Gin occupies an uncommonly common place in musical culture.
It’s not as omnipresent as beer or wine in everyday culture, but gin has played a central role in some of the major musical movements of modern history.
The spirit was a catalyst for countless jazz performances during Prohibition; it was central to swing; Frank Sinatra and the post-war Rat Pack sang gin’s praises; gin flowed like water in the disco era; and various punks, rappers, and country stars all favor the flavor of gin.
Seminal jazz age singer Bessie Smith broke color barriers with her hit “Gimme a Pigfoot,” which ends on the iconic line, “Give me a reaper and a gang of gin/Play me ’cause I’m in my sin, blame me ’cause I’m full of gin.” Elvis Costello described his love as the “The gin in my vermouth” in 1986’s “Indoor Fireworks;” The Pogues bragged about soaking in gin; and The Grateful Dead sang about rebel Delia drinking gin fizz in their 1978 version of the early 20th-century folk tale “Stagger Lee.”
Gin’s ubiquity in music is poetic. It’s always been a populist spirit – that is, it’s been available to everyone, rich or poor. It began as a domestic remedy anyone could make at home. Later, when gin spread to England, millions of peasants saved their money by making gin at home. Bathtub gin sustained Americans during Prohibition.
Gin’s prevalence in popular music is also a testament to the spirit’s inherent versatility. It blends with myriad mixers and countless creative expressions. And in all cases, from CBGB to Compton, where Snoop Dogg sang about gin and juice, gin adds a joie de vivre to any narrative.
Gin lends these stories, and our own stories, a devil-may-care approach to life. It’s refined yet louche; it’s authentic yet aspirational. Gin is as contradictory as life itself.
We’ve tried to capture that sentiment here, in our first Gin Observer playlist. We’ve included some tracks that call out gin, such as Ike and Tina Turner’s funk rock tale “Nutbush City Limits” and KISS’ hard rock hit “Cold Gin”. There are also recordings from the gravel-voiced legend Tom Waits and the equally gravely, and equally revered, Nina Simone. And listeners will also experience some contemporary tracks that embody gin’s timeless spirit, including the sensual “Taste” from Rhye; Billie Eilish’s dark jewel “bad guy;” and Jessie Ware’s optimistic, and irresistible, soulful “Spotlight.”
The list is meant to be as adaptable as gin: put it on for a social gathering or for a night at home. It’s suited to either, and we hope you enjoy it both ways – with gin, neat or otherwise.