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Hits From the Bong: The Greatest 4/20 Anthems

From Willie and Snoop to Luniz and Sleep, a playlist for today's unofficial holiday.

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Bob Dylan, "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35"

dylan young
Source: MEGA

“I never have and never will write a drug song,” Bob Dylan declared during his 1966 performance at London's Royal Albert Hall. Dylan has long insisted that “Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35” is about getting stoned as in the biblical punishment where people throw rocks at you until you die, which is a significantly less fun way to spend an afternoon than getting stoned as in smoking weed until you get high. But come on, Bob — if you write a song with a chorus that goes "everybody must get stoned," the stoners will come. And if that song has two numbers in the title that happen to make 420 when you multiply them together, who can blame them? -- Peter Helman

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The Byrds, “Eight Miles High”

the byrds
Source: MEGA

The counterculture’s coolest band all-but invented psychedelic rock with their 1966 single “Eight Miles High” – and despite being almost immediately banned by U.S. radio for its perceived advocation of recreational drug use, still made No. 14 in the Hot 100 and No. 24 in the British charts. Of course, at the time, the Byrds insisted it wasn’t about drugs at all, instead chronicling a flight to the U.K., but in later interviews both David Crosby and Gene Clark have come clean. In Johnny Rogan’s exhaustive biography The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited, Clark admits: “It was about a lot of things. It was about the airplane trip to England, it was about drugs, it was about all that. A piece of poetry of that nature is not limited to having it have to be just about airplanes or having it have to be just about drugs. It was inclusive because during those days the new experimenting with all the drugs was a very vogue thing to do.” David Crosby was a little more blunt. “Of course it was a drug song!” he said. “We were stoned when we wrote it.” -- Dominic Utton

Cypress Hill, “Hits From the Bong”

cypress hill

Trying to pick a favorite Cypress Hill weed song is like trying to pick a favorite star in the night sky, so vast and luminous are the options. However, we’ll give the edge to “Hits From the Bong” for the chef’s-kiss perfection of its Dusty Springfield sample and the unusual specificity of its lyrics, which could easily be included with water pipe purchases in lieu of an instruction manual (there are even tips for proper cleaning and maintenance). -- Andrew Barker

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Rick James, "Mary Jane"

rick james
Source: Kathy Hutchins Photography/Newscom/The Mega Agency

If the ultra-smooth vibe doesn’t pull you in, then Rick James’ soul-funk outerspace delivery will definitely relax your senses. And just in case anyone somehow missed the point of the song's thinly-veiled lyrics, at a concert, James' props consisted of two fake joints on either side of the stage, as he took hits off a real spliff during the course of the song. -- Amy Hughes

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D'Angelo, "Brown Sugar"

brown sugar
Source: Virgin Records America

You might think that “Brown Sugar” is about a woman. You would be wrong. Following in the grand tradition of singing about marijuana like it’s a sexy lady established by Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” “Brown Sugar” is in fact a deeply sensual ode to getting high that wafts through the air and dissolves like a beautiful cloud of smoke. As D’Angelo’s debut single, it was also a remarkably fully formed introduction to a singular artist who would pretty much invent neo-soul. -- P.H.

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Willie Nelson, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” (featuring Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, and Jamey Johnson)

willie snoop
Source: Randall Michelson/Blackbird Presents

There are plenty of artists who could qualify for the title of official spokesperson for 4/20, but when it comes to the elder statesman of the movement, well, there’s really only one man for the job, and that’s our man Willie. Who else could bring together a trio like Snoop Dogg, Kristofferson, and Jamey Johnson for the same song? Behold the power of smoke! It’s clear that the song also served to cement the friendship between Snoop Dogg and Nelson: the former turned up at the latter’s 90th birthday celebration to perform the song live. -- Will Harris

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Sleep, “Dopesmoker”

Source: Southern Lord Records/Arik Roper

This hour-long single-track album about smoking weed in the holy land is the most critically acclaimed stoner metal song of all time, but it almost never saw the light of day. The project was nearly shelved by London Records after it was first recorded in 1996. Since then, slightly different versions have been released by various labels. There’s something strangely engaging about the repetitive trace-like riffs on this slow, plodding track. It highlights the spiritual element of cannabis that’s helped so many artists create iconic music. An early version of the album was released under the name Jerusalem. Maybe things would be calmer over there if people followed Sleep’s lead and took a couple bong rips. -- Noah Zucker

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Luniz, "I Got Five on It"

Source: YouTube

Long before Jordan Peele’s Us reinvented it as a chilling soundtrack for some doppelgänger mayhem, “I Got 5 on It” was just a humble West Coast hip-hop anthem about going halfsies on a dime bag. Come for the oddly dramatic and slightly sinister beat, stay for the handy lesson in the dos and don’ts of weed etiquette. -- P.H.

