Top 10 ‘Bar’ Songs of all time (Part II)

March 26, 2008 | Lists,Music

As we laid out like a nacho platter in Part One of our “Top Ten Bar Songs of All Time”, bars have contributed more to our culture than simply being a convenient place to cash your social assistance check, meet your bookie and punch out your landlord. Bars provide a setting for some choice inner faith jokes involving priests, rabbis and other assorted holy men, as well as, depending on the joke, grasshoppers, parakeets and a foul-mouthed frog that tap dances on the edge of pint glasses (we’ll tell you that one over a beer).

And more to the point of this list, they have also provided a setting for some excellent songs. We’re not talking about songs that are almost exclusively heard in bars – but rather those that specifically reference bar and pub life.

We’d like to think that each item on this list was scribbled on a cocktail napkin by a genius songwriter who was hopelessly drunk at the time of its composition. We’d also like to think that said genius then passed out in a pool of his own vomit at his table, and that a keen-eyed waiter with an eye out for the main chance spotted the napkin, recognized its artistic merit immediately, phoned the police to haul off the genius on a drunk and disorderly and sold the napkin to the following artists for a huge sum of money, while the original songwriter was dismissed as a crank in subsequent lawsuits and ended up hitting the bottle even harder. We’d like to think all of that, but it’s probably not true.

The scribbled-on-a-cocktail-napkin-while-drunk-to-the-gills part might well be true though because these tune smiths certainly knew what they were writing about. They have written songs here that evoke pub life – the good parts, as well as the terrible parts (though none of them are about the worst part of a night out at the pub – the bill) – and they have done it better than ‘em all. Here they’re The Top 5 ‘Bar’ Songs of All Time:

5) After Hours by the Velvet Underground: Wrapping up, as it did, the Velvet Underground’s self-titled album, this one, along with being one of the great bar songs of all time, might also be one of the top album closers ever. It features Velvet drummer Maureen Tucker doing a rare lead vocal and focuses on the “After Hours”, places that will be familiar to the more dedicated drinkers among you. After-hour joints are the places you go to when “Last call for alcohol” turns into “Hey buddy, I could lose my license if I served you another drink. Why don’t you just go home?”

When that happens you end up in an after-hours joint, a dark dingy establishment where hardened drinkers go, refusing to let the night end. The sun may be up outside and your average slobs going about their daily routines, but as the narrator of this one so correctly reminds us: “If you close the door/The night could last forever/Leave the sunshine out/And say hello to never.” Now that is someone with staying power. Bravo!

Choice Lush Lyrics: If you close the door/The night could last forever/Leave the wine-glass out/And drink a toast to never


4) The Boys are Back in Town, Thin Lizzy. In this classic rock chestnut, not one, but two bars (Dino’s Bar & Grill and Johnny’s Place) are mentioned both of which are known for having more asses beat than a barn-full of intractable mules. The song covers ground familiar to anyone who spent their parents’ retirement savings on Kraft Dinner and beer, otherwise known as ‘your college years’. During this formative time, when your liver began approaching watermelon-like proportions, you made sure not to cross paths with ‘townies’–embittered folks doomed to spend the rest of their existence in whatever college town you’d abandoned as soon as the dean’s ink dried on your diploma and you’d packed up your Pulp Fiction posters and high-tailed it to the big city.

In a twist, Boys Are Back in Town is about Navy cadets, who, instead of townies, put the smack down on regular college students at the aforementioned taverns. Below you’ll find a version of the song– not the twin-guitar assault as originally conceived by the boys in Thin Lizzy, but performed on ukuleles in what looks to be a half-way house, a location that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to the denizens of either Dino’s or Johnny’s. Rock on, gentlemen.

Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill/Down at Dino’s bar and grill/The drink will flow and blood will spill/And if the boys want to fight, you’d better let them/And that time over at Johnny’s place/ Well this chick got up and she slapped Johnny’s face/Man we just fell about the place/If that chick don’t want to know, forget her



3) O’Malley’s Bar, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Most of the bars that are the subject of the songs on this list are – Thin Lizzy’s two punch-‘em-up joints excepted – the kind of places you wouldn’t mind visiting. Surely stopping by Sally MacLennane’s pub for a pint or 10 would be enjoyable and there are duller alternatives than a night out at the rippers with Motley Crue. That said, you’d be well advised to stay a county away from “O’Malley’s Bar” in case the narrator in Nick Cave’s tune stops by for a quick one.

