Country Music has always expressed its affection for whiskey, but is the genre slowly falling in love with pot?
Country music, and Nashville as a whole, have historically been known for producing wholesome songs and promoting traditional family values, albeit often mentioning whiskey, moonshine, and of course, beer, which have become the staple substances of the South. However, the genre has found itself amidst a “green rush” in the past few years. With increasing allusions to the “sticky-icky” in country music, from Nashville’s mainstream hits to legends such as Willie Nelson and the less popular red-dirt music of Texas and Oklahoma, one can’t help but wonder: what’s going on with country music’s newfound love for marijuana?
1) Okie From Muskogee – Merle Haggard (1969)
“Okie from Muskogee” was released by Merle Haggard back in 1969, and was one of the very first country songs to mention marijuana: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/ We don’t take no trips on LSD.” Stating that he became disheartened after watching Vietnam War protests while serving jail time in San Quintin, Haggard decided to turn that viewpoint in to the infamous song we all now know: Okie from Muskogee. The song paints the use of marijuana in a bad light here, comparing it to LSD and saying that in the small town of Muskogee, the drug isn’t welcome or used whatsoever. “Okie from Muskogee” became immensely popular, eventually reaching the number 1 country single in the US in 1969.
Key Lyrics: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/ We don’t take no trips on LSD”
2) Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash (1970)
Originally written and recorded by Kris Kristofferson and Ray Stevens, this song didn’t really reach popularity until it was released by Johnny Cash in 1970. Many found the line “I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned” controversial, to the point where Cash was asked not to sing the line on network television, but which the outlaw ignored and sang anyway. The song reached immense popularity, despite the controversy, becoming the number 1 country single in the US during 1970 and inspiring covers by artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Willie Nelson. Unlike “Okie from Muskogee,” which discourages the use of marijuana and promotes the views of the conservative American population, this song, released only a year later, takes a completely different direction with the subject, glorifying its use and painting it as a substance to help the artist escape from the real world.
Key Lyrics: “I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned”
3) Stoned at the Jukebox – Hank Williams Jr. (1975)
Country music artists are not historically known for incorporating the use of marijuana in to their songs, as it doesn’t express the traditional values ingrained in the genre, but artist Hank Williams Jr, the son of the idolized Hank Williams, sang about the drug 40 years ago. During this time, the topic was off limits in country music, with only legends such as Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson who epitomized “outlaw country” being known for using marijuana. In this song, Williams sings about getting high to reduce the pain of losing the girl he loved: “Lord, there’s a cold heart gone and I’m stoned at the jukebox.” This song isn’t regarded as one of his greatest hits, however. The artist used this song to show off a more mature persona on his breakthrough album “Hank Williams Jr. and Friends,” as opposed to his reputation as just the son of Hank Williams.
Key Lyrics: “Oh Lord, there’s a cold heart gone and I’m stoned at the jukebox.”
4) Boys from Oklahoma – Cross Canadian Ragweed (1999)
Red-Dirt country artists have never been afraid to go against “The Nashville Machine,” and this song is no exception. Released in the late nineties before the current marijuana craze, which has swept the country in the wake of legalization in select states, this Texas country song both talks about and condones the use of marijuana. At the time of its release, this song took a county music taboo head on. While Willie Nelson and his band of outlaw country artists had introduced Cannabis in to the country music world in the 1970s and 1980s, the subject had largely died down in the genre by the 1990s and early 2000s. “Boys from Oklahoma” takes the subject and puts it on a pedestal, in classic red-dirt country fashion, through the chorus line “Them boys from Oklahoma roll their joints all wrong” and lines such as “Them boys down in Texas got some damn fine weed.” If that doesn’t go against Nashville in a time where family friendly songs and conservative values were widely promoted in country music, and weed was not to be mentioned or popularized, I don’t know what does.
Key Lyrics: “Them boys from Oklahoma roll their joints all wrong/They’re too damn skinny or way too long/I ain’t no holy roller so I just use a bong” “Them boys down in Texas got some damn fine weed”
5) Busted in Baylor County – Shooter Jennings (2005)
Something about being the offspring of a country legend seems to draw artists to sing about more taboo subjects. This song, based on Jennings’ real experience of being caught with Marijuana near Waco, Texas, definitely errs on the side of edgier country. The song, which obviously has rock influences, shows a more rebellious side of Jennings. Following in the footsteps of his outlaw country legend father, Waylon Jennings, Shooter attempts to paint a picture of the artist being more of a “bad boy” instead of following Nashville’s expectations of artists upholding traditional family values and being a good citizen. There are few songs, and few artists, in the classically conservative country music world that would not only survive, but thrive on an experience of being busted with an illicit drug, but Shooter Jennings pulls it off.
Key Lyrics: “And that party kept a movin and you know what we were doin/We were smokin up that California gold, yeah” “We rolled down the windows, so we didn’t think that he would notice/Something smellin’ funny in that smoke cloud” “Busted, busted in Baylor County/ ‘Oh no, my Weed!’
