Song of the Day #3,365: ‘Needle in the Hay’ – Elliott Smith

Things turn a bit darker on Day Eight of the 30 Day Music Challenge, as we are asked to come up with ‘A Song About Drugs Or Alcohol.’ Sure, there are plenty of fun drinking songs, but my mind went immediately to more cautionary tales.

No artist in my music collection is more appropriate for this category than Elliott Smith, whose heroin addiction informed so many of his songs.

‘Needle in the Hay’ was the first and only single from Smith’s 1995 self-titled album. He was reportedly not yet an addict when he wrote this, but he certainly seems to implicitly understand his subject matter. He writes about walking with a “dead sweat in [his] teeth” to find a man who’s “gonna make it okay” then ends with a gritty double entendre: “You ought to be proud that I’m getting good marks.”

Wes Anderson used this track to score Richie Tenenbaum’s suicide attempt in The Royal Tenenbaums, two years before Smith took his own life.

[Verse 1]
Your hand on his arm
Haystack charm around your neck
Strung out and thin
Calling some friend trying to cash some check
He’s acting dumb
That’s what you’ve come to expect

[Chorus]
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

[Verse 2]
He’s wearing your clothes
Head down to toes a reaction to you
You say you know what he did
But you idiot kid
You don’t have a clue
Sometimes they just get caught in the eye
You’re pulling him through

[Chorus]
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

[Verse 3]
Now on the bus
Nearly touching this dirty retreat
Falling out
6th and Powell, a dead sweat in my teeth
Gonna walk, walk, walk
Four more blocks plus the one in my brain
Down downstairs to the man
He’s gonna make it all okay
I can’t be myself
I can’t be myself and I don’t want to talk
I’m taking the cure so I can be quiet wherever I want
So leave me alone
You ought to be proud that I’m getting good marks

[Chorus]
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

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8 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,365: ‘Needle in the Hay’ – Elliott Smith

  1. Maddie says:

    First thing that came to mind is my favorite fun. song. Kind of a happy-sad one.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    There certainly are plenty of darker cautionary drug/alcohol related songs spanning the decades such as Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done” and, a bit more metaphorically, America’s “Horse with no Name” or The Beatles “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (Though I believe Lennon had always denied that the song was referring to LSD-I don’t buy it). However, since you went to the dark side, I’m going to go in the other direction with one of the funniest drinking songs I know (and the first one to come to mind when I saw the category) – Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”

  3. Peg Clifton says:

    First to my mind was Frank Sinatra and his saloon songs. I’ll go with One More for my Baby (and one more for the road)

  4. Amy says:

    The first song I thought of was Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and the “bottle of red” that becomes a “bottle of reds” by song’s end (or does it?)

    However, when I saw the dark path you took, I instead thought of a much more mellow and happier view and decided to share that one instead. While Dana already represented this artist, it’s only fitting to feature the song that launched an entire brand (clothes, restaurant, hotel) devoted to celebrating the pastime of wasting away in Margaritaville. I particularly like this choice on the heels of Irma and Maria; here’s hoping that all these places bounce back soon.

    • Clay says:

      A great song and a great pick, though I might dispute your characterization of this song as happy. Mellow, certainly, but it actually paints a pretty bleak picture.

      • Amy says:

        Bleak? Nibbling on sponge cakes, while strumming my six-string on my front porch swing is not a bleak image in my book. Yes, the pursuits of looking for a lost shaker of salt and getting a tattoo you can’t remember getting are not very noble or ambitious ones, but I believe it’s that very fact that makes this song an anthem for so many people.

  5. Rob says:

    Good category … I too chose the humorous path. This was a huge hit in 1979 when I was 16 and living in Hamilton, Ontario.

  6. Peter says:

    On the fly…:

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