Smooth, Smokin’ Sounds

Over the past hundred years or so, American cannabis culture has evolved on a parallel track with our emergent pop music industry. Indeed, the two have complimented each other at every step. Some of the greatest and most beloved songs in the history of the nation–and the world, for that matter–have been written and recorded in celebration of marijuana. In many cases, the artists were actively stoned at the time of recording, but that’s their business.

I’ve been conducting research into the matter for most of my adult life, and herewith are some of my findings: a few of my favorite examples of marijuana music. Future columns will include reader suggestions, so start making notes. We’ve got a lot of great stuff already, and thanks for that.

Louis Armstrong, “Muggles” (1928): If there were a Mount Rushmore of weed, the GOAT gets top billin’. His central role as architect of the American Century is eclipsed only by FDR, and Armstrong openly partook on a daily basis. He called it “gage” or “muggles,” and was the first guy who could get away with being on the record, literally. He was already five years into his ascent, peak Pops.

Cab Calloway, “Reefer Man” (1932): Calloway has slipped through the cracks
of critical acclaim, and that’s a shame. He sang and danced and wrote songs like “Hi-De-Ho,” and ran his own highly influential big band, with such stellar alumni as Ben Webster and Dizzy Gillespie. He didn’t write “Reefer Man,” but he recorded it first. His greatest hit, “Minnie the Moocher,” plumbed those matters to a depth unseen ’til Lou Reed came along.

Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, “The Panic Is On” (1936): Mezzrow was America’s first celebrity drug dealer, cultivating a sumptuous side hustle from the alto chair while he played hot jazz around the Tri-State area, ranging out to Europe. It would take hours to listen to all the music laced with the THC he provided. The Muggles King served more hall-of-famers than BALCO and George Zahorian combined, spanning the spectrum of Swing to Bop. His rep overshadowed some solid creative output, though, built around impeccable connections.

Sublime, “Smoke Two Joints” (1992): Everyone has owned 40oz. to Freedom at some point. “Waiting for My Ruca” is one of the best songs ever written, but Sublime’s version of The Toyes’ “Smoke Two Joints” entered the pantheon instantly. Bradley Nowell’s tragic death always cast a shadow over what is ultimately quite happy, positive music. More joints have been rolled on the cover of their debut album than Journey to Satchidananda, and there have been quite possibly a million joints smoked to this song.

Madvillain, “America’s Most Blunted” (2004): As the saying goes, MF Doom is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Words fail me, but they never fail him. Among the hundreds of tracks issued in this century, the 22 on Madvillainy stand out in terms of technical sophistication and popular appeal, thanks to the production of Madlib, another genius of the form. The density of pot-slang references and internal rhyme schemes make “America’s Most Blunted” eminently replayable, as is the entire album. Recommended!