Dating back to the days of alcohol prohibition, thousands of songs celebrated cannabis. Collectively, these songs epitomize the many artistic and cultural changes that occurred as the United States evolved over the past century.
In the early 20th century, New Orleans led the way in popularizing cannabis around the same time jazz first emanated from its music halls, but as the Ku Klux Klan surged in the south, many artists took the music and the plant to New York, Chicago and other big cities. Lit music initially survived the start of cannabis prohibition in 1937, but it went underground during the 1950s as McCarthyism characterized pot smokers as Commies. The anti-war movement and the social revolutions of the 1960s helped reintroduce cannabis into society, and the rise of super bands helped popularize it as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others celebrated its use. America shifted to the right again in the 1980s, leaving it to reggae artists to keep lit music alive, but rappers took cannabis themes to new heights in the 1990s, and the country has continued to move forward ever since. Even as conservatives dominate every area of U.S. politics, cannabis-themed music continues to grow, states continues to legalize, and countries around the world continue to reform their drug policies.
PRØHBTD compiled a list for each decade, but the master list below includes the most lit song for each year between 1924 and 2018. Terms like "best" and "biggest" were avoided since the selection process emphasized breakthroughs, mainstream reach, cultural influence, historical significance and underground gems. So power up your PAX 3, fill your Hydrology9 and roll out your Pure Vape pen so you're fully equipped to spend the next few hours reliving the most lit cannabis songs of the past century.
2018 Jhené Aiko and Rae Sremmurd - "Sativa" (Remix)
Los Angeles singer Jhené Aiko dropped "Sativa" last year on an album that included tracks like "LSD" and "Psilocybin," but this January remix with Rae Sremmurd rules 2018 so far. It's impossible not to love her voice, which sings so lovingly about cannabis.
Vermont became the ninth state to legalize recreational cannabis (and the first to do so via the state legislature). Likewise, the FDA appears set to approve Epidiolex, making it the first cannabis-derived prescription drug available in the U.S. in modern times.
2017 CLiQ and Alika - "Wavey"
The U.K. duo CLiQ took top honors with this underground viral hit featuring Alika on vocals. Really, the chorus says it all: "Get high, get lit, get drunk, get wavey."
2016 D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty - "Broccoli"
This list doesn't focus on the biggest songs, but "Broccoli" was huge nonetheless with nearly 300 million views on YouTube. The title obviously doesn't refer to the flowering crest of a cabbage, which is clearly not the tattoo on the female dancer's butt.
California, Maine, Massachussetts and Nevada legalize recreational cannabis.
2015 Miley Cyrus "Dooo It!"
The Magic Kingdom never turned out a cannabis advocate as outspoken as the former Hannah Montana, and her enthusiasm is on full display in "Dooo It!" The Flaming Lips co-produced the song, which defiantly proclaims, "Yeah, I smoke pot (do it), yeah, I love peace (do it), but I don't give a fuck (do it)."
2014 Florida Georgia Line - "Sun Daze"
For the first year of legalization in Colorado, country music stars Florida Georgia Line take the chalice. Working in a genre that often supports Trump and prohibition, the duo defied the stereotype with a hit that celebrates getting stoned at a pool party. Sure, FGL is kinda like the Nickelback of country music, but "Sun Daze" appeared on an album that topped the Billboard 200, and the duo is set to headline Stagecoach 2018.
Alaska and Oregon legalized recreational cannabis, and Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (now Rohrabacher-Farr), which prevents the Justice Department from spending any funds to combat medical cannabis in states that legalized it.
2013 The Underachievers - "Herb Shuttles"
The Underachievers get the nod for helping give NYC hip-hop new life with their breakthrough single, "Herb Shuttles."
The Justice Department issues the Cole Memo, which basically told prosecutors and law enforcement not to enforce federal cannabis laws for people who are in compliance with the state laws.