This song, is one of Nick Cave’s best, and also one of the maddest, and most vicious songs ever set in a bar. The narrator walks into O’Malley’s, orders a drink, and cuts a streak of murder through the place that would have had Charles Manson saying “Well, I think that was a bit much. Don’t you?” The bloodbath starts with O’Malley’s wife: “Well, you know those fish with the swollen lips/That clean the ocean floor/When I looked at poor O’Malley’s wife/That’s exactly what I saw/I jammed the barrel under her chin/And her face looked raw and vicious/Her head it landed in the sink.”

Yep, and then it gets violent. There are people shot, someone gets a crushed throat, and one poor slob is even dispatched via a giant ashtray to the head (see below). This is what might have happened had the “Cheers” mailman character ‘Cliff’ been rewritten by the fine folks who brought you HBO’s “OZ”. It’s an inarguably brilliant blast of insanity, featuring all of your friendly neighborhood bar types put through the abattoir. For even conceiving of something this epic, violent and insane, we salute you Nick Cave. We don’t want to drink with you when there are loaded weapons around, but we salute you nonetheless:

Choice Lush Lyrics: Well Jerry Bellows, he hugged his stool/Closed his eyes and shrugged and laughed/And with an ashtray as big as a fucking really big brick/I split his head in half/His blood spilled across the bar/Like a steaming scarlet brook/And I knelt at it’s edge on the counter/ Wiped the tears away and looked


2) Bartender’s Blues, George Jones. If you consider a drinking song to be every song about a bar, drinking in general, relationships devastated by drinking, drinking and driving and stories so depressing that you may be driven to drink by hearing them, then at least two-thirds of the George Jones songbook comprises drinking songs. For a guy dubbed ‘No Show’, George has certainly shown up on our lists, whether it’s this one, or our more controversial Top Ten Drinking & Driving Songs of All Time featuring his hit, ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me, Her Memory Will’. Thematically, that song could very nearly have made the cut here, except that its lyric “The bars are all closed, It’s four in the morning, Must have shut’em all down, By the shape that I’m in”, disqualifies it as the establishment is clearly closed. Here’s Bartender’s Blues, actually penned by James Taylor, who knew a thing or two about the blues, especially causing them with his ‘unique brand of bittersweet folk music’.

Now the smoke fills the air
Of this honky-tonk bar
And I’m thinkin’ bout where I’d rather be
But I burned all my bridges
And I sunk all my ships
And I’m standing at the edge of the sea

1) Closing Time, by Leonard Cohen. Some might accuse us of betraying a Canadian bias on this one, and they may well be right; after all of the trifecta of cool old-timey Montrealers – Pierre Trudeau, Mordecai Richler and Leonard Cohen – LC is the only one on the right side of the daisies. But giving credit where it’s due there are few songs that come close to rivaling the raucous fun of “Closing Time”, and it’s an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact that Cohen himself is not a boozer of great renown (he’s drinking the blood of his lessers in the accompanying photo ), and he even spent years as a Zen Buddhist monk, during which time we’re sure that the odd poisonous mushroom taken for spiritual enhancement would have been the closest thing he enjoyed to a good buzz.

But with this song, he somehow managed to nail it. Things have built to a crescendo in a strange bar where “women tear their blouses off and the men they dance on the polka dots.” These people are on edge. ““Ah we’re lonely, we’re romantic/and the cider’s laced with acid/and the Holy Spirit’s crying, “Where’s the beef?”/And the moon is swimming naked/and the summer night is fragrant/with a mighty expectation of relief.”

Cohen sings that “there’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops” and indeed, with cider in the acid, women whipping off their tops, and men two-stepping on polka dots, we can safely assume that after this song finished a riot broke out and the bar was burned down. Full of energy, great song-writing, and conjuring up a place that may never have existed, but damn well should have, Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” gets our vote as the Top Bar Song of All Time.

