Yes, we know: Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." Stevie Wonder's "Too High." Ice Cube's "Smoke Some Weed." Peter Tosh's "Legalize It." Pretty much anything by Sublime.
There's no shortage of exceedingly well-known 420-friendly songs, and no reason to rehash the usual suspects here. Instead we've decided to wander off the beaten path, to create an eclectic soundtrack for stoners that avoids lapsing into cliché.
Note that although several of these songs are somewhat obscure, they're all easily found online. And don't worry if some aren't "about" pot — extensive testing has ensured that even those will enhance your fantastic voyage. After all, getting high doesn't mean you have to listen to songs that are actually about getting high. Just as listening to bubblegum pop doesn't mean you have to actually be chewing bubblegum while you do it.
Granted, that may not be the most coherent analogy. But if you're stoned, it makes perfect sense.
All of Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield
When Englishman Mike Oldfield was just 19, in 1973, he released his debut recording, Tubular Bells, and stoners were never the same. The album also launched its label, Richard Branson's Virgin, and both were catapulted as the music was used for the theme in The Exorcist. But the music alone made this a reefer classic, in the best neo-classical prog-rock tradition.
With Oldfield playing more than 20 multi-layered instruments, it's like a bombastic bath. It's pretentious and melodramatic, and when I was a kid on the coast of southern Spain and the U.S. Sixth Fleet was in port, and my buddy Kevin and I bet the sailors we could drink a beer standing on our heads, and they always took that bet and we always won, we took our pesetas to buy hash and went up to Kevin's seedy apartment where we took turns listening to Tubular Bells on his one set of headphones, the way it was meant to be heard. — RM
"Champagne Supernova," Oasis
"Where were you while we were getting high?" asks frontman Liam Gallagher six times in this, Oasis' best-known arena-sized anthem. The likely answer, for Blur and other Britpop bands, was learning to write lyrics that aren't as tossed-off and clumsy as "Slowly walking down the hall / Faster than a cannon ball." But then, as Liam's brother Noel has pointed out, 60,000 Oasis fans singing along in a stadium can't be wrong. "All those lyrics, like 'Champagne Supernova' and that, they were just nonsense," he admitted in a Reuters interview. "You can think about those lyrics for the next 500 years and they still won't mean anything." — BF
"ITT," Fela Kuti
You might have heard that Nigeria just got a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, in the first peaceful transition of power in that country. What you might not have known is that it was Buhari, the former dictator, who jailed Nigeria's greatest musician, Fela Kuti, on trumped-up charges in 1984. Clearly, Fela was a threat to the system. Along with James Brown, he was one of the two greatest composer-performers of the 20th century.
Working mostly in Nigeria in the 1970s, he cut few short tracks, which for our purposes is perfect. "ITT" is 24 minutes ostensibly about corruption and the multinational company once known as International Telephone & Telegraph ("international thief-thief," Fela and the backup singers explain) — but you don't need to know that any more than you need to understand his mix of Yoruba and Pidgin English to slip into this. Two sax players, two bassists, horns that nearly riot, percussion that never slips, and an 11-plus-minute prelude before Fela lays into his story: perfect for couch-lock with vague political feeling. — RM
"Medication Meditation," Flying Lotus feat. Krayzie Bone
An online review of the most recent Flying Lotus album likened it to "closing your eyes and firmly pressing your fingertips against your eyelids until billowing clouds of dispersive color and flashing geometric shapes morph in and out of your consciousness." In fact, the artist has said pretty much the same thing, although more succinctly, when describing his own music as the sonic equivalent of THC. As L.A.'s premier trip-hop artist and producer, he's brought a uniquely herbal essence to collaborations with artists like Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke. And you'll find it in full effect here — among layers of eerie keyboards and soprano vocal samples — as FlyLo and emcee Krayzie Bone "take a levitation to the perfect elevation." — BF
"Land," Patti Smith
In 1975, Patti Smith seemed to emerge fully formed with her debut album Horses, having stepped from a stew of the poems of Arthur Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg and clips of The Rolling Stones performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. She was tougher and more learned than women had been in rock, if rock was what she was doing.
"Land," over three movements in 9½ minutes, starts with Smith's solemn verse about a boy named Johnny, and suddenly there are "horses, horses, horses, horses," and in just over a minute the band and she have found an echo that no one knew was there until that moment — Chris Kenner's "Land of a Thousand Dances," and "Do you know how to pony like Bony Maronie?"
Rock was reaching some kind of literary apogee here, stripped of pretense: "Life is full of pain, I'm cruisin' through my brain / And I fill my nose with snow and go Rimbaud / Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud / And go Johnny go, and do the Watusi, oh do the Watusi." — RM
"Dunkin' Bagel," Slim Gaillard
Truth is, just about any of the many jive-jazz recordings by "Vout" language inventor Slim Gaillard could be combined to make a perfect pot soundtrack, including "Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)," "Cement Mixer (Putti Putti)," the perfectly titled "Dopey Joe," and this 1945 ode to the joy of bagels.