2012 ScHoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky - "Hands on the Wheel"
A production duo named THC made two tracks for ScHoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions, and the cannabis anthem "Hands on the Wheel" is somehow not one of them. Missed opportunities aside, the underground hit stands out for sampling Lissie's "Pursuit of Happiness," a Kid Cudi cover in which Lissie sings, "Crush a bit, little bit, roll it up, take a hit."
This same year, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis.
2011 Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg and Bruno Mars - "Young, Wild & Free"
Wiz and Snoop have to make the list somewhere, and what better track than a collaboration with Bruno Mars that includes the line, "Roll joints bigger than King Kong's fingers."
2010 Wale and Tiara Thomas - "The Cloud"
Kid Cudi landed the bigger cannabis anthem with "Marijuana," but Wale wins out for originality. "The Cloud" elegantly blends Wale's raps and Thomas' gorgeous vocals over an acoustic guitar-driven hip-hop track.
2009 Eminem - "Must Be the Ganja"
Eminem made a track praising cannabis. Sure, it wasn't a single, and it appeared on the so-so Relapse, but an Em-rapped, Dr. Dre-produced cannabis anthem would be the most-lit song in most any year.
2008 Adam Brown - "Marijuana"
Who is Adam (A.B.) Brown? We have no fuckin' idea, except that he was an LA-based producer in the '00s who published music under Atomz Muzik. It appears he never broke big, but this cannabis anthem from Music Love Magic got traction online and deserves a much larger audience. This might be the best cannabis-themed song you didn't already know.
2007 Styles P and Swizz Beatz - "Blow Ya Mind"
In 2002, rapper Styles P and producer Swizz Beatz collaborated on the cannabis anthem "Good Times." Five years later, the duo reunited for the sequel, "Blow Ya Mind," which begins, "I wanna roll something up so I can just blow my mind."
2006 Ice Cube - "Smoke Some Weed"
During the G.W. years, Ice Cube got straight outta Compton and right into Hollywood. After spending six years making movies like Friday After Next, Barbershop and xXx: State of the Union, Cube got back on the rap wagon with Laugh Now, Cry Later. His so-called comeback album featured his biggest cannabis anthem ever, "Smoke Some Weed."
2005 R. Kelly - "Sex Weed"
In this smooth R&B love song, R. Kelly gives a girl the highest praise by comparing her to cannabis. The hilarious lyrics include, "Yo sex make me feelin' this way like I've been smoking Purple Haze," "The way you movin' that kush real slow," "Sex so good that it gets me high," "Just one look at you I've got contact," "Since that first pull, I got this habit" and "Your shit is the chronic 'cause I can tell by the way you roll it up, make a playa want to smoke it up." It actually sounds less pervy when he sings it.
2004 Kanye West, Talib Kweli and Common - "Get Em High"
Kanye West's Grammy-winning debut, The College Dropout, turned Jay Z's producer into a full-fledged star with five radio hits. "Get Em High" was not one of them, but the album's overall success took this cannabis anthem to millions of ears.
2003 Missy Elliott - "Pass That Dutch"
The Timbaland and Elliott-produced track is all over the place in the verses, but the oft-repeated chorus is all about sharing the blunt. "Pass That Dutch" deserves added lit-ness for being one of the biggest female-led cannabis hits ever.
2002 People Under the Stairs - "Acid Raindrops"
With meaningful lyrics set to a pure hip-hop beat, "Acid Raindrops" could be the first medical marijuana anthem, so it makes sense that the duo hails from California.
2001 Weezer - "Hash Pipe"
"Hash Pipe," recorded during the same sessions as "Dope Nose," scored bonus points for taking hash and cannabis to alt-rock radio.
2000 Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - "Weed Song"
Less than two years before his death, Eazy-E signed this Cleveland-based rap group to Ruthless Records, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony broke big in 1995, topping the Billboard 200 with its sophomore release. The group still had its platinum-selling momentum when it released "Weed Song," a soulful track that praises the benefits of cannabis.
