A toker's musical guide through pop history

The Cannabis Issue

People have been enjoying cannabis for recreational purposes for centuries, including in the United States since the early 1900s. That means weed was in America a good 50 years or so before the invention of rock 'n' roll. (We're using Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" in 1951 as the marker for rock's onset, but you could argue for Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" in 1954.)

While pot is certainly not necessary to enjoy music, it's been a popular sonic enhancer for concert goers and headphone enthusiasts from the beginning. And while there are some bands unquestionably associated with drug culture — hello, Grateful Dead — there are also plenty of albums that are particularly potent with the addition of a joint or bong hit that you might not think of as "stoner music." Here's a quick guide of one album from each decade since rock's birth, listens you might enjoy a little more after a puff.

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)

I am far from being a jazz fan, but some of the classic works are undeniable. Case in point: trumpeter Davis's Kind of Blue, an album recorded in two days by the bandleader's sextet. If you enjoy marijuana to relax, this instrumental collection is just the ticket. Be forewarned, though; it could definitely be a gateway to listening to more jazz.

The Kinks, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

The decade that introduced us to hippies and "flower power" is rife with records that would pair well with pot. You could really just listen to the whole Beatles catalog of that decade and call it good. But this, the sixth album from the Kinks, is a collection of songs about English society totally foreign to my experience. The Davies brothers' knack for catchy pop-rock was never more potent.

Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

This 17-song double album is arguably Stevie's best release, and the fact that you can argue over several of his '70s albums shows what a killer musician he is. A headphone experience that's hard to beat, Songs has some of Wonder's biggest hits ("Sir Duke," "I Wish" and "Isn't She Lovely" among them), but it's a deep set that veers from soul and pop to serious funk and R&B.

Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense (1984)

Maybe picking this live album is cheating, since it serves as sort of a "greatest hits" for the Talking Heads, but whatever — the band's predilection for dabbling in art-rock and world music makes their songs ideal for weed-added enjoyment. And considering you can watch the amazing concert film while you dance along with David Byrne and Co., well, it's an obvious choice.

Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

Hill's solo debut after years in the Fugees hits a lot of weed-friendly sweet spots. It's a fierce hip-hop album at points, a sweet soul collection, a reggae-infused wonder and pop masterpiece. Beyond the mere musical touchpoints, though, are lyrics touching on spirituality and love that can send you into some seriously zoned-out mind trips.

Madvillain, Madvillainy (2004)

Hip-hop can make for great stoner jams when you have a particularly creative producer/DJ in the mix, and you can do no better than Madlib. He's a master, teaming with MC MF Doom as Madvillain and throwing an incredible array of samples into more than 20 short songs on this masterpiece. MF Doom is no slouch on the mic, either, boasting a creative flow that keeps you thinking while your head's bobbing.

Queens of the Stone Age, ...Like Clockwork (2013)

Josh Homme secured his stoner-rock bona fides back when he was a member of Kyuss, but this is the best album he's ever made. The mix of hooky blues raunch, prog-rock moves and mountains of guitar hooks makes for a great listening experience, sober or not.

Cornershop, England is a Garden (2020)

Granted, the 2020s are only a few months old (even though it seems like it's been about 100 years). But there are already some worthy contenders for the year's best stoney listen, and genre-defying Brit indie-rockers Cornershop have my favorite with their first album in five years. While they incorporate a cornucopia of off-kilter instrumentation (flutes! sitars!), their tunes remain rooted in classic pop songcraft that will thrill any audiophile. ♦

Bass Canyon Music Festival @ Gorge Amphitheater

Fri., Aug. 19, 12 p.m., Sat., Aug. 20, 12 p.m. and Sun., Aug. 21, 12 p.m.
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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...