So maybe the late Merle Haggard didn’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee or take trips on LSD, but that certainly didn’t stop country’s greats from trading a shot of Tennessee brown for a toke of Colorado green — and singing about it, too. But true to the genre’s roots, these songs capture a complete, complex story: It’s never just as simple as relaxing on the beach with a joint in hand, and, more often than not, there are bitter consequences. These are tales that show both the pleasure and sorrow that comes with a life lived high.
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “It’s All Going to Pot”
After the devastating loss of the iconic Merle Haggard, it’s heartwarming to look back at this recent track recorded with his pal Willie Nelson, off of 2015’s Django & Jimmie, that’s propelled by jovial mariachi horns and even more jovial exchanges between the two old friends, as they poke fun at their own mystique and mythologies. Released, naturally, on 4/20 and written by Buddy Cannon, Larry Shell and Jamey Johnson (who makes a cameo on the song), it’s a tongue and cheek anthem for the stoner who’s as disenchanted with the world around them as they are with the merits of a full bank account. And, if you ask Nelson and Haggard, it’s better to smoke your green than spend it, anyway.
Eric Church, “I’m Gettin’ Stoned”
While Eric Church has been known to wax nostalgic for lost hometowns and Springsteen summers, he’s also sung about trying to erase certain memories with the aid of a little (or a lot of) weed. “She got a rock, and I’m getting stoned,” Church sings on this track from 2011’s Chief (for the record, aside from Church’s nickname, “chief” is also slang for getting high). In this rocking thumper with clapboard guitar and an acid beat, he deals with the wedding of an ex in the best way he knows how: by smoking the pain away. “Smoke a Little Smoke,” on 2009’s Carolina, may be his better-known stoner anthem, but this one shows how some folks use drugs to dim the reality of heartbreak.
Chris Stapleton, “Might As Well Get Stoned”
Hopefully Chris Stapleton has a good recipe for weed brownies, or at least a healthy vaporizer — no one would want him to damage those golden pipes with a rasp-inducing joint when he indulges on “Might as Well Get Stoned.” From his Grammy-winning solo debut Traveller, the track, anchored by a swampy vamp and written with Jimmy Stewart, has Stapleton praising the healing power of a little un-medical marijuana, lighting up when both his heart and liquor cabinet are empty. But it’s not a shallow tune either – the last verse proves that while he might be high, he’s also pretty grounded in the sobering realities around him.
Johnny Cash, “Cocaine Blues”
With roots in the Appalachian standard “Little Sadie,” “Cocaine Blues” reworks the classic tune and adds in the intensified drama of a little white lightening, heightening the moral conundrum. Though it’s had many sonic interpretations, no one made it swing quite like the Man in Black, who famously played it for the inmates of Folsom Prison. Attacking that western vamp, Cash tells the story of Willie Lee, who tried to outrun the cops after killing his woman while high on coke. Of course, it’s hard to disassociate from Johnny Cash’s personal struggles with drugs, or to ignore the near jubilant performance. It leaves a lingering question: Is murder different when you can blame the blow?
Brandy Clark, “Get High”
Ushered in by a dirty guitar line that’s like a cowboy shaking his chaps in a new saloon, Brandy Clark tells the story of a bored homemaker who finds solace by rolling herself a “fat one” once the kitchen is clean and the kids are in bed. An accomplished Nashville songwriter for likes of Miranda Lambert and Darius Rucker, Clark proved through her solo debut, 12 Stories, that she is not shy about pulling the veil off of suburban life and exposing the intoxicants that make it bearable. But when she ties off the song with “thanks for the Mary Jane,” she’s no longer just speaking for that housewife.
Charlie Daniels Band, “Long Haired Country Boy”
Charlie Daniels, country’s king of the moody fiddle and low-talkin’ ballad, reportedly struggled with performing this one from 1974’s Fire on the Mountain, live — he claimed his Christian beliefs were counter to those of the song’s protagonist, who likes getting “stoned in the morning and drunk in the afternoon.” These days, he subs in “I get up in the morning and get down in the afternoon” and “tell another joke” for “take another toke.” Regardless, it sets a path for southern blues shared by the likes of the Allman Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and showcased the nagging country conflict between the down-home values and rock star reality.
Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”
“Roll up a joint,” Kacey Musgraves sings and strums on this sweetly mischievous track off 2013’s Same Trailer Different Park. Of course, there’s that little added “or don’t” thrown out next, but that’s just for prosperity (or the FM stations). Still, the song saw plenty of trouble on country radio, with programmers balking at casual marijuana advocacy and the girl-on-girl imagery. Musgraves had the last laugh, though, playing the tune on stage at the Grammys in glow-in-the-dark cowboy boots next to a psychedelic cactus, and snagged the Best Country Album award. Far out, y’all.
Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”
Sturgill Simpson has gone out of his way to dispel the notion that his sophomore masterpiece, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, is a drug ode in and of itself – but it’s hard to deny the inherent trippiness in the opening track, “Turtles All the Way Down.” Let’s be honest here: it’s not in a sober state where “reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain,” but it sounds a little more appealing (and less expensive) than ten years of therapy. Simpson calls out Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and DMT alongside delicate ripples of sound that streak across the song like sun in a stoner’s eyes, painting a psychedelic vision of the Nashville skyline that’s well worth the trip.
Willie Nelson, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”
As country music’s most ardent steward of the cannabis court, Willie Nelson doesn’t actually have many songs that deal specifically in getting high — perhaps he chooses to live by example rather than in lyrics. But “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” is a honky-tonk gospel that’s anything but subtle. Nelson paired with rapper-turned-Rasta Snoop Dogg, Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson, releasing the track on the holy high holiday of 4/20. Though the album version (from 2012’s Heroes) suffers from Snoop’s super-awkward twang-izzle phrasing, the stripped-down bonus takes are classic Nelson, where he lays it down like his last will and testament.
Toby Keith, “Weed With Willie”
It’s probably not a unique story: get a little too high while chilling out on Willie Nelson‘s tour bus, pass out, skip your plans for the night and wake up wondering what the hell happened. Except in this case, it’s Toby Keith, so stoned that he misses Charles Barkley’s Las Vegas birthday party. Happens to the best of us, right? A bonus track on 2003’s intolerably jingoistic Shock’n Y’all, this duet with longtime collaborator Scotty Emerick finds Keith cursing the aftermath of a night with the braided wonder and his killer stash, pledging to “never smoke weed with Willie again.” A promise, as he makes clear at the song’s witty end, that’s pretty difficult to keep.