In no particular order, a list of some of the best songs celebrating marijuana. Thanks to High Times, Rolling Stone, Udiscovermusic, and my own music collection.
Fats Waller: ‘If You’re A Viper’
Perhaps the earliest, coolest (and most famous) reefer song in jazz, this was originated by gypsy-jazz violinist Stuff Smith in 1937 and was later cut by a host of others, most famously (though a female singer, Rosetta Howard, did it before him). Everybody shared the dream of “a reefer five feet long”, but only The Manhattan Transfer version (on their very first album, Jukin’, kept Smith’s wording of the title: ‘If you’se A Viper’.
John Prine: ‘Illegal Smile’
never wasted a minute of dry wit, and even though this is something of a party song, it also captured the paranoia of being a marijuana enthusiast in the early 70s, when a bit of indulgence could still land you in jail.
Afroman: ‘Because I Got High’
If this one were more serious, we could also list it as an anti-pot song; after all, the hero does himself a load of damage by staying high all the time. But, the best way of getting over those troubles is to get high some more.
Lana Del Rey: ‘High By The Beach’
The current queen of elegant decadence weighs in, in a suitably elegant and decadent way. InLana Del Ray’s case, getting high provides an escape from a destructive relationship, and one more sad thing to languidly contemplate.
BOB MARLEY — “Kaya”
Marley’s most famous ganja tune was written in the late ’60s with the help of Lee “Scratch” Perry, but wasn’t released as an album until the late ’70s.
RICK JAMES — “Mary Jane”
“It’s my main thang,” James sang. “I love you Mary Jane.” The funkiest ode to pot . . . ever.
CAB CALLOWAY — “Reefer Man”
“Have you ever met that funny, funny reefer man?” was the question posed in this period piece, recorded by Cab Calloway and many others.
Peter Tosh, "Legalize It"
Certainly, marijuana had no greater reggae proponent in the Seventies and Eighties than the former Wailer, who launched his solo career in 1975 with this legalization anthem. Tosh’s 1976 album of the same name had the additional stoner cachet of being bankrolled by a marijuana distributor.
Brewer & Shipley, "One Toke Over the Line"
L.A.-based folkies Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley scored a surprise Top 10 hit in the spring of 1971 with this catchy little ditty – often introduced in concert as “our cannabis spiritual” – about waiting for a train while being more than slightly baked. “One day we were pretty much stoned and all,” Brewer told Rolling Stone in April 1971, “and Tom says, ‘Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.’ I liked the way it sounded and so I wrote a song about it.”
The Mighty Diamonds: ‘Pass The Kouchie’
One of the most infectious of all reggae odes to the herb, this song – appropriately – sounds both spiritual and good-timey. The version most people know is the hit by Musical Youth, but since they were all children, they cleaned it up to ‘Pass The Dutchie’ and made it about a different kind of pot: the kind you cook in.
Willie Nelson: ‘Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die’
Even though there wasn’t a single fan who didn’t know loved his marijuana, it took him until 2012 (on 20 April, naturally) to release a great song about it. Musically, it shows the scope of his appeal (you’d never get Snoop Dogg and Kris Kristofferson on the same record otherwise); lyrically, it’s less a simple stoner song than a Willie-style existential treatise.
Black Sabbath, "Sweet Leaf"
Let’s be honest: At one time or another, we’ve all been Tony Iommi at the beginning of “Sweet Leaf,” hacking away in agonized bliss after a particularly large hit. The Sabbath guitarist’s tape-looped cough serves as the perfect segue into the song’s iconic sludgy riff (a riff that, it should be noted, later popped up everywhere from the Beastie Boys’ “Rhymin’ and Stealin’ ” to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away”). Reportedly, the song’s title was nicked from a brand of Irish cigarettes that touted its product as “the sweet leaf,” but it’s Ozzy’s words that best capture the youthful excitement of a new, yet sadly unrequited, love: “I love you sweet leaf,” he sings, “though you can’t hear.”
BLACK UHURU — “Sinsemilla”
“I’ve got a stalk of sinsemilla in my pocket,” Michael Rose exhaled on the chorus to one of reggae’s most enduring ganja classics.
Neil Young, "Roll Another Number (for the Road)"
Recorded in the wake of the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry,Tonight’s the Nightis the sound of a man and a band in the depths of chemical- and alcohol-assisted despair. “I’m not a junkie,” Young said in 1975 about making the album. “But we’d get really high – drink a lot of tequila, get right out on the edge.” But if he was fueled primarily by booze, it certainly sounds like some weed was added to the proceedings for “Roll Another Number,” as Young struggles to start his car and declares himself “a million miles away” from the hippie days of Woodstock. Far from celebratory, the song’s overall mood is closer to, as Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbot once described it, “a drunken Irish wake.”
COMMANDER CODY & HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN — “Seeds & Stems (Again)”
A country weeper complete with tears-in-your-beer steel guitar that’s both heartfelt and parody, as the Commander sings, “I’m proud to be a toker from Muskogee.”
