The Beatles made several sly references to cannabis in the mid-'60s, but music didn't get truly lit until around 1966, and not without public uproar. That year, Vice President Spiro Agnew (who later ripped on Brewer & Shipley) attacked Ray Charles for "Let's Go Get Stoned," and the Gavin Report condemned Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" for its call to "get stoned." Sure, Charles might've meant getting stoned on alcohol, and Dylan said his song is not about cannabis, but fans typically associate both songs with cannabis (especially since 12 x 35 = 420).
While cannabis references are few and far between in the early '60s, they can still be found in unexpected places. For these decade lists, PRØHBTD purposely avoided terms like "best" and "biggest" since the selection process emphasized criteria like breakthroughs, mainstream reach, influence and underground gems. That said, many of the songs below contribute to the Summer of Love soundtrack and all the social and political change that defined the decade. Naturally, you'll want to enjoy these tunes by packing some Purple Haze into your Pax 3 vaporizer.
1969 Fraternity of Man - "Don't Bogart That Joint"
Fraternity of Man only lasted two albums, but the psychedelic blues rockers will always be remembered for this cannabis classic featured in the 1969 film Easy Rider. That same year, the 5th Dimension released "Stoned Soul Picnic," and like Lawrence Welk with "toke," the pop-vocal group likely didn't know what "stoned" meant. Either that, or the singers were awesome subversives. Speaking of subversive, an honorable mention must go out to Orville Dorp for "Jesus Marijuana."
1968 Steppenwolf - "Don't Step on the Grass, Sam"
This political rocker has some tough words for Uncle Sam, who started a major cannabis crackdown under the Nixon Administration. The hard-rock anthem edged out the Sly & The Family Stone hit "I Want to Take You Higher," which is a less obvious nod to cannabis (among other highs).
1967 Jimi Hendrix - "Purple Haze"
In 2013, Rolling Stone picked the Top 40 Greatest Stoner Albums ever, and Axis: Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix topped the list as "a virtual banquet of stoner delights." Every Hendrix release is a psychedelic stoner album, but "Purple Haze" remains his most iconic cannabis anthem.
1966 The Association - "Along Comes Mary"
The Association scored its breakthrough hit with this song about a troubled young man who finds comfort in cannabis. The culture started to bloom more openly the following year with the Human Be-In, the Summer of Love and the Monterey Pop Festival, which the Association opened. Ironically, the year also featured a Hot 100 chart-topper that few knew had a cannabis connection: The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." In a 2012 interview with Uncut, band leader Brian Wilson said, "I accredit [the song] to marijuana. I smoked marijuana just before I wrote it."
1965 Janis Joplin - "Mary Jane"
"When I bring home my hard-earned pay, I spend my money all on Mary Jane," sings Joplin. She performed the song live with the Dick Oxtot Jazz band in 1965, though the live recording didn't make an album until her eponymous 1975 compilation.
1964 The Beatles - "She's a Woman"
The Beatles and Drugs author Joe Goodden previously told PRØHBTD, "The Beatles dropped a few lines about getting high into their songs, so the undercurrent was there from late 1964 onward—'She's a Woman' contained the first reference…. [The song] included the line, 'Turn me on when I get lonely,' which Lennon later confirmed was written with marijuana in mind." This is where the story gets interesting. Bob Dylan officially introduced the Beatles to cannabis on August 28, 1964 in a hotel now named (this is gonna hurt) the Trump Park Avenue. The band recorded "She's a Woman" 41 days later at EMI Studios in London and released the song on November 24 as the B-side to the appropriately titled "I Feel Fine."
1963 The Rolling Stones - "Stoned"
Ready for more Beatles trivia? In 1963, Paul McCartney and John Lennon penned “I Wanna Be Your Man” for the Rolling Stones, which became the band's first-ever Top 20 single on the British charts. The McCartney-Lennon collaboration inspired the Stones to write its own material, and the band's first original composition, "Stoned," served as the single's B-side. Due to America's prohibitionist mindset, "Stoned" got dropped from the single for the U.S. release.
1962 Peter La Farge - "Marijuana Blues"
Peter La Farge passed away in '65 at age 34 but not before leaving his mark on the emerging folk music scene in Greenwich Village. During his few short years as a folk artist, La Farge developed affiliations with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash, and "Marijuana Blues" stands out as one of the most openly lit songs of the early 1960s—and arguably the first overt cannabis anthem in more than a decade. Just consider the opening lines: "It's the national flower of our neighbor to the south. You can smoke it, you can bake it, just put it in your mouth." Hank Williams III covered the song in 2010 for a La Farge tribute album. Honorable mention goes to Herb Alpert for his instrumental "Struttin' with Maria."
1961 West Side Story - "Gee, Officer Krupke"
The most-prominent cannabis reference in '61 actually appeared in the West Side Story, which won a record-setting 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture). Jets gang leader Riff sings, "Dear kindly Judge, your Honor, my parents treat me rough. With all their marijuana, they won't give me a puff." Later in the song, Riff adds, "My grandpa's always plastered, my grandma pushes tea." Following early forms of prohibition in 1920s, "tea pads" popped up as a place where people could buy cannabis joints for 25 cents or less.
1960 Cab Calloway - "Hi-De-Ho Miracle Man"
On all the decade lists, Cab Calloway is the only artist who took multiple years. The American jazz singer and bandleader regularly performed at the Cotton Club in Harlem, and he had major star power in the 1930s and 1940s, which included his performance of "Reefer Man" in the 1933 film International House. While other artists completely ditched cannabis themes in the 1950s, Calloway hid the themes in coded language like he does in "Hi-De-Ho Miracle Man." The song talks about his "miracle plan" that "sister green" and others take each day to help with various elements. The phrase "Hi De Ho" debuted in earlier Calloway songs like "Minnie the Moocher" (see him perform the song in The Blues Brothers) and "Hi-De-Ho Man" that all have cannabis references.
The decade lists normally don't repeat artists, but Calloway takes the year in part because “lit” music became somewhat rare around this time. Fittingly, the other prominent cannabis songs of the year originated outside of the U.S. Ben Sa Tumba Et Son Orchestre released a Tito Puente "Marijuana" cover in France, and Cuco Sanchez sang "La Cucaracha" (a cockroach who can't walk without "marihuana que fumar") for the 1960 soundtrack of a Mexican movie released the year previous. That film, called La Cucaracha in Mexico, premiered in the U.S. as The Soldiers of Pancho Villa in 1961.