The Title Says It All

The Kinks

Over the next year, we're going to be looking at songs about beer, whiskey, champagne and gin. But the first song of the year doesn't make any such distinctions.

The hero of "Alcohol" isn't picky, because this isn't a song about the pleasures of drinking:

Barley wine, pink gin,
He'll drink anything,
Port, pernod or tequila.
Rum, scotch, vodka on the rocks,
As long as all his troubles disappear.

Just as last year started with a song about the unpleasantness of soccer and those who played it, this year starts with a song about the dangers of drinking. Of course, anti-alcohol songs are easier to find than anti-soccer songs; but the Kinks' less-than-serious approach means "Alcohol" has more in common with "Football Crazy" than it does with a temperance hymn.

According to the John Gosling, who played keyboards on the Muswell Hillbillies album where the song appeared, "Alcohol" was inspired by songwriter Ray Davies' love of horror-melodrama of Vincent Price and his contemporaries.

This particular melodrama, in the best scare-film tradition, tells the story of "a sinner" who "used to be a winner" until the pressures of modern life and high society drove him to find comfort in loose women and strong drink, eventually ending broke in the gutter. The mood is built up lyrically and musically until it climaxes in the chorus, with a loose oompah beat that evokes both the English music hall and the New Orleans jazz funeral, and lyrics that represent the drunkard's lament:

Oh, demon alcohol,
Sad memories I can't recall,
Who thought I would fall
A slave to demon alcohol?

In modern times, some have mistaken "Alcohol" for a sincere temperance song, a mistake that is probably easier in the current anti-alcohol climate than in the 1970s. In case there was any doubt that Davies saw "Alcohol" as a way to have fun rather than a political stand, during live shows, he would sometimes literally have fun with alcohol, not just by drinking it but by spraying shaken-up beer bottles on the first few rows of the crowd.

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