A Brief History of “Drugs”

By way of a palette cleanser, let’s talk a little about “Drugs.”

At the same time I was making my way through the Josh White book, I’ve been reading Jonathan Lethem’s book about the Talking Heads album Fear of Music. The book, like the album, ends with the self-consciously bizarre track we know as “Drugs,” which makes for a fascinating case study in how a song develops.

It began life as an instrumental called “Electricity”:

By the time it acquired lyrics, it also had a subtitle:

As it became clearer what the song was about, the title and the subtitle changed places. (On the album, though not on the video, this version is listed as “Drugs (Electricity).”)

When it came time to record the canonical version that would appear on the album, David Byrne and Brian Eno decided to change things up. Says Byrne: