Top 10 ‘Bar’ Songs of All Time! (Part I)
March 24, 2008 | Lists
Some songs have become bar anthems. You hear “Born in the USA” or “You Shook Me all Night Long” anywhere other than a bar and you wonder why you’re not in some reeking dive, clutching a glass of draft, while chatting up a thoroughly disinterested party and eating from a plate of peanuts containing more germs than the handles on the urinals.
We recognize that these songs make an important contribution to one’s elbow-tilting atmosphere, however we reckon that enough attention has been paid to every one of them (and that they each have almost reached their limit when it comes to Internet derision). What we’d like to focus on instead are songs that are actually set in bars. The writers of these songs, for the most part, were the sort who followed the advice of “Write what you know”; they looked around, saw that they were in a bar and wrote the following classic tunes. All of these songs are either set in a bar, or make heavy reference to pub life. To actually sit down and pen a song about a bar, rather than one that you hope drunk people will sway to and later remember when sobering up at Wal-mart, is commendable, and we would like to pay tribute to these efforts here with our Top 10 ‘Bar’ Songs of All Time!
10) Girls, Girls, Girls by Motley Crue: The members of the always dangerous band were in danger of finding themselves forgotten in hair-band oblivion until the sensational book The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band” came out and made a whole new generation of indie rockers take a good look at themselves in their mirrors and realize that more lines should be snorted off them.
This song is the only one on our list that specifically celebrates that chrome bar palace — the place where, to quote Al Bundy “The cops are at the door, and there’s a Kennedy on the floor”: the nudie bar.
And how’s this for a man who means business when it comes to his night at the peeler’s?:“Friday night and I need a fight/My motorcycle and a switchblade knife/Handful of grease in my hair feels right/But what I need to make me tight are…” Why, girls, girls, girls of course!
It’s unlikely that Tommy Lee or any of the Crue ever went switchblade crazy in a strip club, which are almost exclusively the domain of the mafia and biker gangs throughout North America. Had they done so, it’s unlikely that they would have gone on to do things like star in cinema verite with Pam Anderson, be featured alongside a dwarf in a reality television show and the assorted other accomplishments that have distinguished their post-band days.
Choice Lush Lyrics: Girls, Girls, Girls/At the Dollhouse in Ft. Lauderdale/Girls, Girls. Girls/Rocking in Atlanta at Tattletails/Girls, Girls, Girls/Raising Hell at the 7th Veil
9) Reeperbahn by Tom Waits
Just to make sure our bases, and the base is covered, we figured we’d stick with the tone set by our #10 and take a quick jaunt next door to the house of ill-repute described by Mr Waits in Reeperbahn, an ode to the finer girlie bars in Hamburg’s notorious red-light district.
Choice Lush Lyrics:
Around the curve of a Parrot Bar,
A broken-down old movie star
Hustling an Easterner
Bringing out the beast in him
A high dive on a swimming pool
Filled with needles and with fools
the memories are short but the tales are long
down there in the Reeperbahn
8) Alabama Song by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill The Doors, a band that hasn’t aged well (and not just because one of them is helping to make the fleur grow in France), helped repopularize this one when they covered it. Most will be pretty familiar with the refrain “Well, show me the way to the next whiskey bar/Oh don’t ask why/Oh’ don’t ask why”… as well as its creepy follow-up “Well show me the way to the next little girl, oh don’t ask why…” That second bit started out in the Brecht-written original as “Show me the way to the next pretty boy”, which was appropriate given that it was meant to be sung by a female prostitute in the Brecht/Weill opera “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”.
When the “Lizard King” and his associates chose to cover it though, they realized that asking mainstream America to show them the way to the next “pretty boy” might not go over so well, and they changed the lyric to “little girl”. It still sounds like a theme song for some pervert in a van with tinted windows, but it managed to find mainstream acceptance and remains one of their most recognizable songs. We salute this song for the uncomfortable ambiguity surrounding that one line and for speaking to the universal need that we’ve all felt at one time or another to be shown the way to the “next whiskey bar”, without having to explain why.
Choice Lush Lyrics: Oh, moon of Alabama/We now must say say good-bye/We’ve lost our good old mamma/And must have whisky/Oh, you know why.
7) Thrown out of the Bar by Hank Williams III: It seems to be a genetic rule that musical talent skips a generation. Think Jacob Dylan, Alex Orbison, Wolfgang Van Halen, Sean Lennon, Frank Sinatra Jr., Tal Bachman, and of course, Hank Williams Jr. In the case of the latter though, there’s some hope offered by the fact that talent may well skip a generation as it did in the case of Hank Williams III, who has foregone the old man’s cornball style of country for something that ole grandpa could raise the moonshine jug too.
These days you can get tossed out of a bar for lighting up a cigarette, but we’re guessing the kind of drunk that Hank III is writing about in “Thrown Out of the Bar” has done far worse. As overzealous as some bouncers might be, getting the crap kicked out of you regularly at every bar in town points to the possibility that you might be a “problem drinker“.
Choice Lush Lyrics: I been beat up bad, I been kicked around,/I been thrown out of every damn bar in this old town, /In this old town./I guess you don’t like the way we like to have our fun/’Cause I’m always out there an’ I’m on the run
6) Sally MacLennane by the Pogues: If you’ve ever wondered what you might look and sound like if you drank heavily during every waking hour of the day and abandoned all matters of dental hygiene, may we recommend “If I Should Fall From Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story.” Shane MacGowan, the Pogues main songwriter and lead singer, wrote what he knew very, very well, but surprisingly few of these were about pubs or bar life. One exception to that is this fine song, which starts “Well Jimmy played harmonica in the pub where I was born”. In the pub where he was born! The prize for greatest drunk ever goes to this guy.
As with many of The Pogues best songs (”Fairytale of New York” for example) this one tells a story, specifically a young man’s life growing up in a pub, eventually become the barman of “the greatest little boozer”, home of Sally MacLennane. This is the sort of song so immersed in bar culture that you could get beer breath just listening to it.
Choice Lush Lyrics: I played the pump and took the hump and watered whiskey down/I talked of whores and horses to the men who drank the brown/I heard them say that Jimmy’s making money far away/And some people left for heaven without warning