1999 Kermit Ruffins - "Hide the Reefer"
The earliest cannabis tunes came out during the Jazz Age, and Kermit Ruffins is a NOLA-based trumpeter committed to preserving traditional jazz. This includes making songs like "Hide the Reefer." Ruffins didn't release the most popular song of the year, but its nod to the early jazz-cannabis connection makes it the most lit.
1998 Manu Chao - "Welcome to Tijuana"
Manu Chao, a Paris-born Spaniard, is an iconic Latin artist with leftist political views that include opposition to the Drug War. In 1999, Chao did a cool cover of Lalo Guerrero's "Marihuana Boogie" from 1949, but he's better known for the "tequila, sex and marijuana" chorus in "Welcome to Tijuana" (from the same album as "Clandestino").
1997 Timbaland & Magoo - "Smoke in Da Air"
Timbaland entered the A-list in 1996 producing hits for Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, and this afforded him the chance to release his first proper studio album, Welcome to Our World, with rapper Magoo, featuring the cannabis anthem "Smoke in Da Air." Timbaland's future credits would include producing Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack," Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" and Missy's "Pass That Dutch."
1996 Tupac Shakur - "High 'Til I Die"
Tupac's biggest album, 1996's All Eyez on Me, came out in February, while "High 'Til I Die" opened the Sunset Park soundtrack in April. A drive-by shooting took his life the following September, making this cannabis-themed track the last song he released commercially before his death.
California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis.
1995 Ricky B - "Who Got Dat Fire"
More than a dozen cannabis anthems came out in 1995, but the best tracks came from the underground. The relatively unknown "Who Got Dat Fire" is the perfect example. Like crunk in Atlanta or bass in Miami, bounce music epitomized the early New Orleans sound with call-and-response lyrics and chants. Bounce also embraced the gay community, and in this Ricky B bounce song, cannabis as well.
1994 Lords of Acid - "Marijuana in Your Brain"
Lords of Acid is one of the earlier dance-oriented groups to celebrate cannabis openly.
1993 Tom Petty - "Mary Jane's Last Dance"
In a stacked year for cannabis-themed music, Tom Petty took most-lit honors with "Mary Jane's Last Dance," a new Rick Rubin-produced song for his Greatest Hits album. The Hall of Famer dominated MTV and FM airwaves in the 1980s, and his commercial cred helped give the song major mainstream exposure. Impressively, only two new Petty songs cracked the Top 20 from 1990 on, and both referenced cannabis. A year later, Petty released "You Don't Know How It Feels" with the oft-censored line, "Let's roll another joint."
1992 Sublime - "Smoke Two Joints"
Covers always require a higher bar to make any song list, but Sublime reached such heights with The Toyes' 1983 classic. The Long Beach band actually recorded six covers for 40oz. to Freedom, including The Grateful Dead's "Scarlet Begonias" and Toots and the Maytals' "54-45 Was My Number." Toots Hibbert wrote the latter song after spending more than a year in prison for cannabis possession.
Bill Clinton, a presidential candidate at the time, admitted to trying cannabis, though he claimed he didn't inhale.
1991 Cypress Hill - "Stoned Is the Way of the Walk"
Cypress Hill must make the list, and what better choice than one of their original anthems. The group's eponymous debut also featured "Light Another," but "Stoned Is the Way of the Walk" more closely epitomized the sound they took mainstream two years later with Black Sunday. Ironically, "Stoned" is one of two late additions recorded after the rest of the album had already been mixed.
1990 Ween - "Puffy Cloud"
The last track on Ween's 25-song debut, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, is a messy and mellow ode to what they were obviously smoking in the recording studio. The barely audible lyrics include, "Go away on a puffy cloud, my brain is dead from too much pot, 'cause Gene, Dean and I smoke too much pot."