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The Beatles, “A Day in the Life”

beatles a day in the life
Source: MEGA

One of the greatest songs by the greatest band of all time was briefly banned by the BBC for its alleged references to drugs – with the offending lyric being “I’d love to turn you on”. Whether the corporate stiffs had also caught the lines “Found my way upstairs and had a smoke / And somebody spoke and I went into a dream” remains unknown, but there seems little doubt now that the whole magnificent five-and-a-bit minutes of “A Day in the Life” is the product of something considerably more potent than tobacco. Unless, of course, you happened to be the man responsible for actually producing it. “When [George Martin] was doing his TV program on Pepper”, McCartney recalled later, “he asked me, ‘Do you know what caused Pepper?’ I said, ‘In one word, George, drugs. Pot.’ And George said, ‘No, no. But you weren’t on it all the time.’ ‘Yes, we were.’ Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.” – D.U.

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Phish, "Tweezer"

Source: MEGA

Any Phish track could have made it onto this list. It’s hard to think of a band that’s more 4/20 friendly. Their shows are regularly subsumed by giant clouds of pot smoke. “Tweezer” is a fan favorite. The funky intro riff never fails to elicit a wave of joy in the crowd. Phish is celebrating 4/20 with a show at the Sphere in Las Vegas tonight as part of their brief residency. Dead & Co. has also committed to a 24-show residency at the high-tech venue which will begin next month. -- N.Z.

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Madvillain, "America's Most Blunted"

mf doom
Source: Stones Throw Records

“DOOM nominated for the best rolled L's / And they wondered how he dealt with stress so well / Wild guess? You could say he stay sedated / Some say buddha’d, some say faded / Someday pray that he will grow a farm barn full / Recent research show it's not so darn harmful.” If you can identify all of the various poetic devices and internal rhymes that DOOM employs in this ostensibly straightforward verse about smoking weed, you may qualify for an honorary English degree at many liberal arts colleges. -- A.B.

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Steppenwolf, "Don't Step on the Grass, Sam"

Source: MEGA

With John Kay sharing vocals with drummer Jerry Edmonton and Goldy McJohn and Michael Monarch switching between organ riffs and guitar riffs respectively, this song from the band’s second album – cleverly titled Second – takes aim at a politician named Sam (a stand-in for Richard Nixon) who launches into “a vicious attack on the finest of grasses.” It’s actually a protest song, complaining about the amount of government “coin” that’s been spent on trying “to jail my fellow man / For smoking all the noble weed,” not to mention all the misinformation they’re spreading (“You’ve been telling lies so long / Some believe they’re true”). In summation, Steppenwolf says that Sam’s Mary Jane character assassination is “evil, wicked, mean, and nasty,” and asks him to “please give up,” adding, “You already lost the fight, alright?” -- W.H.

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Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg, "The Next Episode"

dre snoop
Source: YouTube

Snoop Dogg is one of pop culture’s most famous potheads, and the Dr. Dre team-up “The Next Episode” is one of his most famous hits. It’s a great song with an indelible chorus. Snoop does rap about smoking weed on it, because of course he does. That’s kind of his thing. But for the purposes of this list, the most notable part is hook assassin Nate Dogg’s instantly iconic and endlessly memed outro: “Hey-ey-ey-ey ... smoke weed every day.” -- P.H.

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Queens of the Stone Age, “Monsters in the Parasol”

queens of the stone age
Source: MEGA

To be fair, some of the imagery contained in this 2000 track does suggest that Queens of Stone Age frontman Josh Homme may have sampled something a little stronger than the substance now legal in more than half of the United States. But the wonderfully repetitive numbskull riff and almost cheerful stoicism of lines like “the walls are closing in again...oh well” make this the standout burnout anthem from a band that has given us more than a few. -- A.B.

