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A Very Drunk History of ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’

At some point, the entire world latched on to the saying as a way to winkingly excuse their 11 a.m. negroni. Who birthed this monstrosity, and why won’t country stars stop crooning it?

It’s getting to be that time again — chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose and me spending weekends day-drinking the damn-near magical Evan Williams Egg Nog. I found it stocked in my local liquor store last week, so I brought it home, and when the weekend rolled around, I popped it open and started somewhere around 9 a.m.

My wife, probably relieved to see me relaxing, encouraged me with a customary, “Go ahead, it’s five o’clock somewhere.” From there, we started talking about that old expression, where it came from (we didn’t know), and if it really fucking matters what time of day you drink, anyway. Also, to be correct, it’s usually after 5 p.m. somewhere.

Anyway, I did nothing to answer those questions in the moment, but my eggnog-inspired curiosity had me researching later. To start, “It’s five o’clock somewhere” is one of those rare expressions that has a solid, traceable backstory. According to renowned etymologist Barry Popik, it came from comedian Red Skelton, who hosted a popular comedy/variety show from 1951 to 1971 and was a pretty big part of American comedy history.

Red Skelton

“It’s five o’clock somewhere” may have come from one of Skelton’s writers, and because he sometimes played a drunk in his act, it’s entirely possible that this line was a recurring piece of material. That said, it only seems to have been recorded for posterity once (at least, in print, anyway). In the summer of 1959, Oakland Tribune columnist Bill Fiset did a write-up of Skelton’s Vegas act and specifically noted this as one of the best lines in his set: “I don’t drink this early in the day, but what the heck, it must be five o’clock somewhere in the world.” 

The expression has also been attributed to President Harry Truman, who supposedly said it to a bartender when he was denied a drink because it wasn’t five o’clock yet. While Truman was one of our snappier presidents, this is likely bullshit thanks to the vague details surrounding the story (this supposedly happened at a “bar in a certain club early one afternoon,” but there’s no hint of where or when that was). People often misattribute famous quotes to important historical figures, so this was likely what happened with Truman and “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” 

Meanwhile, Skelton was a popular comedian, so it very likely started with him. Considering how often it was cited in print, it looks like it proliferated as a saying beginning in the mid-1960s and has continued right up until today. It was also used as a song title by country star Hank Thompson in 1977 and an album title by hard rocker Slash in 1995. 

Then came Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett in 2003 with their song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” which catapulted the saying from a simple turn-of-phrase to a massively popular hit. Written by Jim “Moose” Brown and Don Rollins, it spent eight weeks on top of the County Billboard charts and was later cited by Billboard as the number three country song of the decade.

From that point on, for better or worse — sorry, I kinda hate that song — “It’s five o’clock somewhere” has been linked to that country tune. In fact, in the Buffett-sponsored Margaritaville hotels and resorts, many of the bars have been named “5 o’Clock Somewhere.” To say nothing of how the saying has become the subject of countless novelty signs that people can hang in their homes. There was even a 2018 TV show named It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere. Regardless, the expression will likely remain synonymous with the Jackson/Buffett ditty until the sun explodes and all traces of both that expression and the song are obliterated by fire. 

But what of the license it’s providing — i.e., how bad is it for your body to start drinking before 5 p.m.? Per nutritionist Sean Salazar of Anywhere Gym, it’s actually better for you than starting later. “When it comes to alcohol, you’re still taking in calories,” he explains. “So if someone were to have a Bloody Mary with breakfast, chances are that they’re going to burn those calories off throughout the day. But when we consume alcohol late, we’re not really doing much, and when you’re done drinking, you usually go to bed. On top of that, a lot of people indulge in late-night wings or pizza when they’re drinking late.”

As a nutritionist, Salazar chose not to ruin his reputation by endorsing day drinking, and went on to emphasize, “Alcohol is still a poison with zero nutritional benefit.” That doesn’t change the fact, though, that because you do have an increased ability to burn off those calories before sleeping, there is a slight advantage to drinking earlier as opposed to just before bed. 

So, as far as I’m concerned, this information means that “It’s five o’clock somewhere” is not only a funny-joke-turned-migraine-inducing-country-song, but sage wisdom as well. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe Mr. Evan Williams is calling my name. Because, say it with me, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

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