The stoner holiday is upon us, and what better way to enjoy it than to kick back, fire up a fatty, and revel in reefer’s rich musical legacy. In honor of 4/20, here are 24 classic songs about pot, in chronological order:
1. TRADITIONAL—”La Cucaracha.” (1915 approx.) The granddaddy of all narcocorridos, this tune was a favorite of Pancho Villa’s ragtag army of rebels during the Mexican Revolution a century ago. Sadly for la cucharacha (the cockroach), it can’t walk because it lacks pot to smoke (“falta marijuana p’ fumar”).
2. LOUIS ARMSTRONG — “Muggles” (1928) Satchmo was a huge fan of gigglesmoke, another slang term for pot, like muggles, gage, and mezz. That later term was derived from white jazz musician Mezz Mezrow, who was the man with the reefer. Guys like Armstrong kept the pot habit alive in the dark days of the 1930s and 1940s.
3. CAB CALLOWAY — “Reefer Man” (1932) Many musicians recorded this piece, but bandleader Calloway’s recording is the best known—and one of the most uproarious. “Have you ever met than funny reefer man?” Cab asks. “If he’s talking dimes and nickels and calling watermelons pickles,” you’ve probably met that reefer man.
4. LEROY “STUFF” SMITH — “If You’re A Viper” (1937) If you’ve been dreaming ’bout a reefer five feet long, you’re probably a viper. If you can’t pay the rent and don’t know where the money went, you’re probably a viper. Lots of folks recorded this one, too; Fats Waller called his version “Reefer Song.” Recorded in the year federal marijuana prohibition began.
5. BOB DYLAN — “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (1966) I don’t know who these rainy day women were, but everybody sings along to Dylan’s uproarious “Everybody must get stoned!” chorus.
6. DAVID PEEL — “I Like Marijuana” (1968) The title pretty much explains why this song is here. The Lower East Side troubadour of toking simply changed some lyrics to the 1961 tune “Peanut Butter,” and he had an enduring ditty on his hands.
7. STEPPENWOLF — “Don’t Step On the Grass, Sam” (1968) John Kay and the boys may not have liked drug dealers (“Goddamn the pusher man”), but they were able to draw the distinction between soft and hard drugs, and in this, probably their most political song, they had a clear message to the federal government.
8. FRATERNITY OF MAN — “Don’t Bogart Me” (1969) The song better known as “Don’t Bogart That Joint” was an instant classic once it appeared on the Easy Rider soundtrack. And that long, drawn out “Ro-o-o-o-l-l-l another one” remains immensely satisfying to this day.
9. BLACK SABBATH — “Sweet Leaf” (1971) Like most of the proto-metal band’s early work, this was plodding, ponderous—and powerful. Ozzy Osbourne’s paean to pot spoke directly to a generation of adolescent head-bangers. It opens with a repeated hacking cough before descending into sabbathy sludge. “You introduced me to my mind and left me wanting you and your kind.” Oh, yeah.
10. BREWER & SHIPLEY — “One Toke Over the Line” (1971) Just stoned out of their minds sittin’ downtown at the railway station, the folkish duo hit #10 on the pop charts with this eminently sing-alongable tune.
11. COMMANDER CODY & HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN — “Seeds & Stems (Again)” (1971) “This is a frightfully sad song, ladies and gentlemen,” the Commander warned his London audience on a 1974 live album. “Keep your hankies and sponges handy.” And it is a true tear-jerker: “My dog died yesterday and left me all alone, the finance company came by today and repossessed my home, but that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to losing you, and I’m down to seeds and stems again, too,” the Commander moans. He also laments: “People try to tell me there’s other ways to get high, they don’t seem to realize I’m too far gone to try.” It makes you want to howl in sympathetic despair and laugh out loud at the same time.
12. NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE — “Panama Red” (1973) “He’ll steal your woman and then he’ll rob your head.” Panama Red was a legendary strain of weed back in the day, but in this winsome tune, he’s the smuggler bringing the goodies. Written by Peter Rowan, who also penned “Free Mexican Air Force.” Included on the same album was another smuggling tune, “Important Exporting Man.”
