Sword Songs: 12 recovery themed songs that can arm you to face the future.
I spend A LOT of my personal time with music to some degree; listening, playing, thinking about it, and talking about it with other people. My closest pal actually picks on me because of how frequently I refer to a song “giving me chills”. I make a lot of playlists and I decided to scour the internet for some tunes that discuss addiction and the recovery process. I wound up combing through a sea of Kelly Clarkson and P!nk recommendations. In no way do I think those artists aren’t worthy of this or any playlist, they both have amazing careers in music and have some incredible records under their belt, but I thought maybe I could shed some light on some lesser-known gems that speak to me.
- Recovery by Frank Turner
I chose “Recovery”by Frank Turner to start off the list, not only because it’s title really gets to the point, but because it’s tonality and melody help create such an uplifting take on the whole process of sobriety. We follow Frank chasing both his sobriety and presumably the acceptance of a lover who he asks to forgive him and help him on this journey. It’s a 3-minute reminder that we can’t do this alone. In the first few lines, Frank paints a picture of a very “questionable” existence in active addiction. He quickly departs by slamming into the chorus where he leaves the haze of a strange London flat behind, and the entire band chases and pines for his recovery through the full-force of the refrain.
- American Candy by The Maine
“What will you do on the weekends, when your best friends become your dead friends?” sings The Maine, a quintet from Arizona that has fostered such a strong career that can be attributed to their tremendous catalogue of hits. In “American Candy”, John O. sings from an outsider’s perspective on what is going on around him with the Addiction Epidemic. It’s a change of perspective from what I’m used to hearing, which ispersonal anecdotes about addiction, recovery, and struggling with drug use from song-writers. The Maine shares the tremendous effect addiction has on them, despite “hating the taste” and not fancying drugs themselves. They’re able to paint an image of chemical hooks in the way they really lay into the insurmountable addictive properties of the “American Candy” around them.
- Brave by Ruston Kelly
Ruston Kelly states, “Brave is a sword song. Writing it made me feel armed to face my lesser self. Because becoming a better version of myself requires taking account of the painful missteps along the way and fighting the anguish of facing them”. Ruston cries to be remembered as a man who fought to leave the world in a better place than he found it, a very honorable life goal. He ties his capacity to be remembered in this light to his sobriety, admitting that he can’t have one without the other. It’s simple and beautiful and oh so vulnerable. The sentiment of standing by your promises, trying your best, being selfless and not giving up speaks volumes. No matter how many times I hear this song it’s really hard not to get choked up on its behalf. If I can take one thing from this, dare I say, masterpiece, it’s don’t take for granted all the love in your life. I think it’s also worth noting that there isn’t a bridge in this song and it sure doesn’t need one. That says a lot about how powerful the message is. I’ve looked up to Ruston for his innovative song writing for some time now. He has many songs addressing his personal struggles with addiction and I highly recommend visiting his discography
- Done with Drugs by The Dirty Nil
The Dirty Nil is a group that JUST hit my radar this year and I can’t get enough of them. This three-piece sounds so massive despite not pulling studio tricks with layered guitar parts to make up for being a three-piece. This song, in my opinion and for lack of a better term, is just so cool. The Dirty Nil sings about coming into a new found maturity that left them questioning themselves on how they spend their time. Luke Bentham goes as far as even exclaiming he never had a problem with drugs but is “just bored as hell”. He recounts approaching his 30’s and finding the appeal of mind-altering chemicals to be wearing off. He admits very honestly to the listener that he’s never had a problem with drugs and even enjoyed them for a while,but it’s time to keep growing. He tells the listener that the drugs are starting to get in the way of that growth. Hell, how would he learn origami while keeping up the life of a party goer? “I’m done with drugs; I hope they’re done with me” leads me to believe that Luke is wise beyond his years and won’t regret these changes to support his own personal growth.
