As of this writing, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, which means that the federal government does not recognize the plant as having any legitimate medical use. But tell that to the 28 states, and D.C., where medical marijuana not only thrives, but helps a whole lot of people with everything from cancer to insomnia.
I used to joke that I could easily earn a prescription by telling the doctor that I was suffering from “Jewish Mother-Induced Neuroses,” but embedded in that self-deprecation was a large truth. Worries about finances and plans for the week often keep me up at night, while ADD keeps me all over the place during the day. A well-timed toking break has never slowed me down beyond function, it just puts stops me from feeling all over the place and allows me to enter a state of calm, focused intention.
So perhaps the word drug is outdated, and the word medicine isn’t just for hippies anymore. And maybe, on the national stoner holiday we’ve come to know as 420, it’s time to work on flipping the script for the remaining slice of the heartland that still feels threatened by racist, capitalist-fortified smears against the demon weed.
Let’s dispel some myths about the origin of 420—it’s not police radio code for a marijuana-related crime, does not refer to the number of psychoactive cannabinoids in the plant, was not the number for a California penal code about weed, and is not the best time of year to plant—and if you add up the two numbers of “Rainy Day Women” in that Bob Dylan song, the fact that you get 420 is pure coincidence.
The term originated as the time when a group of stoners who called themselves “The Waldos” (because they liked to hang out in front of a wall) would meet after school to get high. This was in San Rafael, which is in Marin County, where The Grateful Dead were born, and Deadheads helped spread the term as it grew in popularity to reference any pot-related activity.
Now, we here at Observer Music certainly don’t advocate any illegal activity, but we also think that our happiest readers are our mellowest readers, and as such, want you to relax by any means necessary. So we made you a nice playlist of 42 tracks that love Jah, plunder the depths of the human psyche, and promote general waviness (420 songs would have been too much).
We left out the obvious classics like “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” “Don’t Bogart That Joint” and ubiquitous Sublime/Bob Marley hits in the interest of pure, heady discovery. And though we certainly don’t condone spending the near three hours vibing on this playlist in one sitting, a couple of hits are potent enough to let some calm wash over your day.
Listen to our entire 420 playlist on Spotify here, or scroll down below to listen.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “4 + 20”
As an invocation to our playlist, this classic works perfectly. David Crosby’s actually just singing about being 24 here, though, not picking up a bong. Since this song is from 1970, and the term “420” didn’t come around until a year later, consider it prophecy if you want.
Derrick Harriott, “Let Me Down Easy/Version”
What sort of mellow fellows would we be if we didn’t share one of the greatest reggae songs of all time with you? Harriot’s cool sense of removal from being dumped here isn’t quite rude, but it is ambivalent, and a classic case of vulnerability turning into strength. I and I been in Babylon too long.
Quicksilver Messenger Service, “It’s Been Too Long”
A lost hippie classic about getting back into the game, this tune works equally well as a soundtrack to those moments when you resume something you really enjoy after having to take a long break for one reason or another (cough, cough). “Even the driving wheel must come to rest sometimes” is a great lyric that captures the songs longing perfectly.
Kendrick Lamar Ft. Dr. Dre, “The Recipe”
We wanted to share Lamar’s DAMN. jam “YAH.” with you, as its one of the best stoney baloney groovers we’ve heard in ages. But that’s not up on YouTube yet, so this b-side and live favorite from good kid, mA.A.d city will also do nicely. Dre and Dot state over again that people come to L.A. for a recipe of three W’s—women, weed and weather. The sample of Twin Sister’s “Meet the Frownies” that runs throughout is a nice touch, too.
Africa HiTech, “Light The Way”
If Sun Ra had lived an IDM project, it might sound like this. That’s because Africa Hitech’s Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek sample Sun Ra’s “When There Is No Sun” off 1978’s New Steps here for maximum chill. More than any of their grime bangers, “Light The Way” hits a sweet spot with inspiration you can wiggle to.
Javelin, “We Ah Wi”
Providence production duo Javelin can vacillate between hip-hop, pop, and straight up cartoon nonsense, but this track off 2010’s No Mas warms in all the right places with its inviting loops and wordless wisdom.
Desmond Dekker, “Perseverance”
Dekker’s got bigger hits than “Perseverance,” but we’re not sure why—this track has everything the ska great is celebrated for. “I can’t believe in unity with our laws” is one of the greatest lines ever, as true today as when it was written.
This is just a great groover from a great producer, with an apropos title that explains the state it induces succinctly.
Neil Young, “Homegrown”
Tacked on to the end of 1977’s American Stars ‘n Bars, this Young track is hardly considered a classic, but like the other holdovers from the fabled, lost Chrome Dreams, “Homegrown” is a solid entry in Young’s catalog that doesn’t often get its due. “Plant that bell and let it ring,” indeed.
Black Mountain, “Angels”
A modern stoner classic that proved Black Mountain could pull back from the sludge of their first record and write a true ballad. “Lay your halo down?” “Kick your rollies round?” Is this a song about encouraging a sheltered person to toke for the first time?
