Music, Popular

views updated

Music, Popular

The heritage of cigarette imagery and tobacco themes in American music is long standing. Long before Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man appeared on 1990s billboards, there were televised chants ("Call for Phillip Morris!"), dancing girls garbed in Old Gold cigarette packs, catchy radio acronyms ("L.S.M.F.T.—Lucky Strike means fine tobacco!"), and often-repeated advertising phrases ("So round, so firm, so fully packed—so free and easy on the draw"). Just as Old Gold sponsored "Your Hit Parade," the "Camel Caravan of Musical Stars" was led on tour by Vaughn Monroe and His Royal Canadians.

The pre–World War II period featured a variety of tobacco tunes. Hit songs included "Let's Have Another Cigarette" by the Benny Goodman Orchestra, "Love Is Like a Cigarette" by Duke Ellington, "One Cigarette for Two" by Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" by Bing Crosby, "Weed Smoker's Dream" by the Harlem Hamfats, and "While a Cigarette Was Burning" by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. After World War II songsmiths and recording artists promulgated the most remarkable spectrum of audio images concerning cigarette smoking.

Smoking Themes Reflected in Popular Music

Since smoking is a personal habit, it is hardly surprising that many songs depict the activity as a time of individual relaxation and private reverie. Comfortable memories glow like embers on a cigarette ash. Whether alone blowing "Smoke Rings" and contemplating "My Cigarette and I," or waiting impatiently in "Smoky Places" for someone who may say "Let's Have a Cigarette Together," a smoker tries to be at ease. The 1957 Fred Waring recording of "A Cigarette, Sweet Music, and You" captures the romantic theme. Still positive, but much more assertive and challenging, are youthful smokers like "Charlie Brown," who vent their cynicism about school rules and adult authority figures by "Smokin' in the Boys' Room."

The most frequently illustrated feelings of individuals who smoke alone are attitudes of melancholy and sadness. "Cigarettes of a Single Man," "Share with Me a Lonely Cigarette," and "Smoking My Sad Cigarette" are laments to better times. The same sentiments of despair pervade "Cigarettes and Coffee Blues," "Coffee, Cigarettes, and Tears," and "I'm Down to My Last Cigarette." The rolled tobacco tube is imaged as a consoling companion, the same way that one's own reflection is treated in songs like "My Echo, My Shadow, and Me" and "Me and My Shadow." The recent loss of a loved one is symbolized in Benny Spellman's haunting "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)."

More difficult problems facing an individual smoker appear to stem from social stigma, self-deception, and self-ridicule. Addiction to nicotine is usually not understood by nonsmoking friends or family members. Excessive use of tobacco and the corollary compulsion to interrupt ongoing conversations, card games, or even romantic encounters is often puzzling, frustrating, and annoying. Although Paula Abdul maintains that "Opposites Attract," the reality is that former smokers and nonsmokers often find chain-smoking habits to be incomprehensible. Heartfelt and humorous commentaries on cigarette use are found in "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," "Trying to Live My Life Without You," and "Smoke Smoke Smoke (But Not Around Me)." The latter song, which hit the airwaves in the 1960s, appears to be a precursor to the passive smoking or secondhand smoke arguments that gained prominence during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The frustration of a smoker who genuinely wants to terminate association with the so-called "evil weed" is revealed in many songs. Once again, solitary reflection is usually the setting, with lyrics that feature hostility born of a genuine love/hate relationship. Jimmy Martin concedes "I Can't Quit Cigarettes." Jerry Reed takes "Another Puff" while debating when to stop. Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson look for "Reasons to Quit." And Jim Nesbitt finally acknowledges, "I Love Them Nasty Cigarettes." Helplessness abounds. Stern advice that seems reasonable: If you want to quit, don't ever start.

Tobacco use is also a cultural phenomenon. The notion of being trapped in an isolated, single-crop economy American town has provided lyrical material for such diverse artists as Roy Clark, Jamul, the Nashville Teens, and Lou Rawls. The early 1960s song "Tobacco Road" is a challenge to the freedom and individual spirit more than to the addictive nature of cigarettes. Location and setting are also defined by poor air quality in many tunes. Bars, saloons, juke joints, and basement cabarets are illustrated in "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music," "Hangin' Out in Smoky Places," and "Smoky Places." The Corsairs' 1961 version of the latter song depicts a secret affair that can only be carried on in a dark, cloudy venue. A more humorous acknowledgment of enforced tobacco isolation is Helltrout's 1990 recording "Smoking Lounge."

