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(Credits: Far Out / Pierre Bamin / Jakob Owens)

Music

From The Beatles to Neil Young: The 10 greatest songs about marijuana

@SamWKemp

Herb, grass, George W. Kush: whatever name you know it by, marijuana is one of the most beloved, widespread and enduring recreational drugs on the planet. It’s the bumblebee of drugs – a fuzzy, wholesome herb with few of the side effects of alcohol. At least, that’s what I was told by the man who sits in the park near my house wearing his ‘the secret vegetable’ T-shirt and offering palm readings for a tenner.

He also told me that marijuana serves a simple purpose: it makes things that are already pretty good even better. It makes food more delicious, sleep more enveloping, and music more transcendent. It’s perhaps for this reason that weed has become the unofficial drug of choice for music lovers worldwide.

The history of weed and music is a rich one. Jazz musicians such as Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong are alleged to have been notorious dope smokers, and the drug is said to have been a common feature of those hazy concerts during the Harlem Renaissance. The New York beat poets who grew up on the trad jazz of the 1930s and ’40s were also advocates of marijuana. Take Allen Ginsberg, for example, who, in The Great Marijuana Hoax, called for the legalisation of weed on the grounds that it was a “useful catalyst for specific optical and aural aesthetic perceptions.”

The figureheads of the 1960s counterculture movement absorbed the idea that weed could be used as a tool of liberation and advocated its use as a way of expanding one’s consciousness. Nowhere was the discussion surrounding weed’s positive and negative effects more prevalent than in the world of music. Here, in celebration of 4/20, we’ve bought you ten of the best songs about weed.

The 10 greatest songs about weed:

‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ – The Beatles

Originally released on the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver, ‘Get To Get You Into My Life’ is possibly the best-disguised ode to marijuana ever written. On the surface, the single reads like a simple love ballad in which the speaker declares his undying affection for his amour. According to Paul McCartney, however, the single is actually about an undying desire to get quite profoundly high. “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,” McCartney wrote in Many Years From Now.

Paul and the other Beatles were allegedly introduced to all things dope by Bob Dylan in the green room of Forest Hill Stadium, Queens, in 1964. When Paul confessed that he nor Lennon had ever smoked weed before, Dylan, slightly bewildered, asked: “But what about your song? The one about getting high?” Equally confused, John asked, “Which song?” to which Dyan replied, “You know…” before singing “, and when I touch you, I get high, I get high…” Red-faced, John stopped Dylan and said: “Those aren’t the words. The words are, ‘I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide…'”

‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s own ‘stoner anthem’ is far less cryptic than McCartney’s effort. In ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, the singer-songwriter yells the refrain “everybody must get stoned!” while his distinctly groggy studio band whip up a frenzy in the background.

Despite the far-from-oblique drugs references in this Blonde On Blonde opener, Dylan has always resisted the suggestion that the track is about marijuana, noting that he never has “and never will write a ‘drug song.’ The phrase “stoned” has a double meaning here, and most likely references the occasion in The Book of Acts in which Stephen is stoned to death by the people of Jerusalem.

‘Free Up The Weed’ – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

Taken from Lee Perry’s 1978 album Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread, ‘Free Up The Weed’ conjure up a utopian vision of a world in which all evils have been laid to rest with the help of a little “leaf”.

In this bubbling dub single – recorded in Perry’s own Black Ark Studios – Marijuana becomes an emblem of a lost heritage, which he uses to criticise government, colonial powers and modernity. “Some plant coffee, some plant tea / So why can’t I and I plant collie?” he asks before painting a picture of a world wandered astray: “If you stray from the roots / You will never know the truth right now.”

‘Addicted’ – Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouses’s era-defining 2007 album Back to Black is deeply confessional from start to finish. One of the many things the singer reveals in the 34:56 runtime is that she was used to smoke a hell of a lot of weed. “I’d rather have myself and smoke my homegrown,” she sings in the final verse. “It’s got me addicted / Does more than any dick did.”

Speaking about her addiction to weed in 2007, she told Rolling Stone, “I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other.” Looking back, this single is a haunting reminder that Winehouse’s death in 2011 from alcohol poisoning was far from the surprise tragedy it was portrayed as.

