"There are some songs which are never sung sober. "Nellie Dean" is one. So is any song beginning '"As I was a walking ...'"
A simple way to indicate that a person is drunk is to have them sing a drunken song. It may be bawdy
or weepily sentimental
, but it indicates inebriation even before you notice the slurred phrasing and lurching walk.
This was such a recurring trope in old British comedies that anyone who was drunk sang Nellie Dean
and anyone singing Nellie Dean
was drunk. It was useful cultural shorthand in the days before you could show a grown man pissing or puking in public.
See Ode to Intoxication
for songs about
- In an old Punch cartoon, the natives of a Pacific Island hear the strains of Nellie Dean echoing from the crater of the local volcano and comment, "The gods are drunk again".
- Constantine from Hellblazer tends to sing the bawdy kind when pissed out of his mind.
- Haddock and Tintin start singing a Belgian song after they get drunk off wine-fumes in The Crab with the Golden Claws.
- Milk & Cheese serenading an unfortunate Renaissance Fayre with their "Lusty Drinking Song". "Hear our Lusty Drinking Song! Blaah blaah blaah blaah! La la la, Drinking Song! Drinka-drinka Sonnnnnnggggg!"
- In Jaws the sailors bond over booze and "Show Me The Way To Go Home".
- Hellboy and Abe get drunk and sing Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
- In Pinocchio Foulfellow sings a drunken version of "An Actor's Life For Me."
- Dumbo's "We're Gonna Hit the Big Boss For a Raise."
- Pirates of the Caribbean — "A Pirate's Life For Me"
- And Gibbs singing "The Derelict" at the beginning of "Dead Man's Chest".
- Gaston's Villain Song from Beauty and the Beast has elements of this.
- Many Ealing comedies and similar, for example in The Bargee, Harry H Corbett is able to get out of his girlfriend's bed before her large, violent father gets home from the pub because he's singing Nellie Dean loudly.
- In Euro Trip, the American protagonists accidentally stumble into a private bar for burly, belligerent Manchester United fans. After narrowly avoiding getting their asses kicked by singing an altered version of "My Baby Takes the Morning Train" (It Makes Sense in Context), the liquor starts flowing and the thugs join them in a rendition.
- In The Great Mouse Detective, where one mouse calls another 'mouse' a "rat" during a song. Said mouse does not survive the consequences.
- In Animal House Delta Tau Chi sings "Louie Louie" completely unintelligibly.note
- "A Wizard's Staff Has A Knob On The End" on Discworld, and the once heard, never forgotten Hedgehog Song. (Fans have worked out full sets of lyrics for both - the Hedgehog Song has, in canon, at least seventeen verses.)
- The full title of "the hedgehog song" is The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All. That should give you an idea why it is never sung while sober.
- Played for Laughs in Sourcery when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse get drunk and start singing "We are poor little lambs who have lost our way"; indeed, they are so drunk that they forget most of the words not to mention horses. Trivia
- Male characters in the Belgariad never sing while sober. We're never told what exactly they're singing, but it tends to scare off any birds in the vicinity.
- Hagrid and Professor Slughorn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince after Aragog died sing a song called "Odo the Hero". Also in the film of the same name. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hagrid, Charlie and another wizard sing the song after getting drunk at Bill and Fleur's wedding.
- One Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel has Fitz waking up on a bench, trying to reconstruct what he did last night:
The last thing he remembered was joining in a singsong with a group of drunken tourists at Il-Eruk’s Tavern. He’d sung the song about the turnip fish.
This could be a reference to the actual song, Turnip Fish
by The Sultans Of Ping.
"If a strange dark woman, after the tenth drink, suddenly begins to sing
What's that I hear? (put your hand to your ear)
Upstairs in the attic? (point up)
It is an elephant (make like a trunk)
Riding around on a bicycle (stomp stupidly)
It is an elephant (ditto last line but one)
So chic and elegant (flounce!)
With one trunk here and one tail there (thing with the trunk again, and then bump and grind)
do not under any circumstances approach her for she shall immediately fall over and be violently and spectacularly ill on you."
- In Gone with the Wind, when Gerald O'Hara is drunk, he sings a song called "Peg in a Low-Backed Car".
- Folk Punk singer Pat the Bunny is the king of this trope, with references to getting smashed turning up in pretty much every johnny hobo and the freight trains. Perhaps the most straightforward of these is "Whiskey is My Kind of Lullaby"
- Subverted by Richard Thompson's "God Loves A Drunk."
- Pretty much anything by The Pogues, but most particularly "A Pair of Brown Eyes".
- The Wild Rover is an older song performed by the Pogues among many others. The lyrics make it an Ode To Sobriety, but it's almost always sung ironically.
- Their celtic-rock brethern in general fall in this trope, particularly Dropkick Murphy's "Shipping Up to Boston" and Flogging Molly's "Drunken Lullabies."
- The Dropkick Murphys also have the aptly titled "Kiss me, I'm Shitfaced"
- If you want more folk, The Ramblin Rover by Silly Wizard probably should never be sung sober.
- The band Gaelic Storm is taking the drinking song tradition to a new generation.
- Forty-Seven Ginger-Headed Sailors.
- Tom Waits' The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) from Small Change is a tragicomic take on the drunken song. The pianist denies his own inebriation, anthropomorphizing various objects to pin the blame on, e.g: "The carpet needs a haircut..." while the vocals are slurred and the melody loops over itself intentionally to imitate a drunk pianist.
