Albums to get high to, volume I. Graphic by Ryan Kamber.
Music is one of the greatest inventions humankind has ever concocted. It can act as a bridge between generations, a vehicle for nostalgia, or even a universal language. The coolest thing about music, however, is that there is a seemingly infinite amount of it.
This summer, we’ve set out on a mission to find some of the best individual albums to get high to. Below is part one of our multipart series.
Before we get started, here are our parameters:
1. No Super Obvious Picks
Apologies to fans of projects like The Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Peppers, and The Chronic. But this is not that kind of list. While we’re big fans of these albums, it’s not exactly “breaking news” that they’re great to smoke to.
2. Genre and Decade Variation
In an effort to widen this series’ universal appeal, each article will only include one album per decade and genre. For example, this piece leads off with 1967’s Are You Experienced. The inclusion of this project signifies that the rest of the list will be devoid of any psychedelic rock or albums from the 1960s.
3. One Album Per Artist
This is pretty self explanatory. Jimi Hendrix’s appearance here means that he won’t appear on the playlists for the rest of the summer. Each article will be accompanied by a playlist featuring highlights of the albums listed as well as tracks from projects that didn’t make the cut.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to this week’s picks:
hiTunes Playlist, Volume I
Are You Experienced (UK Release) — The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
While it’s easy to forget how little time he spent in the limelight, the majority of Hendrix’s discography was released between 1967 and 1970. Luckily for us, he made the most of his limited stardom, releasing an astounding amount of music in quantity and quality.
Are You Experienced, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut project might still be their best. Music would not be what it is today without this album. Songs like Purple Haze, Foxey Lady, and Hey Joe were essential in bringing the group’s unique brand of psychedelic rock to the forefront, leading to the development of genres like grunge and even hip hop.
The cultural impact of this project cannot be understated, but it’s the deeper cuts that really push it over the top. May This Be Love feels like a delightful summer stroll through the mountains, guaranteed to soothe all who listen. Red House sees Hendrix and his electric guitar turn a simple 12 bar blues into an instant classic. Listening to his debut is an experience that everyone should have.
Favorite Tracks: May This Be Love, Red House, Third Stone From the Sun, The Wind Cries Mary, Are You Experienced?
Maggot Brain — Funkadelic (1971)
When we first heard this album, we were prepared for things to get weird. What we weren’t prepared for was the masterful use of psychedelic rock and other subgenres that Funkadelic utilizes. This continued experimentation with sound makes Maggot Brain so much more than a funk project.
The title track opens up the album, leading with a short monologue from George Clinton that sets the stage for an epic eight-and-a-half-minute guitar solo from Eddie Hazel that highlights this instrumental cut.
That said, things do get weird, but in the best of ways. Can You Get to That features a warm and welcoming vibe. Listening to the fantastic call and response between the group’s heavenly harmonies and Ray Davis’s baritone is a real treat as well. Back In Our Minds is a laid-back track with a magnificently odd instrumental punctuated by a jaw harp that sounds like it was ripped from Glass Onion by The Beatles.
Maggot Brain is an infectious romp through some of the best sounds the 1970s would offer. It’s no surprise that half a century later we still can’t give up the funk.
Favorite Tracks: Maggot Brain, Hit It and Quit It, You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks, Can You Get to That
Aquemini — Outkast (1998)
Before they were asking neighbors for sugar and apologizing to Ms. Jackson, Andre 3000 and Big Boi were breaking new ground with their first two projects, 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmusik and 1996’s ATLiens. While these albums were pivotal in putting southern hip hop on the map, the best was yet to come.
Alright, maybe this selection’s a bit obvious, but for good reason. Aquemini sees Outkast firing on all cylinders with thought-provoking lyrics and adventurous production. Here, the Atlanta duo experiments with a multitude of different genres, whether that be funk on the George Clinton aided Synthesizer; R&B on tracks like Liberation; or even acid rock on the album’s closer, Chonkyfire. Even the album’s lead single Rosa Parks seems like a standard hip hop track until it breaks into a country hoedown at the 2:25 mark.
As for the stoners, there’s more than enough to like. The title track uses atmospheric production and features an all-time verse from Andre 3000. SpottieOttieDopaliscious is a track that lives in its own genre, combining jazz, R&B, and just the right amount of trumpets to bless any smoke session. Just press play, spark up and thank us later.
Favorite Tracks: SpottieOttieDopalicious, Aquemini, Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt 1), Chonkyfire, Rosa Parks
Oracular Spectacular — MGMT (2007)
It’s nearly impossible to discuss the rock to pop genre switch in the early 21st century without mentioning this pair from Connecticut. MGMT lives in their own genre, blending indie rock, pop, and psychedelic properties to create a sound that is uniquely theirs. Oracular Spectacular is the project responsible for bringing Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser’s distinct brand of music to the forefront.
Of course, this album includes head-bopping classics like Kids, Electric Feel, and Time to Pretend. But the project really shines in its more subtle moments.
4th Dimensional Transition is an interlude that combines a psychedelic guitar with a heart-pounding drum beat that makes listeners feel like they’re on an adventure through deep space.
Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters is an underrated track that touches on topics like curiosity, existentialism, and global warming. The instrumental itself features lively drums and an impressive guitar solo before a beat switch around the song’s midway point. The remainder of the track is a hazy outro that practically begs listeners to light one up.
Fourteen years later, Oracular Spectacular feels more electric than ever.
Favorite Tracks: Time to Pretend, Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters, Future Reflections, The Youth
Ctrl — SZA (2017)
While it’s a shame that Ctrl marks Solána Imani Rowe’s first and only official studio LP to date, she leaves a lasting impression. Songs like Love Galore and The Weekend found the most mainstream success. But this project includes cuts much higher in both quality and intricacy.
Pretty Little Birds, for example, uses soaring production and honest lyrics to convey a message about the importance of determination and persistence. SZA encourages herself and her listeners to fly, even though “we’ve hit the window a few times.” A raw and emotional guest spot from label mate, Isaiah Rashad, puts a cherry on top of this already marvelous cut.
Another offering with incredible vocals and ethereal production is Drew Barrymore, the album’s lead single. The song focuses on insecurity and self doubt. Then there’s 20 Something, an intimate and stripped-down closer that serves as a millennial anthem on the hopes and fears of an uncertain future.
Ctrl is the perfect mixture of emotionally complex lyrics and laid back production that will have even first time listeners eager to see what SZA drops next.
Favorite Tracks: Pretty Little Birds, Doves in The Wind, Drew Barrymore, Garden (Say It Like Dat)
Got any suggestions? If you have an album you’d like us to listen to, leave a comment below!
I love ctrl!! Great pick, SZA’s sound is really amazing for a nice calm sesh.
MGMT is a super cool pick! Always love to see them get some love
Amazing amount of research and makes a great case for the selection of each of the albums. Makes me think of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain high”. Very relevant and identifiable.