Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” Lyrics Meaning

There was a moment in time when Eric Clapton, whom these days we perceive more as a father-figure type of musician, was heavily on drugs. In fact while on heroin for instance, he would spend money on that destructive substance in a week than some people make in an entire year. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Eric Clapton's Cocaine at

Thankfully he was able to kick the habit in the early 1970s. But unfortunately he replaced it with alcohol and cocaine abuse.  And it was during that time, being highly dependent on drugs for his musical creativity even, in which Clapton ironically dropped this song.

An Anti-Drug Song

That may be one of the reasons, even if subconsciously so to speak, that many people actually consider this to be a pro-cocaine song. But such is not the case. Rather Clapton, under his estimation, felt that if “Cocaine” was too heavily imbued with an anti-drug message, then those who most direly need to digest the lyrics would rather just ignore them. 

In other words, he didn’t want to sound too patriarchal with what, in actuality, is “an anti-cocaine song”. And yes, considering his style of delivery as well as the ambiguity of the track’s wording (which he didn’t write), this classic does tread a thin line between sounding pro-drug and anti-drug.

But all things considered even in the 1970s popular musicians weren’t running around, overtly dropping pro-drug songs like that. In the 1960s yes, perhaps a bit more so, but even then they would rely on metaphors to get their point across. 

So conclusively, in Clapton’s own words, it is up to the listener whether or not this mellow song encourages them to get stoned or not. But that being noted, as time progressed Eric was compelled to slightly modify the wording, at least during live performances, to really-really make sure that the intended message got across.

Primary Message of the Lyrics of “Cocaine’

And the said message would be something like you take cocaine at your own risk. Or perhaps more accurately, considering the first verse for example, we can say that it is akin to there being more constructive ways than drug to edify one’s life. For instance, the substance will in fact achieve the goal of assisting you in ‘getting down’, which back in those days was a slang term equivalent to letting loose (especially in a party-like setting). But even beyond that, it will take you all the way ‘down to the ground’, i.e. harm its user.

Lyrics of "Cocaine" (Verse 1)

But the second verse, in all honestly, reads as if the vocalist is espousing the drug outright. He acknowledges that it is an effective way to “kick the blues”, i.e. overcome momentary depression. And it will in fact take you on a “ride”, i.e. get you high.

But in the third verse the caveat is entered into the equation, that what the drug takes from you, you can’t reclaim. And we can also say the chorus, which asserts that “cocaine… don’t lie” is based on a sarcastic tone which permeates throughout the lyrics. 

Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" lyrics

So the surface overt message of this song is that if you are in fact looking to get stoned, cocaine will effectively help you meet said goal. Clapton keeps it painfully real in that regard. But the veiled thesis sentiment is that it is a deceptive drug, one which takes as well as gives.

In Conclusion

So in the end, it’s you’re trying to help someone kick a drug habit perhaps this song, despite being “anti-drug”, isn’t the best way to go. And this is something which even Clapton himself came to realize. 

At the time he came out with this song, he was able to take such a casual, shall we say even uninspired approach to the thesis sentiment at hand because at the time he was in fact an addict.  Clapton was both advocating and denouncing its usage at the same time. 

So at least, despite being an avid user, he was able to perceive its negative effects. Basically, even though he didn’t write the song, he was able to relay the lyrics from experience. And it should also be noted, concerning the overall attitude of the presentation, that despite being an addict at the time, he was one of those types who thought he could kick the habit at any given moment under his own will. 

So he knew cocaine was dangerous but personally did not fully embrace that reality. And yes that sentiment does come through, without being actually said, in the song.

The silver lining in it all is that in the years that followed, Eric Clapton did attempt to make things right, not only for himself but also other addicts. That is to say that in addition to the singer sobering up in the late 1980s, he also founded an addiction treatment facility in the Caribbean known as the Crossroads Centre Antigua in the late 1990s.

Did Eric Clapton write “Cocaine”?

No. “Cocaine” was written by J. J. Cale (1938-2013), an American artist who may not have been that famous but was influential nonetheless. For instance, he had a noted effect on the artistry of Eric Clapton, as in Clapton having covered a number of his songs throughout the years. 

And the two of them even took home the 2008 Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy Award for a joint project they put out named “The Road to Escondido” (2006). And interesting to note is that it was also Clapton who earned Cale his first sizeable paycheck and established him as a professional musician when he covered another song J. J. had written, “After Midnight”, in 1970.

Facts about “Cocaine”

J. J. Cale was also the first musician to release a version of Cocaine, doing so in 1977. And whereas it didn’t hit Stateside it caught on in Oceania and parts of Europe, most notably scoring a number one in New Zealand.

Eric Clapton also came out with his cover that same year, on 2 November, as part of his album “Slowhand”. Its producer is Glyn Johns, and the label that supported it was RSO Records.


Clapton’s version was more of a notable success, making it onto the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 3 on Canada Top Singles and being certified platinum in the Netherlands. But more importantly is that it is considered one of Clapton’s, a legendary musician himself, signature songs.

It should be noted that Clapton’s cover was never released as a single per se. Rather it was the B-side to another track named “Lay Down Sally” (1977).

For a few years “Cocaine” was actually illegal in Argentina, i.e. not being featured on the edition of “Slowhand” that was available in that country.

This isn’t the only J. J. Cale song which Eric Clapton covered. Throughout the years, he has successfully covered a lot of Cale songs, including the following:

  • “I’ll Make Love to You Anytime” (1978)
  • “Travelin’ Light” (2001)
  • “Everything Will Be Alright” (2010)
  • “Rivers Run Deep” (2010)
  • “Can’t Let You Do It” (2016)
  • “Somebody’s Knockin” (2016)

5 Responses

  1. PJ says:

    I want to see the offspring of Eric Clapton and Taylor Swift. They should totally have relations with each other and gift the Earth an offspring.

  2. Jonathan Klein says:

    My interpretation of the song.

    I think the song is the words of a person addicted to cocaine speaking about the drug. The person is trapped in the addiction and is explaining what it does for you, “If you want to hang out”; “… get down”; “… kick them blues”, and perhaps in a self-deprecating way he says “down on the ground.”

    But in the last line he gives a warning “Don’t forget this fact, you can’t get it back”. Either he is talking about the time he has lost due to his addition, or that once you consume the cocaine you realize that it is gone and you must have more, and hence are addicted.

    The way the song is delivered, in the recordings by both J. J. Cale and Clapton, in this slow, mellow rhythm perfectly depicts a man caught in the grip of the drug, both loving it and knowing it is destroying him, and explaining that to the listener. It is this picture of the reality of drug addiction that makes this song an anti-drug song.

  3. Rand says:

    So many people have mistaken this song for being pro cocaine.
    I’m surprised that unfortunate death of Clapton’s son didn’t kill him too

  4. River Rat says:

    I was never one to analyze the lyrics of a song during my drug days and always saw it as a pro drug song. If you think people doing drugs are looking at the fine print of the lyrics you are fooling yourself.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I find it incredibly amusing that he claims that Cocaine was an anti coke song ! The young people believe it because he said it. Let me explain a few facts. First of all, he did not even write the F song. JJ Cale wrote it. 2nd of all the younger generation has no idea what “get down” means or she don’t lie she don’t lie she don’t lie means so they will drink the koolaid. Coke was directly linked w good sex in those days. I was there and I don’t drink Kool-aid ! Everyone in the 70’s knew this was a Pro Coke song. In the words of Clint Eastwood
    “Don’t pass down my back and tell me it’s raining…. I may have been born @ night but not last night !

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