Sound Check: Handshake Drugs

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Drugs, like sex, are inextricably bound to rock ’n’ roll. More than a mere marriage of convenience, the pairing has come to resemble the partnership between remora and shark: It’s hard to imagine rock developing into the shaggy-haired beast it’s become without the influence of chemical compounds. Undoubtedly, other substances have also played a role in shaping popular music. For example, country’s relationship with alcohol is well-documented (see: Hank Sr.’s “There’s A Tear In My Beer”). In the jazz era, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis used narcotics. Dance artists have designed specific beats to match the effects of certain types of chemicals, while reggae has tended to view drugs as quasi-spiritual “journey enhancers.” The following albums represent the epitome of what Spacemen 3 once referred to as “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to.”

13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (Snapper)
In a time otherwise marked by incense and peppermints or strawberry alarm clocks, Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators played a gritty, reverb-dipped brand of guitar-driven garage rock punctuated by Roky Erickson’s berserk vocals and Tommy Hall’s strangely fluttering electric jug (essentially, a porcelain jug with a mic placed near its mouth, which creates a bizarre percussive effect). The Elevators’ 1966 debut LP spotlights loopy, LSD-inspired lyrics (Hall is said to have forced the band to dose on a near-daily basis) and a peculiar mix of sinister-sounding lysergic jams, shimmering ballads and the odd staggering anthem. Erickson’s drug-related arrest in 1969 led to a three-year stint in a state mental hospital, where he was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments that may have damaged his psyche far worse than drugs ever did. Under The Influence: Fellow Texas space traveler Janis Joplin considered joining the Elevators before throwing in her lot with Big Brother And The Holding Company.

DAVID BOWIE Station To Station (Virgin)
By 1976, Bowie had tried on as many personas as musical styles: the post-hippie Man Who Sold The World, the bisexual alien Ziggy Stardust, the faux-soul brotha of Young Americans. But the paranoid, drug-addled Thin White Duke was Bowie’s first creation to come with a distinctly evil edge, and Station To Station unleashed his robotic disco on the world. Bowie was residing in Los Angeles, palling around with John Lennon (then stumbling through the depths of a multi-year “lost weekend”) and, in his cocaine-fueled mania, becoming increasingly reckless and withdrawn. At one point during the recording of Station To Station, Bowie purportedly stopped eating, sleeping and drinking for a full week. The album nevertheless remains one of his best, conjuring streamlined, ice-cold funk on “Stay,” “TVC15” and “Golden Years.” Under The Influence: Bowie’s substance abuse finally caught up with him when he praised Hitler in a Playboy interview and struck a fascist salute for photographers in London.

MOTÖRHEAD Ace Of Spades (Roadrunner)
Once described by Creem magazine as the sound of a “Japanese commuter train ramming headlong into a blackboard factory,” Motörhead is the creation of former Hawkwind bassist (and ex-Hendrix roadie) Lemmy Kilmister. Combining biker-inspired heavy-metal sound and punk’s loud/fast rules, Kilmister forged the speed metal and thrash genres from scratch. 1980’s Ace Of Spades is the apotheosis of his group’s speed-induced mania, featuring a batch of relentlessly intense songs. The title track became a top-15 single in the U.K. and, for a time, elevated the group to the same superstar status as Judas Priest, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. Under The Influence: “Speed is habit-forming, and I’d been doing it for over 20 years,” wrote Kilmister in the album’s liner notes. “If you have your blood changed, I’d suppose that it’s clean and there’s nothing in it, maybe like when I was a kid. [The doctor] told me to forget it—‘Pure blood will probably kill you!’”

SPACEMEN 3 Perfect Prescription (Taang!)
Rugby, England’s Spacemen 3 was influenced by a variety of drugs, from hash to heroin. Guitarist Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember once went by the nickname “Mainliner,” while an early version of the band’s logo features a crudely drawn syringe. This 1987 sophomore effort seeks to replicate the effects of a drug trip, from the towering highs to the crushing lows. The songs that bookend the album—opening blast “Take Me To The Other Side” and chilled-out closing crash “Call The Doctor”—provide not only a sense of the band’s avant-garde ambitions but also its chemically altered lifestyle. “Walking With Jesus” and “Ode To Street Hassle” pay tribute to smack-addled forebears the Velvet Underground, whose blissed-out, single-chord jams were a huge influence on Spacemen 3. Perfect Prescription provides all the clues that would lead to Kember’s more experimental Spectrum/E.A.R. projects as well as his bandmate Jason “Spaceman” Pierce’s higher-profile Spiritualized. Under The Influence: For proof of Prescription’s inspiration, look no further than Pierce’s lyrical couplet “Put a spike deep into my vein/Things’ll never be the same.”

HAPPY MONDAYS Bummed (Universal)
While 1990’s Pills ’N Thrills And Bellyaches marks the high point of the Madchester movement, everything that made Happy Mondays a train-wreck spectacle is fully present on this 1988 sophomore release. After being discovered by Factory Records boss Tony Wilson during a battle of the bands at Manchester’s infamous Haçienda nightclub, the Mondays set about pioneering their sloppy-yet-brilliant fusion of acid-house beats, rock ’n’ roll attitude and hip hop’s cut-up aesthetic. Frontman Shaun Ryder incoherently blends surreal, Dylanesque word-pictures and menacing sexual deviancy, and his ecstasy-fueled rants (“Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey, Ducky Lucky, Chicken Lickin’” is a line from “Moving In With”) lend the Mondays’ music a wild-eyed charm and a warm, come-feel-me-fuzzy-sweater fluidity inspired by both the Beatles and the beats of the rave scene. Under The Influence: After the Mondays imploded in part due to Ryder’s drug problems, producer (and former Talking Heads bassist) Tina Weymouth wryly noted that she’s “seen a lot of people who live life on the edge, but I’ve never before seen a group of people who had no idea where the edge is.”

DR. DRE The Chronic (Death Row)
Former NWA member Andre “Dr. Dre” Young invented the nihilistic, party-before-we-die vibes known as G-funk: the West Coast’s elastic blend of P-Funk and Bloods-vs.-Crips warfare. 1992’s The Chronic was named for the particularly strong brand of weed Dre and his cronies preferred, and it powers the album’s stoned, drawn-out swing. The lyrics are given voice by then-unknown Long Beach rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg. Snoop’s Southern drawl on “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” “Dre Day” and “Let Me Ride” conveys the sort of impervious-to-it-all attitude that made The Chronic’s homophobia, misogyny and violence that much more shocking to behold while turning him into a pop-culture figure overnight. Part Redd Foxx, part George Clinton, The Chronic is that rare article: the most popular hip-hop album of its time and the creative class of a crowded field of imitators. Under The Influence: Only in a perpetually clouded universe could a game-show skit in which the grand prize is a “$20 sack of Endo and a $35 gift certificate to the Compton Swap Meet” be seen as “hilarious.”

—Corey duBrowa

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