- The Birthday Party by The 1975
I’ve been a massive fan of the 1975 for many years now. That being said, I am no stranger to Matty Healy singing about substance use as he so eloquently refers to his ‘works’ like a point on a women’s stiletto heal. It’s hard to even consider any other artist being able to tease out that kind of imagery in a song. Matty is a brilliant mind and quite frankly hard to keep up with sometimes. In “The Birthday Party”, you hear Matty discuss how the change of climate he’s experienced in sobriety left him confused on what to do with his hands; a very familiar place for any of us who reflect on early recovery. He doesn’t know how to act, feel, behave, where to go next or how to inhabit a hotel room with anotherperson. You begin to wonder how Matty is going to keep things going if he can’t even use the bathroom appropriately during his new found sobriety (see song lyrics). But, he has an ace in the hole to get through his day without picking up, and that ace are his friends as he sings “I depend on my friends to stay clean”.
- Wishing Well by Juice WRLD
This is the first artist on my life who paid the ultimate price of addiction and lost his life to a tragic overdose on December 8th, 2019. Jarad Anthony Higgin (better known to the world as Juice Wrld) was not shy about his struggles and can be heard crying out for help throughout his final album “Legends Never Die”. On “Wishing Well”, he comes forward admitting that his life is no longer his own and is under the control of drugs. However, the spell of addiction doesn’t prohibit him from a desire to change. Jarad even outlines his potential fate by warning himself that “…But if I keep taking these pills, I won’t be here”. There are so many pay-off lines throughout this song that can floor the listener. This is what allowed Jarad to stand out from the arguably flooded hip-hop scene. One of the lines that weighs heavy on the listener is when Jarad declares that, “This is the part where I tell you I’m fine but I’m lying I just don’t want you to worry”. You can almost visualize the beautiful, caring and selfless soul stuck inside the torments of addiction outlined in his songs.
- John’s Song by Two Birds
This may just be the only song on the list that won’t be pulled for some sort of copywrite issue. Two Birds’ “John’s Song” is on the list, because yours truly is one fourth of the Pittsburgh based group. We released this song as a part of our Debut EP “The Great American Northeast” in 2017 and I couldn’t help but get chocked up when listeners made this a fan favorite. Having fans come up to me and tell me that “John’s Song” was their favorite track is beautiful and comical in the same regard because it’s the only song we DIDN’T actually write on the record. This song was written by the late, great, John Garrighan, my dearest brother. It was one of his final records before his untimely death in 2011. Having my brother steal the thunder of this album was truly an honor. Heck, if it wasn’t for him, I’d never have developed such an attachment to music and can even go as far as saying this entire record wouldn’t exist. John Garrighan’s “secret sauce” as a song writer was his ability to hone in on just one element or one theme and tell his story in very few words. Many artists need to create some elaborate narrative or story-line to be able to sell the emotion behind their work, but not him. He reminisces on how he’s long gone inside and left heartless, lifeless and old in this world, but he does so in a way of acceptance. This allows the listener to almost experience the tragic sufferings of addiction themselves through this song.
- Fire and Rain by James Taylor
This song and artist require absolutely no introduction. It’s no secret that James Taylor’s songs continue to span generations and inspire listeners and artist alike. It’s no surprise this song has followed me for decades and made this list. I remember hearing this tune come on the radio in the backseat of my mom’s car as a young child. It was a song that resonated with her and quickly began resonating with me. Taylor discusses the loss of a friend in verse one and then leaves verse two to shed some light on the pain of his own addiction. He introduces this verse by asking God for help. Interestingly enough he doesn’t ask for a cure, or even a way out of his addiction, but just to be seen through one more day; a very familiar place for anyone in active addiction. It’s hard to even comprehend a way out at times; one more day seems like miracle for us.
