Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Album cover)

Music

Nancy Sinatra had a top ten hit she didn’t know was about LSD

Nancy, the daughter of our favourite crooner, Frank Sinatra, began her music career in the early 1960s when she was just 20 years old. As the daughter of one of America’s biggest stars, Nancy Sinatra didn’t have a particularly tough road into showbusiness and she never had a shortage of hit-making songwriters at her disposal. Nancy’s most notable collaborator was the country singer and songwriter Lee Hazlewood. Hazlewood worked with her on some of her most successful and well-known hits, including ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’’, ‘Somethin’ Stupid’, ‘Some Velvet Morning’ and ‘Summer Wine’. 

Nancy’s big career break came in 1966, a time when the hippie culture had been getting into its full stride. It was the same year as The Beatles released their first step toward avant-garde psychedelic music, Revolver. Of course, one of the defining aspects of the hippie movement was the pursuit of free love and peace, but also the pursuit of psychedelic chemicals. As rock musicians appeared to be the focal point of the hippie era, the musicians often felt an obligation to weave clever double entendres denoting LSD into their music. This way, their music would still be accepted to air on radio stations, but also gave the stoned hippies something to speculate.

Most famously, John Lennon wrote the wonderfully strange ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, which is generally understood to be code for its inspiration from LSD. However, John Lennon did deny that the song title, which is also the refrain in the lyrics, was related to the drug and insisted that it had been inspired by a drawing his son Julian once showed him. A whole host of other Beatles songs have since been labelled as relating to drug use, but only one was ever confirmed. George Harrison’s song “‘It’s All Too Much’ [from Yellow Submarine] was written in a childlike manner from realisations that appeared during and after some LSD experiences and which were later confirmed in meditation,” as he once explained.

But The Beatles were by no means the only songwriters to try their hands at writing illusive hits referencing LSD. Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 top ten hit, ‘Sugar Town’, written by Hazlewood, was also a reference to the lysergic craze of the time.

In 1999, Hazlewood discussed the song in an interview with Index Magazine. “I write myself into a corner going for a kind of imperfect perfectness — if there could be such a thing,” Hazlewood revealed. “[Gossip columnist] Walter Winchell wrote that ‘Sugar Town’ had ‘the worst lyrics ever written in a top 10 song.’ Hey, I spent a lotta time writing a bad lyric like that! The words are as stupid as I could get ’em.”

Hazlewood later elaborated on the meaning behind the strange lyrics, “In those days, they were taking sugar cubes and putting acid on ’em,” he recalled. “And, of course, that would be ‘Sugar Town,’ wouldn’t it?” He continued, noting the importance of subtlety in such lyrics. “You had to make the lyric dingy enough where the kids knew what you were talking about — and they did,” he revealed. “Double entendre. But not much more if you wanted to get it played on the radio. We used to have lotsa of trouble with lyrics, but I think it’s fun to keep it hidden a little bit.” 

Hazlewood had been inspired to write the song after seeing some young people dropping liquid LSD onto a sugar cube while he was in a club in the mid-’60s. But Nancy had no idea about the true meaning behind the song until she was 30 years old, according to a post on her Twitter account in 2012.