Cigarettes

Warning: cigarettes are bad for you. Some of the songs below glamorize smoking, making it sound very cool, and even suggesting that it could enhance your charm, and thus your chances for romance. However, there’s no scientific evidence that this is true.

Laureen Bacall

Laureen Bacall, sublime smoker

Patsy Cline: Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray (1957)

Patsy ClineOne of the reasons I love Country music is that sometimes it features amazing visual images. A good example is Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue♾ by Crystal Gayle (she’s also known for her hair, over 1 meter long in this video). Another one is Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray, a tragedy in two tiny verses:

Two cigarettes in an ashtray, my love and I in a small cafe.
Then a stranger came along, and everything went wrong.
Now there’s three cigarettes in the ashtray.

I watched her take him from me, and his love is no longer my own. Now they are gone, and I sit alone, and watch one cigarette burn away.

This song is included in Patsy Cline‘s debut album, self titled. It would be one of the only three she recorded before her premature death in a plane crash (at 32, in 1963). But to this day, if you sing Country music, Cline’s rich voice, her perfect delivery and the ability to evoke drama in a cool, understated way, are still a benchmark.

Patsy Cline: Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray
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Otis Redding: Cigarettes and Coffee (1966)

Otis ReddingThe ’60s were a complex time for African-American music. Mainstream Pop was dominated by white performers (often singing black music), and the only acceptable formula for black acts was Soul/R’n’B, in the vein of Motown/Stax. There are some exceptions to this rule, artists that managed to cross over: Jimi Hendrix is a good example, Ike & Tina are another, and so is Otis Redding. He was so confident, he dared to cover a Rolling Stones song – Satisfaction – at the (mostly white) Monterey Pop Festival in 1967♾, just a few months before his premature death at 26 (also in a plane crash). But of course he created unforgettable classic Soul music as well, like this seminal tune where he explores the simple pleasures of romantic love:

People, I say it’s so early in the morning, oh, it’s a quarter till three.
We’re sittin’ here talkin’ over cigarettes and drinking coffee, now, lord.
And I’ll like to show you, well I’ve known nothing but good old joy since I met you, darling.
Honey since I’ve met you, baby yeah I would love to have another drink of coffee, now.
And please, darling, help me smoke this one more cigarette now,
I don’t want no cream and sugar ’cause I’ve got you, now darling.

Otis Redding: Cigarettes and Coffee
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Brownsville Station: Smokin’ In the Boys Room (1973)

Rock’n’Roll High SchoolNowadays smoking is prohibited almost everywhere, and it makes sense in order to protect other people. But if you look at the history of Prohibition, you’ll notice that it is seldom a deterrent, and that often it makes doing things more exciting. Case in point, Smokin’ In the Boys Room*:

Sitting in the classroom thinking it’s a drag
Listening to the teacher rap just ain’t my bag
The noon bells ring you know that’s my cue
I’m gonna meet the boys on floor number two!

Smokin’ in the boys room – Smokin’ in the boys room
Now, teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules
But everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.

And that’s precisely why it’s so cool. So much so that the song was a hit (the band’s only) in ’73, it was predictably included in the soundtrack of Rock’n’Roll High School (1979)  and it charted again in 1985, thanks to this forgettable cover♾ (and cheesy videoclip) by Mötley Crüe.

Brownsville Station: Smokin' In the Boys Room
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*Full disclosure: that’s where I started smoking too.

Tex Williams: Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) (1947)

Interestingly, just before the global crackdown on Nicotine in the 1980/90s, Big Tobacco companies still questioned about Nicotine addiction and the health hazards of smoking. But those were very well known facts. So much so that Tex Williams and Merle Travis wrote Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) as early as 1947. It belongs to a minor but delightful variation of the genre, called Western Swing. Williams’ Talking Blues (which is to Country music what Rap is to Funk) flows brilliantly, and the lyrics are stingy:

Now I’m a fellow with a heart of gold, with the ways of a gentleman I’ve been told,
A kind of a fellow that wouldn’t even harm a flea.
But if me and a certain character met, that guy that invented the cigarette,
I’d murder that son of a gun in the first degree.

It ain’t that I don’t smoke myself, and I don’t reckon they’ll injure your health,
I’ve smoked ’em all my life and I ain’t dead yet.
But nicotine slaves are all the same, at a pheasant party or a poker game,
Everythin’s gotta stop when they have that cigarette.

Smoke smoke smoke that cigarette
Puff puff puff, and if you smoke yourself to death
Tell St Peter at the Golden Gate that you hate to make him wait
But you just gotta have another cigarette.

This Novelty tune was covered by a number of artists, including Willie Nelson and Sammy Davis, jr.


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Runner-ups

Jim Jarmusch: Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere In California (1993)  This short film features a conversation between Tom Waits and Iggy Pop (mostly about coffee and cigarettes). It would later be included in the feature-length Coffee and Cigarettes (2003). Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere In California won the Golden Palm at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival for best short.

kd lang

k. d. lang must have a complex relationship with smoking. Throughout her career she’s sung a number of Nicotine songs, including Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray♾ (1987, with The Reclines), I’m Down to My Last Cigarette♾ (1988), Love Is Like a Cigarette☊ (written by Duke Ellington), Smoke Dreams☊ and Don’t Smoke In Bed☊ (all from her 1997 album Drag: “Most of its songs feature a smoking motif, although some address broader issues of dependence and/or addiction”).

Bing Crosby: Two Cigarettes In The Dark☊ (1934) A relic from a time when smoking was simply very cool (and yet another striking visual image).

MIranda Lambert: Me And Your Cigarettes☊ (2009) Smoking is bad – and so is Miranda: Started young it’s too late to quit, most call it a bad, bad habit. Your mama told you, you could end up dead, with me, me and your cigarettes.

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