Veiled references to gettin’ down and gettin’ high in popular music
By DIANA TRIMBLE
Widespread cannabis decriminalization is bringing our favorite herb out of the shadows, finally allowing us to take an unexpurgated look at its legacy on popular culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the history of rock n roll, though it’s often been cloaked beneath layers of lingustic obfuscation. While reading Ann Powers’ recent best-seller, “Good Booty”, which unravels rock’s coded language of sexual innuendo, I noticed that some of the words and phrases that referred, slyly, to sex and romance, were the same as those used as euphemisms for smoking cannabis, and its effects.
So are these popular songs about sex or cannabis or…both? Here’s my personally curated chart of hits and obscurities that might make you go “hmmmm….what’s that really about…?”
TRIMBLE’S TOP TEN CANNA-TUNES
#10 “Sweet Leaf” – Black Sabbath (1971)
“You introduced me to my mind…my life is free now, my life is clear/ I love you Sweet Leaf, though you can’t hear” Hey, this was post-60s: most listeners probably thought Leaf was some chick’s name. You know, she hangs around with Rainbow and Waterfall? This tune is heavy. I recommend smoking some Purple Kush first.
#9 “Muggles” – Louis Armstrong (1928)
Jazz musicians were the first sub-culture to be linked with cannabis use, so the Granddaddy of the genre has to make my list. The nod to pot is all in the title of this instrumental, an old slang term for a “marijuana cigarette;” not known to your average Joe. This track has a lazy down-tempo feel that’s perfect for rolling up some muggles.
#8 “Lick it before you stick it” – Denise LaSalle (2000)
“You make her feel good / but you could make her feel better / if you treat your lady like a stamp and a letter” Oh wait….this one actually is about sex, specifically advice to men on how to please their woman. Silly me, I thought it was about how to roll a joint! And for all you guys who dig the idea of being treated like a stamp and letter, take comfort in the song’s last line when Miz LaSalle reminds her female listeners, “now girl, you cannot stick it but you sure can lick it.”Fantastic and funny jam, especially giggle-some after consuming some muggles.
#7 “When I Get Low I Get High” – Chick Webb and His Orchestra (1936)
“My fur coat’s sold/ oh lord aint it cold/ but I’m not gonna holler/ cause I’ve still got a dollar/ and when I get low/ oh I get high” Written by a woman (Marion Sunshine) and performed by 17-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, I doubt this is about seein’ a pro for some relief. Plus, a dollar seems cheap for sex, even in 1936. Take a dab and then dance around the room to this jaunty number.
#6 “And Then Along Comes Mary” – The Association (1966)
“And then along comes Mary/ and does she want to give me kicks and be my steady chick and give my pick of memories…..Then along comes Mary/ and does she want to set them free, and let them see reality” The Association has to be the most underrated band of the psychedelic era and you’ll be compelled to clap along to this groover, featuring a wicked flute solo. One might think that by the mid to late 1960s everyone would know who Mary was, but as demonstrated by the band’s tongue-in-cheek performances on the Mike Douglas and Ed Sullivan shows, the masses didn’t have a clue. Try to score a lid of Acapulco Gold, or some other old school Sativa, to get the feel of the era.
#5 “Mary Jane” – Rick James (1978)
“And when I’m feeling low/ she comes as no surprise/ turns me on with her love/ takes me to paradise/…I’m in love with Mary Jane/ I’m not the only one/” Somehow, even by 1978, people still didn’t get that Mary Jane might be a plant. Too bad the master of punk-funk switched his interest to a different one, Mistress Coca, in later years. Listen along while vaping some Ghost Train Haze, or another speedy variety, in honor of James’ preference for the fast lane.
#4 Pass the Dutchie – Musical Youth (1982)
“As I pass the dreadlocks camp I heard them say/ how does it feel when you got no food/ pass the dutchie on the left-hand side” This is a slightly re-written version of the Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Koutchie” which concerns a smoking circle of rastas. I guess nobody wanted a bunch of cute little kids to blatantly promote Cannabis, so “Koutchie” became “Dutchie,” or Jamaican slang for “Dutch oven.” It sort of makes sense as a thing to pass around considering that the dreads are talking about being hungry. I suggest mixing up a batch of special brownies in your dutch oven while listening to this.
#3 “I Wanna take you Higher” – Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
“Baby, baby, baby light my fire/ I wanna take you higher”
The word “high” has to be the number one double-entendre for both orgasm and cannabis intoxication, with the phrase “light my fire” hot on its heels. This funktastic jam is ostensibly about playing music, but my guess is it’s really about all three things. So go do all three then.
#2 “High by the Beach” – Lana del Rey (2015)
“All I wanna do is get high by the beach/ get high by the beach get high/ all I wanna do is get by by the beach/ Get by baby baby bye bey” In 2015, I don’t think anyone is confused as to whether or not this track is actually about sex on the beach. It clearly isn’t; rather it’s about getting over a relationship with the help of herbal medicine. I had to include it because a) there aren’t enough ladies on the list; b) it’s a great song. To truly appreciate Lana’s hypnotic masterpiece, I suggest doing what it says on the tin.
#1 “Got to Get You Into My Life” – The Beatles (1966)
“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/ every single day…” It’s no surprise to find the Beatles topping any music chart, but it was surprising to me to learn the truth about this a-typical McCartney composition; it’s for that surprise they earn the number one spot. I genuinely had no idea the song was about anything but romance until I read Paul’s own words (quoted in “Many Years from Now,” by Barry Miles):
“Got to Get You Into My Life was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot. I’d been a rather straight working-class lad but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting…I didn’t have a hard time with it and to me it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding. So (it) is really a song about that, it’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot. It’s saying ‘I’m going to do this. This is not a bad idea. So it’s actually an ode to pot, like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret.”
All that, plus an incredible Earth, Wind, and Fire remake in 1978! I rest my case!