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 release||Song 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|
|1960||"Don't Smoke in Bed"||Nine Simone|
|1961||"Jet Song" from West Side Story||Russ Tamlyn and The Jets|
|1961||"Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"||Jimmy Dean|
|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||"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 Promenade||Sanda 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! 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||"Smoking Cigarettes"||Golden Earring|
|1974||"Workin' at the Car Wash Blues"||Jim Croce|
|1975||"Candy, Brandy and a Carton of Cigarettes"||Lou Carter|
|1977||"Flick the Bic"||Rick Dees|
|1977||"Lipstick Traces"||Jimmie Peters|
|1978||"A Beer and a Cigarette"||Terraplane|
|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|
|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|
|1992||"Cigarette Ashes on the Floor"||Miki Howard|
|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.
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.
▌ B. LEE COOPER
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.