-By Mike “McBeardo” McPadden
There are two ways to properly celebrate 4/20. One is by firing up… the right music.
Marijuana has figured into the rock-and-roll mythos from its earliest pre-1950s roots, when it was the “heathen devil weed” of jazz musicians, blues guitarists, and honky tonk hellraisers. That distinct smoke, in other words, has always been rising.
Upon the arrival of the psychedelic ’60s—which, according to one popular legend, kicked off when Bob Dylan smoked up the Beatles for the first time in the back of a hotel suite—marijuana became rock’s primary intoxicant of choice, likely due in no small part that it remained, almost everywhere, illegal.
Times have changed, of course, with weed being decriminalized or even completely legalized all over the United States and elsewhere now. It’s a burgeoning new freedom that may well not have ever occurred without rock’s influence on public attitudes and popular culture (as well as, of course, other maryjane-enflamed musical movements such as reggae, hip-hop, outlaw country, and EDM).
For the unofficially acknowledged—but very officially observed—National Marijuana Day that is 4/20, then, here’s a playlist of 10 rock classics to take us all a little (or even a lot) higher.
“You Don’t Know How It Feels” – Tom Petty (1994)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “Let’s get to the point/let’s roll another joint/and let’s head on up the road/there’s somewhere I gotta go”
Tom Petty’s steady, quiet, slow-drive hit floated up at the height of grunge’s screaming punk-metal neuroses to let the new kids know that, however hard the lay of the land is hitting you, there’s one easy solution. Roll a joint, discuss what’s up with a friend, and when the conversation rambles too far afield… roll another joint. Take it from Tom, everybody.
“Roll Another Number for the Road” – Neil Young (1975)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “Think I’ll roll another number for the road/I feel able to get under any load/Though my feet aren’t on the ground/I been standin’ on the sound/Of some open-hearted people goin’ down.”
Neil Young’s 1975 opus Tonight’s the Night plays like a downbeat rock-and-roll film noir concerning loss, madness, and despair—except for one song.
Smack in the middle of confessions and speculations largely inspired by the recent drug overdose deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and Young’s beloved roadie friend Bruce Berry, “Roll Another Number for the Road” kicks off side two of Tonight’s the Night with a light-hearted, country-twanged sing-along.
Given the grief, seriousness, and intensity of the tracks that precede and follow “Number,” its placement may well have been Neil saying, “Here’s where it’s okay to lighten up a bit—and to light up, too, of course.”
“Itchycoo Park” – Small Faces (1967)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “What will we do there?/We’ll get high/What will we touch there?/We’ll touch the sky/But why the tears then?/I’ll tell you why/It’s all too beautiful”
The psychedelic pop bonbon “Itchycoo Park” by mod gods the Small Faces introduces the notion of getting high with bubblegum sweetness, mind-expanding production effects, and an irresistible sway-along melody.
Just when the song flirts with harshing the listener’s buzz with a shouted “I’ll tell you WHY-HY!,” the chorus bubbles up of happy hippie voices chiming in, “It’s all too beautiful! It’s all too beautiful!” It really, really is.
“Reefer Head Woman” – Aerosmith (1979)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “I got a reefer headed woman/Lord…she fell right down from the sky/Got a reefer headed woman/She fell right down from the sky/Lord, I gots to drink me two fifths of whiskey/Just to get, just to get, half as high”
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry quit the band during their recording of 1979’s definitively transitive album, Night in the Ruts. The result is a mixed bag of odds, ends, and occasional knockouts (such as the rollicking history-of-Aerosmith number, “No Surprize”). If only everybody had just smoked up and mellowed out!
“Reefer Head Woman” is a full-powered cover of a vintage blues chestnut. ’Smith pumping themselves up to Led Zeppelin proportions and slams down the house. Instead of floating by on hot gas though, the flight is powered by the tokable fuel referred to in the song’s title.
“Don’t Bogart Me” – Fraternity of Man (1968)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend/pass it over to me/ Roll another one/Just like the other one./This one’s burnt to the end/Come on and be a friend.”
Counterculture cinema’s all-time classic film, Easy Rider (1968) comes on all smoke, lightning, and “heavy metal thunder” via Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” blaring under its opening credits.
Later on, as biker heroes Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper traverse wide-open America, the movie eases back and that first-impact amphetamine rush gives way to “Don’t Bogart Me” by Fraternity of Man.
Unhurried, down-home, and simple in its desire to get high and unify, “Don’t Bogart Me” implores a pal not to lip his reefer in the manner that golden age Hollywood hero Humphrey Bogart would dangle a Chesterfield from his lips. Nicely, gently, the song requests: “Pass it over to meeee….”
