Sweet Leaf: A Brief History of Cannabis and Popular Music

It’s not difficult to find examples of songs inspired by cannabis.

From Rick James to Neil Young, artists have long sung the praises of their favourite herb. Let’s look at five iconic tunes that directly (or indirectly) extol the virtues of weed.

Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

This 1993 surprise hit by the quintessential southern rock band may or may not have been about weed, although the title suggests a connection. Band members have been intentionally vague about the lyrics – guitarist Mike Campbell once said, “my take on it is it can be whatever you want it to be.” But for a generation of fans, this song is about one thing and one thing only.

Because I Got High (Afroman)

While the lyrics of Mary Jane might be shrouded in mystery, there is zero ambiguity in this 2000 crossover hit that immediately became a stoner anthem – and remains one today. The song is fairly tongue in cheek, but just about every recreational cannabis user can relate to getting somewhat, uh, sidetracked while smoking. In 2014, Afroman recorded an updated version extolling the benefits of medical cannabis for ailments including glaucoma.

Hits from the Bong (Cypress Hill)

Insane in the Membrane may have been the breakout hit from this LA-based hip hop group, but this particular song leaves no doubt about how the members enjoy spending their free time. The piece is more of an instruction manual than anything else: it’s pretty much a step-by-step guide to loading and smoking. It’s no accident that the group’s first compilation album was called, Greatest Hits from the Bong.

I Get Lifted (KC and the Sunshine Band)

Back in 1975, open references to weed were frowned upon in popular music – especially for major-label acts that aspired to get radio play. Thanks to a thesaurus dictionary, the songwriters were able to substitute “high” with a close synonym…and launch one of the funkiest singles of the much-maligned disco era. Even if you aren’t familiar with this song, you definitely know That’s the Way I Like It, the band’s first mega-hit off the same album.

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (Bob Dylan)

Let’s take the wayback machine all the way to 1966 – and what may arguably be the first hit rock song about weed. Or not. There’s a lot of debate about exactly what Bob Dylan was singing about, but there’s no doubt that the repeating chorus of, “everybody must get stoned” is the lyric that launched a thousand joints during the Summer of Love. More than 50 years later, people are still arguing over what Mr. Voice of a Generation was trying to say, but all these years later it still sounds pretty groovy.

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