Dash Rip Rock: ‘Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot’
One of New Orleans’ favourite rock’n’roll bands had a leftfield hit in the mid-90s, when a song they’d been encoring with for years got on the radio. Based loosely on ‘At The Hop’, the song pokes plenty of fun at hippies and their favourite bands, but does so good-naturedly enough that they didn’t mind.
The Toyes, "Smoke Two Joints"
Long before Sublime included a punky, sped-up cover version on their 1992 debut, this slice of tie-dyed American reggae percolated as a West Coast cult anthem. Progressive FM radio stations across California cued up the track at 4:20 p.m., just to let the kids know it was time to feel irie. “Hard work good, and hard work fine, but first take care of head,” sang lead singer Mawg as if he was serenading college youth ready to unwind after a long day of hitting the books. Formed in Hawaii (and now based in Oregon), the Toyes conceived the famous chorus for “Smoke Two Joints” during a nondescript party – the lyrics came later. Out of that modest. and probably stoned, inspiration came a weed clarion call for the ages.
Cypress Hill: ‘Hits From The Bong’
Aside from a few references in Beastie Boys songs, Cypress Hill took the lead in bringing stoner consciousness into hip-hop, and this track introduces the deep bass and laidback groove that would become familiar in years to come. Before its release, bong hits were little more than a Cheech & Chong punchline; now they were forever a Cypress Hill punchline.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG — “Muggles”
Before pot was illegal, it was known as gage, mezz and muggles to a coterie of weed-smoking jazz cats like Armstrong. The great trumpet player and founder of jazz wrote this instrumental with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines.
Bob Dylan, "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35"
“I never have and never will write a drug song,” Bob Dylan famously announced during his legendary performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May 1966, but that hasn’t stopped several generations of dope smokers from adopting the lead track from Blonde on Blonde(which also hit Number Two on the Billboard singles chart in the spring of ’66) as an anthem. The song’s woozy chorus of “Everybody must get stoned!” is obviously responsible, along with the claim that “rainy day woman” is old-school weed-head slang for a joint – though some new-school stoners will also helpfully point out that 12 times 35 equals420, maaan. The Mighty Zimm, however, continues to insist that the stoning in question was Biblical, not herbal. “It doesn’t surprise me that some people would see it that way,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “But these are people that aren’t familiar with the Book of Acts.”
The Beatles, "Got to Get You Into My Life"
This sunny, soulful track from 1966’sRevolver LP is generally thought of as one of the Fab Four’s many upbeat love songs – but according to Paul McCartney, the love object in this particular instance is a weed, not a woman. “‘Got to Get You into My Life’ was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot,” he told Barry Miles for the 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. “I’d been a rather straight working-class lad but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. I didn’t have a hard time with it and to me it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding. So ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ is really a song about that, it’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot. It’s saying, ‘I’m going to do this. This is not a bad idea.'”
Tom Petty, "You Don't Know How It Feels"
Listeners who interpreted Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1993 single “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” as Petty’s kiss-off to cannabis were thoroughly disabused of that notion by “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the lead single from Petty’s 1994 solo albumWildflowers: “Let me get to the point,” sang Petty in no uncertain terms, “Let’s roll another joint.” The sentiment made the folks at MTV uneasy; but rather than ban the song’s video, they simply ran an edited version that played the word “joint” backwards. “Imagine my surprise when this song comes on television and they say, ‘Let’s roll anothernoojh,'” Petty told a VH1Storytellersaudience in 1997. “Which sounded worse to me than ‘joint.’ Because, I don’t know if you’ve ever had anoojh, but that sounds really wicked.”
TRADITIONAL — “La Cucaracha”
The theme song of the Mexican revolution contains the memorable lyric, “Marijuana que fumar” (smoke marijuana).
FRATERNITY OF MAN — “Don’t Bogart Me
Better known as “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” this originally appeared on the Easy Rider soundtrack, and was later popularized by Little Feat.
NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE — “Panama Red”
Peter Rowan’s smuggler tale harkens back to the days when the best weed came from Latin American.
DAVID PEEL — “I Like Marijuana”
The master marijuana minstrel championed pot to the tune of 1961’s “Peanut Butter.”
The Selecter: ‘My Collie (Not A Dog)’
Probably for obvious reasons, there aren’t a lot of fast, danceable songs about marijuana. But the 2-Tone ska bands were into it, too, and they weren’t about to slow down just because of a lyric. ‘My Collie (Not A Dog)’ by The Selecter is as jubilant as the rest of their Too Much Pressure album, with the usual shot of sexiness from Pauline Black’s vocal interjections.
Jim Stafford: ‘Wildwood Weed’
After busting one taboo with ‘My Girl Bill’, Stafford managed a follow-up hit with this equally cheeky tune, perhaps the first Top 10 hit that was pro-pot with no ambiguity at all. Stafford was a genial enough personality to pull it off – and even got a network TV show soon after.