Music and marijuana have gone together for nearly a century. Since jazz and blues, it has been part of modern American music culture. In all that time marijuana has inspired those who play music and accompanied those who enjoy music.
Some of the greatest albums (more than a few of which were composed with marijuana either involved or as inspiration) can take on subtle or not-so-subtle shifts when enjoyed with a joint or an edible.
According to the music psychologist and McGill University’s professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Daniel J. Levitin:
“Music combined with marijuana tends to produce feelings of euphoria and connectedness to the music and the musicians. THC- the active ingredient- is known to stimulate the brain’s natural pleasure centers, while also disrupting short-term memory. The disruption of short-term memory thrusts listeners into the moment of the music as it unfolds; unable to explicitly keep in mind what has just been played, or to think ahead to what might be played, people stoned on pot tend to hear music from note to note. Subconsciously all of the usual processes of expectation formation are still occurring, but consciously, the music creates what many people describe as a time-standing-still phenomenon. They live for each note completely in the moment.”
In short marijuana can help a listener enjoy music in its purest form, without distractions, without apprehensions, without thinking of the past or future. Only the present from one note to the next matters.
Thus why in this article we will take a look at some of the top albums to listen to while high, the acclaim of those albums as well as the influential sounds and composers behind them. We say albums and not merely individual songs because there is something about entire albums that is complete and comprehensive, delivering an entire experience beyond one song taken alone.
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The debut studio album of the Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced was an instant hit in 1967. It was a success with both critics and customers. To this day- over 50 years later- it is still held up as one of the greatest debuts in rock music’s entire history.
The way Jimi Hendrix approached writing music and playing the electric guitar was innovative as well as front-and-center in the album. Those same innovations quickly blazed a new trail for hard rock and psychedelic music. Rollingstone calls the album “a bowl-sparking masterpiece” and labels the 13 songs that make up the album as “a virtual banquet of stoner delights.”
Following its May 1967 release in the UK the album enjoyed 33 weeks up and down the charts even reaching as high as number two. When it debuted in the USA in August of the same year it found a comfortable place at number five on the US Billboard Top LPs. Are You Experienced stayed on that chart for 106 weeks. Out of those 106 weeks 27 were in the Top 40. The US release in particular included now-famous singles that were not part of the UK album release but were still top hits in the UK: Hey Joe, The Wind Cries Mary, and of course Purple Haze.
The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
This was the eighth studio album from the acclaimed English rock group Pink Floyd. Harvest Records released the album in March of 1973. The Dark Side of the Moon is still one of the most critically acclaimed records in music history. Professional listings and publications have often ranked it among the greatest albums of all time. It is the album that helped make Pink Floyd renowned on an international level and led each of the band’s four members to wealth and acclaim.
In composing the album (at studio recordings and live performances) the band experimented with portable analog synthesizers such as the Synti A and EMS VCS 3 in addition to using tape loops and multitrack recording. Pink Floyd chose not to use the extended instrumentals that had been such a recognizable component of their work up until that point. Nonetheless the record expands upon ideas explored in past performances and recordings.
Mental health, greed, time, conflict, and death make up the core themes of this concept album. The album was conceived with a focus on the pressures of Pink Floyd’s stressful lifestyle and on experiences with mental health problems as suffered by former band mate Syd Barrett (who had left in 1968).
In the UK The Dark Side of the Moon is 14x Platinum. It charted 957 combined weeks on US Billboard Top LPs where it topped. Over the years it has sold 45 million copies making it the biggest commercial success of Pink Floyd’s albums as well as one of the best-selling albums across the world. In 2013 the Library of Congress chose to preserve the album in the United States National Recording Registry. The Dark Side of the Moon had been declared by the Library as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by the Wu Tang Clan
RZA, the de facto leader of the Wu Tang Clan once said of the group’s music, “You’ll definitely like our shit more when you’re high. Our shit is high music.” With such an endorsement by one the creators combined with its quality and success there’s no surprise why this album is on the list.
On its debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was also the debut of the acclaimed hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. It was released November 1993 by Loud Records drawing inspiration and its title from classic martial arts films like 1973’s Enter the Dragon and 1978’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
The album has a unique, gritty, and underground sound that went on to shape hardcore hip-hop in the 1990s and even reestablish New York City’s hip-hop scene on a national level during the East Coast Renaissance. The Wu-Tang Clan members’ use of explicit, free-associative, and humorous lyrics were a template influence on modern hip-hop. Later famous hip-hop artists and rappers including Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G, Nas, and Mobb followed the trail blazed by this album and its creators.
In just its first week the album sold 30,000 copies while reaching as high as 41 on the US Billboard 200 chart. Within two years (1995) the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album as platinum. October 2018 saw Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) reach triple platinum certification. Not only is it recognized as one of the most influential albums to come out of the 1990s, it is recognized as one of the all-time greatest among hip-hop albums.
