As I write this, I am drinking a Brother Thelonious beer. As far as I know, my song god Thelonious Monk did not write any songs of beer, but this beer named for him by North Coast Brewing Company lives up to the name. We Monk fans-slash-beer fans would not abide a lesser beer with the Thelonious name attached to it. Sacrilege!
I made a decision a couple of decades ago to abide by the motto “Life is too short for small beer.” No weak, lame stuff; nothing “lite.” If I’m going to drink this type of beverage, I’m going to drink something worth drinking. I once played a street festival at which, I learned, there were only four beer choices offered: Budweiser, Bud Lite, Michelob, and Ultra. It was a very sober gig. I couldn’t wait to get home to my Black Butte Porter.
Let’s look at a “six pack to go” of beer songs I’ve enjoyed.
“Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music” My wife is not a beer drinker; her beverages of choice are Caffeine-Free Diet Coke and a complicated decaf coffee drink from Starbucks. But we both love the music of Turkey, Texas, native Bob Wills. We even traveled to Turkey for Bob Wills Days one year and stayed overnight at the Turkey Hotel. I can’t imagine how much beer Bob and his Texas Playboys downed at their average road-trip gig. Red Steagall (from Gainesville, Texas) came up with this honky-tonker in 1976, the year after Wills died.
I haven’t actually had a Lone Star in years. In my college days, a friend and I would buy a case of Lone Star beer (we called it LSB) on Fridays at the H.E.B. It was only $3.88 for twenty-four, provided you returned the empties—which we did on Sundays. I recall one Friday night that we made it through the whole case between the two of us in one night. Except for the one my friend’s pre-med student roommate chugged as a study break.
These days, I’d probably listen to this song while slurping on an Abita Turbo Dog Ale.
“Hey Bartender” In 1952, Marshall, Texas, native Floyd Dixon wrote and recorded “Wine, Wine, Wine,” but as a beer man I prefer his 1954 composition “Hey Bartender,” in which he asks the man behind the bar to “draw one, draw two, draw three, four glasses of beer.”
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd popularized the song many years later in their Blues Brothers act. Either version is worthy of an accompanying Guinness Stout or two.
Dixon liked him some grub to go with his beer: He recorded the original version of “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and the hoppin’ “Red Cherries.”
“Beer” I really hadn’t intended all of my beer song choices to be by Texans, but it sure worked out that way. The Germans got nothin’ on us beer-guzzlers. (Of course, many Germans settled in Central Texas and brewed all kinds of beer, most notably Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner, but also Lone Star and Pearl.)
The Austin band The Asylum Street Spankers did their one-of-a-kind thing between 1994 and 2011. They started out retro all the way: Not only did their repertoire comprise early-last-century ragtime and blues covers but they performed unamplified—absolutely live, loose, and real.
One of their best numbers was an original that extolled the virtues of “Beer” and trash-talked coke, acid, and all other forms of drugging. It is the perfect beer-drinking sing-along song, not only because of its subject. Its chorus is the word “beer” repeated to a familiar tune—that of Big Ben’s chimes, with “we love beer” at the end. Try it: “Beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer / Beer, beer, beer, beer, we love beer.”
“There Stands the Glass” Country & Western legend Webb Pierce was a Louisiana native, but he was living right on the Texas state line in Shreveport, Louisiana, recording for small labels, when he was discovered and made a star. In 1966, The Country Music Story summed up Pierce’s career trajectory: “Webb Pierce was a Sears Roebuck clerk in Shreveport before he began singing professionally; now he drives a flamboyant car studded with silver dollars on the inside.” Yee-haw!
Of Webb’s string of top country hits, my favorite is “There Stands the Glass,” from 1953. The lyrics are the essence of “tears in my beer” imagery, and his delivery is raw and poignant, accentuated by weeping steel guitar. “There stands the glass / Fill it up to the brim / Until my troubles grow dim / It’s my first one today.” “And make sure it ain’t that Miller Lite crap, podner.” (My own addition, delivered as an aside.)
“Pop a Top” In 1966, Texan Nat Stuckey (Cass County, Texas) wrote his own variation on the beer-at-the-bar-as-anti-misery-medicine song, “Pop a Top.”
“Six Pack to Go” Waco, Texas, native Hank Thompson gave us this C&W hit in 1960. It’s been a staple of many a bar band, including two or three of mine (and we didn’t play country music—we just knew our beer-guzzling audience members would like it).
This guy has his priorities straight: “Well, I don’t have enough to pay my rent but I ain’t gonna worry, though / I’ve got time for one more round and a six pack to go.”
Great Song Titles: Many C&W and R&B singers and songwriters brought us songs of honky-tonks, sleazy bars, and beer. Among the notable song titles: “On Tap, In the Can, or in the Bottle” by Hank Thompson; “Fifteen Beers Ago” by Ben Colder; “Pickin’ Up Beer Cans on the Highway” by Homer Henderson and the Dalworthington Garden Boys.
Honorable Mentions: The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” was more appropriately addressed in the “Come Rain or Come Shine” post, but it is such a great song, it gets another mention, just for the line “Now I’m sitting here, sipping at my ice cold beer.” Just another sunny afternoon.