Nobody’s singing about getting their heart broken in Nashville anymore, they’re singing about their hangovers.
If there’s one song in the alcohol-soaked history of country music that tells it how it is, it’s Merle Haggard’s 1966 hit, “Bottle Let Me Down.” The title describes the tragic moment when the alcoholic bottoms out and admits the booze just doesn’t work anymore.
Haggard, who died last month at 79 of causes unrelated to alcoholism, would be the first to admit he was drawing on his own experiences as a drunk. And although it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest Haggard had anything more in mind than a sad song when he sat down to write it, it’s still an excellent piece of songwriting.
In two simple verses and a repeated chorus, Haggard describes the tragedy of alcoholism. In his unmistakable Okie drawl — oft imitated yet never bested — Haggard laments the failure of his nightly drinking session to kill the pain of a lost love. He simply can’t drink enough to forget.
As the verse lifts into the chorus, he repeats his sadness and he croons his belief that the one “true friend he’d found” couldn’t help squash the memory of his departed lover.
In the second chorus, he sings of his recent his uptick of the number of daytime drinking bouts. Again, alcohol fails to shield him from the tragedy of lost love. The wine, he says, has just stopped working.
These woozy laments have been around since cowboys started strumming tunes out on the range. But it’s interesting to note the change in attitudes to drinking in country music over the course of the last 30 years. Nobody’s singing about their heart broken in Nashville anymore, they’re singing about their hangovers…
For a closer look at the attitude changes when it comes to alcohol-themed country music, check out the rest of the original feature article, There’s a Tear in My Beer: Alcoholism in Country Music, over at The Fix.