PERFORMER: THE ROLLING STONES
SONGWRITER: MICK JAGGER/KEITH RICHARDS/MARIANNE FAITHFULL
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1971
COMMENTS: The record opens quietly with just simple dramatically expectant acoustic rhythm guitar that provides the main instrumental sound throughout. Mick comes in singing the hushed but urgent plea of a junkie on his last leg, laid out in a hospital bed and begging for one last fix, even knowing that it will kill him. The melody expresses a severely narcotized desperation. "Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmare into dreams. Oh...can't you see I'm...fading fast, and that this shot...will be my last."
The whole track has a weird, spooky effect. The drug fog of the vocal melody combines with the lyrical conceit that the narrator is talking to the drug, communicant with no other person. Guest Ry Cooder gives amazing voice to the pain of his death throes with his slide guitar. Bill and Charlie eventually work it up to a gallop as the foreboding echo of the piano chords pounds across the end of the track like the grim reaper come to keep his appointment. They end up with something that sounds utterly otherworldly.
The amazing thing is that this song is totally beautiful. This probably doesn't sound sensible based on the description in the last two paragraphs, but it's undeniably true. They are describing in words and music an ugly, pathetic suicide. You can't miss the point. Yet the words are so poetic, and the dramatic scene so eloquently expressed that it ends up sounding somehow alluring.
The Stones have been quite reasonably accused of glorifying and promoting the use of recreational drugs, but please don't base such charges on this track. It describes drug use, but it also describes horrible consequences. If this song makes you think shooting up is cool, then you definitely should become a dead junkie, thereby excusing yourself from the gene pool.
"Sweet Cousin Cocaine, lay your cool, cool hand on my head."
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