By Kurt Wolff and Annie Reuter
Everyone knows country music is full of drinking songs. Be it whiskey, beer, a “Little Glass of Wine” or “White Lighting,” booze has been a part of the music’s fabric since the genre got off the ground in the 1920s. Drinking songs held strong during the honky-tonk era of Hank, Lefty, George and Ernest Tubb, and well into the ’80s and ’90s (“Friends in Low Places,” anyone?).
We could spend days compiling a long list of drinking songs in all shapes and styles. But in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we chose to focus our list below on songs that are about not just having a drink or two, but where having a few (or more) is the main point. So for instance, Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer” doesn’t qualify—it’s a powerful song, but the focus is on the narrator’s grief after losing a friend. However, Bryan’s earlier single “All My Friends Say,” where the narrator can’t remember what he did last night? Now we’re talking.
Of course, we don’t necessarily condone the activities discussed below. But as songs, we do think our choices hold up well and represent some of country music’s finest moments when it comes to tying one on. And on. And on.
Some are happy, some are sad, some don’t exactly remember what or where they are. Either way, crack open your beverage of choice and have a listen.
Long before the world knew the hip-shaking abilities of Luke Bryan, he was singing about his college days, more than a few of which involved a little drinking. Released in 2007, “All My Friends Say” introduced Bryan to the country world, as it was the lead single off his debut album I’ll Stay Me. “All My Friends Say” tells the tale of a guy who wakes up after a night of heavy drinking, and he can’t seem to fit together the missing puzzle pieces of the night before. It all started when he saw an ex with a new guy. “All my friends say I started shooting doubles when you walked in,” he sings. While he doesn’t remember a thing, all his friends tell him, “I was a rock star, party hard, getting over you comeback kid…I was Elvis rocking on the bar.” In the music video for the song, Bryan is playing for a party in a fraternity house, something that seems to forecast his future Spring Break concerts.
Bocephus has sung about Jim Beam more than a few times, but it’s this 1979 anthem that stands as his most potent ode to the golden nectar (and popular, too—it was a Top 5 hit). It’s a classic outlaw-era arrangement, thick bass lines and Southern rock guitar licks, with lyrics about crying to Hank Williams songs…which of course leads to more drinking. “Sure enough about closing time, I’m stoned out of my mind,” he sings. But when he wakes up the next morning, after taking home a stranger, he thinks about his “sweet girl at home,” and then he “needs to get whiskey bent and hell bound” all over again.
Who doesn’t like a little day drinking? Little Big Town give the practice a whole new meaning on their playful and fun mandolin-led track. So after that big St. Patrick’s Day parade, heed the band’s advice: “Don’t want to wait ’til the sun’s sinking/ We could be feeling alright/ I know you know what I’m thinking/ Why don’t we do a little day drinking?”
You could write books just about George Jones‘ drinking songs, he’s approached the topic from so many directions. “White Lightning” and “Root Beer” are fun and lively early recordings, but in later years, when he gets into more somber, grown-up stuff like “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will),” then the tears come out (drinking, after all, got Jones himself into deep, deep trouble more than a few times). Jones’ 1989 single “The King Is Gone” is a silly song on one hand, with the narrator cracking open “a Jim Beam decanter shaped like Elvis” and pouring its contents into “a Flintstones jelly-bean jar.” But when you realize he’s doing so because a lover walked out on him, then the situation becomes darker. No wonder he’s left sitting on the floor muttering “Yabba dabba doo.”