The Pot Issue
Pot songs through the decades
From accepted to underground and back
Published: November 3, 2010
"Legalize It" by Peter Tosh (1976)
Eric Clapton had reggae's first stateside smash hit covering "I Shot the Sheriff," Bob Marley's tale of a guy who crossed the law over planting a certain "seed." In fact, reggae without casual — and not so casual — ganga references is inconceivable, sort of like a Seinfeld episode without neuroses. But Marley's onetime bandmate Tosh turned it into a singable political stance.
"Mary Jane" by Rick James (1978)
Found on Rick James' debut album Come Get It!, this smooth-grooved love letter to marijuana went Top 5 on the R&B charts. The track continues to be revived, being featured in the 1995 pot comedy Friday, and again recently in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.
"Champagne & Reefer" by Muddy Waters (1981)
Two years before his death, at 68, the arch bluesman recorded this for the King Bee album, by some accounts writing it in response to his doctor telling him to cut back on his beer drinking. On an album that strived for an old-school Chess feel, he sang: "Well you know there should be no law / on people that want to smoke a little dope / Well you know it's good for your head / And it relax your body, don't you know."
"Pass the Dutchie" by Musical Youth (1982)
Smiley British-Jamaican elementary school kids singing about pot? The Mighty Diamonds originally cut it as the blatant weed jam "Pass the Kutchie." For the youthful cover, the title was changed to "Pass the Dutchie" — reportedly patois for a cooking pot, not that anyone was fooled. Today, mainly due to rap, the term Dutch or Dutchie is often used to refer to a cigar-wrapped joint (or blunt).
"Smoke Two Joints" by the Toyes (1983)/ Sublime (1992)
It began with the Toyes, an obscure reggae group from Hawaii. But it was the punk-ska band hipsters love to hate and hate to love, Sublime, that made it into something memorable, and one of the first Sublime songs to get airplay. It opens with a sample from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, then gives way to a healthy bong rip, recorded live in-studio by producer Michael "Miguel" Happoldt. Sample lyricis: "I smoke two joints in the morning / I smoke two joints at night / I smoke two joints in the afternoon / it makes me feel alright."
"Crumblin 'Erb" by Outkast (1994)
The song is all about medical marijuana: how the kind herb alleviates stresses brought on by the doldrums and downfalls of life. Instead of acting out on these frustrations, the advice is to "smoke out until you choke out."
"I Got Five on It" by Da Luniz (1995)
It's still hard to believe that in 1995 this joint actually charted in the Top 10 not only stateside but also in the UK and Germany. "I Got Five on It," off Operation Stackola, features R&B singer Michael Marshall's plaintive cry to throw in five bucks on a dime bag (that's a $10 bag) so that two dudes can share a blunt.
"Tales Facing Up" by Drive-By Truckers (1999)
From the alt-country end of the spectrum (they hail from Athens, Ga.), the Drive-By Truckers don't make smoking marijuana the centerpiece of this tune, but this sad song's hazy, whiskey-soaked storytelling has more than a whiff of weed to it, free-associating its way through different tales, biting bits of characters' "narcotic ramblings." Oh, and near the beginning, the vocalist shouts: "We opened up the sunroof and smoked a big joint!" (This, naturally, always gets the audience hooting at a DBT show.)
"Because I Got High" by Afroman (2000)
It's hard to say whether this song is pro or anti-marijuana. As funny as Afroman is, the track only bolsters stereotypes (pathetic laziness and gross irresponsibility) that true stoners spend as much time fighting as they do smoking.