Social settings blend easily into workplaces. Occupational associations with tobacco use may be either voluntary or involuntary. Billy Joel's "Piano Man" cannot control the smoky atmosphere he encounters during his club's Happy Hours. But many workers treasure the opportunity to take a smoke break, like the young female model in Van Morrison's "Blue Money." The western image of casual, roll-your-own tobacco use is featured in "The Cowboy's Serenade (While Smoking My Last Cigarette)" of 1941 and "The Gambler" of 1978. For the long-distance trucker, however, nicotine is just one of several over-the-counter drugs used to sustain lengthy periods of boring highway coverage. Jerry Reed pleads this case in "Caffeine, Nicotine, and Benzedrine (And Wish Me Luck)." Finally, Jim Croce lionizes a southern racetrack hero known for rolling his pack of cigarettes into his T-shirt sleeve. This hard-driving man is "Rapid Roy the Stockcar Boy." From bartenders to those behind bars, there are numerous settings where

Year of releaseSong title (record number)Performing artist(s)
1947"Cigareetes, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild, Women"Sons of the Pioneers
1947"Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"Tex Williams
1948"Cigarette Song (Always Grabbing Someone's Butt)"Larry Vincent
1948"Don't Smoke in Bed"Peggy Lee
1948"Coffee, Cigarettes, and Tears"Larks
1952"Coffee and Cigarettes"Johnny Ray
1952"Smoke Rings"Les Paul and Mary Ford
1953"Smoking My Sad Cigarette"Jo Stafford
1955"Smoke From Your Cigarette"Billy Williams Quartet
1956"Smoke Another Cigarette"Harry Revel
1956"While a Cigarette Was Burning"Patti Page
1957"Ashtrays for Two"Bob Crosby
1957"Share with Me a Lonely Cigarette"Daniel DeCarlo
1957"Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray"Patsy Cline
1957"A Cigarette, Sweet Music, and You"Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians
1958"Cigarettes and Coffee Blues"Lefty Frizzell
1958"Got a Match?"Frank Gallop
1958"Let's Have a Cigarette Together"Vaughn Monroe
1959"Charlie Brown"Coasters
1960"Don't Smoke in Bed"Nine Simone
1961"Cigarettes"Yaffa Yarkoni
1961"Jet Song" from West Side StoryRuss Tamlyn and The Jets
1961"Saved"LaVerne Baker
1961"Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"Jimmy Dean
1961"Smoky Places"Corsairs
1962"Cigarette Gil"Bob Peck
1962"Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)"Benny Spellman
1962"Twenty Cigarettes"Little Jimmy Dickens
1962"When You Smoke Tobacco"Ernie Sheldon
1963"Cigarettes and Coffee Blues"Marty Robbins
1963"Cigareetes, Whusky, and Wild, Wild Women"Johnny Nash
1963"Smoke Rings"Sam Cooke
1964"Down to My Last Cigarette"Billy Walker
1964"My Cigarette and I"J's with Jamie
1964"Smoke from Your Cigarette"Drake Sisters
1965"Cigarettes and Whiskey"Sammy Jackson
1965"Get Off of My Cloud"Rolling Stones
1965"King of the Road"Roger Miller
1965"Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)"O'Jays
1965"Smoke, Drink, Play 21"Tony Williams
1966"Cigarettes and Coffee"Otis Redding
1966"I Can't Quit Cigarettes"Jimmy Martin
1966"Tobacco"George Hamilton IV
1967"Cigarette Ashes"Ed Henry
1967"One Little Packet of Cigarettes"Herman's Hermits
1968"Cigarette"Mike Stewart
1968"May I Light Your Cigarette"Beacon Street Union
1968"Smoke, Smoke, Smoke -'68"Tex Williams
1969"Cigarette Smoking"Brother Sammy Shore
1969"The Cigarette Song" from PromenadeSanda Schaeffer, Ty Connell, and Gilbert Price
1969"Smoke Smoke Smoke (But Not Around Me)"Grandpa Jones
1970"Cigarette Grubber"Sam Taylor, Jr.
1971"Blue Money"Van Morrison
1971"Cigarette Blues"Roger Hubbard
1971"I Love Them Nasty Cigarettes"Jim Nesbitt
1972"Another Puff"Jerry Reed
1972"Tobacco, White Lightning, and Women Blues, No.2"Buck Owens
1973"Smoke"Roger Cook
1973"Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
1973"Smokin' in the Boys' Room"Brownsville Station
1974"Cigarettes and Muskatel Wine"Little Joe Cale
1974"Fool for a Cigarette"Ry Cooder
1974"Should I Smoke"Badfinger
1974"Smokin' Room"Rufus
1974"Smoking Cigarettes"Golden Earring
1974"Workin' at the Car Wash Blues"Jim Croce
1975"Candy, Brandy and a Carton of Cigarettes"Lou Carter
1976"Smokin"'Keith Hudson
1977"Flick the Bic"Rick Dees
1977"Lipstick Traces"Jimmie Peters
1978"A Beer and a Cigarette"Terraplane
1978"Cigarettes"City Boy
1978"The Gambler"Kenny Rogers
1978"Smoke Rings and Wine"Ralph MacDonald
1979"You Burn Me Up-I'm a Cigarette"Robert Fripp
1981"Caffeine, Nicotine, Benzedrine (and Wish Me Luck)"Jerry Reed
1981"Smokin' and Drinkin"'James Brown
1981"Tryin' to Live My Life Without You"Bob Seger
1983"A Beer and a Cigarette"Hanoi Rocks
1983"Reasons to Quit"Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
1984"Cigarette Head"Hype
1985"Cigarettes"Full Nelson
1985"Smokin' in the Boys' Room"Motley Crue
1986"Smoke Rings"Laurie Anderson
1986"Cigarettes of a Single Man"Squeeze
1987"No Smokin"'Todd Rundgren
1988"I'm Down to My Last Cigarette"k.d. lang
1988"Love Is Like a Cigarette"Kip Hanrahan
1988"Smoke Another Cigarette"Toll
1989"Cigarette in the Rain"Randy Crawford
1989"Opposites Attract"Paula Abdul
1989"Pack 'O Smokes"Prisonshake
1990"Cigarette Breath"Shinehead
1990"Smoking Lounge"Helltrout
1992"Ashtray"Screeching Weasel
1992"Cigarette Ashes on the Floor"Miki Howard
1992"Smokers"Cancer Moon
1993"Three on a Match"Mickey Finn

