The Bottle

Album: Winter in America (1974)
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Songfacts®:

  • "The Bottle" is Gil Scott-Heron's social commentary on alcohol abuse. He discusses the destructive power of addiction and how it can ruin people's lives.

    Scott-Heron took inspiration from observing and talking to alcoholics outside a liquor store called the Log Cabin in Northern Virginia, near Washington DC. Every day, they lined up to exchange their empty bottles for a discount on their next purchase.
  • Scott-Heron tells the stories of some of these street winos, including an ex-physician who'd been arrested for performing illegal abortions on young girls.

    You see that gent in a wrinkled suit there
    He not done damn blown his cool to the bottle
    He was a doctor helping young girls along
    If they wasn't too far gone to have problems


    He also recounts how their hard drinking affects the people in their lives.

    You see that black boy over there running scared
    His old man in a bottle
    He done quit his nine to five, he drink full time
    And now he's living in a bottle
  • Gil Scott-Heron laid down "The Bottle" for Winter in America, an album he recorded in collaboration with jazz keyboardist Brian Jackson. The record addresses the experiences and challenges faced by the African American community and inner-city residents in the 1970s.
  • "The Bottle" incorporates Scott-Heron's keyboards, Jackson's flute harmonies, and a Caribbean beat. Released as a single, its infectious pop/dance groove and social message proved popular at parties, and it became an underground and cult hit. The success of "The Bottle" boosted the sales of Winter In America, which eventually sold over 300,000 copies in the United States.
  • Critics cite "The Bottle" as one of Scott-Heron's best songs. NME ranked it #92 on their 1987 list of The Top 150 Singles of All-Time and Pitchfork rated it #137 on their 2016 list of the 200 Best Songs of the 1970s.
  • Notable cover versions include:

    1974 The funk/soul group Brother to Brother released their own version of "The Bottle," which has a similar musical arrangement as the original but is slightly more upbeat and straightforward. The Brother to Brother cover reached #46 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

    1975 Latin soul musician Joe Bataan covered "The Bottle" as an instrumental on his 1975 album Afrofilipino. Released as a single, it reached #59 on the Billboard Hot Soul (R&B) Singles chart.

    1992 Liverpool soul-pop group The Christians covered "The Bottle" on their 1992 album Happy In Hell. Their version peaked at #39 on the UK Singles chart.

    2004 English singer-songwriter Paul Weller covered "The Bottle" on his 2004 album Studio 150.

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