1989 Murphy's Law - "Quest for Herb"
Substance-free punk became a 1980s trend thanks to straight-edge groups like Minor Threat, but NYC hardcore act Murphy's Law took exception with several cannabis-themed anthems. The band's third album, Back with a Bong, featured "Bong" and "Quest for Herb," while subsequent albums included "Big Spliff," "Hemp for Victory," "Greenbud" and "Still Smokin'."
1988 Steve Earle - "Copperhead Road"
The Grammy-winning country singer looks back at prohibition through the eyes of its central character, John Lee Pettimore III, the son and grandson of bootleggers. Pettimore the Third eventually shifts the family business from moonshine to marijuana: "I take the seed from Colombia and Mexico, I plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road / The D.E.A.'s got a chopper in the air, I wake up screaming like I'm back over there [in Vietnam]." A Tennessee town once had a street called Copperhead Road, but street sign thefts prompted a name change to Copperhead Hollow Road.
1987 Pato Banton - "Don't Sniff Coke"
When you don't sniff the coke, what do you do? According to British reggae legend Pato Banton, you "only smoke sensimilla." The reference is to unfertilized female cannabis plants that grow without seeds and produce high-THC flower.
Partnership for a Drug-Free America releases its infamous This Is Your Brain on Drugs PSA featuring eggs in a frying pan.
1986 Beastie Boys - "Hold It Now, Hit It"
Reagan's Drug War put a damper on cannabis references in the mid-'80s, but the Beastie Boys made a subtle nod with "Hold It Now, Hit It," which says, "I got friends in high places that are keeping me high."
1985 The Bellamy Brothers - "Old Hippie"
The Bellamy Brothers reached No. 2 on the country music charts with "Old Hippie," which recounts the life of a cannabis-smoking hippie dealing with political and social change in the 1980s. The duo released a sequel 10 years later that included the line, "He just don't trust a President that never has inhaled."
1984 Frankie Paul - "Pass The Ku-Sheng Peng"
Frankie Paul, a blind dancehall singer nicknamed the Jamaican Stevie Wonder, praised the plant in the title track of an album he named after a Chinese term for cannabis. The prolific artist released dozens of albums before his death in 2017.
1983 John Holt - "Police in the Helicopter"
John Holt of The Paragons took it to law enforcement in this solo track that condemned cannabis prohibition. Issuing a bold warning, the reggae artist threatened, "If you continue to burn up the herbs, we gonna burn down the cane fields."
1982 - Musical Youth - "Pass the Dutchie"
Michael Jackson and Prince dominated MTV in the mid-'80s, but the first black group in regular rotation at MTV was Musical Youth. The British reggae act topped the U.K. charts with "Pass the Dutchie," a mashup of the Mighty Diamonds' "Pass the Koutchie" and U Brown's "Gimmie the Music."
President Ronald Reagan declares war on drugs, doubling down on a policy started by Nixon a decade earlier.
1981 - Muddy Waters - "Champagne and Reefer"
The late, great Muddy Waters is a blues legend enshrined in both the Blues Foundation and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and he earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on top of six regular Grammys. A magazine and band you know well actually named themselves after his 1950 song "Rollin' Stone." Fast forward three decades, Waters released his 14th and final studio album, King Bee, in which he proudly proclaimed his fondness for "Champagne and Reefer."
1980 Black Uhuru - "Sinsemilla"
Hippie-era rockers popularized cannabis themes in the 1970s and rappers reintroduced them in the 1990s, but reggae artists clearly held down the musical fort during the prohibition-heavy 1980s. Black Uhuru led off the decade with "Sinsemilla," the title track from their third album. Black Uhuru went on to win the first-ever Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 1985 with Anthem.
1979 Hank Williams, Jr. - "Family Tradition"
Junior's politics might not be the most enlightened these days, but he set out to forge his own identity separate from his father with Family Tradition. The popular title track pays tribute to his rebellious ways, which include rollin' smokes and getting stoned.
