In our series, "HiTunes," we investigate various marijuana lore throughout music history, debunking myths and sifting through hazy rumors for the blunt truth. Why have multiple artists written songs warning others about smoking with Willie Nelson? Why do so many songs about weed reference Humphrey Bogart? What albums required the most weed to make? We'll explore these urban legends and more.
Artists, am I right? They can never just say something in a straightforward fashion, they have to couch it in flowery language or obscure it behind layers of poetic devices. While this most often applies to big, obvious, universal ideas like love and death, it also applies to cannabis.
When songs about weed first started popping up, they were so niche that there was little chance of them receiving any sort of wide exposure such as radio play, so many of them dispensed with metaphor and explicitly referenced the ganj. But once popular music got freakier and the authorities wisened up, lyrical dog whistles to in-the-know pot smokers became a necessity. Many radio stations would ban songs with drug references, so artists had to use code words and/or metaphors to celebrate the plant via song.
In more recent years, when bald-faced narcotic jams like "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" or "I Can't Feel My Face" easily climb the charts, left-of-center slang about the greener, less harmful substance still abounds. Most of the nicknames pot's racked up in the last 30 years come from hip-hop, where mary jane seems to have a new nom de plume every year. Even though Snoop and Wiz's marijuana-centric "Young, Wild & Free" is now able to break into Billboard's top ten while including lyrics as blatant as "So what, we smoke weed," younger generations of artists continue to develop pot patois (often requiring ganja geezers like us open up ye olde Urban Dictionary).
Today on HiTunes, we're exploring some of the most creative weed jargon in contemporary music history. We'll break this encyclopedic endeavor into two sections, metaphors and slang, and offer a little context and/or history for each entry.
Peter, Paul & Mary - "Puff the Magic Dragon" (1963)
Although both of its writers, Leonard Lipton and Peter, Paul & Mary's Peter Yarrow, have denied any connection between "Puff the Magic Dragon" and weed, the song was almost immediately deemed a stoner anthem by many. Basically, it's puff as in "to smoke," Dragon as in "draggin'," and Little Jackie Paper (the boy who "loved that rascal, Puff") as in "joint paper." The song is often used in film and TV to discern squares from chillers, with the former maintaining Lipton and Yarrow's public position and the latter adopting the marijuana-referencing theory. Here are two prominent examples from King of the Hill and Meet the Parents.
The Beatles - "Got to Get You Into My Life" (1966)
This ode to weed is so subtle that no one caught it until its writer divulged the info. In the 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, the Beatle told author Barry Miles that this supposed love song from Revolver was actually about yearning for herb:
'Got to Get You into My Life' was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot. I'd been a rather straight working-class lad, but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn't seem to have too many side-effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana. I didn't have a hard time with it and to me it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding. So 'Got to Get You Into My Life' is really a song about that, it's not to a person, it's actually about pot. It's saying, 'I'm going to do this. This is not a bad idea.'
Marijuana has since been cast as the subject of many subsequent love songs (see below), but this might have been the first. If not, it's definitely the most subtle, as 1966 was still far too strict a time for the most popular band in the world to risk alienating its straighter fans with blatantly pro-pot lyrics.
Manassas - "Johnny's Garden" (1972)
On first listen, this track by Stephen Stills' supergroup may seem to be an ode to a friend's super chill, lush backyard. We all love backyards, but hey, even Creedence's "Lookin' Out My Backdoor" is about drugs. Peruse these lyrics and tell me what you think Stills was really talking about:
There's a place
I can get to
Where I'm safe
From the city blues
And its green
And its quiet
Only trouble was
I had to buy it
Yeah, I don't think he's talking about purchasing a piece of property. Salute to Johnny, whoever he was, for hooking up Stevie with some primo bud.
