by Ryan Wasoba
Drugs are a crucial part of the classic triumvirate of rock & roll; very few things in our society are of enough import to rival "sex." As a result, drugs have been mentioned and implied in countless songs crossing every imaginable genre. I'm sure there's some Indonesian Gamelan track about opium somewhere out there. Often, the drug talk is somewhat subtle or oblique, as in "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" or the entire Pink Floyd discography. Sometimes the language is masked. Other times, the subject is unmistakable. For this week's Nitpick Six list, here are the six best blatant drug references in song.
6. Black Sabbath, "Sweet Leaf" There is an entire genre modeled after Black Sabbath's adoration of marijuana, and it's called stoner metal. If naming its first album Paranoid after the feeling one gets whilst high was too subtle, the group opened the followup Master of Reality with "Sweet Leaf." On the surface, this song is Ozzy Osbourne's love letter to pot. Dig deeper, and it's still Ozzy Osbourne's love letter to pot. He says, "I love you sweet leaf," and he isn't talking about the stevia plant. He talks about the drug fulfilling the emptiness he felt before its discovery, singles out "straight people" for not understanding and speaks of wanting to try new drugs as a result. This one is so blatant, parents probably listened to it backward to see if it promoted tooth-brushing and the merits of good grades.
5. Ben Folds Five, "The Battle of Who Could Care Less" Before making a string of questionable decisions in recent years -- like judging acapella singing competition The Sing-Off and rewriting the words to "Rockin' the Suburbs" for inclusion on the ending credits of PG-rated animated film Over The Hedge -- Ben Folds was a voice of reason against slacker culture in that gray area of the late '90s we now clumsily call "post-grunge." He makes two references to marijuana on Ben Folds Five's masterwork Forever and Ever, Amen. On "Kate" he sings, "I think she smokes pot/She's everything I want, she's everything I'm not," cementing his reputation as an outsider amongst outsiders. A stronger mention appears in the anti-apathy anthem "The Battle of Who Could Care Less," when he closes the second verse by telling its subject to "Think about your masterpiece/Watch some Rockford Files and call to see if Paul can score some weed." He's sarcastic, judgemental and sarcastic enough about his judgement to appease the potheads while dissing them to the clean-cut crowd.
4. Sheryl Crow, "If It Makes You Happy" At one time, Sheryl Crow was the mom-friendly version of Liz Phair. Both wrote rock songs that painted them as vulnerable ex-rednecks searching for a better life outside of the trailer park, but Crow was the one less likely to ruin Thanksgiving with inappropriate dinner-table conversation. For all its cheap jazz artist name-dropping, claims of listening to Coltrane and finding Benny Goodman's corset and pen, "If It Makes You Happy" is the most streamlined example of Crow's modus operandi. So it isn't the strength of Sheryl Crow's confession "OK, I still get stoned/I'm not the kind of girl you take home" that makes it great, but the likeliness of hearing said phrase while riding in mom's station wagon without her thinking twice about the content. 3. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "You Don't Know How It Feels" "Let's get to the point/Let's roll another joint." Sure, "joint" has multiple meanings, even in song. The Beatles sang about "Trying to make a dovetail joint" in "Glass Onion," but it was a carpentry reference. Hip-hop artists always mention their new joints, meaning new tracks. The joints in Prince's "Joint 2 Joint" were the actual points on the human body where two bones meet. But Tom Petty's joint, the kind he rolls in "You Don't Know How It Feels," the kind he already has rolled thereby qualifying him to roll another, can be nothing other than a marijuana cigarette. And it's in the chorus of the song, which means it's emphasized and said more than once. Way to lay it all out there, Petty.
2. The Velvet Underground, "Heroin" This one needs no explanation, but I will explain anyway: The song is called "Heroin."
1. Dr Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg), "The Next Episode" Yeah, big shock, drugs in a hip-hop song. But usually there is some veil on the lyrics, some code word or slang for the product in question. And usually these words flow by at a pace wherein the drug talk could be missed on a casual listen. Not on "The Next Episode." The brief song goes through a Snoop verse and a Dre verse with no hook to speak of. Then it ends with Nate Dogg singing "hey-ey-ey-ey-ey," a good four seconds of silence (unheard of in a single!) and then the zinger: "smoke weed every day." It's an imperative sentence; its subject is an implied "you." Tom Petty earned his spot on this list by the importance he placed on his drug reference. "Smoke weed everyday" is the absolute most important thing about "The Next Episode." It is more important than the song title itself, or even the two artists credited to the track (neither of which is Nate Dogg). It's acapella, it follows a moment of silence. The rest of the song is basically a drum roll to give the phrase that much more weight. Nate Dogg passed away in March, and although "Regulator" was his breakthrough, "Smoke weed every day" might be his most lasting contribution to popular culture.