Meaning of Cocaine by JJ Cale & Song Story

Sometimes world fame comes to musicians from an unexpected direction. So, it cannot be said that JJ Cale owes his popularity to Eric Clapton, but interest in his work increased many times after the eminent British guitarist recorded successful covers of several of his songs.

First, he took Cale’s After Midnight to the top of the charts, and then made the track Cocaine (“Cocaine”) a hit, which will be discussed later.

Story of the song Cocaine

JJ composed the song in 1976. At the same time, it became one of the tracks on the Troubadour album and was released on the back of the Hey Baby single.

According to the author, he initially saw Cocaine as a jazz composition:

I’m a big Mose Ellison fan. He and Gatemouth Brown were my biggest influences. I wrote a song in the style of Mose Ellison – something in the jazz spirit. The guy I was working with at the time, Audie Ashworth, said, “I love the song, but could you re-record it and make it more rock and roll?” So I went back and re-recorded it.


After Clapton’s “After Midnight” hit him back in the 1970s, Cale’s business took off.

He began to be invited on tour, and during the first tour of the UK, he finally met Eric. He came to the concert, after which they had the opportunity to talk. They went to Clapton’s studio, where he played a rough cut of his version of Cocaine to Cale. In 1977 it appeared on his album Slowhand.

The meaning of the song Cocaine

Many listeners took the lyrics literally. Cale talked about what the song Cocaine was about:

This composition does not protect cocaine. It is about what I observed. That’s what a songwriter does – observes. And now it amazes me that they are finally talking about the existence of a drug problem. We had a drug problem twenty years ago!

October 1986 interview, FretBoardJournal, 2013

And so on the show The Best of Everything, Eric Clapton explained his vision of the meaning of the song Cocaine:

There is no good in writing a song that is explicitly condemning drugs and waiting for someone to get hooked by it. Because in general people will be upset about it. They would be worried that someone else was shoving something down their throats. The best you can do is to offer something that seems ambiguous, which, when viewed or considered, you can actually see the prefix “anti”. In fact, the song Cocaine is anti-drug. If you study it or look at it with a little thought… From a distance… Or after a while… It just sounds like a song about cocaine. But in fact, it’s quite distinctly anti-cocaine.

The ambiguity of the composition’s lyrics led Clapton to exclude Cocaine from the concert repertoire. For several years he did not sing it at performances. He – himself a drug addict in the past – explained his decision by the fact that he would not want to mislead people who faced the same problem. However, later the musician’s fans again got the opportunity to enjoy the live performance of the song. Eric changed his mind, coming to the conclusion that her main idea has long been known to everyone. In addition, he added the line “dirty cocaine” to the words to completely eliminate misunderstandings.

Cover versions of the song Cocaine

In addition to Clapton, Nazareth, Duran Duran and other well-known bands recorded Cocaine covers.

And we will listen to Cocaine performed by Miguel Montalban.

Interesting Facts

  • Although Cocaine has become one of Eric Clapton’s most famous songs, its studio version has never been released as a single. Only live versions were released in this format.
  • The song is featured in several feature films including Starsky & Hutch, Bad News Bears and Lord of War.

Cocaine Lyrics

If you want to hang out
You’ve got to take her1 out, cocaine
If you want to get down
Get down on the ground, cocaine
She don’t lie
She don’t lie
She don’t lie, cocaine

If you got bad news
You want to kick them blues, cocaine
When your day is done
And you got to run, cocaine
She don’t lie
She don’t lie
She don’t lie, cocaine

If your thing is gone
And you want to ride on, cocaine
Don’t forget this fact
You can’t get it back, cocaine
She don’t lie
She don’t lie
She don’t lie, cocaine

Cocaine Lyrics – JJ Cale Alternative

If you wanna hang out
You’ll have to take it with you – cocaine
If you want to pass out
Fall to the ground – cocaine
He doesn’t lie
He doesn’t lie
He’s not lying – cocaine

If you’re in trouble
You want to dispel sadness – cocaine
Your work day is over
And you have to run – cocaine
He doesn’t lie
He doesn’t lie
He’s not lying – cocaine

Your baby is gone
And you want to get off – cocaine
Don’t forget it’s a fact
It can not be returned – cocaine
He doesn’t lie
He doesn’t lie
He’s not lying – cocaine

1. It’s rare for inanimate nouns to be gendered in English, but the songwriter refers to cocaine with the pronoun “she.” The translation uses the variant “he”, corresponding to the gender of the word in Russian.

Song quote

What pleases Cale in Cocaine is that the words are so secondary to the sound of the song that their splintered straightforwardness becomes a virtue. If you want her to be anti-drug for you, she can be. However, for most people, it is attractive with a driving guitar part …

Richard Gilliam, Allmusic

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