The pairing of alcohol and romance has a very long history, mostly centered around wine. According to Aerie’s Resort (a winery-with-a-roller-coaster in Grafton, Illinois): “In ancient Rome. . . wine was also associated with love and romance, and it was believed that drinking wine could help to bring couples closer together. The tradition of giving wine as a gift to a loved one dates back to ancient Rome, where it was common to present a bottle of wine to a lover as a symbol of affection. In the Middle Ages, wine became associated with the feast of Saint Valentine, which was celebrated on February 14th. It was believed that Saint Valentine was a patron saint of love and that drinking wine on this day would bring good luck and happiness in love.”
The romance began to fray during the 19th century when it became unfashionable for women to be seen drinking in public. Women found ways to get around that Victorian restriction by imbibing in private settings such as the snugs of early 19th century England or by guzzling “patent medicines” in the privacy of their own homes. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, drinking became disassociated from romance in the United States thanks to the temperance movement. The saloon had largely become a breeding ground for toxic masculinity and women who were getting tired of their men getting shit-faced and then beating the shit out of them when they came home wanted to rid the country of the scourge of alcohol.
Somehow the do-gooders gained enough power to pass the 18th Amendment in 1917, launching the era of Prohibition; a few years later, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. The combination of new-found power and the irresistible temptation of a now illegal substance dovetailed with the general loosening of morals following WWI and the Spanish Flu epidemic, and the drinking establishment known as the speakeasy became the go-to place for adventurous romantics of both sexes. The new normal spread across the world over the following decades, and with enthusiastic support from the movie studios, drinking and smoking at bars and nightclubs became a crucial part of the mating ritual for the glamorous and wannabe-glamorous.
Any human activity eventually gets translated into song, and many songsmiths have applied their talents to celebrating or condemning alcohol in old folk songs and in popular music. I’d always found the connection between booze and romance fascinating, and one day when I was listening to Sinatra, I heard him sing that gorgeous line from “Come Fly with Me”: “If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay.” I decided right then and there I wanted to do a Song Series on boozy love songs and selected two I’d always wanted to review. I felt I needed two more, so I embarked on some research.
Alas, when I visited the Wikipedia page Category: Songs About Alcohol and made my way through their offerings, I learned that there really aren’t that many boozy love songs. There are a lot of party songs, plenty of my-baby-left-me-so-I’m-going-to-get-hammered songs, a plethora of songs about demon alcohol and several depicting one-night-stands that rarely end well. I found hundreds of songs about alcohol, but surprisingly few made the love connection I was looking for.
Well, there was “Cigarettes and Alcohol,” but that’s about life’s necessities.
Refusing to concede defeat, I changed my approach slightly from a scholarly study of the liquor-love pairing to a presentation of my favorite boozy love songs. However (pulls out karaoke mic), “I’ve gotta be me/What else could I be?” so I felt the need to do some historical research and found what I think is the first serious attempt at a song that celebrates booze, love and . . . watery American beer.
Billy Murray – “Under the Anheuser Bush”
One of the first recordings celebrating the lubricating power of alcohol was commissioned by the Anheuser-Busch company back in 1903 and put to disk by one Billy Murray the following year. Never heard of Billy Murray? Well, according to Variety, Billy was the best-selling recording artist of the first quarter of the 20th Century, with sales estimated at over 300 million records. Variety further described Billy as the world’s first recording slut:
Perhaps outranking all, pop or longhair, is the late Billy Murray who disked between 6,000 and 10,000 different recordings, under a multiple array of noms-de-disk that threatened to exhaust the alphabet, and whose sales total may have reached the gross of 300,000,000. Because of Murray’s prolific and devil-may-care thrushing into the wax at the drop of a flat fee the true count of his multiple pseudonyms and/or sales totals probably will never be known.
Billy left out a verse, probably because he had to rush off to another recording session. Here are the truncated lyrics, with apologies to lyricist Andrew B. Sterling:
Talk about the shade of the sheltering palms.
Praise the bamboo tree and its wide-spreading charms
There’s a little bush that grows right here in town.
You know its name. It has won such renown.
Often with my sweetheart, just after the play,
To this little place then my footsteps will stray.
If she hesitates when she looks at the sign,
Softly I whisper, “Now Sue, don’t decline.”
