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Music, Drugs and the Songs they were written for in the 1970s

The 1970s were a transformative period of time for music and culture. New sounds, attitudes, and experiences emerged in response to the tumultuous world around us. The years following the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, sexual revolution, and other social upheavals brought forth new subcultures, ideas, and sounds that are still influencing our world today. Innovative artists experimented with new genres and themes in response to their surroundings. The influence of drugs on musicians increased during this time period as well. Many musicians explored LSD (acid), cocaine (coke), heroin, mescaline (peyote), and other psychedelic substances during this time period as a way to expand their creativity. This article covers the history of drugs in music in the 1970s including famous examples from The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”

The Beatles: “Yellow Submarine” and the Importance of Drugs in Music

The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” was released as a single in 1966 and included in the album Revolver in August of that year. The song has been interpreted as a psychedelic narrative about a journey through the human psyche. Many believe that the song references the British band’s experiences with the hallucinogenic drug LSD. The “Yellow Submarine” was also a cartoon movie released in 1968. The psychedelic film was directed by the British animator and film producer, George Dunning. The animation of the film is a precursor to the psychedelic music movement of the late 1960s. It references the use of drugs in music and culture during this time period.

The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St.

The Rolling Stones’ album, Exile on Main St., was released in 1972 and is considered to be one of the best albums in rock history. The album was an exploration of the band members’ experiences touring and living in the United States. The title of the album is a reference to the band’s French exile after being arrested for drugs in 1967. The Rolling Stones used drugs as a creative tool during the recording of the album. The album covers the experience of living in the United States during the psychedelic movement. The album includes songs about psychedelic themes including “Torn and Frayed” and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”.

Led Zeppelin: “Stairway to Heaven” and Drugs in Music

The Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven” was released in 1971 and is considered one of the greatest rock songs in history. The song was written by the band’s guitarist, Jimmy Page. The song is a metaphor for exploring one’s spirituality through drugs. The song references the use of LSD, opium, and marijuana. The lyrics suggest that listeners should “let your fish swim upstream” and “watch where you’re diving, ’cause to you it’s all pleasure.” The song has been widely celebrated and criticized for its references to drugs and use of the term “fish” which is a common slang term for marijuana.

Elton John: Rocket Man and Drug References in Music

Elton John is one of the best-selling artists of all time and the record holder for most number one albums on the Billboard charts. He is also one of the most commercially successful musicians to reference drugs in his music. John’s hit single and title track, “Rocket Man,” was released in 1972 and references the use of drugs in music. The song suggests that the narrator is “losing control” and “using drugs.” John’s songs have frequently referenced drugs including “Crocodile Rock,” “I Am Your Soldier,” “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),” and “Yellow Brick Road.” John has openly discussed his past struggles and use of drugs. He has spoken candidly about his use of cocaine, LSD, and other drugs.

Janis Joplin: Piece of My Heart and Drug References in Music

Janis Joplin, known as the Queen of Rock, was a musician who used drugs in music and was responsible for some of the most popular songs of the decade. Her hit single, “Piece of My Heart,” was released in October 1968 and remains one of the most iconic songs of the psychedelic era. Joplin’s song “Piece of My Heart” references the use of drugs in music and culture. The song suggests that the narrator’s “life is shattered” and “pieces of my heart are scattered,” which may reference a breakup or a drug overdose.


The 1970s were a time of experimentation for musicians and their use of drugs during this time period. Artists used drugs as a creative tool to expand their musical ideas and themes. The use of drugs in music in the 1970s is tied to the social and political upheaval of the time period. The cultural and recreational use of drugs was increasing during this period. Drug use in music was not new in the 1970s but it was tied to the decade’s increased use of drugs in society. Drug references in music continue to be a common theme in modern music with artists referencing drugs like LSD, cocaine, and marijuana.