From the darkest corners of America’s poorest neighborhoods to a symbol of wealth and status, it’s been quite the rags-to-riches story for Mary Jane—and the whole journey has been told in music, producing a seriously crunchy oral history. While this is in no way a complete canon, these 22 songs offer a glimpse into the changing attitudes about herb throughout the ages.
Light up Snoop Dogg’s strain or Blueberry Yum Yum and embark on this auditory time travel trip through the life and times of marijuana, music’s best muse.
When Louis Armstrong, an enthusiastic weed smoker, recorded this 12-bar blues song, cannabis was legal in most states. And pretty much a non-issue. In fact, the song is named after a commonly used slang term for weed among jazz musicians. You can imagine the entire band with joints lazily hanging from mouths in a smoky Chicago club—especially as drummer Zutty Singleton sets the pace with delicate brushes and Earl Hines takes a dreamy walk on the piano.
Even Ella Fitzgerald, the sweetheart of Jazz who cultivated a squeaky-clean image, sang of the drug in a casual way, nodding to the nonchalant attitude of the time.
However, the 1930s also saw the use of cannabis come under increased scrutiny when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, charged with eradicating recreational drug use, was formed. Its leader Harry J. Anslinger launched a campaign aligning cannabis use to societal ills and focused almost entirely on the “dangers of jazz.” The many, mostly African American musicians who referenced the drug in their art unwillingly provided the score for the racially motivated campaign that made weed and the African American community the scapegoat for America’s problems, while almost ignoring the effects of harder drugs, like heroin, used across communities.
The political campaign against Mary Jane played its part in ushering in an era of innocent pop music through the ‘50s thanks to increased censorship, but in the ‘60s we hear cannabis re-enter popular music, as in this R&B hit covered by Ray Charles. The lyrics “let’s go get stoned” likely referred to drinking alcohol, but it may have inspired the following (alleged) weed anthem by Bob Dylan.
While this song was definitely recorded high and some say that “rainy day women” was slang for joint, Dylan resists the notion that it’s a drug song though the cannabis references abound—including the sing-along refrain “everyone must get stoned.” A more nuanced interpretation of the lyrics as referring to unjust persecution and nodding to the civil rights movement puts this song into protest territory. Dylan didn’t want to put labels on it, but the multiple meanings of stoned throughout put Mary Jane in political context.
There’s nothing subtle or open for interpretation about this one. When they hold “roooooooooooolllllll another one” for longer than time itself, you know you’re hearing a true stoner anthem.
While “Rainy Day Women” may have nodded at protest, this song offers a succinct and comprehensive teardown of the ways in which the government has used misinformation to criminalize and vilify marijuana for political gain: “Misinformation Sam and Joe / Are feeding to the nation / Well it’s evil, wicked, mean and nasty / (Don’t step on the grass, Sam).”
Socially conscious lyrics regarding personal and political freedom were a hallmark for American folk artists Brewer & Shipley, but we’re pretty sure this became a hit (their one and only) because of one very relatable lyric. Who hasn’t been “one toke over the line, sweet Jesus”? They reportedly wrote the song while blazed; however, the otherwise wholesome lyrics landed it a spot on the Lawrence Welk show.
Black Sabbath may have been largely responsible for transitioning rock out of the flower power era into the harder screeches of heavy metal, but one thing remained constant: the love of the “sweet leaf.” This song, which coined the phrase, begins with coughing and transitions into a love song to weed. Like really all good, intense love, it’s delivered in yells.
This song has been sampled by everyone from Madonna to Jay Z, blazing like a top-shelf strain of weed that’ll get you lifted hi-highhhhh.
Tosh speaks truth to power in a mellow, yet powerful response to police persecuting Jamaican use of the drug. His plea to legalize it is paired with a prescient promise that he will advertise it. Tosh champions the medicinal benefits of the herb, as many Rastafarian artists do: “It’s good for the flu / Good for asthma / Good for tuberculosis / Even numara thrombosis.”
With Pato Banton’s chorus, “I do not sniff the coke, I only smoke sensimilla,” he draws a distinction between hard drugs and the healing plant, suggesting that sensimilla is the healing of the nation.
Early ‘90s hip-hop forgoes a legalization message in favor of lessons in smoking etiquette. Take two and pass teaches us how to make a blunt last, while Redman breaks down the art of the roll in detail.
D’Angelo turns the attention to Mary Jane’s sultry side in this ode to making love to her until his eyes are “a shade of blood burgundy.”
While Rastafarian artists fight a battle to legitimize marijuana, tunes like this one from Afroman solidify the myth of the stoner as an ambition-less Peter Pan. The song may be catchy, but today’s smokers are still trying to shake the stoner stereotype.
As the U.S. marches to legalization, hip-hop artists of the 2000s have heralded the herb as a status symbol and lucrative commodity. Rather than an escape, it’s a symbol of the good life—and lots of it—such as in “The Next Episode”…
… and Missy Elliot’s “Pass That Dutch”, among many others.
Ludacris penned an ode to a specific strain—perhaps the pot industry’s first review? He shot the video on location in a growroom in Amsterdam.
Kid Cudi is a star cannabis connoisseur.
Weed smoking and branding go hand-in-hand for Rihanna.
And finally, the weed O.G. Snoop Dogg is taking it to a whole new level. His empire is well underway, thanks in part to a VC firm, Casa Verda, that’s raised over $40 million in investment.
Did we miss your favorite weed song throughout history? Let us know in the comments and check out our complete playlist.