1978 Bob Marley - "Kaya"
Kaya, the follow-up to Exodus (with tracks recorded in the same sessions), is a tribute to love and cannabis, and the title track sets the tone with, "I'm so high, I even touch the sky." The term kaya can mean "home" and "restful place," among other translations, which suggests the song is about more than just cannabis.
1977 Hawkwind - "Hassan I Sabbah"
The California drought of 1977 was great for skateboarding but not so much for cannabis. In one of the driest years for cannabis-themed music, British space-rockers Hawkwind unleashed "Hassan I Sabbah." Steeped in Middle Eastern influence, the song references the 11th-century Persian who founded the Hashshashin, which translates to "users of hashish" and from which came the term "assassin." Likewise, an album reissue included the bonus track "Hash Cake Cut."
Jimmy Carter becomes president and advocates for decriminalizing cannabis.
1976 Peter Tosh - "Legalize It"
Peter Tosh, a member of the Marley-led Wailers, broke out on his own in 1976 with Legalize It. The title track promoted cannabis legalization and condemned the police crackdown. Jamaica attempted to prohibit the song from airplay, but it became Tosh's signature tune. (PRØHBTD profiled his son Tosh1 here, who was beaten into a coma while in jail for a non-violent cannabis offense.)
1975 Neil Young - "Roll Another Number (For the Road)"
Neil Young rocked Woodstock, so he obviously got the nod from the start.
1974 George McCrea - "I Get Lifted"
Music critics often suggest KC and the Sunshine Band made a subtle nod to cannabis with "I Get Lifted," but TK Records labelmate George McCrae recorded the original version a year earlier. The West Palm Beach singer had all the attention on another song, "Rock Your Baby," when Harry "KC" Casey from nearby Miami-Dade heard "I Get Lifted" and turned it into a hit by speeding up the arrangement.
1973 New Riders of the Purple Sage - "Panama Red"
Phil Lesh and Jerry Garcia are among the Grateful Dead members who formed this country rock band in 1969, and their song "Panama Red" references the old-school sativa strain that originated in Central America.
At Nixon's behest, immigration authorities sent John Lennon a deportation notice. The basis for the deportation was a bogus cannabis arrest in London several years earlier. This same year, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis.
1972 Paul McCartney - "Hi, Hi, Hi"
Paul McCartney won the year with a cannabis anthem the U.K. originally banned, but it's not the only cannabis song that involved a solo Beatle. That same year, John Lennon produced and provided background vocals for the David Peel rarity "The Pope Smokes Dope."
1971 Black Sabbath - "Sweet Leaf"
Black Sabbath opened 1971's Master of Reality on a high note with metal's original cannabis anthem. Adding to its coolness, "Sweet Leaf" starts with a cough from guitarist Tony Iommi after taking a pull from a joint he and Ozzy were sharing.
1970 Brewer & Shipley - "One Toke Over the Line"
The folk duo landed a 1970 hit with the catchiest song ever to pair "toke" and "sweet Jesus" in the same line, but what immortalized it was a hilarious focus on "Jesus" instead of "toke." In 1971, Gail Farrell and Dick Dale performed the song on the Lawrence Welk Show, after which the host hailed it as "a modern spiritual." Richard Nixon, on the other hand, called Brewer & Shipley "public miscreants," and Vice President Spiro Agnew described them as "subversive to American youth." Fittingly, the song appears in both the book and movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Nixon reinstates cannabis prohibition through the Controlled Substances Act.
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 Easy Rider, one of the first feature films to bring cannabis back to the big screen.
The Supreme Court declared the Marihuana Tax Act unconditional.
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.
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.
The Summer of Love takes place in San Francisco.
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.
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 its way on 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, [but] '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 for 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.
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"
The Duke Ellington Orchestra served as the house band for the Cotton Club. When Ellington went on tour in 1931, the Cab Calloway Orchestra was asked to fill in, and the famed Harlem club soon had two house bands. At the time, cannabis themes appeared in Spanish-language songs and in the titles of jazz instrumentals, but Calloway was the first artist to put cannabis front in center with songs like "The Reefer Man." While other artists completely ditched cannabis themes in the 1950s, Calloway kept them in via 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" and "Hi-De-Ho Man" that all have cannabis references.