- The Irish folk song "Seven Drunken Nights", most famously performed by the Dubliners. A man who comes home "as drunk as drunk could be" for seven consecutive nights to find evidence of his wife cheating, though she insists he's misunderstanding the situation because he's drunk. The song gets very bawdy at the end, though how much depends on the particular version of it.
- Done in this Songs To Wear Pants To song where the instructions were to "[Not] sing the lyrics. Shout them out in a drunken sort of way."
- Bondo has a song called "Fuck you I'm Drunk", which is probably more well known than they are.
- The Dead Kennedys "Too Drunk To Fuck". Nouvelle Vague's cover took this to the next level: the lead singer actually sounded like she was hammered when they recorded it.
- Damien Rice's "Cheers, Darlin'" is a perfect example of this trope. Rice often makes a show of drinking while performing this song live.
- hide's solo song "Drink or Die." Also taken to the next level in that he was likely drunk most of the time he performed it, and sort of a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment / Harsher in Hindsight in that alcohol would later be a part of why he did actually die.
- "Roadhouse Blues" by The Doors from Morrison Hotel. In true blues fashion, Jim Morrison was totally smashed when he recorded it.
- "Five to One" from Waiting For The Sun might also count, if only because Morrison was plastered when he sang/shouted that, too.
- When was Morrison not plastered?
- During the intro track for Running Wild's "Port Royal", one can hear some drunk singing "Under Jolly Roger" from the band's last album.
- "Cold Gin" by KISS.
- A lot of Steely Dan songs mention some kind of alcoholic beverage, or sound like they're either from the point of view of a morose drunk or about the results of a bender.
- Bob Dylan has a few, although the most obvious is "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" from Highway 61 Revisited: it has a kind of drunken vibe from the very beginning, but the final verse confirms it:
I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they'd stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to bluff
I'm going back to New York City
I do believe I've had enough.
- Joni Mitchell's song "Talk to Me" from "Wild Things Run Fast", about begging for conversation from someone not willing to speak, gains entirely new context from its opening line:
There was a moon and a streetlamp
I didn't think I drank such a lot
Till I pissed a tequila anaconda the full length of the parking lot.
- Rob Dougan's "Drinking Song" is the weepily sentimental type, complete with descent into incoherent mumbling on the final chorus.
- "The 9th Scotch" by Nautilus Pompilius.
- "If Drinking Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" by George Jones.
- An old example: "To Anacreon In Heaven" was written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a group of amateur musicians in 18th-century London to which he belonged, for their convivial gatherings involving music and song. It was dedicated to their namesake, the jovial Greek poet Anacreon, and celebrated "Bacchus's vine". The song was the group's semi-official drinking song, and spread around the taverns of London, and then Britain and then the Empire, as it was not only rather catchy but also rather good as a measure of whether someone was drunk: as written, it required certain vocal acrobatics that your average person could handle sober, but would find more difficult as they grew more intoxicated. This song would, however, be a mere historical footnote were it not for one little thing: in 1814, an American, a resident of Baltimore, named Francis Scott Key felt inspired to write a poem about the British shelling of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812—a poem whose meter perfectly fit Stafford Smith's tune. Thus "To Anacreon In Heaven" was immortalized...as the tune to "The Star-Spangled Banner."
- Robin Williams improvised one of these. "Oh... that night you said my wife was fat, I knocked ya down, and shit in yer hat..."
- In The Producers, Max and Leo (along with some random drunk) sing "By the Light Of the Silvery Moon."
- As with everything else, Shakespeare got there first:
- In Henry IV Part II, Falstaff and assorted cronies get drunk and sing a song with a nonsensical refrain.
- And in Othello, Iago leads the singing in the Cyprus officers' mess. It's debatable whether he himself is drunk or just pretending, but both the songs are classic drunken efforts. King Stephen was a worthy peer, his breeches cost him half a crown ...
- In Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Anderew Ague-Cheek sing drunken songs in the middle of the night until interrupted by the Countess's manservant Malvolio.
- "The Same Old Music" from Vanities.
- "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls.
- "Hot Lover" from the musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
- "Let's Toast" from the musical version of The Prince and the Pauper.
- "Oom-Pah-Pah" from Oliver!: "There's a little ditty they're singing in the city, espec'lly when they've been on the gin or the beer..."
- In Mafia II, Joe and Eddie at one point drunkenly sing along to Dean Martin's "Return to Me" on the radio.
- In Jak II: Renegade, Daxter offers to "help" Tess behind the bar and ends up getting totally wasted within the span of about thirty seconds, leading to him singing drunkenly for a little bit while Jak and Krew discuss the next mission.
- Betrayal In Antara has three different drinking songs in it, each of which has four verses. You can find people singing one verse of one song in many of the taverns/inns in the game.
- Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards has no songs, but "poor little lamb who has lost his way"* is quoted to describe a drunk.
- For some odd reason, "Sweet Adeline" is rarely performed sober in cartoons.
- Slightly subverted in the "Homer's Barbershop Quartet episode of The Simpsons: the Be Sharps sing it, but then, the lead vocalist is Barney.
- "The Near Future", best known for the line "How dry I am," Which is sung in old Warner Bros. cartoons.