, 1988. The song also was inspired by Kiedis’ own struggle with heroin addiction which was the inspiration for the 1991 song, Under the Bridge. Kiedis writes, …Under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood. Under the bridge downtown, I could not get enough...I give my life away... Drug free since 2000, Kiedis authored Scar Tissue in 2004, a memoir and New York Times Bestseller, that graphically details Kiedis’s life-long battle with drugs and addiction. Kiedis also discusses the inspiration and origin for many songs including, Under The Bridge…I started freestyling some poetry in my car and putting the words to a melody and sang all the way down the freeway. When I got home, I got out my notebook and wrote the whole thing down in a song structure, even though it was meant to be a poem to deal with my own anguish.


Sting’s 1985 song, Children’s Crusade mourns the tremendous loss of young British lives during WWI. The repeated references to poppies in the song are an allusion to John McCrae’s classic WWI poem In Flander’s Field but also refer to the growing number of young opium addicts who gathered in  England’s Soho district during the 1980’s. The song concludes, …Midnight in Soho Nineteen Eighty Four Fixing in doorways, opium slaves Poppies for young men, such bitter trade All of those young lives betrayed All for a Children’s Crusade.


No discussion of so called “drug” songs would be complete without a reference to Peter, Paul & Mary’s 1963 song,  Puff, the Magic Dragon. Most likely among the top 10 of misunderstood song lyrics, many people are convinced the lyrics in this song are a coded reference to smoking marijuana. In fact, the song was adapted from a poem that was originally inspired by a Frederic Ogden Nash poem titled Custard the Dragon. The internet’s Urban Legends Reference Pages eliminates any confusion regarding the meaning of this song by providing quotes directly from Peter and Mary. Singer Mary Travers stated, …it is not about marijuana. Believe me, if he (Peter) wanted to write a song about marijuana, he would have written a song about marijuana. Co-writer Peter Yaro explains, … As the principal writer of the song, I can assure you it's a song about innocence lost…When 'Puff' was written, I was too innocent to know about drugs. What kind of a mean spirited SOB would write a children's song with a covert drug message? While the lyrics may not contain covert messages, several sources report that the title of this song has special meaning to members of our military, The phrase "Puff the Magic Dragon" is also American military slang for the AC-47 and AC-130 gunship airplanes used in Vietnam, so called because the planes' Gatling guns fired red tracers that gave the appearance of breathing fire.


Clearly, there are just as many negative songs that promote and glamorize drug use and other risk behaviors. These “pro-drug” songs are actually excellent teaching tools that will promote critical thinking when they are incorporated into a lesson or student presentation regarding the risks and dangers of drug use. It’s truly a memorable and powerful learning experience when a student plays a song in class then presents information that directly challenges and refutes the “pro-drug” images and negative messages conveyed in the lyrics.


With respect to drug use, old and young alike would do best to heed the advise of Shel Silverstein. His 1980 song, Baba Fats (The Perfect High) examines the futility of seeking a  "higher" level of awareness through the use of natural or synthetic substances. The songwriter reminds listeners that emotional, spiritual, or physical well being must come from within. Here's one more burnt-out soul, who's looking for some alchemist to turn his trip to gold. But you won't find it in no dealer's stash, or on no druggist's shelf. Son, if you would seek the perfect high -- find it in yourself...




Puff, the Magic Dragon – Wikipedia December 11, 2006


Puff – Urban Legends Reference Pages


Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll – Wikipedia December 11, 2006


Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman  - Hyperion Books © 2004.



Music and Lyric Resources:


Ian Dury and the Blockheads


Neil Young


Lynyrd Skynyrd


Shel Silverstein


Red Hot Chili Peppers




Peter, Paul & Mary


The Blockheads



Referenced and Related Works:


Student’s visual interpretation of “The Needle and the Damage Done”


Student’s visual interpretation of “Under the Bridge”


Student’s visual interpretation of Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones”


Student’s visual interpretation of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine”


Student's Anti-Drug Poster Project incorporating Manowar's, "Courage"


Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue


Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Under the Bridge”


Sting’s “Children’s Crusade” / McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields”


Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done”


Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That Smell”


“Puff, the Magic Dragon” Meets The Parents


Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff, the Magic Dragon”


Frederic Ogden Nash’s “Custard the Dragon”


Shel Silverstein’s “The Perfect High” (external link)


American Council for Drug Education (external link)


National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (external link)


NCADI (external link)


National Institute On Drug Abuse (external link)


Do It Now! (external link)


MusiCares (external link)


Teen Drug Abuse (external link)


Join Together (external link)


YouTube – “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll”  ( external link )


YouTube – “The Needle and the Damage Done”  ( external link )


YouTube – “That Smell”  ( external link )


YouTube – “Under the Bridge”  ( external link )


YouTube – “Perfect High”  ( external link )





back to Introduction