These go to 11: Marijuana’s greatest “hits” in the music industry

Willie Nelson, doing what he does best. Photo courtesy of
Willie Nelson, doing what he does best. Photo courtesy of

In honor of pot poster boy Willie Nelson’s show at Red Rocks tonight, we’re offering you a chronological compendium of the chronic as it has affected the world of music since the jazz age.

We’ll be blunt, Marijuana and music go together like couches, Doritos and Adult Swim cartoons. Fueling their creative juices and opening the doors of perception, artists have long sung its praises. It enhances the senses and lightens the mind…er I mean enlightens the mind.

So to all you midnight tokers, sit back, grab a snack and read on about Mary Jane’s many dances:

1. 1928 – Louis Armstrong’s tune “Muggles” is released. The title was slang among jazz musicians at the time. Thus it’s regarded as the first song to openly hail the MJ. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but maybe it’s also why Armstrong was later one of the first celebs to be busted for possession.

2. 1933 – The W.C. Fields film “International House” features Cab Calloway performing his classic “Reefer Man.” One of the last of the pre-code films from Hollywood, its highlight is the ever-dapper Calloway leading his band through a spirited, tuneful tale about a dude who prefers to puff.

3. 1957 – Having already experimented with pot, a young Jerry Garcia gets his first electric guitar. He then proceeds to play his first guitar solo, which one can only assume, lasts until 1959.

4. 1964 – Bob Dylan meets the Beatles in their hotel suite in New York and introduces them to pot. Ringo bogarts the joint and Paul giggles. A lot.

5. 1968 – Rocksteady and Ska fully evolves into Reggae as exemplified by the Maytals single, “Do The Reggay” which opens the door for the massive success of Bob Marley and the Wailers and Peter Tosh, among others. Long a part of Rastafarian culture, ganja readily comes along for the ride.

6. 1973 – Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” is released. Though in no way endorsing smoking up, Floyd’s conceptual masterpiece about mental illness, greed and consumerism is a “head” headphone must. Engineered by Alan Parsons and brought about by the genius of Roger Waters, the LP is filled with trippy stereophonic sound effects and most importantly, brilliant music.

7. 1992 – Dr. Dre releases “The Chronic,” and in the same stroke, introduces the world to Snoop Dogg. Dre previously made his name as the producer of NWA. But he really stepped into the spotlight in making his own west coast G-funk record titled after a potent strain of hydro herb featuring vocals by a sleepy-eyed former crack salesman and instant sensation in Snoop.

8. 1993 – While touring their second LP “Black Sunday,” Cypress Hill features a giant bong on stage. Bonus points, in the same year they’re banned from “Saturday Night Live” when Muggs smokes a joint on-air. With songs like “I Wanna Get High,” “Hits from the Bong,” and “Stoned is the Way of the Walk,” Cyprus Hill truly kick start the blunt bandwagon in hip-hop.

9. 2001 – Afroman takes…er scores a huge hit with “Because I Got High.” Initially self-released, the tune gained steam via Napster and eventually reached mass consciousness as a pot anthem, despite the fact the hilarious lyrics really show how messed up weed has made his life. Irony or stupidity? You decide.

10. 2002 – Stoner Rock reaches the mainstream with Queen of the Stone Age’s “Songs For The Deaf.” A continually growing sludgy subgenre of heavy metal borne of Black Sabbath, stoner rock dates back to the early ’70s, but really gets a bump in the ’90s via bands like Monster Magnet, Electric Wizard and Kyuss. QOTSA, featuring former members of the latter, hit pay dirt with their third album chock full of bong-friendly heavy riffs, powerful drumming and catchy melodies.

11. 2008 – Longtime pot advocate, frequent accumulator of MJ misdemeanors and co-chair for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advisory board Willie Nelson is interviewed and appears on the cover of High Times magazine.

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Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.