For the most part of The Rolling Stones’ career, drugs were inextricably linked to the band and became part of their image. Additionally, it was a societal taboo they were willing to break down through songwriting, and on multiple occasions, the band wrote about narcotics.
The Rolling Stones were an easy target for the tabloid press following the Redlands drug bust, which helped them become the most dangerous band in the land. Even if the media exaggerated this notion to a large extent, the Stones did play their part in encouraging the image to exist through writing songs that referenced narcotics, and not even subtly.
The police wanted to crack down on the use of substances and purposefully decided to make examples out of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was a frightening experience for the duo, and it changed the band’s perception forever.
Even before the bust occurred in 1967, the Stones were writing about drugs, but not everything they did was celebratory. ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ was the second single from 1966’s Aftermath and put the magnifying glass on the prescription drug crisis.
It was a nuanced topic to take on, and Jagger decided to embrace humour by portraying a housewife as a drug user, which averts the stereotypes of narcotic takers. “It’s about drug dependence, but in a sort of like spoofy way. As a songwriter, I didn’t really think about addressing things like that,” Jagger later added.
He continued: “It was just every day stuff that I’d observe and write about. It’s what writing is for really. There is a sort of naivety, but there’s also a lot of humour in those songs. They’re a lot based on humour. It was almost like a different band, a different world, a different view when we wrote them.”
‘Brown Sugar’, the iconic track taken from Sticky Fingers, is another example of the Stones writing about drugs, and the title is a slang word for heroin which they used as a euphemism for Black women. Although it was a huge hit for the band, the song has now been retired after Jagger admitted in 1995: “God knows what I’m on about in that song. It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go.”
Elsewhere on Sticky Fingers, the band also included ‘Sister Morphine’. The track initially started as an instrumental, but Jagger’s then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull added lyrics and created this story of a man becoming reliant on morphine while recovering from an accident in the hospital. Faithfull told MOJO: “I wrote this story about a man who’d had an accident. He’s dying, and in terrible pain and all he wants is for the nurse to bring him another shot. It’s definitely a kind of junkie song except that neither Mick nor I knew much about junkies back then.”
The album also featured the country-tinged track ‘Dead Flowers’ which featured a thinly-veiled reference to heroin. It includes the lyric, “I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon,” which is the apparatus traditionally associated with the drug.
Additionally, ‘Monkey Man’ from Let It Bleed is a playful track with abstract lyrics that took ownership of Jagger’s tabloid persona as this drug-addled madman who had a psychotic demeanour on stage. Jagger quips at the start of the song: “I’m a fleabit peanut monkey, And all my friends are junkies.”
See the full list below.
Songs about drugs by The Rolling Stones
- ‘Mother’s Little Helper’
- ‘Brown Sugar’
- ‘Sister Morphine’
- ‘Monkey Man’
- ‘Dead Flowers’