The wisdom of pop songs – odes to wine

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
wine 1
Would you like to taste it, Sir? Or just hurl it down your neck?

Drinking is a significant part of the rock’n’roll lifestyle and songwriters like to tell us about it.  In the early days they had an obsession with sweet wine, which is understandable, because wine was considered a sophisticated drink, but in many countries people didn’t know much about it and their tastes were not as sophisticated as their ambitions.

While the French and the Italians might have known a thing or two because it was part of their culture, in the UK (and, I suspect, the US) all people could relate to was what would now be considered dessert wines: Sauternes and so on are smooth and sweet and as such more attractive to the unrefined palate.

Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, a hit for both Jimmie Rodgers and Frankie Vaughan in the late 1950s, was written by the American folk group The Weavers. As it is only a song lyric, there is little point in wondering whether the lady’s kisses actually tasted sweeter than wine (and if so, sweeter than sweet wine or dry wine?) or if it was the feelings associated with the kisses that were sweet in the emotional sense.

wine 3
With your own winery, there’s no more late night trips to the booze shop

In these politically correct and health-conscious days, there is no place for a song that promotes excessive alcohol intake, such as Mario Lanza’s Drink Drink Drink, from The Student Prince, but then that’s not rock’n’roll anyway – and it’s not about wine. It was a hearty, back-slapping, rousing  show tune from the days when men were men and women were nervous, and the lusty young studs were egging each other on to inevitable drunken oblivion with steins of German beer, while celebrating the girls who were to be the recipients of their boozy overtures later, if they were still sober enough to manage it.

While the demon drink took its toll on some of music’s biggest names from Bill Haley to George Jones, others made it part of the act. Dean Martin had a sizeable hit with Little Old Wine Drinker Me.

wine 4
Old Pink Eyes is back

I am indebted to  the fiercely independent Modern Drunkard magazine for information about Thunderbird wine, made by the American  company that is now E & J Gallo. This was cheap stuff that came in a screwcap bottle (now respectable but at that time denoting “bum wine” ideal for getting bladdered on a park bench, or at home if you were posh).

In his tribute to a rock’n’roll legend, Sweet Gene Vincent, Ian Dury wondered aloud:

Shall I mourn your decline
With some Thunderbird wine
And a black handkerchief?

Former  Bob Dylan cohorts The Band, who went on to fully-fledged stardom themselves with songs reflecting life from the old-time working class man’s point of view, delivered one the alcoholic’s most ill-advised retorts to his nagging woman with:

You just ain’t as sweet as my strawberry wine

Tragically, Richard Manuel, one of their three lead singers (although he didn’t sing this one) was downing five bottles of Grand Marnier a day before he eventually hanged himself.

In 1966 at least some people could see that drinking wasn’t without its consequences. The Greenwoods had a worldwide hit with a song supposedly sung by a little girl to the local bar owner:

Please don’t sell my daddy no more wine, no more wine
Mama don’t want him drinking all the time
Please don’t sell my daddy no more wine, no more wine
He may be no good, but he’s still mine

wine 5
Yes, but LILAC- are you sure?

In the rock world, good sense and sobriety are just not considered cool, though, and odes to the fermented grape continued, with the likes of Red Red Wine, written by Neil Diamond and a huge hit decades later for British reggae band UB40.

An old song from 1950, Lilac Wine, may have been another product of someone who didn’t know much about alcoholic beverages, but it served many artists well, with successful versions by everyone from Nina Simone and Elkie Brooks to Miley Cyrus and John Legend. Might be a bit much on its own, but maybe okay in a cocktail.

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