Music and narcotics have a long, complex history, but some of the greatest albums of all time were also the most drug-fuelled.
The music industry and celebrity culture, in general, has always had a complicated relationship with excessive drug consumption. A musician has the rare professional benefit (or curse) of being able to create something beautiful while high.
This list shows that as it counts down the 10 best albums that would be completely different, or might not exist at all, if it weren’t for drugs.
Death of a Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man is his fifth studio album, and a definite attempt to stop the rot. Cohen’s career had been caught in a downward spiral since his debut, which if we are honest was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Luckily, sonic genius and producer extraordinaire Phil Spector, who would later come to even more notoriety for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson, was on hand to shake things up. And shake things up he most certainly did; reportedly aiming a pistol at Cohen’s throat during a session and whispering “I love you, Leonard“.
Both Spector and Cohen’s careers needed a hit, and Death of a Ladies’ Man bears the hallmarks of ambition, desperation, hubris and, quite possibly above all else, too many drugs. It’s a sonic smorgasbord that fails as often as works, but by god it’s thrilling when it works.
When asked what his drug of choice was while recording the album Cohen responded with typical restraint, “I don’t want to corrupt the youth… but I always liked speed.” And considering how erratic and spaced-out the album is in general, that checks out.
Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones
For the band’s tenth album, the Rolling Stones set up shop in the French town of Nellcôte in a rented house, which turned into what sounds like a hedonistic drug den for the entirety of recording.
The time ended with Richards being arrested for heroin possession but in a recent interview he claimed he was not the only one under the influence during recording:
“At the time, Mick was taking everything. Charlie was hitting the brandy like a motherfucker.”
The whole house was so caught up in their own heads that one day, a group of robbers from Marseille walked in and stole nine of Richards’s guitars, Bobby Keys’ sax and Bill Wyman’s bass in the middle of the day while the band was watching TV in the living room.
Despite all the drama, the album is now considered to be one of the best country rock albums of all time and came in at no. 7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
The soap opera-like relationships that were occurring between the band members of Fleetwood Mac while recording Rumours led to some of the band’s best work, with any group line-up.
Everyone in the band was dealing with breakups, most of which were with other band members. The stories were accentuated by the massive amounts of cocaine the band went through while recording the album and at live shows.
Mac Fleetwood later worked out that if he put all the cocaine he had ever taken into a single line, it would be seven miles long.
The Beatles – Revolver
The Beatles’ 1966 album was acclaimed for being a great representation of the period of psychedelic counterculture in which it was released, so it’s no wonder drugs played a big factor in many of the songs’ origins.
During a dinner party, John Lennon claimed that George Harrison and himself had their coffee spiked with LSD. This lead to the pair and their wives gallivanting around London laughing like lunatics and thinking all the buildings were on fire. Eventually the four ended up at Harrison’s house, where Lennon stayed up and thought that he was piloting a yellow submarine.
The song Yellow Submarine is now the twelfth best selling Beatles song of all time.
David Bowie – Station to station
During the production of Station to Station, David Bowie was said to be heavily reliant on drugs (especially cocaine) and could not remember anything from his time in the studio.
He later stated that they were “the darkest days of my life” and that he was haunted by visions of bodies falling past his window. Musically, the album showed a transition in Bowie’s style as he moved into more experimental electronic sounds that resembled artists from Germany at the time.
Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
The Grammy Award winning album is acclaimed for it’s production and stunning contralto vocals from Amy Winehouse, but lyrically the album addresses the darker aspects of the late songwriter’s life.
References in the lead single Back To Black allude to her heroin use and Rehab addressing her family’s urges to seek help for her drug and alcohol addiction show a few examples of this. When she took the album on the road, she showed up late to many of her concerts and was known to forget lyrics mid-set.
In 2011, Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27.
Bob Marley – Kaya
Reggae king and cannabis advocate Bob Marley was sure to make the list at some point. After converting to Rastafarianism from Christianity in the 1960s, Marley strongly opposed the drug being illegal, saying that nothing made by god should be illegal.
Kaya (the word for marijuana in Jamaican) was released in 1978 and was Marley’s eleventh studio album. Marley continued to take marijuana in accordance with his religious beliefs throughout his life and this album was criticised for being too soft as it mainly focused around themes of love and, you guessed it, weed.
The Beach Boys – Smile
During the early recording stages, Wilson suffered from drug addiction and sought the help of Dr. Eugene Landy after overdosing on alcohol, cocaine and psychoactive pills. Dr. Landy insisted that to shake the addiction he would need full control of Wilson’s life, including economical control.
After five years under Landy’s ‘supervision’, Wilson’s diary was given to the authorities. Through the diary it was discovered that Landy had been acting like a Svengali, keeping Wilson hostage through his therapy and forcing him to continue to write music for Landy’s personal gain.
In 2004, Wilson re-invented the album for live performances, which featured versions of songs that had leaked while Wilson was under Landy’s control.
Black Sabbath – Vol. 4
Black Sabbath‘s fourth album was a challenging one for the band to produce, mainly due to the fact that many band members were struggling with substance addictions. During production, the band would bring large speaker boxes into the studio, which contained vast quantities of cocaine.
Bill Ward remembers one moment during recording when he feared he would be kicked out of the band after sitting on the floor doing drugs as he tried to record the drum line for Cornucopia.
In 2010 lead singer Ozzy Osbourne has his complete genome mapped by scientists in an effort to better understand his inhuman resistance to drugs and overwhelming susceptibility to addiction.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
This album has it all. Allegedly funded by a drug kingpin, named after the strongest weed on the block and heavily featuring the one and only Snoop Dogg in all but three songs, it was the perfect way for Dr. Dre to start his solo career.