Brazilian Girls, “Pussy”
O.K., so this one’s a classic, but with its chorus of “Pussy pussy pussy marijuana,” that’s a no-brainer. Put this on at a work function and watch sparks fly.
Gene Clark, “Life’s Greatest Fool”
The first of many “self-doubt” songs we’ve peppered throughout this playlist, the first track on former Byrd Gene Clark’s classic No Other encapsulates regret and remorse with a traveler’s perspective on impermanence. Like a good Neil Young song, Clark’s a master at profound simple profundities here, especially with the closing verse: “Words can be empty though filled with sound/Stoned numb and drifting, hard to be profound/Formed out of pleasure/chiseled by pain/Never the highest and not the last one to gain.”
Ab-Soul, “Tree of Life”
This Top Dawg labelmate of Kendrick Lamar doesn’t ever get his due, and “Tree of Life” is one of his strongest tracks. Try and guess what’s it’s about, and be easy.
Thundercat. “Lotus and the Jondy”
Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, implied that former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen is the dude killing that drum solo on this track, but I haven’t been able to find out whether that’s true or not. Either way, this one’s on another level. Frightened and tripping in the forest, Thunder just grabs an ice cream and all is O.K…there’s a lesson here.
Beach House, “Apple Orchard”
When Beach House came through to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts with The Clientele in 2007, my buddy and I thought it would be a good idea to eat some mushrooms and check them out. Beach House guitarist Alex Scally saw us walking into The Fenway with eyes like saucers before and shot us a knowing smirk, then proceeded to blow our minds with a set still heavy on tunes from the new classic, self-titled Beach House record.
This one always sticks out to me, maybe because of the shrooms, but more likely because its just paralyzingly beautiful, a celebration of slowing down—”Let’s lie down for a while, you can smile/Lay your head in the old, old fashion.”
Black Moth Super Rainbow, “Sun Lips”
BMSR have only gotten weirder over the years, but the grit and potency of this track off 2007’s Dandelion Gum merits revisiting, a simple song about watching the sun rise with someone and missing them during summertime.
Bob Marley, “High Tide or Low Tide”
More than any other of Marley’s classics, this “Catch a Fire” tune hits us right in the feels. It’s got that minor turn, that prayer in the middle, and isn’t afraid to be nuanced or complex.
Yeah, yeah, we know those are Tibetan prayer bowls being sampled throughout the track, not bowls of weed, but this is still still a heady groover nonetheless.
Real Estate, “Fake Blues”
A lot of Real Estate songs sound the same, but “Fake Blues,” off their first, self-titled record, has its own thing going on. Another song about self-doubt and the power of our minds to create our own sorrows, “Though it’s not as if I choose to be sad with these fake blues” rings with the clear conundrum mind-fuck of a Zen koan.
Witch, “Feeling High”
A great ’70s band from Zambia, Africa, all of Witch’s tunes are absolutely killer. Ride the Zam Wave, baby!
The Byrds, “Wild Mountain Thyme”
A rather gorgeous take on an old traditional from Fifth Dimension, which is The Byrd’s stab at a psych album.
Little Dragon, “Feather”
Little Dragon’s breathy vocals and evocation of natural imagery here make “Feather” a classic among LD tunes, mood music prime for floating around to.
Caetano Veloso, “Nine Out of Ten”
One of the Tropicalia legend’s English tunes, “Nine Out of Ten” tickles the cockles of the soul with the image of Veloso banging on his belly to the sound of reggae, crying while thinking about movie stars, then rapturously declaring “I’m alive!” over and over again throughout the song’s refrain.
Four Tet, “Aerial”
Like most of Kieran Hebden’s music, this instrumental has supernatural powers. Included not only for its title, but for its rude groove that pops up between breaks in arpeggiated synth leads.
Grateful Dead, “He’s Gone”
This tune was originally written about Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s father, then the band’s manager, running away with their money. But when Pigpen died in ’73, it took on a whole new meaning. He was already sitting out a ton of shows due to alcohol-related health problems, and missing from the Europe ’72 tour this recording was taken from. It’s on here instead of the more ubiquitous Dead hits because it explains what “steal your face” was all about, and because it fits the theme of people who are too gone to come back, which the Dead would revisit time and again.
White Williams, “Smoke”
Have any of you heard from this dude since he released the delicious synth-pop LP Smoke in 2007? This title track sums up everything great about that album, and if anyone knows what Joe Williams is up to now, please drop us a line.
Alexander “Skip” Spence, “Cripple Creek”
The former Moby Grape frontman (he played with Garcia and Jefferson Airplane at various points, too) was already starting to go mad when he made his ’69 masterpiece, OAR, an acoustic prayer of Syd Barrett-level eccentricities, filtered through the American experience. “Cripple Creek” is our favorite track on the record for its climax, in which Spence intones, “He thought if they were gone, said he, and this cannot be true, ‘The search to find what wasn’t there has brought him back to you.'”
