From Louis Armstrong to Lady Gaga, countless musicians have gone on record about their love for weed. Smoking can help with creativity, aid in relaxation, even expand the mind. But some artists take the practice even further, going out of their way to write musical odes to the sticky green stuff, whether it’s coded as a love interest – see the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” or D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar – or right there in the name, like Afroman’s “Because I Got High.” No matter how you roll it, songs about pot keep the party going in any genre. Here are the 20 best weed-themed songs of all time.
This sunny, soulful
track from 1966’s Revolver 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. It didn’t seem to have too many
side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I
pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana. 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.'”
“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 equals 420,
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.”
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 song might have risen even higher in the charts if the FCC hadn’t suddenly stepped in with a helpful reminder to U.S. radio programmers regarding the actual meaning of “toke” – a term apparently still relatively obscure at the time among non-tokers, given that TV’s ultra-wholesome The Lawrence Welk Show didn’t think twice about featuring the song on their program.
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.”
Recorded in the wake of the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, Tonight’s the Night is 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.”
“What am I
without herb, and what is herb without me?” Peter Tosh asked Rolling Stone
in 1981, a rhetorical question if there ever was one. 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, which includes
the decades-ahead-of-its-time assertion that ganja is “good for
tuberculosis.” Tosh’s 1976 album of the same name had the additional
stoner cachet of being bankrolled by a marijuana distributor. “He approached a pot dealer in Miami to invest in the album, and the
dealer agreed,” reggae historian Roger Steffens told NPR in 2011. “He
said, ‘So what are you gonna call it?’ And Peter said, ‘I’m gonna call it Legalize
It.’ And the dealer got really upset and said, ‘No, man,
you’re gonna put me out of business!’ But eventually he changed his mind and
gave Peter the money.”
Cocaine may indeed be a helluva drug, as Rick James memorably attested on Chappelle’s Show, but the man clearly had a prodigious appetite for the sticky green stuff, as well. “I have to buy marijuana,” James told Rolling Stone in 1982, at the height of his fame. “I don’t buy ounces, I buy pounds.” A Number Three R&B hit in the fall of 1978 – but only making it to Number 41 on the pop chart, probably because the song’s message was too blatant for many radio programmers – “Mary Jane” is sensimilla-infused soul of the highest order. James would often perform the song onstage flanked by two gigantic fake joints, and punctuate the lyrics by taking exaggerated hits off a real one. Coolio, who obviously understood where James was coming from, would sample the song on “(I’m in Love With) Mary Jane,” recorded for the soundtrack of the 1998 stoner comedy Half-Baked.
Marley followed up 1977’s landmark Exodus – an album focused on religion, politics and faith – with an album that was decidedly more laid-back in temperament. And nowhere was this more evident than on Kaya‘s title track, an ode to chasing away the rain (both literal and metaphorical) with a bit of the titular plant (“kaya,” Marley once explained, is Jamaican slang for “herb”). Over a lilting rhythm, Marley essentially wakes and bakes, and before long declares that he is “feeling irie” (Rastafari for “good”). Why? “Because I have some kaya now.”
First recorded by Jamaican harmony trio the Mighty Diamonds, “Pass the Kouchie” is better known as “Pass the Dutchie,” by the British kiddie-reggae group Musical Youth, who rode their version to MTV success in 1982. In addition to the cleaned-up title – the judge in a later copyright case noted that “Kouchie” was slang for a “pot in which marijuana is kept,” while “Dutchie” was, in Jamaican patois, a “Dutch stewing pot” – the Musical Youth version also scrubbed any marijuana references from the verses, replacing the line “How does it feel when you got no herb?” with “How does it feel when you got no food?” The result? An international hit. Said Mighty Diamonds singer Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson, “Before [Musical Youth] put it out they called us [and said] that they’d made a re-version of ‘Pass the Kouchie.’ Because we never got justice and they said they were going to do justice – and they got the justice!”
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 may be more closely associated with the NORML lifestyle than any other rap group – they even launched a 4/20 music festival that lasted several years in the early 2000s. Yet amidst a welter of smoker’s classics like “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk” and “Dr. Greenthumb,” only “Hits from the Bong” captures that slightly dopey, somewhat enlightened buzz one gets when they take a big rip. “We always smoked a bong, being around rock & roll fools,” DJ Muggs, who weaved the bubbling sounds of bong water with a loop from Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” for the track, told Complex in 2013.
