Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll—that holy trinity of hedonism—is a more timeless trio than you’d think. The first identified use of the phrase as we know it was in a 1969 LIFE magazine piece, which declared, “The counter culture has its sacraments in sex, drugs and rock.” Two years later, a writer for the Spectator, a British magazine, also attempted to wrap his head around "kids these days," saying, “Not for nothing is the youth culture characterized by sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.”
But the phrase really took off in 1977, when British musician Ian Dury released a song using a version of the expression as its title. Since then, variations have been used to name movies, a TV show, books, albums, and yes, even more rock songs.
Dury’s tune may have popularized the term “sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll,” but it’s really just one iteration of the much older expression, “wine, woman, and song.” As a hendiatris—a figure of speech that uses three words or phrases to make it more memorable—“wine, woman, and song” conveys a set of priorities that are pretty universal in appeal. Variations on the phrase have existed across cultures for hundreds of years.
It’s not clear who coined the phrase, but it most likely originated in a German song lyric and was in print by the 1770s: “Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang, der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang.” (English translation: “Who does not love wine, women, and song, remains a fool his whole life long.”)
Although some scholars attribute the couplet to a song written by theologian Martin Luther, others claim a German writer named Johann Heinrich Voss first said it. Still others keep it vague, attributing the couplet to an anonymous author. We do know that in 1839, the German phrase first appeared in a British magazine, attributed to Luther.
The concept of “Wein, Weib, und Gesang” (“wine, woman, and song”) even made its way into the original German national anthem, and musicians ranging from Johann Strauss II to Loretta Lynn have written tunes called “Wine, Women, and Song.” John Keats even wrote a poem called “Give Me Women, Wine, and Snuff” in 1817, apparently choosing sniffable tobacco over music as his vice of choice.
Some of these variations on the “illicit substance" + "women" + "music” formula are:
1. Polish: Wino, kobiety i śpiew ("wine, women and singing")
2. Finnish: Viini, laulu ja naiset ("wine, song, and women")
3. Sanskrit/Hindi: Sur, Sura, Sundari ("music, wine and woman")
4. Portuguese: Putas, música e vinho verde ("whores, music and green wine")
5. Danish: Vin, kvinder og sang ("wine, women and song")
6. Czech: Ženy, víno a zpěv ("women, wine and singing")
7. Norwegian: Piker, vin og sang ("girls, wine and song")
8. German: Wein, Weib und Gesang ("wine, woman and singing")
9. Swedish: Vin, kvinnor och sång ("wine, women and song")
10. Georgian: ღვინო, დუდუკი, ქალები ("wine, pipe music, women")
11. Italian: Bacco, tabacco e Venere ("Bacchus, tobacco and Venus")
12. Turkish: At, Avrat, Silah ("horse, woman, weapons")
13. Bulgarian: Пиене, ядене и някоя сгодна женица ("drink, food and a good woman")
Study up and you’ll be ready to rock wherever you are.