Get 50 shades of green with this 420 playlist.
Marijuana transcends genre. And pot smoke crosses (and blurs) other lines too, like gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, education level and political affiliation. With recreational cannabis use legal in nine states, medical use legal in 29, and 64% of Americans supporting legalization, 420 just might be the thing that finally unites us, turning blue and red states green.
But what does 420 mean? Its hazy origins can be traced to a group of high school students in San Rafael in 1971, but these days both 4:20 p.m. (or a.m. if you’re so inclined) and the date 4/20 hold a generalized significance in stoner culture. 4:20 is a perfect time to light up, and April 20 is as good a day as any other to act as the unofficial holiday to celebrate marijuana.
Cannabis is favored by a wide variety of musicians across many genres. There seems to be at least one pot-related song for each genre — and a multitude for reggae and hip-hop. And it’s no secret that weed can enhance the listening experience.
This 4/20, try out our eclectic cannabis-themed playlist. There’s something for every musical taste.
1. SWING: “REEFER MAN” BY CAB CALLOWAY (1932)
In the late 1800s, cannabis, opiates and cocaine were freely available at drugstores and used in over-the-counter patent medicines. By 1906 many states began enacting restrictions on weed, with prohibition beginning in earnest in the 1920s.
Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man” came out just two years before the passing of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act in 1934 and five years before the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, so this song was released before the federal government officially made reefer illegal.
2. JAZZ: “YOU’RE A VIPER (THE REEFER SONG)” BY FATS WALLER (1943)
During World War II Harry Jacob Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, waged a war on jazz musicians. In a chapter titled “Jazz and Junk Don’t Mix” from his 1964 book The Protectors, Anslinger recalls, “Jazz grew up next door to crime, so to speak. Clubs of dubious reputation were, for a long time, the only places where it could be heard.”
Fats Waller recorded this tongue-in-cheek song as a response of sorts to Anslinger’s crusade, and it’s as subtle as a sledgehammer. An obviously high Waller sings, “I dreamed about a reefer five feet long / A mighty Mezz, but not too strong / You’ll be high but not for long / If you’re a viper.” Viper was a slang term for a pothead back in the day. When Fats says, “I vipe a bit,” it has a strange familiarity for contemporary stoners who vape.
3. BLUES: “CHAMPAGNE & REEFER” BY MUDDY WATERS (1981)
Muddy Waters, born McKinley Morganfield, was an influential Chicago blues icon. This track, released only two years before his death, proves he never lost his touch. It also proves there was a green streak running through his particular brand of blues.
4. SKA: “SMOKE TWO JOINTS” BY SUBLIME (1992)
Beginning with a sample from the 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Sublime’s cover of The Toyes’ 1983 original updates the song with a ’90s ska vibe. In high school I used this song as background music for one of my history videos (I was a rebel). When I was questioned by the teacher, I convinced him the lyric was “I spoke to Joyce.” Can you believe it worked?
5. CLASSIC ROCK: “THE JOKER” BY STEVE MILLER (1973)
The only overt reference to marijuana is in the line “I’m a joker / I’m a smoker / I’m a midnight toker,” but this song, with its laidback vibe and comedic slide guitar, has long been a favorite of stoners in the classic rock era and beyond. There’s little mystery as to why Miller’s a “grinner.”
6. METAL: “SWEET LEAF” BY BLACK SABBATH (1971)
Opening with a harsh cough from guitarist Tony Iommi (after he took a hit from a joint), “Sweet Leaf” is a love song — to marijuana. Over crunchy riffs, Ozzy screams, “I love you, sweet leaf!”
7. PROG ROCK: “A PASSAGE TO BANGKOK” BY RUSH (1976)
Members of legendary Canadian band Rush don’t try to hide their history of marijuana use, but references to weed in “A Passage to Bangkok” are thinly veiled. It’s not too hard to figure out what they’re referring to, though: “Our first stop is in Bogotá / To check Colombian fields / The natives smile and pass along / A sample of their yield.”
