"The Bottle" is a song by American soul artist Gil Scott-Heron and musician Brian Jackson, released in 1974 on Strata-East Records in the United States. It was later reissued during the mid-1980s on Champagne Records in the United Kingdom. "The Bottle" was written by Scott-Heron and produced by audio engineer Jose Williams, Jackson, and Scott-Heron. The song serves is a social commentary on alcohol abuse, and it features a Caribbean beat and notable flute solo by Jackson, with Scott-Heron playing keyboards.
The song was issued as the first and only single for Scott-Heron's and Jackson's album Winter in America (1974). It became an underground and cult hit upon its release, and the single peaked at number 15 on the R&B Singles Chart. Cited by music critics as the album's best recording, the commercial success of "The Bottle" helped lead to Jackson's and Scott-Heron's next recording contract with Arista Records. Similar to other compositions by Scott-Heron, the song has been sampled extensively by hip hop artists.
"The Bottle" is a social commentary on alcohol abuse with a Caribbean beat. Scott-Heron wrote it after seeing men line up every day in front of a liquor store called the Log Cabin, bringing back their empty bottles to get a discount on their next purchase. Scott-Heron said of his inspiration for the song in an interview for Newsnight, "I discovered one of them was an ex-physician, who'd been busted for abortions on young girls. There was an air traffic controller in the military - one day he sent two jets crashing into a mountain. He left work that day and never went back."
The song also became a popular song played at parties at the time. French music critic Pierre Jean-Critin later described it as "an epic song ... whose infectious groove can still set dance floors alight over thirty years later." The song's pop/dance sensibilities and social message engendered its appeal to listeners following its release as a single. Scott-Heron later said of the single's success and style, "Pop music doesn't necessarily have to be shit."
Cited by critics and music writers as Winter in America's best recording, "The Bottle" also addresses problems of drug addiction, abortion, and incarceration, while featuring Jackson on flute and Scott-Heron on keyboards. While its theme examines the plight of alcoholics and those who have to live with and cope with them, "The Bottle" became a concert favorite and one of Scott-Heron's most popular songs.
"The Bottle" was released in 1974 as the only single for Winter in America. The song became an underground and cult hit upon its release. Soon after, it also became one of Scott-Heron's most successful singles, as it reached the number 15 spot on the R&B Singles Chart. The single's success helped lead to Jackson's and Scott-Heron's next recording contract with Arista Records, where they would enjoy more commercial success.
"The Bottle" has been cited by critics as Winter in America's best recording. Paul J. MacArthur of the Houston Press called it a "strong anti-alcohol rant with a funky bass hook and chilly flute fills." Much like many of Scott-Heron's recordings, "The Bottle" has been sampled by several hip hop artists, including De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers. "The Bottle" was later ranked number 92 on NME's list of The Top 150 Singles of All-Time and was included in Qmagazine's 1010 Songs You Must Own! publication.