STORIES

Most Lit Cannabis Song Each Year in the 1940s

By David Jenison on April 9, 2018

If cannabis-themed music peaked in the 1930s, the war years marked a major retreat as taxpayer-funded prohibitionists ramped up the cannabis crackdown. In the 1940s, the government shifted from tales of stoned axe murderers to celebrity busts (e.g., Robert Mitchum, Lila Leeds, Gene Krupa, Lester Young, etc.) meant to keep the "green menace" in the headlines. All this led up to the 1950s, which became the driest decade for cannabis music since the "Golden Leaf Strut" lit things up in 1925. That said, the 1940s pushed back against prohibition with true cannabis classics that include the first-ever Latin jazz song, the first-known use of "marijuana" in a title and one of the coolest Spanish-language anthems of all time. You'll definitely want to enjoy these tunes by smoking Northern Emeralds' Sapphire Kush nicely packed in Jeff Sessions (born in '46) rolling papers.  

1949  Lalo Guerrero - "Marihuana Boogie"

The father of Chicano music achieved fame in the 1950s, but he closed out the '40s with this historic Spanish-language anthem covered by the likes of Manu Chao. Still, the Los Angeles transplant is best known for championing the cause of Mexican farm workers, and President Clinton honored him with the National Medal of Arts in 1996. Julia Lee also deserves a nod for her hilarious hit "I Didn't Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)," which many people likely mistook for actual spinach

1948  Roy Hogsed - "Cocaine Blues"

In October 1947, Harry Anslinger told his prohibition agents, "Please prepare all cases in your jurisdiction involving musicians in violation of the marijuana laws. We will have a great national round-up arrest of all such persons on a single day." This didn't stop music artists from smoking, but it did discourage them from singing openly about it from 1948 on (hence the aforementioned "spinach" reference). An obvious choice for a cannabis classic does not seem to exist in '48, so the year falls to a different type of lit song. Roy Hogsed cracked the country Top 20 with "Cocaine Blues" in 1948, and Johnny Cash immortalized it 20 years later at Folsom Prison. On another note, "The Woody Woodpecker" song is by no means lit, but these singers have got to be high AF. 

1947  Julia Lee - "Marijuana"

Kansas City-raised Julia Lee started her musical career in her brother George's band (that once featured Charlie Parker), but she broke out on her own in the 1930s. Her most popular solo tracks include the aforementioned "Spinach Song" and "Lotus Blossom," the latter of which features an alternative version called "Marijuana." Also worth mentioning, Dizzy Gillespie dropped two lit tracks with "Groovin' High" and "Manteca," the latter adopting a Spanish slang term for cannabis. Sadly, the Buddy Weed Trio's "Weedin' the Rhapsody" is not a nod to stoner weed. What a loss. 

1946  Vanita Smythe - "They Raided the Joint"

Motor City actress-singer Vanita Smythe is one of many vocalists to cover "They Raided the Joint," a humorous Louis Jordan song about being high in a speakeasy during a police raid. The video is part of the Soundies musical clips recorded in the 1940s and honored by the Library of Congress. Best song title, however, goes to Buster Bennett's "Mellow Pot Blues." 

1945  Barney Bigard Sextet - "Sweet Marijuana Brown"

Jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Barney Bigard, who spent 15 years performing with Duke Ellington, seems to claim the first commercially released song that includes "marijuana" in the title (though a 1934 film does include a performance called "Sweet Marijuana," and Trío Garnica-Ascencio likely recorded "La Marihuana" in 1929). The fun track warns of a seductive, cannabis-smoking woman that the locals call Sweet Marijuana Brown. "She blows her gage, flies in a rage," sings vocalist Joe Thomas. Also worth noting, Cee Pee Johnson released "The 'G' Man Got the 'T' Man" in 1945 in a classic about prohibition enforcement. 

1944  Buck Washington - "Save the Roach for Me"

This famed pianist, vocalist and vaudeville performer partnered with John Bubbles to form the popular duo Buck and Bubbles in the 1910s. The pair stuck together until the 1950s, but he recorded this cannabis anthem by himself on the piano in '44.

1943  Mario Bauzá - "Tangá"

Fats Waller delivered the year's true cannabis classic with "You're a Viper (The Reefer Song)," a cover of Stuff Smith's 1936 classic, but "Tangá" (a slang term for cannabis) ultimately took the year as the first-ever Latin jazz tune. Bauzá previously played with Cab Calloway, one of the most prolific cannabis songmasters, and a young Tito Puente joined Bauzá's band in the early 1940s. The Havana-born artist also worked with cannabis-friendly artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.  

1942  Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman - "Why Don't You Do Right"

"Why Don't You Do Right" might seem to lack cannabis references, but they certainly exist in the song's DNA. This major hit, which Jessica Rabbit covered in 1988, is actually "Weed Smoker's Dream" renamed for a mainstream audience. The 1942 version became Peggy Lee's first hit, but the Harlem Hamfats released the "Weed Smoker's" original in 1936. Also noteworthy, reefer all-star Cab Calloway covered "The Skunk Song" in 1942, and it truly does sound like a metaphor for cannabis and prohibition. 

1941  Martha Tilton - "A Little Jive Is Good for You"

In the 1930s, "jive" stood out as one of the most common slang terms for cannabis, but that doesn't mean every mainstream artist knew this. Now watch Martha Tilton sing "A Little Jive Is Good for You" in this 1941 Soundies clip, and get ready to laugh your ass off because she obviously doesn't know what jive is. Either that, or the "And the Angels Sing" vocalist was much more hep than she appeared. Other notable mentions include Lil' Green's "Knockin' Myself Out" and Nat King Cole's cover of "Hit That Jive, Jack," which Gramatik remixed in 2009. 

1940  Skeets Tolbert - "Hit That Jive, Jack"

Speaking of "Hit That Jive," Skeets Tolbert released the original version a year earlier. Born in South Carolina, the jazz composer and bandleader worked with the likes of Nat King Cole and Fats Waller and even played in a band with Olympic star Jesse Owens in the 1930s. The similarly titled "Hit That Mess" by Slim Gaillard deserves honorable mention for its upbeat call to lift your mood with cannabis, and Cab Calloway gets a shout out for "Are You Hep to the Jive?

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