Unfortunately, embedding has been banned for the actual, excellent video (watch your head for flying women) for closing time, so we’re going to leave you with an acoustic rendition by the wonderfully named Bub Fish:


Honorable Mention: Seaside Bar (Bruce Springsteen)

Hey girl, you wanna ride in Daddy’s Cadillac? ‘Cause I love the way your long hair falls down your back Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley’s at the Seaside Bar We’ll run barefoot in the sand, listen to his guitar

Barroom Hero (Dropkick Murphys)

He’s a legend in the bar with every scar fights a thousand bigger men, But now he fights and looses got all the bruises will someone please step in?

Let There be Rock ( AC/DC)

And the guitar man got famous
The businessman got rich And in every bar there was a super star With a seven year itch

Hey Hey, What Can I Do? (Led Zeppelin)
In the bars, with the men who play guitars Singin’, drinkin’ and rememberin’ the times

Closing time (Semisonic)

Closing time, time for you to go out, go out into the world. Closing time, turn the lights up over every boy and every girl. Closing time, one last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey or beer. Closing time, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

dishonorable mentions:

Toby Keith by the looks of him, appears that he’s put away more kegs than the guy who drives the beer truck, however his song, I Love This Bar, leaves us feeling a bit queasy, like when the taps haven’t been changed in a while. Similarly, the music of Jimmy Buffet including, and especially Margaritaville, leaves us similarly afflicted and consequently, we are inclined take the blow blow torch to his The Tiki Bar is Open, and make off with the insurance money.

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13 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Any list of this sort that does not include ‘Nightclub’, by the Old 97’s is a list done by rookies.
    “this old nightclub/stole my youth,
    this old nightclub/stole my true love,
    it follows me around/from town to town,
    I just might get drunk tonight/and burn the nightclub down”
    best barband evah!!!!!!!

  2. ‘Anonymous’, you’re quite right in that we could’ve easily selected ‘Adios Lounge’ by Mr Waits, among dozens of other tunes, which is what makes list-making so much fun.

    In terms of having credibility or not, or being ‘rookies’, might we remind you both that we wrote the book on drinking—literally, and therefore can at least claim some modicum of expertise here. For further reference, check out our very fine work, The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery (Penguin Books, 2008)

  3. No Piano Man?

  4. We actually considered Piano Man, as well as Honky Tonk Woman (‘gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis’ referring to a prostitute in a seedy saloon). However, in the end we decided 1. they’re a bit too obvious and
    2. we find the music of Billy Joel quite loathsome…we do concede that he might’ve merited inclusion along with Buffet and Keith in our ‘dishonorable mentions’.

  5. If you don’t love Hank Williams, you can kiss my ass. (and that includes Hank Jr.)

  6. You forgot to add George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, One beer to the Dishonorable Mention list.

  7. Rehab’s “Sittin’ At A Bar” got robbed. Best. Bar song. EVER.

  8. It’s a bit obscure and probably only good enough for honorable mention, but I would like to nominate “Lightnin’ Bar Blues” by Hanoi Rocks.

    “I don’t need no diamnond rings / I don’t need no cadillac car / I just want to drink my ripple wine down in the lightnin’ bar”

    “When I die don’t bother me / Don’t bury me at all / Just place my livin’, lovin’, laughin’ bones in a jar of alcohol”

    I did enjoy your list. Good work.

  9. n5Anon — Funny you should mention that, that song was in the running and there would have fit in well with the Crue entry since the drummer of that one was killed in a drunk-driving accident — driver?: Vince Neil.


  10. you need some more Texas in your list, I think.
    how about the Bruce Robison Song Bubbles in My Beer? (both he and brother Charlie have recorded it)
    and of course, Robert Earl Keen’s The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends.

  11. This list is LAME… bunch of obscure songs. Who gives a sh!t if a bar is “referenced”? Any “Top 10 Bar Songs” list should’ve been about the “The best songs to stir up a crowd in a bar”! Special notes could’ve been included to highlight “regional” favorites as well as where (i.e. which bar) the song began to “take off”. Now, THAT would’ve been interesting!

  12. gimme a break, great bar songs are not these obscure antiques! great bar songs are songs that get the patrons singing and laughing. Songs like “Sweet Caroline”, “Mony Mony”, “Crazy Bitch”, “My Way”, “American Girl”, c’mon man what kinda weird ass bars do you hang out in?

  13. Bar song lists are a dime a dozen, hence this list of songs ABOUT bars.

    jjackflash, feel free to write your own list and get back to us.

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