Well, it had to happen eventually: we did booze songs and coke songs, after all, so weed songs were only a matter of time. But we also couldn’t stall too long; with possession of cannabis now legal in four states and the District of Columbia, and ten more states on the ballot this year, it seems increasingly inevitable that marijuana’s days of underground cachet and in-jokey subcultural references are numbered. Pretty soon, at least in the U.S., the whole concept of “420”–as a code for illicit pot use and as a date for pro-legalization efforts–will be as quaint as Prohibition-era speakeasies and bathtub gin.
On the whole, that’s a good thing. As several of the songs on the playlist below note, the legal prohibition of cannabis is both puritanical and pointless. But it’s also hard to deny that the anti-authoritarian undertones of pot smoking, its subcultural quality, has produced a lot of great songs–songs that just wouldn’t be the same if they were all about walking into a dispensary and deciding between White Berry and Blue Dreams like you’re in an especially musty-smelling candy store. Yes, stoner culture at its worst is kind of insipid; yes, it’s been a long, long time since Cheech and Chong were actually funny. But it’s also profoundly difficult to imagine the last 80 years of pop music without pot’s forbidden-fruit allure. So let’s look back at the symbiotic relationship between marijuana and music, even as we simultaneously look ahead to a time when blazing a spliff in front of your family will be as unremarkable as sipping a glass of cabernet. Weed will probably never be cool again; but at least we’ll all probably live to see the day when it won’t get you arrested.
1. Funkadelic: “What is Soul”
(from Funkadelic, 1970)
Anyone with a passing knowledge of George Clinton‘s P-Funk collective knows that these guys were fully capable of flying without the aid of the Mothership–usually on drugs a hell of a lot harder than weed. But weed is the clear inspiration for the closing track of their self-titled 1970 debut album: from the sloppy, stoned groove by guitarist Eddie Hazel, bass player Billy “Bass” Nelson, and drummer Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood, to, well, the audible bong hits and coughing during the intro, it’s pretty clear what state of mind Funkadelic intended their listeners to be in. And let’s face it: no non-stoned person has ever giggled as much as Clinton does at the concept of “a ham hock in your cornflakes.”
2. Luniz featuring Michael Marshall: “I Got 5 on It”
(from Operation Stackola, 1995)
Oakland G-funk duo Luniz is best known for this 1995 hit, an ode to the classic stoner party foul of throwing in a pittance for the weed and then proceeding to totally bogart it. The first verse by Yukmouth is especially remorseless: “I steal doobies, spit loogies when I puff on it,” he announces with no apparent shame. “I got some bucks on it, but it ain’t enough on it.” At least he’s honest.
3. The Who: “Instant Party Mixture”
(1965 recording, available on My Generation: Deluxe Edition)
Listening to this 1965 rejected B-side by British Invasion bad boys the Who immediately after “I Got 5 on It” reveals much about the intervening 30 years of cannabis culture. While Yukmouth and Numskull don’t hold back on unleashing a deluge of stoner references, Who frontmen Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend can’t even bring themselves to say the word “pot”; instead, they merely allude to it, explaining that “the reason why this scene is really hot” is “all because they’re smoking a new cigarette, it’s called…” These days, their reticence seems pretty quaint–especially considering that around the same time, drummer Keith Moon was telling New Musical Express that his “favorite food” was “French blues,” better known as the amphetamine Dexamyl. Maybe they just didn’t want to be associated with downers?
4. Mystikal: “Smoke One”
(from Tarantula, 2001)
Self-proclaimed “medicine man” Mystikal is no stranger to weed, to the point that he even appeared in the 2012 direct-to-video stoner comedy Mac & Devin Go to High School as a talking blunt named “Slow Burn” (don’t ask). Call me crazy, though, but this designated smoking song from his 2002 album Tarantula does not make me want to share a joint with him. All the chilled-out reggae-inspired grooves in the world can’t counteract the fact that “Smoke One” is basically just four and a half minutes of Mystikal hoarsely barking orders like a bleary-eyed drill sergeant: “Swallow that shit, nigga, you wastin’ the weed!” he accuses at one point. I’ve never even met Mystikal, and he’s already harshed my mellow.