cigarettes are so ubiquitous that notions of "smoke-free" environments are laughable.

One might consider a match, a lighter, or an ashtray to be the most logical accompanying elements to cigarette use. Lyrically, this assumption is only partially accurate. Recordings highlighting smoking equipment include "Ashtray," "Ashtrays for Two," "Flick the Bic," "Got a Match," "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray," and "Three on a Match." However, the items most frequently linked with a smoker's activity tend to be coffee and alcohol. Failure to note that addictive behavior toward nicotine is often associated with surrender to other nonprescription drugs is a frequent error among tobacco apologists. Lyricists are not so gullible. The chain-smoker/alcoholic personality is depicted, often tongue-in-cheek, in the following tunes: "A Beer and a Cigarette," "Candy, Brandy, and a Carton of Cigarettes," "Cigareetes, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild Women," "Cigarettes and Coffee," "Cigarettes and Muscatel Wine," "Cigarettes and Whiskey," "Smoke, Drink, and Play 21," "Smoke Rings and Wine," "Smokin' and Drinkin'," and "Tobacco, White Lightning, and Women Blues, No. 2." Two more extreme tobacco and drug use songs are "Dope Smokin' Moron" by the Replacements and "My Mom Smokes Pot" by the Lookouts.

Smoking Slang and Metaphor

The seemingly endless list of pejorative slang terms that relate to smoking provide a roomful of gallows humor. From terms like "butt," "cancer stick," and "evil weed" to "fag," "gasper," and "coffin nail," the cigarette is an object of linguistic condemnation and ridicule. Comedians have jumped on the lyrical bandwagon to satirize, mock, and degrade the smoking habit. Bob Peck threatens to put his "Cigarette Girl" into a flip-top box (coffin) if she doesn't stop smoking. Larry Vincent's "Cigarette Song" condemns a cheap colleague who is described as always grabbing someone's butt. Mooching behavior is also chided by Sam Taylor, Jr. in "Cigarette Grubber." Phil Harris attacks compulsive nicotine pursuit in "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" and Tex Williams extends this same joke in "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke—'68." Recorded comedy sketches by Steve Martin ("Smokin'") and Brother Sammy Shore ("Cigarette Smokin'") attack the society that permits self-inflicted vaporous suicide. Other less caustic, more offbeat jabs at cigarette use include "Got a Match?," "Nick Teen and Al K. Hall," "Smokin' in Bed," and "You Burn Me Up—I'm a Cigarette."

Native American Influences

Many smoking terms have been borrowed from the Native American culture and adapted to popular songs. Beyond references to calumets (highly ornamented ceremonial pipes), numerous illustrations of cultural and socioeconomic distinctions are lodged in smoking songs. These themes include poverty ("King of the Road"), prison life ("Twenty Cigarettes"), daydreaming ("Workin' at the Car Wash Blues"), urban gangs ("The Jet Song"), and the Salvation Army ("Saved"). Often, lyrics depict cigarette use as a code that identifies stratified ranks in society.

Beyond Cigarettes

Tobacco products other than cigarettes are featured in popular lyrics as well. "Chew Tobacco Rag" by Arthur Smith honors chewing tobacco. But the dominant option in recordings is not smokeless tobacco, but the cigar. Although once the comic physical trademark of Groucho Marx, the honor of singing about "A Real Good Cigar" was reserved for comedian George Burns. Cigar songs are few in number, unencumbered by associated addictions, and generally upbeat. In addition to "Working at the Carwash Blues," songs that laud cigars include "Cigar Eddie," "Have a Cigar," "A Man Smoking a Cigar," and "There Goes a Cigar Smoking Man."

See Also Film; Literature; Visual Arts.



Cooper, B. Lee. "Processing Health Care Images from Popular Culture Resources: Physicians, Cigarettes, and Medical Metaphors in Contemporary Recordings." Popular Music and Society 17 (Winter 1993): 105–124.

Cooper, B. Lee, and William L. Schurk. "Smokin' Songs: Examining Tobacco Use as an American Cultural Phenomenon through Contemporary Lyrics." International Journal of Instructional Media 21 (1994): 261–268.

Klein, Richard. Cigarettes Are Sublime. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.

Koop, C. Everett. Foreword to Merchants of Death: The American Tobacco Industry. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1988.

About this article

Music, Popular

Updated About content Print Article