1959 George Roberts - "Three Stoned Mice"
Iowa-born trombonist George Roberts recorded with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland and worked on several huge film and television scores. His rendition of a renamed jazz classic is so timeless that cops are apparently playing it from Kansas to Argentina right now.
1958 Roy Glenn & the Gerry Mulligan Quartet - "Big High Song For Somebody"
During the prohibitionist '50s, most cannabis-themed songs were lit in title only. This is not one of those songs.
1957 Joaquina "Chiquita" Serrano - "Mari Juana"
Between 1950 and 1957, five of the most lit songs were all Latin, including this tropical version of a long-time fave.
1956 Eddie Warner - "Manteca"
In 1947, Dizzy Gillespie released the Afro-Cuban jazz tune "Manteca," named after a slang term of cannabis, and it became a jazz standard covered by several artists, including Eddie Warner. Sadly, the Buddy Weed Trio's "Weedin' the Rhapsody" in 1956 was not a nod to stoner weed.
1955 The Five Keys - "Ling Ting Tong"
In the R&B world, the Five Keys appear to reference cannabis via Chinese slang in "Ling Ting Tong."
1954 Hector Pellot & Mon Rivera - "Juana Maria"
"Juana Maria" could be a song about a girl named Jane Mary or a song written by a dyslexic, but the Mon Rivera-sung track by Hector Pellot has all the groove and energy of a cannabis anthem.
1953 Mezz Mezzrow - "Sendin' the Vipers"
Mezz became a cannabis legend in the early Harlem jazz scene, and he re-released this classic in 1953 from his new home in France.
1952 Tito Puente - "Mari Juana"
Thelonious Monk might refer to cannabis in "Let's Cool One," but 420-born Tito Puente made the topic abundantly clear in "Mari Juana," which is a Spanish-language way of saying Mary Jane.
1951 Mr. Sunshine - "Marijuana, the Devil's Flower"
Thank you Simon Brehms Orkester for recording "Forever Stoned," but 1951 had to go to the anti-cannabis "Devil's Flower" for its Reefer Madness levels of hilarity. The Garden State crooner sings, "If you use it, you'll be enslaved, marijuana, it brings you sorrow, and may send you to your grave."
Congress approved the Boggs Act, which set mandatory-minimum prison sentences for cannabis possession.
1950 Trío Matamoros - "Marijuana"
This cannabis classic comes courtesy of Cuba, not Mexico, led by the legendary Miguel Matamoros. The trio started recording in the 1920s and retired in 1960.
Andrew McCarthy gave a speech saying he had a list of Communists working in the State Department. This marked the acceleration of McCarthyism, a period of unfounded accusations and blacklists, that stretched all the way to Hollywood. Many people associated cannabis with Communism, so jazz artists who wanted to work on film scores had to become even more silent about cannabis use.
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.
Actress Lila Leeds appeared in the film The Devil's Weed (or alternatively She Shoulda Said No!). Leeds and Robert Mitchum had been arrested for cannabis position the year previous. After getting out of jail, Leeds struggled to find work and had to take the role to survive.
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.
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."
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.
1945 Barney Bigard Sextet - "Sweet Marijuana Brown"
Jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Barney Bigard, who spent 15 years performing with Duke Ellington, is one of the first English-language songs that includes "marijuana" in the title. (The other early references are a musical number called "Sweet Marijuana" in the 1934 film Murder at the Vanities and Trío Garnica-Ascencio with the Spanish-language "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.
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.
The LaGuardia Report, commissioned by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, was published after five years of research. The report called bullshit on all the anti-cannabis propaganda being pumped out by bureaucrats in the federal government.
