There appear to be a lot of competing stories around how the numbers 420 got associated with smoking cannabis. But either way, the 420 number has stuck, and so, I couldn’t miss out on a numerically relevant /Tuesday Ten, could I?
/Tuesday Ten/420/I Wanna Get High
/Tuesday Ten/Drugs and Alcohol
The thing is, I don’t smoke it these days. I’ve not touched it in some considerable time – at least a decade, maybe more – but then, I’ve not smoked cigarettes in nearly twenty years, either. Years of fixing my own mental health have perhaps resulted in me deciding to avoid drugs of any kind, excepting alcohol, of course, which I still consume from time-to-time – although it’s notable that during the lockdown, even our alcohol consumption has dropped considerably (and we’re not drinking during the week at all, just a couple at weekends).
But I’m not moralistic particularly, and if other people want to smoke marijuana, that’s their call and their choice. This week, then, is songs about smoking it. There aren’t quite as many as you might think, but there were quite enough to be going on with, even if they mostly fit into a couple of genres…
That said, I’ve never liked Bob Marley’s music (it just does nothing for me) – and too many white students I knew at Uni had his posters on their wall while they were smoking away their grant music. So he doesn’t feature this week. He’ll feature in subjects that celebrate his importance away from marijuana (and I have one coming up, likely in a couple of months).
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35
/Blonde on Blonde
Smoking dope is not new. The earliest evidence, apparently, suggests that it dates back millenia, never mind centuries, but even so, even daring to mention such illegal activity in the sixties was still worth self-censorship. So the story goes with this Bob Dylan song, that he put in allusions to Old Testament punishment stoning to avoid the censors taking down the song. This might have been all well and good, were Dylan not giggling his way through most of this song like he’s absolutely caned out of his mind. Dylan was certainly no stranger to it – and legend has it, he turned The Beatles onto the leaf, too…
/Master of Reality
The links between doom metal and cannabis go all the way back to the source – Black Sabbath. Their third album, Master of Reality, opened with the glorious riffage of Sweet Leaf – and Tony Iommi coughing as a result of a large joint he’d been given during recording sessions – and it is a song that is little more than a love song to the leaf. The songs on this album aren’t longer, mind, they are slower, though – and are the key influence on doom bands to come. Needless to say, we’ll be returning to doom metal later in this post.
/Not A Crime
/Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
For the reputation of cannabis use resulting on a more mellowed-out, relaxed nature, it is kinda ironic (perhaps deliberately so?) that one of Gogol Bordello’s most evergreen, rabble-rousing live favourites – and almost always played a couple of songs in, to turbo-charge the audience early on – is about the struggle to legalise marijuana. Not that there are too many intelligible lyrics within the song – Eugene Hütz and other bandmates offer various phrases and mumbling but mostly shout “NOT A CRIME!” and whip up a musical storm – and the only moment of mellowness comes when the song hits a reggae-tinged breakdown. But even that is over fairly quickly as the band gallop back headlong to the close, and with this energy, they would not be the first band I’d expect to be smoking all day long…
/Smoke Two Joints
/40oz. To Freedom
Sublime often get a bad rap – and rightly so, at points, particularly their song Date Rape, which at least vocalist Bradley Nowell eventually had some contrition about – but was, at least, honest about their intentions. A young ska-punk band from the sunny shores of southern California, their laid-back attitude took in a lot of reggae influences (from Nowell’s childhood) and an awful lot of cannabis, as shown by this song, which basically boils down to kicking back in the sunshine and smoking. What I didn’t know until researching this post was that this song is a cover of a Californian reggae band called The Toyes. Bradley Nowell, by the way, was sadly a habitual drug user of much more than just cannabis, eventually overdosing on heroin in a hotel room aged just 28.
Polythene was the first album by Welsh rock band Feeder, and I remember getting really into this band around the time of going to university in 1996/97. High was a later single, that after breaching the top-40 later in 1997 swiftly got tacked onto the album as it got reissued, and there was always the whiff of a chart-aimed ballad about it, as the rest of the album was always that bit harder-edged. That said, it’s not a bad song, by any means, and rather transports me back to more innocent times in my life, where kicking back and “getting high with my friends” may well have happened in the summer months.
/Hits From The Bong
A song with an unlikely sample base – Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield – is one of the many, many Cypress Hill songs about cannabis (it’s one of four on this album at least, never mind before and since). I’ve picked this one, though, because it is so upfront. It opens with the bubbling sound of a bong, and pretty much what follows is then a “how-to” guide on how to use one (see also the live video on the YouTube playlist, where they bring a two-metre tall bong onstage for the song!). Who knew? A group who were political advocates and offering public information…
Another artist whose music has been inextricably linked to marijuana use is Tricky, who admitted in a 2010 interview that he’d pretty much smoked it a lot, nearly every day, from his teens until when he was 42 (I couldn’t find confirmation of whether he continued to do so after that, mind). The wider music scene that coalesced from Bristol in the early-nineties, so-called “trip-hop”, reflected heavy marijuana use, too – languid, downbeat hip-hop that was rarely particularly aggressive and instead was often deeply contemplative. Tricky’s wild trip of a debut, Maxinquaye, of course, was the one to break the mould (for example, flipping the eloquent protest of Public Enemy’s Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos into a raging industrial rock powerhouse), but at other points was smothered in dope-smoke paranoia. Enter Ponderosa, a conversation between Martina Topley-Bird and Tricky, complete with lazy, hazy beats and the meditations of a stoned mind that can’t quite focus – and one of Tricky’s greatest songs was the result.
The term stoner-rock gets bandied about a lot as if every rock band that has smoked a joint could possibly be such. Clutch are much more interesting than just being pigeonholed in such a way, really, their songs taking in far more interesting subjects over their long career, but there are occasions where they swing fully into the stoner groove. Like this mighty epic from their earlier days, where they appear to kick back in a 1973 Dodge Swinger, get stoned out of their mind and see the universe from their car…while referencing various other bands and songs along the way – you gotta have a soundtrack for this, right?
It’s not all sunshine and mellow life smoking weed, though, as Electric Wizard have long proved. A band pretty much defined by enormous clouds of dope smoke and monstrous, heavy riffage, their finest hour remains the titanic album Dopethrone, which is slow, thunderously heavy, and nastily dark. Apparently the titular item, according to Urban Dictionary, is frankly only something that makes sense when you are out of your mind, and the title track is the crowning glory of this album, where the stoned band members take their position on the throne of stoner-doom. Seriously, stoned metal power doesn’t get better than this (especially live, where it is sternum-crushingly heavy and loud).
There are times when I feel that the story of this song/album sounds like some kind of joke that’s only funny when you’re really stoned. Three stoner musicians spend some considerable time (four years, apparently) trying to write and record a one-hour-long track about getting stoned and the mythos around smoking marijuana, fight with labels over releasing it, refuse to edit it even for radio play, change it each time they play it live, and eventually get it released officially two decades later. “Drop out of life with bong in hand“, the song begins, and for sixty-three minutes, the trio rolls through the ebb-and-flow of riff-after-riff, like standing on the shore and waiting for the waves to hit one by one. When stoned this must sound amazing really, really loud…