8. PUNK: “QUEST FOR HERB” BY MURPHY’S LAW (1989)
Before legalization made cannabis products widely available, the “quest for herb” was a serious problem facing potheads with “ten bucks in hand” trying to track down a shady dealer.
9. FUNK: “MARY JANE” BY RICK JAMES (1978)
Similar to Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf,” this is a love song to weed, personifying marijuana as a woman named Mary Jane. According to Who Sampled, the song’s been sampled 91 times.
10. REGGAE: “LEGALIZE IT” BY PETER TOSH (1976)
This anthem was ahead of its time. A founding member of the original Wailers with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh was outspoken about legalizing ganja. Too bad he didn’t live to see his dream of decriminalization begin to come true.
11. RAP: “THE NEXT EPISODE” BY DR. DRE FEATURING SNOOP DOGG (1999)
There are tons of rap songs about chronic, but this track is one of the best with a great beat by Dre and an iconic outro by Nate Dogg: “Smoke weed every day!” Plus, this list would not be complete without an appearance by Snoop Dogg, one of sticky icky’s biggest champions.
12. FAKE RAP: “LAZY SUNDAY” BY THE LONELY ISLAND (2005)
Originally airing on Saturday Night Live and later going viral in the early days of YouTube, this “hard-core” rap song is about two dudes who wake up in the late afternoon, eat cupcakes and attend a matinee of The Chronicles of Narnia. “Pass the Chronic — what? — cles of Narnia!”
13. EDM: “SPLIFF DUB” BY ZOMBY (2007)
British electronic musician Zomby produced this hypnotic track based on a sample from Billy Boyo’s 1981 song “One Spliff a Day.” Over warbling bass, a single lyric is repeated like a mantra: “One spliff a day keep the evil away.”
14. CLASSICAL: “MARIJUANA: VARIATIONS NON SÉRIEUSES OP. 54” BY RENÉ LEIBOWITZ (1960)
Polish composer and conductor René Leibowitz was the first to record Beethoven’s symphonies and orchestral works using Beethoven’s metronome markings, which are almost impossibly fast. He also composed many original works, including this paranoia-inducing tribute to marijuana.
15. BLUEGRASS: “PANAMA RED” BY OLD AND IN THE WAY (1975)
This classic recording by Old and in the Way (featuring Jerry Garcia on banjo) personifies wacky tabacky as a bandito named “Panama Red,” a reference to the cannabis strain with the same name. “I’ll be searching all the joints in town for Panama Red.”
16. CLASSIC COUNTRY: “WILDWOOD WEED” BY JIM STAFFORD (1974)
Based on the Carter Family recording of “Wildwood Flower” from 1928, this comedic nugget from 1974 imagines a very different kind of plant growing in the wildwood.
17. OUTLAW COUNTRY: “IT’S ALL GOING TO POT” BY WILLIE NELSON AND MERLE HAGGARD (2015)
This fun song by two of outlaw country’s biggest names was released 4/20/15, only a year before Merle Haggard’s death. It’s a treat watching these two legends have a blast in the studio laying down three chords and the truth: “All the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee, just couldn’t hit the spot / I got a hundred dollar bill, you can keep your pills, friend, it’s all going to pot.”
18. MODERN COUNTRY: “FOLLOW YOUR ARROW” BY CASEY MUSGRAVES (2013)
This charming song about being true to yourself was somewhat controversial when it dropped in late 2013 because it was a country song with overt references to marijuana and same-sex affection. It’s a great song with clever lyrics based in part on the schoolyard rhyme “Hello Operator.”
Musgraves repeats the chorus three times: “So make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that’s something you’re into / When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight / Roll up a joint — or don’t / Just follow your arrow wherever it points.” In the third chorus, you can almost hear Musgraves’ wink when she changes the line to “Roll up a joint — I would.”
Whether or not you plan to light up this 4/20, you can appreciate the great music that celebrates a medicinal and recreational plant humans have been using for thousands of years. These artists are from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common: they love cannabis. If you do, too, then I hope you’ll find your new favorite song on this diverse playlist. Enjoy!