13. PURE PRAIRIE LEAGUE – “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle” (1973) The country rockers attempted to reach across the cultural divide to the Okie from Muskogee, and they did so with wit and panache. “Well, I heard about all those things you did to us poor weirdo long-haired kids, and now you know we really don’t care what you think, but if you’re gonna call the world your home, sometimes you’re gonna have to go out and get stoned, and it’s better with a joint than with a drink—I think.” Some fine picking, and a song with a message…for Merle and all the rest of the “love it or leave it” crew.
14. JIM STAFFORD – “Wildwood Weed” (1974) “Smoking them wild flowers got to be a habit, and we never seen no harm. In fact, it was kind of handy—take a trip and never leave the farm,” the country comedian crooned in this down home, cornpone classic. It even hit #7 on the US charts.
15. NEIL YOUNG — “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” (1975) The Canadian folkster and rocker was never shy about his love for the weed, but this tune was perfect for cruising down the open highway.
16. PETER TOSH — “Legalize It” (1976) Okay, this has got to be the number one marijuana song of all time. One-time Wailer Tosh’s rollicking reggae tune was straight-out political: “Legalize it, don’t criticize it,” he croons. “Legalize it, yeah, that’s the best thing you can do. Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it, judges smoke it, even the lawyer, too.” And he was even into medical: “It’s good for the flu, good for asthma, too. Good for tuberculosis, even moral thrombosis.” (Gotta watch out for that last one.)
17. RICK JAMES — “Mary Jane” (1978) The Super Freak loved something else besides white women and white powder: weed. “It’s my main thang,” he sang in the funkiest pot song ever. “I love you Mary Jane.” He should have stuck with the herb.
18. BOB MARLEY — “Kaya” (1978) Ganja’s most famous reggae adherent’s most famous ganja tune. “I feel so high I even touch the sky,” he wails in this song actually written a decade ago along with Lee “Scratch” Perry.
19. BLACK UHURU — “Sinsemilla” (1980) The soundtrack to countless Reagan-era stoner sessions. “I’ve got a stalk of sinsemilla in my pocket,” Michael Rose sang like he really meant it, and we all nodded our heads in time.
20. RITA MARLEY — “One Draw” (1981) Sing it, everybody—you can’t help it: “I wanna get high, so so high, I want one draw now, one draw.” The bubbling reggae beat and her chirping vocals just go straight to your head. “Hey Rastaman, hey what you say, give the sister some sensay.”
21. MIGHTY DIAMONDS – “Pass the Kutchie” (1982) The ode to the shared high was big hit for the reggae veterans back on the home island, but went monstrous huge in both the US and UK when British kid band Musical Youth covered it as a slightly more anodyne “Pass the Dutchie.”
22. PATO BANTON – “Don’t Sniff Coke” (1987) “I do not sniff the coke, I only smoke sinsemilla,” the British reggae star in this light-hearted but serious-minded paean to the virtues of ganja: “It’s the healing of the nation, doctors use it sometime for herbal medication, Ronald Reagan smoke it before he go up on television…but fun an joke aside, it give me deep, deep meditation, it fill me heart with niceness and give me inspiration.” Banton is brilliant as well in his portrayal of the jacked-up coke dealer whose wares he rejects. Rick James should have followed Pato’s lead.
23. FLACO JIMENEZ – “Free Mexican Air Force” (1988) Actually written years earlier by Grammy Award winner Peter Rowan (see “Panama Red” above), this version from San Antonio Tex-Mex accordion legend Jimenez featuring Rowan on vocals is la bomba. It’s an ode to more innocent days of the cross-border drug trade and the adventurous young men who are getting the stuff from “the fields of Morelos where they’re harvesting sweet sinsemilla” on to those ravenouse markets north of the border. While Flaco’s treatment turns the tune into an atmospheric norteño masterpiece, Rowan’s lyrics are pure hippy romanticism: “While the criminal law makes outlaws of those seeking light, the free Mexican Air Force is flying tonight, and flying so high-ay-ee.” Ay-ay-ay!
24. CYPRESS HILL — “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk” (1991) These heroic tokers led hip-hop nation deep into the smoke with inimitable style. “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk (Reprise)” is also great stuff, and d the boys kept it up with their 1993 follow-up album, “Black Sunday.” “Insane in the Brain” includes lines like “cops wanna raid my crops,” and “Hits From the Bong,” with its bubbling bong hits and “Son of a Preacherman” riff would have its own entry here if someone else had done it.