Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues: Eight Great Pot Songs
John Prine may have set the standard for pot songs in American music with his sardonic "Illegal Smile," but that snowball picked up considerable speed as it rolled downhill. Here are eight more excellent odes to the sweetest leaf. 1. Cab Calloway, "Reefer Man": Other than Louis Armstrong, perhaps no one in the glory days of Harlem jazz had a more musical sense of the possibilities of the sacred spliff. Calloway's turns of phrase are a perfect example of pot-addled nonsense: "If he trades you dimes for nickels and calls watermelons pickles, then you know your talkin' to that reefer man."
2. Fraternity of Man, "Don't Bogart Me": Easy Rider was a watershed event in hippie culture. From the opening scene at LAX, when Peter Fonda extracts the smuggled cocaine from his chopper's gas tank, to the acid trip in New Orleans to the hilarious scene in which Fonda and Dennis Hopper introduce novice hick lawyer Jack Nicholson to marijuana, the movie put drugs directly into the face of authority. Having their song included in the soundtrack would mark Fraternity of Man's career high-water mark.
3. Neil Young, "Roll Another Number (For the Road)": A stone classic stoner anthem from the only guy who could arm-wrestle David Crosby for the title of biggest stoner in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Neil's version is great, but to me Country Dick Montana and the Beat Farmers immortalized this mind-altered ditty on their 1989 live album Loud and Plowed .
4. Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen, "Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues": It wasn't long after Lonesome Onry and Mean arrived in Austin in the summer of 1973 that it seemed everyone in town could sing the words, "I saw your new man yesterday wearin' my brand new shoes/ And I'm down to seeds and stems again too." Of course, this was about the time our soon to have his teat in the ringer Lt. Governor Ben Barnes made the banner of the headline of American-Statesman with his pronouncement that "Austin is the marijuana capitol of the world." Where the fuck did he think it was, College Station?
5. New Riders of the Purple Sage, "Panama Red" and "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy": The New Riders hit it big with these two decidedly different efforts. Peter Rowan's "Cowboy" seemed like a script for Gram Parsons' life when LOM first heard it. And "Panama Red" was such a fun, gentle, screw-you ode to the budding pot culture. Dig that tie-dyed backdrop!
6. Brewer & Shipley, "One Toke Over the Line": A huge hit as FM "underground" radio was taking off and the Sixties were exploding into protest and violence, "Toke" brought serious heat down on these guys. But perhaps funnier (or scarier?) than Spiro Agnew's castigation and inclusion on Richard Nixon's infamous "enemies list," the tune was covered by cheesemeister Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers . Go figure.
7. I See Hawks In L.A., "Humboldt": The Hawks come in a direct line from the Byrds, Burritos, New Riders et.al. and these Los Angeles roots favorites have always traveled their musical trail surrounded by the odor of the burning bush, and they nail the whole Northern Californian pot grower vibe with "Humboldt." Best pot dealer line ever? "I'd be glad to plant corn in the ground but corn don't go for three thousand a pound." And, yes, that's Paul Marshall, formerly of Strawberry Alarm Clock ("Incense & Peppermints") , on bass.
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