5. Hawkwind: “Reefer Madness”
(from Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, 1976)
Reefer Madness, the movie, was basically the original D.A.R.E. T-shirt. An earnest, low-budget propaganda film about the purported evils of youth marijuana use, financed by a church group and originally released as Tell Your Children in 1936, it eventually fell into the hands of producer Dwain Esper, who added some more salacious scenes and distributed it on the exploitation circuit; today, it is pretty much exclusively viewed by ironic college students and twentysomethings, most of them high on the very “reefer” the film was made to protest. And that’s pretty much the story behind this Hawkwind song of the same title: a droll recitation of the film’s hysterical themes (sample lyric: “Evil reefer madness is a mind eating troll”) performed to a stoner-friendly space-rock groove by a post-psychedelic festival band whose first album cover depicted dragons emerging from huge piles of cannabis leaves. Basically, the original makers of Tell Your Children are spinning in their proverbial graves right now, and have been since (at least) 1976.
6. Rick James and the Stone City Band: “Mary Jane”
(from Come Get It!, 1978)
These days, of course, Rick James is most closely associated with another (helluva) drug; but as he was always eager to remind us, his first love was a certain Mary Jane. While the idea of singing a love song to marijuana has inevitably lost some of its edge since 1978, “Mary Jane” remains a jam purely on the strength of its arrangement: a killer mélange of funk, soul, rock, and reggae that doesn’t sound remotely dated, even 38 years later.
7. Clipse: “Gangsta Lean”
(from Lord Willin’, 2002)
But “Mary Jane” is only one example from the thriving subgenre of pot-themed love songs: hell, this playlist alone has like seven or eight of them. Even Virginia Beach coke-rap duo Clipse got in on the action, with this surprisingly tender track from their 2002 debut album. Over a typically mellow, soulful hook by producers the Neptunes, Malice and Pusha T extol the virtues of a girl whose love is so strong she makes their bodies go limp and makes them walk with a “gangsta lean”–and who, if you haven’t guessed already, is just a personification of really strong weed: “From Taiwanese to Amsterdam greeny green / To hydroponic that make a weak stomach vomit.”
8. The Streets: “The Irony of It All”
(from Original Pirate Material, 2002)
One of the perennial arguments in favor of cannabis legalization is that the drug’s effects are no worse–and in some cases even more innocuous–than the more socially accepted high of alcohol. U.K. garage rapper-producer Mike Skinner, better known as the Streets, dramatizes that argument quite literally in “The Irony of All”: taking on both sides of an exchange between laddish “Terry,” a “law abider” who spends his weekends getting tanked and instigating fights, and mild-mannered “Tim,” a reserved homebody who is nevertheless “a criminal… for the choice of herbs I inhale.” All of which is of course a bit on the nose and overly simplistic, but still, it’s hard to deny that Skinner has a point.
9. Terry Reid: “Superlungs My Supergirl”
(from Terry Reid, 1969)
Now here’s a weed song that could just as easily have fit on our statutory rape playlist last summer. Originally written by Scottish psych-pop singer-songwriter Donovan, “Superlungs My Supergirl” is a weirdly lascivious song about a juvenile delinquent who’s “only fourteen but she knows how to draw,” thus earning her the nickname “Superlungs.” Maybe that’s why we recommend this 1969 cover version by blues-rock belter Terry Reid: not only is it just a better song in his hands, but his powerful vocals–his, ahem, “Superlungs”–also make it easier to ignore the fact that you’re listening to a song effectively endorsing the corruption of minors.
10. Black Sabbath: “Sweet Leaf”
(from Master of Reality, 1971)
The original dope-smoking anthem thinly disguised as a love song, “Sweet Leaf” is like “Mary Jane” stripped of any pretense to sly sexiness, then bludgeoned into submission by one of Tony Iommi‘s sludgiest riffs. This, my friends, is high school burnout culture ground zero: if you can listen to it all the way through without feeling the insane urge to grow a wispy stoner ‘stache and replace all your outerwear with denim sherpa jackets, you’re a stronger person than I. Hell, I’ve listened to “Sweet Leaf” so much I’m halfway to airbrushing a wizard on the side of my van. Marijuana really is a gateway drug!
11. Boston: “Smokin'”
(from Boston, 1976)
This little boogie number from Boston, the debut album by Boston arena rockers Boston, might just be the corniest rock song ever written about pot–but it’s also probably the most joyous. In fact, “Smokin'” for songwriters Tom Scholz and Brad Delp seems to be a catch-all term for anything awesome: from gettin’ down to some rock ‘n’ roll to wicked organ solos to, presumably, finding the perfect perm-to-facial-hair ratio. But they also totally instruct the audience to “keep on tokin’,” so it’s definitely about weed, too.