Come, come, come and make eyes with me,
Under the Anheuser Bush.
Come, come drink some “Budwise” with me,
Under the Anheuser Bush.
Hear the old German band . . .
Just let me hold your hand. Ja!
Do, do, come and have a stein or two,
Under the Anheuser Bush. (2)
There are two possible interpretations of the crucial lines, “If she hesitates when she looks at the sign, Softly I whisper, ‘Now Sue, don’t decline.'” The first is almost a gimme: Sue hesitates because she’s been programmed to believe that women should never be seen in a drinking establishment of any kind. My alternative take is that Billy Murray was the first guy in history to try out the “get her drunk and fuck her” ruse.
The real problem I have with the song is that I don’t think beer is particularly suited for romantic encounters. During my many years on the bar scene, I always avoided guys who drank beer because I wanted to avoid the ickiness of having a guy belch in my face during a fuck and I didn’t want to deal with a guy who couldn’t keep it up because he had to piss every fifteen minutes.
I hope that the pair made eyes with each other and then went their separate ways.
Don Ho – “Tiny Bubbles”
I may have been born too late to see all the great concerts at the Fillmore and Winterland that my parents rave about, but I wasn’t born too late to see Don Ho live and in person at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel in Honolulu! After graduating from college, I decided to celebrate by paying my first visit to the 50th state, accompanied by my squeeze at the time. We spent three days in Maui then hustled over to Oahu, mainly to see Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. One morning we visited the USS Arizona memorial, which left us both in a very somber mood. “Hey, why don’t we go see Don Ho?” suggested my companion, desperately trying to shift the vibes so he could bang me later. “You’re kidding,” I said, secretly thinking “Shit, I’ve got another loser on my hands.” “C’mon, it’ll be fun!” I reluctantly agreed and he immediately departed to hunt down tickets.
When we arrived at the venue, I noticed that we were easily the youngest people in the joint, but we lucked out and sat next to a nice retired couple from Minnesota on their first trip to Hawaii. “I’ve wanted to come to Hawaii ever since I saw Elvis in Blue Hawaii,” said the wife. I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t seen the movie, so I told her I was inspired by Hawaii Five-O and she found that delightful. Up to that point, I’d never seen an episode of Hawaii-Five-O in my life, but I had to say something.
Anyway, after a couple of mai tais, Don Ho made his appearance and I was immediately mesmerized by his warm baritone. His manner was relaxed, warm and friendly and he really knew how to work the crowd. I had the distinct impression that the setlist was well-worn and at least half the audience had seen him a gazillion times because they nailed the audience call-and-response parts of “Pearly Shells” with respectful enthusiasm.
And of course, he brought the house down with “Tiny Bubbles.”
I found out later that towards the end of his lengthy run he closed one performance of his signature song by saying, “God, I hate that song,” an understandable reaction after thousands of performances. “Tiny Bubbles” was originally written for (who else?) Lawrence Welk, but the Champagne Music Master turned it down.
What I love about “Tiny Bubbles” is the absence of any hint that the singer is indulging in a guilty pleasure. “Tiny bubbles in the wine make me feel happy, make me feel fine.” The booze also makes him more willing to show his tender, poetic side:
So here’s to the golden moonAnd here’s to the silver sea And mostly here’s a toast To you and me
All I know is this: Don Ho’s warm and steady baritone completely transformed my mood and I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel so I could give my squeeze a fuck he’ll never forget.
The Kingston Trio – “Scotch and Soda”
Here’s the weird thing about “Scotch and Soda.” Nobody knows who wrote it.
Granted, it wasn’t much of a hit, peaking at #81 on the Billboard charts. Still, you’d think that someone would have come forward to pick up a few royalty dollars.
Oh yeah, there’s another weird thing. Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio stumbled upon the song because he was dating Tom Seaver’s sister:
“Scotch and Soda” was discovered by the Trio through the parents of the baseball player Tom Seaver, who had first heard it in a hotel piano lounge in 1932 when on their honeymoon in Phoenix, Arizona. They liked it so much that they had the piano player write it down for them so it would be “their song.” One member of the trio (Dave Guard) was dating Seaver’s older sister (Katie) at that time, and heard the song on a visit to the Seaver home. Although it is credited to Guard (he had it copyrighted in his name on March 30, 1959), the trio never discovered the real songwriter’s name, though they searched for years. (Wikipedia)
I think the author of the article should have shown more respect and written “Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver who pitched the Miracle Mets to their first World Series championship” instead of the mediocre phrase “baseball player,” but that’s just the passionate baseball fan jabbering away.