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Peter, Paul and Mary, “Puff the Magic Dragon”

puff the magic dragon
Source: YouTube

Although the writers of the song have always denied any connection between “Puff the Magic Dragon” and, well, puffin’ the magic dragon (or draggin’ on the magic puff, for that matter), it doesn’t take a whole lot of close textual analysis to conclude that perhaps they’re being a touch disingenuous. Peter, Paul and Mary’s 1963 gentle folk number made No. 2 in the Hot 100 before concerns began to be raised that lyrical references to the “autumn mist” (clouds of marijuana smoke), “little Jackie Papers” (rolling papers) and the fact that Puff (!) himself “lived by the sea” – or “C” for cannabis – were all sly celebrations of stoner culture. Writer Peter Yarrow himself was outraged by the very idea, saying: “When 'Puff' was written, I was too innocent to know about drugs. What kind of a meanspirited SOB would write a children's song with a covert drug message?” And you know what? Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps “Puff the Magic Dragon” has nothing to do with getting high and is instead an entirely innocent tale of the friendship between a little boy and a mythical, fire-breathing, winged reptile. After all, that would be far more likely, right? -- D.U.

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Waking the Cadaver, “Interlude/Type A Secretor”

waking the cadaver
Source: Necroharmonic Records

There are lots of ways to explain death metal vocals. They’re regularly compared to pig squeals or the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. But Waking the Cadaver broke new ground by drawing a line between their vocals and water pipes. The fifth track on the New Jersey slam band’s 2007 record Perverse Recollections of a Necromangler is a minute-long bong rip interlude. The bubbling sound also underpins the vocal acrobatics which kick off the following track “Type A Secretor,” but they’re hard to distinguish from each other. -- N.Z.

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NRBQ, "Wacky Tobacky"

Source: Rounder Records

As the opening track from the legendary party band’s 1979 album Kick Me Hard, this rollicking tune was undoubtedly designed to both draw listeners into the LP and bring audiences to their feet, but it’s slightly deeper than you might think with a title like that. “Everybody doin’ it / Smokin’ and a-chewin’ it / They shippin’ and buzzin’ it / And Congress is discussin’ it,” sings Terry Adams. “Some folks are tryin' it / But then they're denyin' it / A scientist is testin' / But you might get arrested.” Although there are undoubtedly some fans of the song who remember it from its original release, it’s much more likely that younger listeners first heard it when it was included on the soundtrack album for – what else? – Weeds, the long-running Showtime sitcom. -- W.H.

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Mista Grimm, "Indo Smoke"

mista grimm
Source: YouTube

An imminently likable rapper from the quiet Los Angeles suburb of West Covina, Mista Grimm all but disappeared following the runaway success of his debut single. (His collaborators on the song, Warren G and Nate Dogg, would go on to have considerably more longevity.) But for a brief shining moment in 1993, one could scarcely walk a block in the greater L.A. area without hearing this under-appreciated g-funk classic emanating from the cracked windows of every slow-moving car, along with distinctively scented clouds of smoke. Voila! -- A.B.

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Dash Rip Rock, “Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot”

Source: Ichiban Records/Naked Language Records

Yes, it’s a parody of “At the Hop,” the classic ‘50s song by Danny and the Juniors, but it’s also the only song by the amazing cowpunk band Dash Rip Rock to ever score them even a little bit of mainstream success, so for that alone it deserves your attention. Mind you, it was never intended as a pro-marijuana anthem. Per the band’s official website, “it made fun of all the hippie bands cashing in on the current ‘Grateful Dead jam-band’ craze,” which is why you can hear Bill Davis and Chris Luckette “aping the hilarious lingo of the ‘90s slacker hippy rock dude.” But whatever: it’s still a pothead’s delight. -- W.H.

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The Beatles, "Got to Get You Into My Life"

Source: Universal Archive/Universal Images Group/Newscom/The Mega Agency

For decades if you believed Paul McCartney was singing about love, he was singing about love. But, nope. This my friends was all about the dope. Specifically, McCartney’s musical praise to the wonders of weed. After all four Beatles were introduced full force via Bob Dylan to the mellow pleasures that marijuana could give to songwriting inspiration, McCartney came up with this innuendo-laden lyrical wonder, stuffed full of powerhouse brass, bopping bass rumbling and super stinging guitar riffs. -- A.H.

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Afroman, "Because I Got High"

Source: MEGA

Afroman is a big proponent of cannabis use, but his most iconic track is about the negative side of the substance. The song’s narrator fails to clean his room, go to class and attend a court date after smoking weed. He later concludes that, “I messed up my whole life because I got high.” Afroman seems happy with his smoke-filled lifestyle, and the artist’s weed habit hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his presidential ambitions. He filed the documents to run last April and even has his own campaign website. Unsurprisingly, one of Afroman’s top priorities is legalizing marijuana. -- N.Z.

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Linval Thompson, "I Love Marijuana"

linval thompson
Source: Peter Verwimp

This one feels rather self-explanatory. -- A.B.


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