Joe Sixpack: Five songs to swig by

Thirsty? Put on John Denvers Take Me Home, Country Roads and throw a few back.
Thirsty? Put on John Denvers Take Me Home, Country Roads and throw a few back. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: February 08, 2013

LET'S PLAY a few bars.

Y'know, beer-drinking songs - the kind of music that gets the crowd dancing with a bottle raised in the air. You take a gulp, grab a girl and start a little movement in your sacroiliac.

If you don't know how to do it, Chubby Checker sang in his timeless "Hucklebuck," man you're out of luck.

Lou Capozzoli was wailing the tune on his sax last weekend with the Rage Band at Ray's Happy Birthday Bar. The Passyunk Avenue joint was swinging, and I was reminded that there is no more sublime pleasure than drinking and singing.

It's our inner pagan at work, urging us to let loose and have fun.

To me, this is the essence of a great beer-drinking song. What else?

Well, the lyrics should have something to do with boozing, although that's not essential, because these are beer-drinking songs, not songs about beer. There has to be a sing-along hook. And it's gotta get you dancing (or at leevenast swaying).

Also (and I admit this eliminates about 90 percent of the genre) it can't be country-western, because that always ends in tears.

Here are my top five:

5. "Take Me Home, Country Roads." So much for the C-W exception. And, no, this song doesn't make the list because of merit. It's little more than sentimental piffle calculated to bring a teardrop to the eye of Appalachian hillbillies and West Virginia University alums.

Moreover, other than a passing reference to a "misty taste of moonshine," it's as soft as root beer.

So why does it make this list? One reason: Oktoberfest in Munich.

Whenever the band strikes up John Denver's hokey tune, it never fails to bring down the tent. Thousands - many who can't speak English - join the chorus in a drunken, deafening dirge.

How can a country that gave us Ludwig van Beethoven go über nuts for this treacle? Who cares? Raise your mug and sing along.

4. "Home for a Rest." You might mistake it for something from the Pogues, except you can actually understand the lyrics:

We arrived in December and London was cold,

We stayed in the bars along Charing Cross Road.

We never saw nothin' but brass taps and oak,

Kept a shine on the bar with the sleeves of our coats.

Spirit of the West made it the unofficial Canadian national anthem.

3. "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer." These days, it's the George Thorogood version you're likely to hear on the jukebox. Before that became popular, it was John Lee Hooker who made the bar call, and before that it was Amos Milburn and his Aladdin Chickenshackers.

Doesn't matter who sings it, you can't help but nod and drink up to its familiar tale:

No, I ain't seen my baby since the night before last,

Gotta get a drink man, I'm gonna get gassed.

2. "Tequila." Back in the late '50s, this sax instrumental by one-hit-wonders the Champs reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.

But, of course, it was permanently infused in our collective liquid synapses by Pee-wee Herman, whose brilliant dance before a gang of motorcycle outlaws is one reason we love bars. You never know what kind of insanity you'll witness.

Does its one-word, hard-alcohol lyric qualify it as a beer-drinking song? Hell, yeah. What else do you wash back tequila with?

1. "Honky Tonk Woman." If you think about it, this is yet another country-western tune about trying to forget a woman. It's turned into the rock and roll classic we all love by Mike Jagger's bluesy vocals and Keith Richards' Fender Telecaster. (You can hear its c-w roots in the version recorded on "Let It Bleed.")

What makes it a great beer-drinking song?

Well, it might be that gin-soaked Memphis barroom queen. It might be that New York City divorcée.

But I'm going to go with Jimmy Miller, the band's producer in the late 1960s. That's Miller you hear on this rousing jukebox favorite, playing the all-important opening cowbell.

We can argue over the best beer-drinking songs all night. Better yet, we can enjoy a few brews and tunes.

Philly Beer Scene magazine presents an afternoon of both on Sunday, when it kicks off its first Band of Brewers at World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St., West Philly). Six local beer makers will compete, with brewery employees performing a set of tunes to be paired with their own beers.

Tix are $20, available online at phillybeerscene.ticketleap.com/band-of-brewers. Proceeds benefit charities of the brewers' choice.


"Joe Sixpack" is Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. E-mail: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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