Whether you’re distilling it or drinking it, these are the best songs to listen to about moonshine.
Moonshining and bootlegging are as much a part of country culture as drinking a beer in the headlights or dancing on the tailgate. More, perhaps. It’s a matter of tradition and pride to have your own still hidden somewhere back in the woods, or at least it has been.
These days illegal moonshining might not be as common as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean moonshine has disappeared from country music. On the contrary, with the advent of many distilleries producing legal shine, moonshine is more popular than ever.
Songs like Florida-Georgia Line’s insanely popular “Get Your Shine On,” Brad Paisley’s “Moonshine in the Trunk” and Chris Young’s “White Lightning Hit the Family Tree” are bringing moonshine back (was it ever really gone?) with a vengeance.
Here are the 11 best songs about moonshine, with apologies to Tracy Byrd’s “Watermelon Crawl.” Sorry, Tracy, wine just doesn’t have the proper proof to make this list.
11. “Bootlegger’s Advice” – Assembly of Dust
The narrator in this song isn’t recommending moonshining or bootlegging to anyone; it’s a tough job with tough consequences. But being a bootlegger has helped him be able to think on his toes. And no one would blame you if you get to the end of the song thinking that the advice he’s going to give is to stay out of moonshining. But then he hits you with this doozy: “Vices are the spice of life.” Here’s to that.
10. “Moonshine in the Trunk” – Brad Paisley
Brad went so far as to name his entire album after this bootlegging track. Don’t be fooled, however; there isn’t actually any liquor in this song at all. But in usual Paisley fashion, Brad crafts an incredible metaphor for how to take life by the Mason jar and chug it down. Chug-a-lug, Brad, chug-a-lug.
9. “Mountain Dew” – Willie Nelson
Back before ponytails and a beard (but not before his classic wrinkles), Willie recorded this traditional classic. Willie’s version is “Good Old Mountain Dew,” not to be confused with the Irish traditional “Rare Old Mountain Dew.” Surprisingly they are also connected to the soft drink, as Mountain Dew was originally created to mix with liquor. The more you know.
8. Any track from American Moonshine and Prohibition Songs – The New Lost City Ramblers
This is an entire album about moonshine and moonshinery. (Yea, I invented that word.) Recognized by the Smithsonian as being of significant cultural importance, the 1962 record has songs both celebrating and condemning hooch. Many of the songs are traditional while several were revised by the band. Worth throwing on while you are throwing them back.
7. “Copper Kettle” – Joan Baez
“Copper Kettle” is a folk song written in the 50s and made popular in the 60s by Joan Baez. It’s a simple song extolling the simple pleasures of moonshine. Like in many moonshining songs, in “Copper Kettle” it’s a family business, passed down over generations in a family that hasn’t paid tax on whiskey since 1792.
6. “Daddy’s Moonshine Still” – Dolly Parton
In Dolly’s 1971 song, moonshine is at the root of all her family’s problems. Well, not moonshine directly, but her father’s still. Dolly’s father’s business breaks his wife’s heart; he makes his kids wash Mason jars, run the shine, and lie about what they are doing. On one of their runs, Dolly’s brothers die and the memories haunt the singer for the rest of her life.
5. “God’s Own Drunk” – Jimmy Buffett
Things take a hilarious turn for Buffett when he goes up to watch his brother-in-law’s still. Buffett was sued for this song by Richard Buckley’s son, who claimed Buffett stole the monologue from his father. Buffett’s response: to pen the song “The Lawyer and the Asshole.” The verdict of the lawsuit isn’t clear, but “God’s Own Drunk” remains one of the best songs about moonshine out there, Richard Buckley or now.
4. “Tear My Stillhouse Down” – Gillian Welch
Some people want their ashes scattered across the oceans. Some people want their family to take a trip on them when they die. Not Gillian Welch. When she dies, Gillian Welch wants you to tear her stillhouse down. It’s that stillhouse, after all, that will have killed her.
3. “Chug-a-lug” – Roger Miller
“Chug-a-lug” recounts Miller’s first experiences with various homemade beverages including grape wine and moonshine. Each sip gets a typical Miller reaction: empathic noise making and exaggerated gestures. Ah, Roger Miller, where have you gone?
2. “White Lightnin'” – George Jones
The Possum’s first number one single was originally recorded by rocker The Big Bopper. The Big Bopper and Jones had been friends up until his former’s death along with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens in the plane crash that would come to be known as the day the music died. When Jones recorded “White Lightning” less than two months later, legend has it that he was so drunk they had to record 80 takes before Jones got it right.
1. “Copperhead Road” – Steve Earle
Probably the best and best-known song about moonshine and moonshine running there is and ever will be. Three generations of Pettimores defend their still at the end of Copperhead Road from cops and the DEA (when John Lee decides to plant marijuana instead). Somehow Earle paints a story of rebellion, tragedy, and protest in just over three minutes of country music perfection.