“The Joker” – Steve Miller (1973)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “I’m a joker/I’m a smoker/I’m a midnight toker”
Some people, according to “The Joker,” call Steve Miller the space cowboy. Some call him the gangster of love. Some call him Maurice (thereby inspiring a spontaneous guitar wolf-whistle), the reason being that he speaks of the pompatous of love.
If you have to ask what the “pompatous of love” is, then you’re just not flowing easily enough with where the song is taken you, man (i.e.—high on pot). Be like Steve! Be a picker, a grinner, a lover, and a sinner. Play your music in the sun. Most importantly, though: joke, smoke, and midnight toke. You sure don’t want to hurt no one!
“Hi, Hi, Hi” – Paul McCartney and Wings (1972)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “We’re gonna get hi, hi, hi/With the music on/Won’t say bye bye, bye bye, bye bye, bye bye/’Til the night is gone”
While other Wings lyrics and arrangements more immediately had listeners wanting some of whatever Sir Paul was smoking (consider the inexplicable line “We all chipped in for a bag of cement” from “Junior’s Farm” and/or the liltingly lunatic song-suite that is “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”), none more directly blazes right to the marijuana of the matter, naturally, than “Hi, Hi, Hi.”
A big, broad smile of a song, “Hi, Hi, Hi” may well have come to be just to enable Paul McCartney to blast out of radios everywhere: “We’re gonna get HI! HI! HI!” That stated, no nobler purpose might have ever motivated a musical composition.
“One Toke Over the Line” – Brewer & Shipley (1971)
Puff, Pass, and Praise:“One toke over the line, sweet Jesus/One toke over the line/Sittin’ downtown in a railway station/One toke over the line”
Fun-strumming, fleet-picking country-folk twosome Brewer & Shipley became one of the 1970s great One Hit Wonders by way of their seemingly religious ode to various higher powers, “One Toke Over the Line.”
Lest anyone ever mistake the song’s rather directly pointed-out subject matter, co-writer and singer Tom Shipley has made it clear: “When we wrote ’One Toke Over the Line,’ I think we were one toke over the line. I considered marijuana a sort of a sacrament… If you listen to the lyrics of that song, ’one toke’ was just a metaphor. It’s a song about excess. Too much of anything will probably kill you.”
That makes perfect sense (even if you haven’t just toked). If ever a song sounds like it’s radiating the message “Easy does it!”, it’s this one.
“Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” – Bob Dylan (1966)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “But I would not feel so all alone/everybody must get stoned!”
Backed by a magnificently wonky, Salvation-Army-style brass band, Bob Dylan launches into “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” by tallying up how various powers that be just want to “stone” us all. When the band finally shambles to the chorus, Dylan raucously shouts, “But I would not feel so all alone/EVERYBODY must get stoned!”
Throughout the record, the musicians hoot and shout, and Bob can’t stop himself from cracking up every so often over the song’s loaded-meaning lyrics (pun most blazingly intended).
Dylan later claimed that “a ‘rainy day woman’ is a marijuana cigarette.” When pressed to explain the song, he said it covered “cripples and Orientals and the world in which they live… It’s a sort of Mexican thing, very protest… and one of the pro-testiest of all things I’ve protested against in my protest years.”
SOMEBODY must have been stoned!
“Sweet Leaf” – Black Sabbath (1971)
Puff, Pass, and Praise: “My life was empty, forever on a down/Until you took me, showed me around/My life is free now, my life is clear/I love you sweet leaf, though you can’t hear”
A scant year after they invented heavy metal with their self-titled debut LP, Black Sabbath begat the genre stoner rock by opening their 1971 album Master of Reality with “Sweet Leaf,” music’s ultimate ode to the majesty of marijuana.
Following a loop of guitarist Tony Iommi coughing after puffing on a joint, “Sweet Leaf” explodes into one of metal’s all-time mightiest riffs, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne pours forth pure love for the vegetation of the title. Bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward stampede forth atop Iommi’s rolling thunder, fully smoking, and the result is 5-minutes and 5-seconds of cannabis-consumption-as-heavy-metal-sacrament perfection.
“Sweet Leaf” has been covered by countless bands. Among the most prominent have been versions by Alice in Chains, Godsmack, and Six Feet Under. For a truly transcendent trip, though, check out one version that was undoubtedly powered by substances infinitely more potent than mere wacky-tabacky, the Butthole Surfers’ phantasmagoric deconstruction and re-assemblage titled “Sweat Loaf.”
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).