Songs in the key of weed

The catalogue of weed-themed songs is immense, but there are a few with curious stories that you might not have heard about

540

Songs with a pot theme have been around since the 1930s jazz scene in New Orleans.

Some pot-themed songs are obvious, like Peter Tosh’s Legalize It or Weezer’s Hash Pipe. Some less so, like Miley Cyrus’s Dooo-It or Tom Petty’s You Don’t Know How It Feels.

Sometimes a name of a band or song can stare you in the face and you just don’t see its meaning. It took me a few years of enjoying the Doobie Brothers before I clued into the meaning of the band’s name. “Hey man, I just realized…” So, I’m not the brightest light on the street. Ironically, I don’t think the Doobie Brothers ever did a weed song.

The list of weed songs is immense. Here are 13 songs with curious stories you might not know about.

1. If You’re A Viper, Stuff Smith and the Onyx Club Boys

This hip jazz song was composed by Stuff Smith and was recorded by Smith and his Onyx Club Boys in 1936. “Viper” was Harlem slang for a marijuana smoker. The name apparently draws from the image of a hissing viper taking a quick draw on a skinny little joint, which nearly all Jazz musicians were doing. It’s one of the most frequently covered songs about marijuana in popular American music.

Django Reinhardt recorded a similar hit in France in 1937 called Viper’s Dream. In this song, the smoker is “filled with greater joy than I had ever felt before.”

Fats Waller recorded his version of the song in 1943, and it has since been released numerous times, with a re-mastered version issued in 2004. Waller, in his intro, speaks the words, “It’s high time, so catch this song.”

The song is decades old, but jibes with the thinking of dope smokers today as it did back then. It features a five-foot-long spliff in a dream. The singer says “got to be high before I can swing” and if “your throat gets dry/You know you’re high.”

Munchies feature prominently here. “Bust on down to the corner store/Crack your mouth on peppermint candy.” When you smoke “You don’t care if you don’t pay rent/The sky is high and so am I.”

2. I Shot The Sheriff, Bob Marley and the Wailers

This Bob Marley song, also made into a hit by Eric Clapton, features Sheriff John Brown, who, for some reason, “always hated me/For what, I don’t know.” Well, I’m pretty sure I know why. “Ev’ry time I plant a seed/He say ‘kill it before it grows.’”  The sheriff went too far when he tried to “shoot me down.” And I concur with Marley, there wasn’t much choice, “So, I shot, I shot, I shot him down.” The song goes,  “If I’m guilty I will pay.” But I think listeners will find him innocent.

3. Because I Got High, Afroman

There’s no mistaking the marijuana theme in this ode to getting nothing done “because I got high.” Afroman sings, “If I don’t sell one copy, I’ll know why/Cause I’m high.” Being high, though, did not stop the song from going platinum in eight countries and selling more than a million copies in the United States. Afroman says the song “put me  on the map.” It also got him a record deal and a Grammy nomination.

4. One Toke Over the Line, Brewer & Shipley

Today we all know what Brewer & Shipley’s song is about. When it was released in 1970, however, the word “toke” was still somewhat obscure among non-tokers. The  Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. stepped in to remind broadcasters about the actual meaning of “toke.” But TV’s ultra-wholesome The Lawrence Welk Show was late getting the word from the FCC and didn’t think twice about featuring the song on their program.

5. Kaya, Bob Marley and the Wailers

Like the Doobie Brothers’ name, I was slow to clue in on what Bob Marley meant when he sang, “Got to have kaya now.” He once explained that “kaya’ is Jamaican slang for herb. Marley wakes up in the morning and has to have “kaya now.” He gets “so high, I even touch the sky/Above the falling rain/I feel so good in my neighbourhood, so/Here I come again/Got to have kaya now.”

6. Gin And Juice, Snoop Dogg

This 1993 ditty depicts the laid back side of thug life. While he’s “Rollin down the street” he is “smoking indo” while also drinking “gin and juice.” The song was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 1995 Grammy awards. The Gourds do a nifty country music version that’s worth checking out.

7. Rocky Mountain High, John Denver

I thought John Denver was high on the beauty of the Colorado mountains in his wholesome 1972 hit song. He admits in his autobiography Take Me Home, that he was stoned in Aspen with a friend named Crow when he wrote the song. The line, “And they say he got crazy once, and he tried to touch the sun,” came from that episode. But the song wasn’t just about being high. It was also about exhilaration, freedom and mortality.

8. Puff The Magic Dragon, Peter, Paul and Mary

Legend claims this is a coded song about smoking weed. “Dragon” was taken to be a version of “dragin,” as in taking a drag from a joint. Then, there was Puff’s friend, Jackie Paper, as in rolling paper. And then you have Puff. But Peter, Paul and Mary, who wrote and recorded the song in 1963, deny it is about weed. The band said the song was about losing the innocence of childhood.

9. Okie From Muskogee, Merle Haggard

Not all songs about weed push positivity. This 1969 tune by Merle Haggard was written in response to the Vietnam War protests. The song starts: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don’t take trips on LSD/We don’t burn our draft cards down on mainstreet/We like livin’ right and bein’ free.”

11. Got To Get You Into My Life, The Beatles

This upbeat song from the Beatles’ Revolver album appears to be a love song. And it is, except it’s expressing a love for marijuana, McCartney admits in Barry Miles’s 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, McCartney. He says he wrote the song when he first got introduced to the herb. “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 kind of liked marijuana. To me it was mind-expanding.”

12. Moist Vagina, Nirvana

In this 1993 song, Kurt Cobain sings the praises of a particular woman. But in between lines Cobain can be heard on the recording screaming “marijuana.” He does this at least 14 times. Marijuana and sex often pair nicely, but Cobain’s screams are not what I’d describe as erotic.

13. Rainy Day Women #12 & #35, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s 1966 classic has long been associated with marijuana for the line, “Everybody must get stoned.” But the song is not about weed. His inspiration was biblical, specifically the Book of Acts in the Bible. “And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him.”

Some musicologists have suggested that the song relates to how Dylan felt about his critics, who were figuratively “stoning” him. But there’s also a 420 connection. If you multiply 12 and 35 you get 420.

Some stations refused to play the song, but Dylan got plenty of air time.