- Good News by Mac Miller
Another artist gone far too soon. This postmortem release addresses the potential of a better afterlife. Malcom says “there’s a whole lot more” waiting for him on the other side, after he gives the listener a look into his racing thoughts. Mac really takes the listener on a long, jarring ride through his mind, coupling this slightly manic, very sprawling lyrical content with such a warm arpeggiated riff and calming vocal melody is what makes Mac Miller one of the greatest of his time. “I’m always dreaming, should I wake up? I got regrets, but oh forget it”, says Mac. To me, this tune shows how draining addiction can be and how compounding it is over the years. You can hear it in his voice; the exhaustion and pressure within the context of the verse. But Mac doesn’t leave you there, he declares his hopefulness; a sentiment he carried through his entire career. Thumbs up and Most Dope to the late Malcom Miller.
- Be More Kind by Frank Turner
Frank Turner was able to secure two spots on the recovery playlist as there was no way I could spare this tune. It’s jaw-dropping, breathtaking, and couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Although this song doesn’t outright touch on addiction, it touches on a theme that is ever so important for all of us navigating through life on life’s terms, especially those in need of experience, strength and hope. Frank supports his claim of how much personal growth the mantra, “Be More Kind” will yield. It reminds me how music can reach beyond the boundaries of language and be communicated in a way that words alone never could. Frank begins by discussing the weight of modern society and being lost in the world today. He offers a solution to the madness; “Be Kind”. “Before you go out searching,don’t decide what you may find,” one of the many proposals from Frank to inspire growth and a solution to combat the friction of hard times. The perfectly placed bridge pokes its head after the second chorus and raises the listener to place of prosperity and hope. Frank exclaims that you’re not alone through your troubles. He says that these troubles will come and go, and how all the cards will fall is unknown,but you just need to hold on tight through it all. This is a message known all too well by any of us who have had the great fortune of maintaining sobriety for any length of time.Frank then leaves room for a third verse which was the only way, in my opinion, to blow the roof off this song. Frank ends the song by reminding you to be more kind in a world that’s decided it’s going to loseits mind. Thank you for this one, Frank.
- Cigarettes & Saints by The Wonder Years
No stranger to addressing the topic of fatal overdoses, Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell has written many songs addressing the loss of his childhood friend to addiction. Hisexploration on this topic in earlier work found him revisiting it on “Cigarettes & Saints”. He uses a tone of forgiveness, addressing the blame he placed upon himself and others for the loss. Dan touches on the heartache and his ongoing love and commitment to his late friend. He does this by illuminating his friend in the light he deserved. He allows himself to “put all his arrows away” and retreat from the anger and blame he’s experienced over the years. Dan exclaims beautifully, “you were heat lightening. You were a storm that never rolled in. You were the Northern lights in a Southern town, a caustic fleeting thing. I’ll burry the memories in a garden, watch them grow with the flowers in spring. I’ll keep them with me.” The structure of the song then breaks into a drawn-out instrumental interlude, presumably for the purposes of allowing the listener to sit with the weight of the previous exclamations. Dan continues to wrestle with the ultimate price his friend had paid to addiction; death. Dan tries to come to terms, but you can’t help but think after listening that he may never be able to do so. This song is a gut-wrenching view into the life-long pain family and friends are left with from a life lost.
- Hurt by Johnny Cash
The final song on the playlist is Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt”, originally written and performed by Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. The song begins by saying, “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain the only thing that’s real” and just absolutely takes off from there. The listener is grabbed by the first two lines and is taken from that point forward on an uphill journey through one man’s pain. The listener forgets how this song is just one voice, two panned acoustic guitars and a piano (for the most part). Every song writer searches for the perfect chorus to grab a listener. It’s the one ingredient that can NEVER be spared, and boy was nothing left on the table for this one. The chorus ends the song, which is why I chose to let this close us out. The guitar pounds eighth notes along with the piano, providing a percussive feel for the listener. This, accompanied with the poetry of “Hurt” is why it’s an unforgettable rendition of an already unforgettable song. It’s a terribly difficult feat to describe the power behind this tune, so I’ll leave you with the chorus, “What have I become my sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end. And you could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt. If I could start again, a million miles away. I would keep myself, I would find a way. “
By Daniel Garrighan I January, 29th, 2021
Daniel Garrighan is a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor and the Facility Director of the premier outpatient treatment center JADE Wellness Center.