12. Snoop Dogg featuring T.I.: “Edibles”
(from Bush, 2015)
It wouldn’t be a 420 playlist without a word from Uncle Snoop; and leave it to him, too, to bring a different form of cannabis to the table with his self-explanatory 2015 song “Edibles.” As a self-identified fat slob with weak lungs, the idea of consuming pot in brownie form is definitely appealing to me; and as a fan of grown and sexy music of all kinds, I’m definitely on board with the backing vocals by Pharrell and Charlie Wilson.
13. David Peel & The Lower East Side: “Legalize Marijuana”
(from The American Revolution, 1970)
Few singer-songwriters this side of Marvin Sease are as, shall we say, thematically consistent as David Peel. Just a brief glance through his song titles reveals a profound sense of artistic focus: “I Like Marijuana“; “I’ve Got Some Grass“; “Show Me the Way to Get Stoned“; “The Pope Smokes Dope.” His dedication to squeeze every drop of inspiration from his green, leafy muse is admirable…or maybe he just forgets about the previous dozens of pot songs he’s written every time he sits down to write a new one. Whatever the case, today we’re looking at “Legalize Marijuana”: a typically blunt 1970 protest song from Mr. Peel, with a “Tequila“-influenced proto-punk riff and lyrics about how “We want our Congressmen to smoke / Then there’ll be a lot of fucking dope / We want everyone to try / Something that’ll make them very high.” It isn’t exactly subtle, but hey, what about the ’60s counterculture ever was?
14. 2 Chainz: “100 Joints”
(from ColleGrove, 2016)
When Southern rappers and marijuana enthusiasts 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne released their, ahem, joint album ColleGrove earlier this year, approximately no one should have been surprised that it included a song called “100 Joints.” To be honest, the only surprising thing is that Weezy’s not on this one; the man audibly fires up a spliff before every one of his verses, so he if anyone could have sold lyrics like, “No matter what they say I smoke 100 joints a day.” Also, who is this “they?” Are there really people out there trying to undermine Tity Boi’s pothead rep? So many questions.
15. R. Kelly: “Sex Weed”
(from TP.3 Reloaded, 2005)
Of course R. Kelly has a song called “Sex Weed”; this is a man who, in a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, managed to improvise a song called “Sex Dolphin” on the spot. If the word “Sex” is in the title, he’s an overflowing font of inspiration. So yes, this a booty song comprised entirely of strained marijuana metaphors, by the idiot savant Pied Piper of R&B. And we respect that some of you probably won’t want to listen to it, because he’s a repeat sex offender and all, but let’s be real: you can easily imagine exactly what this song sounds like without ever needing to press “Play.”
16. D’Angelo: “Brown Sugar”
(from Brown Sugar, 1995)
Another example of the “Mary Jane”/”Gangsta Lean”/”Sweet Leaf” tradition of love songs that are actually about pot, D’Angelo‘s “Brown Sugar” at least earns a few points for subtlety: aside from a few giveaway lines like “See, we be making love constantly / That’s why my eyes are a shade blood burgundy,” you might almost be able to come away from it thinking he’s talking about a woman. Of course, that’s partly because D’Angelo’s vocals are so soulful that they tend to border on incomprehensibility; in any case, however, this is one weed song that would fit right in on a makeout playlist.
17. Anderson .Paak: “Might Be”
(from Venice, 2014)
Speaking of which, here’s a standout track from Anderson .Paak‘s pre-breakthrough 2014 album Venice, in which “a half an ounce of that tree” is an accessory to, rather than an object of his seduction. Like D’Angelo, .Paak has moved a step or two beyond snickering double entendres: when he says “I know enough to get you high, baby,” he’s talking about his innate ability to please a woman as much as his access to the right chemicals. But producer Lo_Def’s druggy, Xscape-sampling arrangement also ensures that we don’t forget about the chemical side of the equation.
18. Evan Belize: “Legalize God’s Creation”
(from We Are One, 2005)
And now, here’s the final word from a reggae artist with an impassioned plea to legalize ganja: no, not Peter Tosh, but a lesser-known disciple of his named Evan Belize. Belize has long been a favorite of ours here at Dystopian Dance Party. He put out a steady stream of self-released music, mostly for children, between 2003 and 2007, all with charming Microsoft Paint-assisted covers and spoke-sung stream-of-consciousness lyrics. And of course the man likes his herb; we could have guessed that the moment we saw the cover for his other 2005 album, Count Blackula’s Halloween Party. Just remember: “Children, please don’t smoke it.”