1943 Mario Bauzá - "Tangá"
Despite being an instrumental, "Tangá" ultimately took the year as the first-ever Latin jazz tune that's also named after a slang term for cannabis. Bauzá previously played with Cab Calloway, 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.
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.
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.
1939 Cats and the Fiddle - "Killin' Jive"
Two years after forming, Cats and the Fiddle released this high-energy single about jive (a slang term for cannabis) that stands out as one of the decade's best. The Chicago-based group released "Nuts to You"/"Killin' Jive" as its lead single in '39, but "I Miss You So" became its first hit a year later.
1938 Trixie Smith - "Jack, I'm Mellow"
Atlanta-born Trixie Smith moved to New York City in 1915 and recorded her first singles in 1922, but it was late in her career when she released "Jack, I'm Mellow" with lines like, "I'm so high and so dry, I'm sailin' in the sky / Just smoke some gage, come around babe / Jack, I'm mellow."
1937 Tampa Red and his Chicago Five - "I'm Gonna Get High"
Georgia-born blues guitarist Tampa Red moved to Chicago during the Al Capone years of Prohibition, and he delivered this defiant anthem the year federal cannabis prohibition started. Tampa Red doubled down on the coolness the following year with the more inclusive "We're Gonna Get High Together."
Cannabis prohibition officially started in 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, which took effect in October. The year also saw the release of another major anti-cannabis film, Assassin of Youth.
1936 Stuff Smith - "If You'se a Viper"
Stuff Smith lit up '36 with "Here Comes the Man with the Jive" and "I'se a Muggin'," but the Onyx Club icon owned the year with "If You'se a Viper." The song opens, "Dreamed about a reefer five feet long / Mighty Mezz, but not too strong / You'll be high but not for long / If you're a viper / I'm the king of everything / I've got to be high before I can swing / Light a tea and let it be / If you're a viper." Tea is slang for cannabis, and vipers are those who smoke it.
The anti-cannabis films Reefer Madness and Marihuana made their theatrical debuts.
1935 The Garland Sisters - "La Cucaracha"
Dorothy sang about weed? Hell yeah, Dorothy sang about weed! Four years before Judy Garland walked the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz, she and her sisters sang the Spanish-language revolution song "La Cucaracha" in the film La Fiesta De Santa Bárbara. In total, Garland says "marihuana que fumar" (marijuana to smoke) four times!
1934 Mezz Mezzrow - "Sendin' the Vipers"
Louis Armstrong released "Song of the Vipers," and Fats Waller delivers "A Viper's Drag," but Mezz Mezzrow officially made it the Year of the Viper with his classic "Sendin' the Vipers." The Chicago-born jazz musician had a major role in the New York jazz scene, but Mezz is best remembered as a cannabis seller whose very name became a slang term for cannabis (see "If You'se a Viper" above). He even got arrested in '39 for trying to sell 60 joints at the New York World's Fair.
1933 Bessie Smith - "Gimme a Pigfoot"
Bessie Smith, a.k.a. The Empress of the Blues, died in a car crash five days before the start of cannabis prohibition, but she recorded this tune with Frankie Newton, Buck Washington, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and others in her last-known recording sessions. Billie Holiday mentor John Hammond asked her to record this track about wanting pig's feet and beer, but Smith had more than trotters on her mind because she changed the final chorus to "gimme a reefer and a gang o' gin."
1932 Cab Calloway - "The Reefer Man"
More so than any other artist up to this point, Cab Calloway sang openly about cannabis, and he scored an iconic hit with "The Reefer Man." Calloway performed the song live in the film International House. That same year, Calloway also released "The Man From Harlem" with the closing line, "Come on, sisters, light up on these weeds and get high."
1931 Don Redman & Orchestra - "Chant of the Weed"
There are no actual chants in this jazz-swing instrumental, but it's the first major song to reference "weed" in the title, later becoming a standard covered by the likes of Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans and even lounge musician Martin Denny.