The Chronic by Dr. Dre
This album is Dr. Dre’s debut as both a standalone rapper and as a hip-hop producer. It was released by Dr. Dre’s own record label Death Row Records in December 1992 with Interscope Records as the distributor. The album was even named for a slang-term used to refer to high quality marijuana. The album’s cover was designed to evoke Zig-Zag rolling papers as in those used to make joints. The Chronic was Dr. Dre’s first solo work following his leaving N.W.A.and the associated label Ruthless Records over a financial conflict.
It was through this album and its production that Dr. Dre established his unique voice. The sound that would be patented as ‘G-funk’ or ‘gangsta-funk.’ The album’s music features blunted, fat Parliament-Funkadelic beats backed by soulful vocals as well as whiny synths and rolling basslines that include live instruments. As AllMusic (the online music database) pointed out, “For the next four years, it was virtually impossible to hear mainstream hip-hop that wasn’t affected in some way by Dre and his patented G-funk.”
Dr. Dre’s album also stood out for only using a few or even only one sample per song in stark contrast to other hip-hop performances of the time. Kanye West wrote in Rolling Stone’s The Immortals- The Greatest Artists of All Time (Dr. Dre is number 56) “The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. It’s the benchmark you measure your album against if you’re serious.”
In 2020, like The Dark Side of the Moon, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was also selected to be preserved in the National Recording Registry for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.
Paranoid by Black Sabbath
Released September of 1970 by Vertigo Records in the UK and Warner Bros. Records in the USA Paranoid was Black Sabbath’s second studio album. Paranoid contains some of the english rock band’s most recognizable songs like Iron Man and War Pigs. The latter was Black Sabbath’s sole Top 20 Hit but it got as high as 4 in the UK music charts. It was the only album of the band that would top the UK Albums Chart and remained so until they released 2013’s 13.
Much of the album’s music was inspired by what the group saw as major issues no one was talking about: pointless wars, corruption and manipulation by the banks and other financial powers. In 2010’s Classic Albums bassist Terrence ‘Geezer’ Butler recounts, “You could just see that a lot of things were going wrong in the world and no one was saying anything about it. Bob Dylan had long since faded from the present memory and there was nobody talkin’ about the things I wanted to talk about- political stuff- so that’s what inspired me.”
Between the beginning of the SoundCast Era and 2014 Paranoid had sold 1.4 million copies making it Black Sabbath’s most successful album. March 1971 saw Paranoid reach number 12 in the US charts despite little to no air-time on the radios. Rolling Stones ranked the album at 131 out of 500 in the magazines’ The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Steve Huey of AllMusic called the album, “one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time.” He also said it, “defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.”
Kid A by Radiohead
Relatively speaking this album is the most recent, released October 2000 by Parlophone, but that doesn’t detract from its quality or place here. Kid A was made in divergence from rock music due to the stress Thom Yorke (Radiohead’s songwriter) experienced promoting the groups acclaimed previous album OK Computer. He had also grown weary with music media and the way it ‘mythologized’ the rock genre.
This album’s influences and inspirations can be traced to jazz, ambient music, 20th century classical music, electronic music and krautrock (experimental rock out of West Germany developed during the late 1960s and early 1970s). To make Kid A Radiohead used such non-mainstream instruments as brass and strings, ondes Martenot, and modular synthesizers. They used software including Cubase and Pro Tools to manipulate recordings in addition to processing guitar sounds and incorporating samples and loops. Yorke cut up words and phrases before assembling them at random to create lyrics.
Even the album’s marketing was unorthodox. No singles were released and no music videos were made to precede the album’s debut. Radiohead only conducted a few interviews and photoshoots for a group at their level of acclaim. Rather they decided to use the internet as their primary promotional tool. They were the first big musical acts to do so. The album could be streamed online. Short animated films with both music and artwork were used to promote Kid A. The album was even leaked before release! When Radiohead toured Europe in 2000 they did so with a custom-built tent that had no corporate logos.
Everything about the album, from its production, to its sound, to its promotion rang as unconventional and defiant to mainstream music as well as the media that promoted it.
When the album debuted to much anticipation it was sadly met with mixed reviews to say the least. Some even went so far as to call Kid A a ‘commercial suicide note.’ Radiohead’s attempts at being unconventional were not well-received whether it was in sound or lyrics.
It was only in later years like many other works that the album was better recognized for what it did and represented. Pitchfork wrote in 2005 that Kid A “challenged and confounded” Radiohead’s audience. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield in 2015 compared Radiohead’s style change to when Bob Dylan made the very controversial move to rock music. On the album’s anniversary 20 years later Quietus argued that the negative reviews to the album had less to do with the actual quality of Kid A and more due to ‘rockism’ which was the tendency among music critics to venerate rock music over other genres. Which was very much the album’s point given Yorke’s disillusionment with the media..
Despite its shaky debut with critics it still came out of the gate number one in the UK where Kid A sold 55,000 copies upon release. This repeated in the US when it debuted at number one and sold 207,000 copies within that week. In 2020 last year Rolling Stone updated its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time to include Kid A. It is number 20.
What albums do you listen to while high? What have been your experiences with them?