1965: Mary Jane? Janis Joplin
Written by Janis and recorded with the Dick Oxtot Oakland Athletics Jazz Band, this early song appears on the soundtrack to the film, Janis: “Now when I go to work, I work all day/ Always turns out the same/ When I bring home my hard-earned pay/ I spend my money all on Mary Jane/ Mary Jane, Mary Jane, Lord, my Mary Jane.”
1966: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
? Bob Dylan
The opening track from Blonde on Blonde was an instant success when released as a single in the US, despite or because of being banned from the radio, reaching #2 in May 1966. The lyrics refer to marijuana, but the song is about persecution and its message is straightforward: “I would not feel so alone/ Everybody must get stoned.”
1966: Got to Get You into My Life
? The Beatles
Paul McCartney has described this Motown pastiche as an “ode to pot,” albeit one disguised as a regular love song.
1968: I Like Marijuana
? David Peel & the Lower East Side
“First I sang about smoking bananas,” says Peel. “That was a craze like the hula hoop. Then I started singing about marijuana. That was more permanent.” Peel’s contemporaneous pot-related song titles include: Legalize Marijuana, I’ve Got Some Grass, I Want to Get High, and Show Me the Way to Get Stoned.
1968: Talkin’ Vietnam Pot Luck Blues
? Tom Paxton
From folkie Tom’s Elektra album, Morning Again, this is the tale of a fresh conscript on patrol in Vietnam, who detects a familiar smell when his platoon stops for the night: “Well I may be crazy, but I think not/ I swear to God that I smell pot!/ But who’d have pot in Vietnam?/ He said, ‘Whaddaya think you been sittin’ on?'”
To cut the story short, the platoon hooks up with a squad of Vietcong, whose stash is “straight from Uncle Ho’s victory garden/ We call it Hanoi Gold.” They all get wasted, but “all too soon it was time to go/ Captain got on the radio/ Said hello headquarters, headquarters/ We have met the enemy and they have been smashed.”
1968: Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam
Written by John Kay for Steppenwolf’s second Dunhill album, The Second, from the point of view of a guy watching a TV debate about marijuana, this song accuses self-righteous politicians ? such as Sam ? of “telling lies so long, some believe they’re true.” To Sam, grass is “evil, wicked, mean and nasty.” The chorus responds, “Don’t be such an ass, Sam.”
1969: Don’t Bogart Me
? Fraternity of Man
Written by Elliot Ingber and performed by his group, Fraternity of Man, on the soundtrack to Easy Rider, this song became better known as Don’t Bogart that Joint. “Roll another one/ Just like the other one/ This one’s burnt to the end/ Come on and be a friend.”
1969: Indian Rope Man (African Herbsman)
? Ritchie Havens
A track from his double album, Richard P Havens 1983. The song achieved immortality in 1970 when reworked by Lee “Scratch” Perry and recorded by Bob Marley & The Wailers as African Herbsman.
1969: Coming into Los Angeles
? Arlo Guthrie
From folkie Arlo’s album, Running Down the Road, this song became a live favorite for the group, America. It’s about a smuggler flying into LA: “Coming into Los Angeles/ Bringing in a couple of keys/ Don’t touch my bags if you please, Mister Customs Man.”
? Bob Marley & The Wailers
This is the first song about the herb to be recorded by either the Wailers or Lee “Scratch” Perry. A Jamaican hit in 1971, it first appeared in the UK on the Trojan album, African Herbsman, in 1973, and subsequently on innumerable poor quality compilations. Bob Marley also recycled Kaya as the title track of his 1978 album.
1971: Sweet Leaf
? Black Sabbath
A paean to pot written by Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler and performed by the Sabs on their third Warner Bros album, Masters of Reality: “Straight people don’t know what you’re about/ They put you down and shut you out/ You gave me a new belief/ And soon the world will love you, sweet leaf.” Every metal band across America covers this song.
1971: One Toke Over the Line
? Brewer & Shipley
Michael Brewer recalls the history of the song: “It was controversial. The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, named us personally as a subversive to American youth, but at exactly the same time Lawrence Welk performed the crazy thing and introduced it as a gospel song. That shows how absurd it really is. Of course, we got more publicity than we could have paid for.”
1971: Illegal Smile
? John Prine
Lead track on the prolific American singer/songwriter’s eponymous debut LP: “Fortunately I have the key to escape reality/ And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile/ It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while/ Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone/ No I’m just tryin’ to have me some fun.”
1972: 30 Days in the Hole
? Humble Pie
Stevie Marriott was busted for smoking a joint on a park bench in 1971, the year of Rockin’ the Fillmore, after which Peter Frampton quit the band and Dave “Clem” Clempson joined for the Smokin’ album, from which this was a hit single. “Chicago Green, talkin’ ’bout Black Lebanese/ A dirty room and a silver coke spoon/ Give me my release, come on/ Black Nepalese, it’s got you weak in your knees.”
