Referencing alcohol in songs is a practice almost as old as music itself. From Snoop Dogg’s “Gin N Juice” to the classic “Piña Colada Song,” boozy lyrics and titles have long been tied to myriad famous brands and drinks. But few beverages have inspired the music world as much as the rock ‘n’ roll favorite Tequila Sunrise.
The Tequila Sunrise cocktail — which combines orange juice, Grenadine, and tequila — influenced pop culture so much in the early ‘70s that it is often credited with the popularization of tequila in the U.S.
Before the Rolling Stones and the Eagles discovered the drink, tequila was already becoming a hit in California, as Mexican influences shook up the West Coast bar scene. But in 1972, the former band’s discovery of the citrus-forward beverage would lead to tequila’s nationwide popularity.
After a tough day on tour in June of 1972, when the Rolling Stones needed a place to unwind, promoter Bill Graham took the band to the Trident in Sausalito, Calif. There, the band tried their first Tequila Sunrises, and everything changed.
“Mick and Keith walked up to the bar and said, ‘Can we have a Margarita?’” Bobby Lozoff, who worked as a bartender at the Trident at the time, said in an interview with KTVU. “I said, ‘Have you ever tried this drink, Tequila Sunrise?’” Lozoff had been experimenting with new tequila recipes after the bar installed a juicer, and so he mixed up a beverage for the band members made with Cuervo, OJ, and Grenadine — a combination that the Stones would recreate countless times on their “Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour.” “Not only did they love the taste, it was easy to make,” Lozoff added.
The drink soon became a worldwide phenomenon — no doubt in part due to the tour’s name — bringing tequila to the forefront of popular culture. In fact, according to a 1976 Time Magazine article, the spirit’s annual sales grew 400 percent between 1971 and 1976 in the U.S.
Of course, the Stones were not the only band inspired by the drink. On their 1973 album “Desperado,” the Eagles released the hit “Tequila Sunrise,” which climbed onto the Billboard Hot 100 that same year. Though named after the drink, the song actually describes a night of heavy tequila consumption to numb the pain of a breakup, which lasts until the sun rises. The play on words was not lost on drinks lovers, as the Tequila Sunrise cocktail is built without being mixed, creating a gradient effect that resembles an actual sunrise.
From there, references to tequila popped up all over the music scene. Jimmy Buffets’s 1977 “Margaritaville” describes a tropical tequila-fueled paradise, while Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen,” recorded in 1978, implores Cuervo Colombian Gold to “make tonight a wonderful thing.”
Tequila’s success has only continued to boom, and though the Tequila Sunrise itself is no longer in the spotlight, its influence on drinks culture remains. While the aforementioned Time Magazine article predicted that “tequila will probably never rival bourbon, Scotch, gin or vodka in the U.S.,” today it is proving to be a contender for the title of America’s most valuable spirit. Music fans can only hope that the spirit will continue to spark inspiration for their favorite bands.