It makes sense that Dave Guard would have been attracted to the song given he was the only member of the Kingston Trio with any kind of training in music theory. “Scotch and Soda” features a fascinating mix of sixth and seventh chords that hover around the C major root frequently enough to delay resolution, hinting at roots in blues and jazz. And though I’m well aware that the word “sexy” is a hard fit with “Kingston Trio,” the stripped-down arrangement of acoustic guitar and upright bass combines with Dave Guard’s husky, just-above-a-whisper “bedroom voice” to make “Scotch and Soda” a regular on my fuck playlists as a post-fuck slow dance number.
It obviously worked for Tom Seaver’s parents or Tom Seaver might have never been born.
The lyrics are interesting in that in the end, the singer claims he doesn’t need “scotch and soda” or a “dry martini” and a “jigger of gin” to get high. “All I need is one of your smiles/Sunshine of your eye.”
To which I would respond. “That’s sweet. Let’s fuck.”
Jimmy Buffett – “Why Don’t We Get Drunk?”
I was deeply sorry to hear about Jimmy Buffett’s passing because I became quite a fan of his work when I reviewed Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes. I learned that Jimmy was much more than the guy who sang “Margaritaville,” but a brilliant songwriter whose insights into human nature and American culture will certainly stand the test of time.
“Why Don’t We Get Drunk” is a send-up of country songs that dance around the topic of booze and sex without saying anything naughty. In the liner notes to the mega-compilation Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads, Jimmy explained how the song came about:
I was hearing a lot of very suggestive country songs—in particular, Norma Jean’s “Let’s Go All the Way”. I figured I would write a song that would leave no doubt in anybody’s mind. I thought back to a late night in an Atlanta diner where I was eating and watching this out-of-focus businessman trying to pick up a hooker. That’s all the inspiration I needed.
Due to the not-in-polite-company language, Jimmy used the pen name “Marvin Gardens.” Though the song did appear on the album A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean and as the B-side to “The Great Filling Station Holdup,” airplay was limited to underground music stations, but the song became a serious jukebox favorite and eventually a regular part of his live performances.
Jimmy gets right to the point in the opening verse:
I really do appreciate the fact you’re sittin’ hereYour voice sounds so wonderful But yer face don’t look too clear So barmaid bring a pitcher, another round o’ brew Honey, why don’t we get drunk and screw
Oh, how I love a smooth talker. On to the chorus:
Why don’t we get drunk and screwI just bought a waterbed, it’s filled up for me and you They say you are a snuff queen Honey I don’t think that’s true So, why don’t we get drunk and screw
Hmm. He kinda lost me with the waterbed, but I’ve heard from my parents that it was a popular erotic playpen back in the 70s. I fucked on a waterbed once and immediately wished I’d tucked a box of Dramamine in my purse before going out.
A “snuff queen” is the country music equivalent of a groupie, so in dismissing that accusation, it seems that Jimmy is looking for something more than a one-night stand. The request to “get drunk and screw” may seem abrupt, but the fact that he knew about the girl’s reputation tells us that he did some preliminary research before taking her out, while the “another round o’ brew” indicates that the request followed a lengthy conversation during which the pair learned a bit more about each other.
I guess since they’re both drinking beer they can forgive each other for any unintentional belches. I just hope Jimmy can keep it up long enough to give the girl a good time.
You may argue that “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” isn’t a love song and doesn’t belong in this series. I’ll admit that there’s not much in the way of sweet talk when compared to “Under the Anheuser Bush,” “Tiny Bubbles” and “Scotch and Soda,” but a lot of sweet talk is cliché bullshit and I appreciate it when a potential partner is clear about their wants and needs.
I think I mentioned that one of my dorm mates in college was a devout Christian who told me that she expected a future husband to slap her around from time to time to keep her in her place. One of the other beliefs she shared with me during a diatribe against pre-marital sex was that it was “wrong to have sex with a man if you don’t love him.”
I looked at her as if she was crazy and replied, “How am I going to know I love him if I don’t fuck him?”
I don’t think she ever spoke to me again.