Perhaps the only entertainer of the era who was hipper than Cab Calloway or Louis Jordan, Gaillard was also a pioneer in an altogether unheralded tradition of black artists exploring Jewish cultural idioms, which would also include Billie Holiday's "My Yiddishe Momme." Gaillard's approach was, as always, the most playful, with a verse ("Dunkin' bagel, dunkin' bagel, dunkin' bagel, splash! in the coffee") that's pretty easy to remember, followed by call-and-response scatting ("Matsoh balls, matsoboutsiereenie," "gefilte fish, gefilte fish avoutie," "pickled herrings, pickled herrivoonie") that's pretty hard to forget. — BF
"Coming From Behind/Wish Someone Would Care," Irma Thomas
Irma Thomas is America's greatest female soul singer. Yeah, Aretha's great, too, and so are Bettye Swann and Candi Staton, but Irma tips the scales with this 12½-minute, live-in-the-studio workout from 1973.
It begins slow and stately with a tasteful guitarist behind her as Irma raps about love and women's rights, and cruises that way, with Irma dispensing all kinds of impromptu advice. Five minutes go by and just as you're getting into the drama of her sermonette, she suddenly, with a giggle, lifts off into her 1964 single "Wish Someone Would Care," husky voice soaring. And that's still just the beginning. (The guitarist is just warming up.) Irma, egged on, starts breaking that pop song down into pleas and screams until everyone needs a moist towelette. — RM
"Thoughts of Mary Jane," Nick Drake
Anthropomorphizing drugs, or at least being accused of it, is a long-held music tradition. NRBQ's "Panama Red" — "Your wife is up in bed with ol' Panama Red" — is a perfect example. Tom Petty's "last dance with Mary Jane" is a little less blatant, and Peter, Paul & Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon" is kind of a stretch.
Nick Drake's "Thoughts of Mary Jane" appears to be strictly about a woman, albeit an ethereal one. That hardly matters, though. The late singer-songwriter's hazy baritone vocals, combined with spare acoustic guitar and strangely evocative string arrangements, will take you to a place of thoughtful tranquility that no drug alone could hope to match. — BF
"Beware (extended version)," Al Green
In 1969, late to the soul party, Al Green left Arkansas for the embrace of Willie Mitchell's Hi Records and house band in Memphis. By 1973, after a stack of hits, he was cutting his seventh album for Hi, Livin' for You, and closed it out with a much-longer-than-usual tune, the eight-minute "Beware." Later, a version at almost twice that length surfaced, and that's where we find stoner nirvana.
Ace drummer Al Jackson keeps the steady beat — and delightfully, that's about all that's steady here. I like to imagine it was a steamy summer night at Hi when Green and brothers bassist Leroy Hodges and guitarist Teenie smoked a little bud and threw Top 40 out the window. — RM
"I'm So Green," Can
Krautrock legends Can will forever be ahead of their time, their inimitable space-jams and "ethnic forgeries" barely tethered to this world by Jaki Liebezeit's driving motorik rhythms. Adding to the effect here is vocalist Damo Suzuki, a Japanese street performer who gave the rest of the band's music a more visceral edge.
"I'm So Green" is probably the most accessible song on Can's seminal Ege Bamyasi album, even though Suzuki's lyrics are virtually unintelligible. Subsequently covered by Beck and sampled by Kanye, the track is uncharacteristically concise but, in the context of the full album, genuinely hypnotic. — BF
"Café," Eddie Palmieri
Latin jazz pianist, composer and child of Spanish Harlem Eddie Palmieri has had a long, fruitful career with several peaks. One is this slow-burning, clave-and-horn-laden ode to the beverage and Puerto Rico, cut in the early '60s with singer Ismael Quintana and then again near the end of the century with singer Hermán Olivera, a slightly quicker tempo and even hotter trumpets.
Eddie's working in the Cuban guajira or country form here, keeping the acceleration so gradual that the damn song over its 6½ minutes keeps sneaking up on you. The arrangement isn't loose, exactly, but it's not busy, either, and that's key: It's the spaces between notes that keep opening vistas of mountains and nightclubs. — RM
"I'm Straight," The Modern Lovers
When Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers first recorded this song in the early '70s, the word "straight" typically meant "not stoned" rather than "not gay." Or as Richman puts it in the song's plea to the object of his desire, "I'm certainly not stoned, like hippie Johnny / I'm straight, and I want to take his place." Exactly how straight the band was in the studio back then is anyone's guess. But singing along, in any state of mind, is a joyful thing. And if you have a hit every time Richman laconically mentions hippie Johnny, the room is guaranteed to be spinning by song's end. — BF