Lucy In The Sky: Hidden and not-so-hidden references to drugs in popular music


Since the early 1990s, it’s been on- and off-trend to blatantly reference drugs in popular music. From Cyprus Hill’s ‘I Wanna Get High’ to Lana Del Rey’s ‘High By The Beach,’ many tunes are unabashed in their enthusiasm for altered states. But in the earlier days of recorded music, drug references were more often in-group phrases that non-consumers wouldn’t understand.

This week’s Toking Tunes playlist delivers a range of modern and not-so-modern songs that reference drugs indirectly. A couple of our favorites are in this list, including ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.’ As an adult with LSD experience, the song is an obvious reference to the psychedelic drug. But as a child, it evoked dream-like images of a colorful, plasticine candy-land. Steely Dan’s ‘Kid Charlemagne,’ loosely based on stories of the famed acid chemist Owsley Stanley and the Merry Pranksters, is a hat tip to the pioneers of modern psychedelic exploration.

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Jazz Cabbage: How marijuana followed music's migration

jazz cabbage

In the early 1900s, a new type of music called jazz was blossoming in the bordellos of New Orleans. Jazz musicians were known to be avid cannabis smokers — “moota,” as it was called, became a popular substance in the red-light district. The genre accompanied the Great Migration of African-Americans to the Midwest and Northeast in the ’20s and ’30s, where the music and the reefers gained popularity.

As jazz boomed in popularity in the U.S. and abroad, numerous hits were recorded about weed, including Cab Calloway’s ‘Reefer Man’ and Benny Goodman’s ‘Sweet Marijuana Brown.’

During that period, it seems that people were mostly unfazed by marijuana and probably glad to see it available in their cities. However, prohibitionists seized the influx of cannabis, black people, and jazz as an opportunity to push their racist agendas. Propaganda surfaced decrying “jazz cabbage” as an evil substance that was causing drug-crazed violence and menacing our cities.

That message still reverberates today as we hear attorney general Jeff Sessions beating the same snare drum.

This week’s Toking Tunes playlist contains a few gems from the early days of recorded jazz and a few of our personal favorite tracks to listen to while high. Twist up a reefer of some Thelonious Skunk and give it a listen!

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Stoner Rock: From 'Sweet Leaf' to 'Space Reefer'

stoner rock

Picture teens tailgating at a Zeppelin show, with feathered hair and denim jackets, plastered with Black Sabbath patches. Throughout the late ’60s and much of the ’70s, boogie rock and “stoner rock” were massively popular styles of music. Back then, it was all simply called Heavy Metal.

In the ’80s and ’90s, stoner rock was sidelined and mostly forgotten as hip-hop culture rose. But in 2009, the skateboard company Creature released a video titled Hesh Law, featuring David Gravette with Pentagram’s ‘Forever My Queen’ as the audio track. Since then, stoner rock and “hesh” style have taken over a large segment of skate culture (and mainstream culture too, as skate trends tend to go).

In the ’70s, cannabis was low-potency and the choices were limited to one or two strains. Now, just as we have hundreds of strains and stronger weed, the stoner rock genre has splintered into multiple sub-genres. The music is way heavier, and the herbal euphemisms (‘Sweet Leaf’) are exchanged for direct references (‘Space Reefer,’ ‘Bong Thrower’).

Bands like Bongzilla, Dirty Fences, and Kings Destroy are following in the footsteps of Pentagram and Black Sabbath, with muddy, gritty production and dirge-like, heavy grooves. We’ve included a handful of these songs in this playlist as well as a couple of the OG heavies who started it all. Enjoy!

For more Toking Tunes, follow Word on the Tree on Spotify.