1930 Blue Steele and his Orchestra - "All Muggled Up"
Arkansas-born Blue Steele formed his Atlanta-based orchestra in the mid-'20s and recorded "All Muggled Up" in Memphis in May 1930. Give it up for the South! Like viper, muggle is slang for a cannabis smoker. Legend suggests Eugene Staples was called Blue Steele because he suffered a head wound in World War I and had a piece of metal patched to his skull, arguably making him music's first true metalhead.
1929 Trío Garnica-Ascencio - "La Marihuana"
If "La Cucaracha" was the first song to mention smoking cannabis, it's only fitting that another Spanish-language song might be the first to celebrate the plant openly in the lyrics. Historical records suggest Trío Garnica-Ascencio—an early Mexican group featuring Julia Garnica and sisters Ofelia and Blanca Ascencio—recorded this cannabis anthem in 1929.
1928 Louis Armstrong - "Muggles"
The New Orleans-born composer and trumpeter first started smoking cannabis in the mid-1920s, and his 1928 instrumental "Muggles" (a slang term for cannabis smokers) is often called the first song about cannabis. Armstrong certainly elevated the subject matter with "Muggles," but it might not even be his first lit song. Two years earlier, he released "Drop That Sack" (see 1926), and maybe he should've listened to his own advice before the police arrested him for cannabis possession in 1930.
1927 Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon - "Willie the Weeper"
"Willie the Weeper," a vaudeville standard about drug-induced fantasties, was likely written in the early 1900s and first recorded in the early 1920s. Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon recorded his own version in 1927 that may have inspired lines in Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." Over his career, Jaxon performed with cannabis-friendly artists like Tampa Red, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and the Harlem Hamfats, but "Willie" likely dabbled in all drugs, not just cannabis.
New York prohibited cannabis in 1927 following the headline "Mexican Family Go Insane" after eating the plant, which of course wouldn't even get them high.
1926 Louis Armstrong - "Drop That Sack"
Papa Charlie Jackson's "Drop That Sack" in 1925 definitely wasn't about cannabis, and Armstrong's wife Lillian took the lead on this instrumental she recorded with Louis and the Hot Shots. That said, did the Armstrongs have cannabis sacks in mind for this song? Probably not, but Louis was an early advocate, so it's somewhat reasonable to hope they did.
1925 Original New Orleans Rhythm Kings - "Golden Leaf Strut"
Attributing lit-ness on song titles alone can be iffy, but "Golden Leaf Strut" might be the first jazz instrumental with cannabis clearly in mind. The all-white Rhythm Kings was essentially the Eminem of early jazz, and the band covered "Sobbin' Blues" in 1923 with Jelly Roll Morton on the piano. Just as "Golden Leaf Strut" might be the first public cannabis reference in a song title, "Sobbin' Blues" was one of the first openly interracial recordings. In the age of an ascendant KKK, the cover suggests the band didn't give a fuck, which lends more credence to the idea that these white boys blazed the golden leaf.
1924 Sidney Bechet - "Pleasure Mad"
Sidney Bechet composed "Pleasure Mad" in 1924, and recordings were made that year by Bennie Krueger's Orchestra (whose version is heard here) and others that year. Did the New Orleans-born jazz musician have cannabis in mind when he wrote the instrumental? One might argue yes based on Bechet's own recording in 1938 that included a new title, "Viper Mad," and vocals. The Bechet-penned lyrics go, "Wrap your chops 'round this stick of tea / Blow this gage and get high with me / Good tea is my weakness, I know it's bad / It sends me gate and I can't wait, I'm viper mad." (Tea and gage are slang for cannabis, and a viper is someone who smokes it.)
If Bechet did have cannabis in mind at the time he wrote it, "Pleasure Mad" would arguably represent the start of lit music, at least in spirit.
Prior to 1924, states that already prohibited cannabis included California, Colorado, Maine, Washington and Oregon, while Massachusetts had made cannabis a prescription drug. These states would be among the first to legalize recreational cannabis a century later.