March 21, 2011


Ride the White Unicorn

The first rule of doing drugs is that you never talk about the drug while you're on the drug. The first rule of doing party songs about cocaine is that you never name it while you're singing about it. It's called plausible deniability. Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel's "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)," released in 1983, is arguably the best song ever written about coke, and never mentions it outright among all its "magic crystals painted pure and white" and "freeze" and, of course, multiple senses of "blow."

This, of course, leads to confusion involving songs that are totally not at all about cocaine. For all we know, Ke$ha's "Blow" is literally about having fun with one's friends while sipping the Kool-Aid she mentions shortly after drinking something out of a champagne flute in the video; if you party really hard you say that you're blowing the roof off, right? Her only drug is love. (One sometimes has to drink the Kool-Aid in multiple senses.) And the white unicorns cavorting in the background of the video and getting licked by Ke-dollar-sign-Ha are simply a representation of the way mythological creatures can manifest at a really great party. The kind of party where people bring you tiny bits of entertainment on a silver platter, and people go blah blah blah about their wild successes, and maybe you get to fight-flirt with a dude who totes looks like James Van Der Beek.

So therefore for no reason at all I'm going to devote the rest of this week's column to a few notable popular songs of the past that conflate cocaine with various pale equine creatures.

In 1983, the same year as "White Lines," the Danish duo Laid Back had a dance hit with "White Horse."

It's a remarkably forward-looking bit of electro-pop--it'd only have to be slightly tweaked to make sense with Ke$ha singing over it, for instance. The lyrics are pretty minimal, but they're essentially a bit of advice about appropriate dancefloor enhancers. "If you wanna ride, don't ride the white horse," they chant. "If you wanna ride, ride the white pony." (The pony in question appears in the video's final shot, and totally doesn't have a unicorn horn at all.)

It's clear what was on Laid Back's mind at the time; the same night they wrote that song, apparently, they came up with a track they didn't release in its original form until 2010, under the name "Cocaine Cool." It's a little unclear which critter is which: perhaps the white horse is heroin and the white pony is cocaine? (Not to go all T. Rex again after last week, but it does make one wonder what the white swan would be.)

It wouldn't have been the first time the horse and pony have been confused in song. There are a couple of rhyming toasts about heroin-as-a-horse that have been making the rounds for decades. One of them was passed along to James Brown by a deli waiter named Manny Rosen in 1972; Brown recorded it as "King Heroin," and had a substantial hit. "Mount the steed, and ride him well/For the white horse of heroin will ride you to hell," Brown pronounced. These days, though, its source material appears more often as a poem about cocaine: "If you decide to jump my saddle, you better ride me well/For on the white horse of cocaine, I'll ride you straight to hell."

Or, you know, heaven. The club that white-garbed Alison Goldfrapp is crooning about in Goldfrapp's "Ride a White Horse," from 2005, while desperate people root through garbage behind her, sounds like at least as much fun as Ke$ha's dirt-and-glitter back-door situation. "Take me dancing at the disco/Where you buy your Winnebago," Goldfrapp purrs. (It's unclear what "Winnebago" means in this context: oh, British club kids and their slang!) Also, she eats a pizza slice covered with garbage, which can't really have anything to do with the cocaine-covered pizza in the New Pornographers' new "Moves" video because it was filmed six years earlier, but when you're in a certain frame of mind everything comes back around to the same thing, no matter what you're talking about, from pantsless bears to Uzbekistan, and by the way does anybody have another cocaine unicorn?