D'Angelo - "Brown Sugar" (1995)
Another entry in the Songs You Thought Were Romantic Odes to Women Until You Listened Closer column, the title track from D'Angelo's debut album is a little less subtle than "Got to Get You Into My Life." He says he met the one he calls Brown Sugar in Philly (slang for a blunt) and that she makes his eyes turn "a shade blood burgundy" (OK...). D gets high off her love and then eventually starts lusting for her big sister, "Chocolate Thai" (an actual strain name). With so many steamy sex jams to his name, D'Angelo had to devote one to something other than women, right?
Chief Keef - "My Baby" (2017)
My personal favorite love song about weed comes from Chief Keef, an artist known for smoking heroic amounts of bud, and in recent years decamped to L.A. from his native Chicago. "My Baby" is an interesting track because he talks about weed all throughout the verses (sample line: "I'm full off dope, that's my lunch") but then directs the hook at his "baby," as in: "There is no one like you, baby." He lets it all click with the final line of each hook though, a twist of the highest order: "My baby is the dope." Appearing on last year's otherwise roguish Thot Breaker tape, "My Baby" reveals Keef's one true love.
"Rainy Day Woman"
Bob Dylan insists that the famous line, "Everybody must get stoned," from his 1966 track "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" refers to stoning in the Biblical sense, but there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. For starters, some have claimed that the phrase "rainy day woman" is slang for a joint. Then there's also the fact that 12 x 35 = 420. Explain that, Mr. Zimmerman!
Jimi Hendrix was so good at describing the effects of weed that he indirectly birthed a whole new strain. As he wrote "Purple Haze" in the '60s, he had to explain the song away with an excuse that it was written about a dream in which he walked "under the sea," but you don't need to be an English major to decipher these lyrics. According to StrainSpot, this sativa first popped up in the 1970s, and has since remained one of the most popular strains in the country.
Combined with the coughing sound that opens this 1971 Black Sabbath track, this nickname for our favorite plant is pretty obvious. I've always loved the idea that weed "introduced" Ozzy to his mind, though.
This term originated as West Indian slang for a Dutch Oven, or a large cooking pot, or, you know… pot. We all recognize that the oft-sampled and interpolated 1982 song by Musical Youth (above) isn't talking about passing a cooking implement 'pon the left-hand side, so…
This term, also the title of Method Man's 1994 debut album, has several explanations. The most popular on Urban Dictionary is "a blunt that has been soaked in syrup or anything else sweet and let dried to later be smoked." Some have also speculated that it refers to Tikal, the ancient Mayan city, which is shorthand for Central American weed. I've heard others say it's short for "medical" grade weed, too. The least convincing definition comes from Meth himself, who claims it's an acronym for 'taking into consideration all lives." Riiiiiiight.
This one was popularized in the late 2000s, when M.I.A. was flying like paper and getting high like planes, and Wiz Khalifa was just beginning his years-long pro-joint campaign. We can't say for sure who coined it, but we have to give Wiz credit for owning the term, as he's continued to use it in song after song over the years.
This one became a hot-button issue a couple of years ago when Kodak Black accused D.R.A.M. of stealing the title of his 2016 hit from Kodak's previous cut "No Flockin," which includes the line, "Told the doctor I'm a healthy kid, I smoke broccoli." As it turns out though, neither was the first to notice that nug often resemble the green veggie. E-40 soon swooped in to note that he used the word as slang for weed all the way back in 1993.
This one was allegedly first used by Gucci Mane in 2009 on his album The State Vs. Radric Davis. It's meaning? Pretty simple, really. Imagine you could hear smells — in that case, really dank weed would smell… loud.
This example of slang is so commonplace that its origin has only been narrowed down to a region: Atlanta. The toker term makes perfect sense, though. Good weed is pungent, and you know what else is pungent? Gasoline. And when you think of classic strains like "Diesel," it only makes more sense that "gas" would be used to describe the shit that takes your consciousness from 0 to 60 mph in just a few seconds (or hits).
"Dicks" / "Penises"
Remember when tons of rappers/rap fans acted like it was their day job to prove that Young Thug was gay? A central part of their argument was his tendency to compare blunts to black male genitalia, as in, "No homo, we smokin' dicks." This THC troll doubles as one of the more creative terms a musician's ever created for weed.
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