“With so much drama in the LBC, it’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-Double-G,” begins the rapper formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg on this tale of a house party in the hood. Indeed, despite his Crip background and occasional penchant for lyrically busting shots, Snoop always seemed more comfortable with a spliff full of bubonic chronic, a pocket full of rubbers and a gang of Tanqueray. On his career-establishing solo hit, Snoop and producer Dr. Dre interpolate Slave’s “Watching You,” turning it into an ode to smoking indo and living the good life no matter how rough or impoverished your background may be. “There’s just all kinds of little ghetto stuff that’s easy for a young black man to get into,” he told Rolling Stone in 1993.
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 album Wildflowers: “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 another noojh,'” Petty told a VH1 Storytellers audience in 1997. “Which
sounded worse to me than ‘joint.’ Because, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a noojh, but that sounds really wicked.”
Six years before their 2001 stoner film of the same name, Method Man and Redman released this Erick Sermon–produced weed anthem, originally found on the soundtrack to hip-hop documentary The Show. Built around a vocal loop from 1970s German disco group Silver Convention’s “Fly Robin Fly,” the track found the duo teaming up for the first time and making their aspirations known right in the title. Both rappers have gotten much more literal with their weed references, but this is the song that still causes concert promoters to angrily fire up the ventilators.
Much like its spiritual predecessor, Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” the groundbreaking title track from D’Angelo’s debut LP is about more than just a smoke-out session. Setting his soft yet husky voice over a crunchy Rhodes piano arrangement, he rhapsodizes about a girl named “Brown Sugar” with so much lovingly vivid detail that it sounds as if he’s falling in love, and making love. “I gets high on your love, I don’t know how to behave,” he lilts, occasionally shifting into an ecstatic falsetto. The effect is so intoxicating that it’s easy to lose sight of the neo-soul weed metaphor at the song’s core. “A lot of people are real busy tryin’ to get their point across. Not letting the listener use their imagination. You should be able to lay back and close your eyes and come up with your own vision,” he told Vibe in 1995.
There has never been
a musical ode to weed more truly epic than “Dopesmoker,” the
63-minute dirge recorded in 1996 by legendary stoner-rock trio Sleep. (The LP-long piece, deemed one of Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Metal Albums, was originally released in 1999 as Jerusalem but was rechristened Dopesmoker upon its 2003 reissue.) “Drop
out of life with bong in hand/Follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land,”
counsels the song, more or less summing up the band’s spiritual and musical
philosophy at the time. “We were just a bunch of massive stoners trying to
do something that nobody else had done – which I think we accomplished,”
guitarist Matt Pike recounted in Decibel Magazine‘s book Precious Metal: The Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. “We
were smoking a lot [at the time],” he explained. “Between us all, we
were probably smoking two ounces or more a day.”
This nursery rhyme–style sing-along reportedly took Joseph “Afroman” Foreman only two minutes to write, and subsequently launched a career that glorified the pothead slacker lifestyle. Though “Because I Got High” remains the West Coast MC’s only major hit, it’s arguably one of the best-loved weed songs of all time. After all, who hasn’t forgotten to clean their room, cheat on their final exam, pay their child support, etc., because they got high? “‘Because I Got High’ put me on the map – it’s what got me a record deal, a Grammy nomination and made me a household name,” Afroman told Rolling Stone in 2014, just as he released an update of his novelty classic for the legalization generation.
Look, we’ve all
sneaked a bud or two from a roommate at one time or another – but it’s just
good manners to replace whatever you’ve taken in a timely fashion. “When
you smoke all my weed man/You gots to call the green man,” sang Amy
Winehouse on “Addicted,” a bonus track included on the expanded
versions of 2006’s Back to Black,
making it extremely clear that she wasn’t playing, either. “I used to
smoke a lot of weed,” the late singer told Rolling Stone in 2007. “I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one
poison to the other.” Perhaps she should have stuck with weed; four years
later, Winehouse was found dead in her home – a result of alcohol poisoning, with a blood alcohol content of more than five times the legal driving limit.
If the trad-honky-tonk sound and lighthearted lyrics (in which Nelson instructs the listener on just what to do with his ashes after he exits this mortal coil) aren’t enough of an indicator that we’re in full-on novelty-song territory here, then the guest verse from Tha Doggfather himself leaves no doubt about it. There are also appearances from country-music royalty both old (Kris Kristofferson) and new (Jamey Johnson), but the show here belongs to longtime pot proselytizers (and marijuana entrepreneurs) Willie and Snoop, the latter of whom delivers lines like “Call my friends and tell ’em/ There’s a party, come on by,” with a genuine faux-country twang. You’d be hard pressed to find a more heartwarming song about cremation.