Euphemism and metaphor have long been employed in lyricism as a device to poetically conceal true meaning. Not everybody gets it – sometimes only the song’s writer knows what the song is really about. Drug references, in particular, have long been obscured by cunning language and wordplay – often in a bid to sneak one past the censors and ensure the song has a chance of airplay.
From The Byrds’ 60s anthem ‘Hey Mr. Tambourine Man’ to Red Hot Chilli Peppers iconic ‘Under The Bridge,’ enough people got hung up on the catchy melodies that the meaning of the song ultimately passed them by. While some bands are far more blatant and upfront about it (Heroin, by The Doors, probably didn’t fool too many people), there’s still plenty of crafty writing out there that has wholesome churchgoers tapping their foot and singing along to songs which – unbeknownst to them – are actually extolling the virtues of getting higher than a giraffe’s butthole.
Here are 5 songs about cannabis, which you may not have known were about it!
The Beatles – ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’
‘I was alone, I took a ride
I didn’t know what I would find there.
Another road where maybe I
Could see another kind of mind there
Ooh, then I suddenly see you
Ooh, did I tell you I need you
Did I tell you I need you every single day of my life?’
Sir Paul McCartney confessed in his 1998 book Many Years From Now that this song, from 1966’s Revolver album, is “actually an ode to pot.” The story goes that the Fab Four were actually introduced to weed by none other than Bob Dylan. Who ‘Rainy Day Women’ from the same year featured the immortal refrain “Everybody must get stoned” – with Beatles drummer Ringo Starr recounting that, during a special meeting with Dylan in 1964, “We got high and laughed our asses off.”
Like any good craftsman, McCartney makes the listener think the song is an innocent nod to a partner, repeatedly referring to the plant as “you” throughout, rather than being blatant. But in an interview from 1994, Macca would confess that “when we started to get into pot, it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. I kind of liked marijuana, and to me, it seemed it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding.”
Rick James – Mary Jane
‘I’m in love with Mary Jane, she is my main thing’
Rick James is occasionally quoted from his part in a skit on Chapelle’s Show when he interjected that “Cocaine is a helluva drug.” But Rick’s first love was marijuana, and in 1978, he committed his truth to vinyl with Mary Jane, the second single from his debut album Come Get It!
In fairness, this one’s a bit easier to figure out, since most of us know that Mary Jane is a slang term for marijuana – but rather than being brazen about it, James did what many good songwriters do and composed the lyrics as an ode to a fine woman by the name of Mary Jane. He’s not fooling me, but the song was subtle enough to score plenty of airplay back in the 1970s (You could argue that entire decade was about marijuana, to be fair), with Mary Jane peaking at number 5 on the American R&B charts when it was released.
‘I met her in Philly, and her name was Brown Sugar
See we be makin’ love constantly
That’s why my eyes are a shade, blood burgundy’
We see what you did there, D’Angelo – the ol’ personification trick again. Much like Rick James’ Mary Jane, D’Angelo crafts his seductive 1995 tribute to the herb as a love song. Which, on the surface looks and sounds like it’s an ode to a lady. But a closer look at the metaphors tells us more. Meeting “her” in Philly (where they smoke blunts – cigars filled with grass), brown sugar (the cigar itself?) – these are open to interpretation, certainly, but one line gives it away for sure – “even got a big sister named Chocolate Ty.” Chocolate Thai is a sativa that first appeared in the United States around the 1960s, so we can safely say D’Angelo is a cannaseur.
The video features D’Angelo performing the song in a club, blowing out smoke as he taps out the song’s intro on an electronic piano. Throw in the lyric “I gets high off your love,” and you’ve got a pretty concrete case for a tribute to weed.
Blake Shelton – Ready To Roll
Country songs about getting high are nothing new. Willie Nelson pretty much wrote the book on it, then smoked Snoop Dogg under the table just for fun. But when someone like the clean-cut and seemingly straight-laced Blake Shelton pens what hints at being an ode to weed, you could be forgiven for letting it sneak past you.
Your ears prick up at the title, of course. But upon listening to this wholesome-sounding toe-tapper from the country star who performed at the White House back in 2016, you’d be forgiven for shaking your head and thinking, “Nah….of course, it’s not about smoking weed”. Ready to roll just means ready to go, surely? But let’s pay closer attention to those lyrics, shall we?
A little hit of you and me
A little time alone
He’s not with someone if he’s alone, so…..could he mean…?
You go grab those tater chips
I’ll whip up some party dip
And we’ll kick back and take a trip
Yes, it appears Blake Shelton has the munchies.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Give It Away
Okay, admittedly, this one’s a stretch and could easily be shot down in flames – but hear me out. One of the biggest singles from the band’s defining album, 1991’s BloodSugarSexMagik, Give It Away might actually contain several nods to smoking weed, and here’s why:
In the lyrics, singer Anthony Kiedis references several things that can be interpreted as being related to marijuana. First of all, ‘giving it away’ could mean the passing of the joint. If that seems like clutching at straws, a further read through the lyrics brings repeated references to Bob Marle. Before the line “Goodness me, can’t you see I’m gonna cough it?”. Later, Kiedis sings “confide with sly, you’ll be the wiser” – Sly and The Family Stone were a big influence on Chilis bassist Flea (Sly’s bassist, Larry Graham, is considered the father of slap bass). Sly and The Family Stone’s first European Tour was called off after Larry was busted for possession upon arriving in London.
I can sense I’m losing you here, but let me add one more point in a last-ditch bid to cement my theory. In the song’s outro, Chilis guitarist John Frusciante repeatedly plays the riff from Black Sabbath’s ode to marijuana, Sweet Leaf.
What are your favourite songs about cannabis? Let us know in the comments.