‘The Joker’ – Steve Miller Band

Once named the most commercially successful stoner single of all time, Steve Miller Band’s 1973 single ‘The Joker’ is one of the most lyrically baffling tracks ever written, featuring such lines as: “Let me whisper sweet words of dismortality / and discuss the pompatus of love / Put it together and what do you have? / Matrimony.”

The phrase “midnight toker” is an obvious weed reference, one which has made the track a staple for those stoned party-goers who find themselves huddled around a baggie come 5.30 am. Long may it reign, that’s what I say.

‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ – Tom Petty

This single from Petty’s 1994 solo album Wildflowers was too ambiguous for some and far too explicit for others. While Petty’s non-sequitur-riddled verses are deliberately introspective and oblique, it’s clear his speaker has one thing on his mind. “Let me get to the point,” he sings in the chorus, “Let’s roll another joint.”

That line didn’t sit well with MTV, who decided to run an edited version of the track in which the word “joint was reversed”. Meanwhile, several radio stations decided to run a version in which the line “Let’s roll another joint” was replaced with “Let’s hit another joint,” which seems a little counterintuitive, but there you have it. Eventually, Petty gave up pretending and admitted, rather tentatively, that the song was indeed an autobiographical ode to weed. “Every blue moon or so, I might have a toke on somebody’s… cigarette,” he confessed. “It’s an OK way to live your life, but it’s not to be advised. I’m not going to say it’s good or bad.

‘Roll Another Number For The Road’ – Neil Young

By the time Neil Young released his Tonight’s The Night album in 1975, the hippie dream was well and truly dead. Wracked by a kind of grief, the singer-songwriter wrote ‘Roll Another Number For The Road’ as a way of marking its passing.

Young understood better than most how dangerous drug use could be, having lost his friend and roadie Bruce Berry and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten to heroin overdoses. In this track, he stands paralysed, determined to leave hippiedom behind but unable to move along the road. As he navigates this borderline, he runs his fingers along a rolling paper and considers all the “open-hearted people” he’s met on the road.

‘Legalize it’ – Peter Tosh

Taken from the 1976 album of the same name, ‘Legalize it’ pretty much sums up Peter Tosh’s stance on marijuana throughout the ’70s and ’80s. member of Bob Marley’s backing band The Wailers, Tosh’s first solo album resulted in one of the most memorable legalisation anthems of all time, which is somewhat unsurprising when you consider that the whole project was being bankrolled by a marijuana distributor

Speaking to NPR in 2011, reggae historian Roger Steffens confirmed that tosh approached a wealthy weed dealer in Miami to fund the album, who agreed. “He said, ‘So what are you gonna call it?'” Steffens recalled, “And Peter said, ‘I’m gonna call it Legalise 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.”

‘You’re a Viper’ (Reefer Song) – Fats Waller

If you’re under the impression that the war years were all about temperate folk drinking weak tea and dancing to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, you’re wrong. To illustrate just how wrong you are, this track from Fat’s Waller – originally written by Stuff Smith – opens with the pianist dreaming of a “reefer over five foot long.”

The 1943 recording was a subtle critique of Harry Anslinger, the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who declared marijuana use by jazz musicians a federal offence, deeming it a menace to society. He and his agents predominantly targeted black jazz musicians, particularly Billie Holiday, who Anslinger handcuffed to her hospital bed while she was dying of liver disease.

‘Sweet Leaf’ – Black Sabbath

Perhaps the most overt weed song on this list, Black Sabbath’s 1971 track ‘Sweet Leaf’ opens to Tommy Iommi coughing up his lungs after a particularly hefty toke on the devil’s lettuce. After the sound effect pans from left to right, it gives way to a fuzz-drenched riff that the band later admitted had been plucked from Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention’s “Hungry Freaks, Daddy.’

Later the riff was given new life by The Red Hot Chili Pepper – who featured it in their track ‘Give It Away’ – and The Beastie Boys, who sampled it for their 1986 Licensed to Kill track ‘ Rhymin & Stealin’.