1972: The Pope Smokes Dope
? David Peel & the Lower East Side
Title track from the original punk’s third album, produced by John Lennon: “The Pope smokes dope, God gave him the grass/ The Pope smokes dope, he likes to smoke in mass/ The Pope smokes dope, he’s a groovy head/ The Pope smokes dope, the Pope smokes dope.”
1973: Catch A Fire (LP)
? Bob Marley & The Wailers
The Wailers’ first Island LP, somewhat sanitized for international audiences, introduced reggae music to a global audience. If the lyrics to tunes like Stir it Up and Kinky Reggae don’t refer explicitly to marijuana, the point is made graphically clear on the cover, where Bob is pictured blazing a huge spliff.
1973: The Joker
? Steve Miller Band
Miller’s entire band had been busted and deported from England while recording their first album for the Beatles’ label, Apple, in 1968. Five years later, the title track to The Joker album cast the singer in the role of a laid-back player, a “space cowboy,” a “gangster of love.”
“I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker,” croons Steve, “I sure don’t want to hurt no one…” It’s covered by Spearhead, with Michael Franti in fine form as the amoral lover man, on Hempilation 2.
1974: I Shot the Sheriff
? Eric Clapton
Slowhand’s version, a hit single from his 461 Ocean Boulevard album, introduced Bob Marley’s music to a worldwide audience. Not all may have fully understood the tale, told by a marijuana grower hunted by a fanatical law enforcement officer: “Sheriff John Brown always hate I/ For what, I never know/ Every time I plant a seed/ He say, kill it before it grow/ He said, kill them before they grow.”
1975: Chalice in the Palace
? U Roy
On this gem, U-Roy fantasizes about sharing the pipe of peace with Her Royal Highness and reasoning over the problems of the people in the ghetto. Weed-conscious rapper, Canibus, performed a hip-hop version, Buckingham Palace, on his 1998 debut album, Can-I-Bus.
1975: Expensive Shit
? Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Fela’s true genius has been reassessed in the years since his death in 1997. This song was inspired by an incident in which the Nigerian authorities failed to catch Fela in possession of cannabis because he swallowed the joint. So the goons collected Fela’s feces and had it tested for cannabis residues. No shit!
1976: Legalize It
? Peter Tosh
Title track from the Bushdoctor’s first solo album on Columbia, this song has become a rallying cry for the pro-pot movement: “Legalize it, don’t criticize it/ Legalize it, and I’ll advertise it.” It’s been widely covered, including by UB40 on Labour of Love 3 in 1998. Rasta surf punks Sublime, whose own first album was 40 Ounces to Freedom on Skunk Records, gave Legalize It the dub treatment on the NORML Hempilation.
1976: Smokin’ Cheeba Cheeba
? Harlem Underground Band
Written by Paul and Ann Winley, this rare groove appears on the Harlem Underground’s only album on Paul Winley Records. It features jazz-guitar great George Benson, a lengthy harmonica solo by Buddy “Pop” Lewis and the recurring “cheeba cheeba” theme, sung by Ann Winley. Tone Loc famously sampled it for his own Cheeba Cheeba.
? Neil Young
An agricultural anthem, performed by Crazy Horse around the same time as Roll Another Number but not recorded until the ninth Reprise album, American Stars ‘n Bars: “Homegrown is all right with me/ Homegrown is the way it should be/ Homegrown is a good thing/ Plant that bell and let it ring.”
1978: Easy Skanking
? Bob Marley & The Wailers
The first track from the Kaya album and a solid stone classic: “Excuse me while I light my spliff/ Oh, God, I gotta take a lift/ From reality I just can’t drift/ That’s why I am staying with this riff…”
1978: Bustin’ Out
? Rick James
“Alright you squares, it’s time to smoke/ Fire up this funk and let’s have a toke/ It can make you dance or some of everything/ Everybody get high…” The album sleeve depicted a guitar wielding Rick leading the escape from a prison marked “Serious Joint.”
1978: Smoking My Ganja
? Capital Letters
The first UK-based reggae group to be signed to Greensleeves Records enjoyed a big hit with their debut single, which is included on the 1997 Kickin’ Records compilation, Legalize De Erb.
1978: The Smoke Off
? Shel Silverstein
The epic tale of the showdown between Pearly Sweetcake of sunny San Rafael and The Calistoga Kid, a beatnik from the past, at Yankee Stadium, in the World Series of pot smoking: “Nothin’ left to roll,” screams Pearl, “is this some twisted joke?/ I didn’t come here to fuck around, man, I come here to smoke!”