Jimmy Cliff, “Sooner or Later”
So yeah, of course Jimmy Cliff has more stoney baloney tunes and stone-cold classics then “Sooner or Later” off ’73’s Struggling Man, but this track both fits the playlists evergreen theme of wasting time and lifts some lyrics from the great Bob Dylan.
Rodriguez, “Like Janis”
Sixto Rodriguez taps into some gorgeousness here, with a Cold Fact classic that reads like a heady parable embedded in a nursery rhyme. That chorus soars with Aquarian longing as Rodriguez revisits this person’s doubt for him.
The Flaming Lips, “In The Morning of The Magicians”
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots has so many classics on it that this second album highlight tends to get overlooked. Filled with gorgeous, spacey platitudes (“Is it love or is it hate, and why does it matter?”), “In The Morning of The Magicians” is not only a testament to Steven Drozd’s skills as an arranger, but also to a golden age of The Lips, when they were still jubilantly tapping into brain stems all willy nilly.
Love, “Your Friend and Mine (Neil’s Song)”
Someone once told me that Love’s Arthur Lee would have been as big as Hendrix, but he never wanted to leave L.A. because he had all the women and all the heroin a man could want right there. Anyway, this song rules, ripe to soundtrack frolicking or frivolity despite some of its heavy themes. “Here’s a little something to relax your mind, now that we are two of a kind.”
Sly & The Family Stone, “Just Like A Baby”
Again, we know Sly’s got more classic tunes, but sometimes when your higher cognitive functions fail it’s O.K. to feel like a baby. “Everything is new” when you get that head change, too.
Devendra Banhart, “The Other Woman”
Devendra’s stab at dub on 2007’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon just feels right here. Go with it.
The Kinks, “Shangri-La”
This track off The Kink’s ’69 classic, Arthur, or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire finds bliss in staying home rather than joining the rat race. It’s got a good dash of reserved joy talking about conditioning and tea before kicking off into a groovy psychedelic banger of the times, punctuated by a warm blanket of La La La’s.
Olivia Tremor Control, “Jumping Fences”
Like other Elephant Six band Apples In Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control really, really fucking loved The Beatles. This highlight off their 2004 masterpiece, Dusk At Cubist Castle, arrives early and doesn’t overstay its welcome. A simple feel-good ditty only on the surface, “Jumping Fences” counters the theme of “Shangri-La” nicely when you look at its opening words: “Lazy man who can’t find his words, all caught up inside his head/He is there with you, he is there with you/ And when he can’t speak from too much wine, you’re always there with his line/When he wants to go home/ you know the jolly show must go on.”
John Phillips, “Mississippi”
Forget all the horrible shit you may have heard about former Papa from The Mamas & The Papas, John Phillips. It all may be true, as some of the bluer subjects and themes on his ’69 masterpiece John, The Wolfking of L.A. suggest, but there are moments of frivolity to be found as well. “Mississippi,” with its swimming hole shenanigans, is enough to make you psyched for warmer weather. On a side note, why hasn’t anyone called out Father John Misty for totally ripping off this dude’s vibe?
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, “I Truly Understand”
Taken from Shady Grove, a collection of standards released the year after Garcia died, “I Truly Understand” is a gorgeous bluegrass number about accepting loss and feeling alone, the commiserating ditty for after the comedown. Grisman had been playing with The Dead since American Beauty, and listening to this record will hit you right in the feels.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, “We Can’t Help You”
Post-Pavement, Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks have played around with many other song structure forms, but 2008’s Real Emotional Trash is their stoner jam album, and it rules. “We Can’t Help You” serves as something of the comedown ballad, and fits well with our recurring theme on here of speaking to people who are just gone. “Well I wish for once, you would just stop copin’,” sings Malkmus.
The Yardbirds, “I Can’t Make Your Way”
Jeff Beck’s lead guitar effortlessly glides through this cut off The Yardbird’s ’66 record, Roger The Engineer. An ode to not giving a fuck about the grind of the world, “I Can’t Make Your Way” fits this playlist like a glove: “Silly men, they all get worried/Live their lives so worthlessly/Troubled, bothered, flustered, hurried/They should take a look at me.”
The Pretty Things, “The Sun”
Full of questionable Aquarian epiphany, The Pretty Things’ ’67 album Emotions contains this stellar track, “The Sun,” wherein our singer can’t touch the sun because it’s just too high. We’ve been there, man.
David Peel, “I Like Marijuana”
This list wouldn’t be complete without a track from the late, great David Peel, one of the city’s true Yippie weirdos before he passed away from a heart attack earlier this month. The great proto-punk was called “The King of The Lower East Side” for a reason.
Neil Young, “Roll Another Number (For The Road)”
Uncle Neil’s been closing many a tour with this number lately, but you’ll do well to remember that “number” also refers to a joint. An appropriate farewell song and an embrace of budding distance, Young’s leaving Woodstock and all the utopian dreams he promised to drive the road alone, that is, unless another cop pulls him over.