6) Smoke a Little Smoke – Eric Church (2009)
Eric Church has always prided himself on being an outlaw from the Nashville country music scene. He was one of the first mainstream artists to release a song centered on the illicit drug which has developed a love affair with nation. “Smoke a Little Smoke” doesn’t attempt to mask the message of cannabis use, and undoubtedly Church meant not only to glorify the use of pot, but to use this song as yet another way to distance himself from “the Nashville Machine” and gain a wider acceptance amongst the liberal rock crowd. Through lyrics such as “dig down deep, find my stash / light it up, memory crash,” Church leaves little to the imagination about what activities he’s partaking in. This song sparked quite a bit of controversy. In 2009, not many artists were willing to take the risk of releasing such a raunchy song in a genre often thought to be extremely family-friendly, but of course the self-proclaimed “outlaw of country” took the risk and it paid off heavily as the song reached number 16 on the Country Song’s top 20 in 2009.
Key Lyrics: “And put some feel good in my soul/Drink a little drink, smoke a little smoke” “Dig down deep, find my stash/Light it up, memory crash”
7) Follow your arrow – Kacey Musgraves (2013)
2013 was a big year for marijuana, through the passing of the first recreational marijuana law in the US state and the release of “Follow your Arrow.” This song, released by Kacey Musgraves, was extremely controversial at the time of its introduction for its allusion to smoking pot as well as promoting homosexuality. These themes go against everything country music stood for for many people. Musgraves, who had jumped in to the mainstream of country music from the Texas country music realm, took a different attitude when addressing marijuana compared to her previous song, “Merry Go Round.” While “Merry Go Round” painted a critical picture of drug use with lines such as “’Cause mama’s hooked on Mary Kay/Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane./Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.” “Follow your arrow” takes a different look at the taboo subject. The song isn’t about glorification, but about doing what feels right to the listener, and not worrying about what others think of your actions. This can be evidenced by the line “Roll up a joint, or don’t /Just follow your arrow/ Wherever it points.” Kacey Musgraves isn’t glorifying the use of cannabis, or even promoting its use, she simply mentions it. This was the first song at the beginning of the nation’s “green” rush to allude to marijuana, leading to a long string of country songs about the drug in coming years after its release.
Key Lyrics: “When the straight and narrow/Gets a little too straight/Roll up a joint, or don’t” “When the straight and narrow/Gets a little too straight/Roll up a joint, I would”
8) Hush Hush – Pistol Annies (2013)
The Pistol Annies released this song back in 2013, and it in no way adheres to the country music standard of being “family friendly.” “Hush Hush,” in which the artists describes “taking a toke” behind a barn at a family gathering, paired with the lyrics about drinking vodka from a flask, completely deviates from Nashville’s standard of making music that the whole family can enjoy. This song is decidedly adult, not only touching on the subjects of substance abuse in the form of both marijuana and liquor, but on deep rooted family issues during the holidays. Even the music video, which shows both an elderly lady drinking from a flask and a member of the Pistol Annies smoking cannabis is extremely edgy for the genre. While most country songs about smoking marijuana before 2013 seemed to have been more on the outlaw or Texas country side of the industry, this is a mainstream song by a very well-known artist, causing quite a bit of controversy in the country music realm and once again proving that country music is slowly experiencing a takeover by marijuana.
Key Lyrics: “So I snuck behind the red barn/And I took myself a toke/Since everybody here hates everybody here/Hell I might as well be the joke”
9) Sun Daze – Florida Georgia Line (2014)
Similar to “Hush Hush” by the Pistol Annies, this is a mainstream country music song by a very well-known artist. Again, the artists leave little to the imagination, with a line in the chorus being “All I wanna do today is wear my favorite shades and get stoned.” Florida Georgia Line, not overly known for producing the wholesome country music that Nashville has tried so hard to stay true to, blatantly condones the use of marijuana in this song, and not surprisingly, this has become one of their most popular songs, to the point where it was released as one of the band’s singles off of their album “Anything Goes.” The releasing of this song as a mainstream country hit shows the transition that Nashville is in, from once attempting to stay away from the topic of drug use only 40 years ago, as evidenced by the attempted censor of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” on network television, to the glorification of the subject in recent years. Only a couple years ago, a large artist in Nashville would have been scorned for using marijuana in the chorus of one of their popular singles, however, it seems that now Nashville has been caught up in the same pot craze that has swept the country via the movement to decriminalize and legalize the drug.
Key Lyrics: “All I wanna do today is wear my favorite shades and get stoned” “Work on my lay back, ain’t nothin’ wrong with/Gettin’ my sun daze on”
10) It’s all going to pot – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (2015)
It’s no secret that Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard have indulged in their fair share of cannabis, and have been singing about the drug since the 1970’s, however this newly released song does more than glorify the use of the drug. “It’s all going to pot” contains lines such as “All the whiskey in Lynchburg Tennessee just couldn’t hit the spot” and “I got a hundred dollar bill, but you can keep your pills” and is more of a commentary on the recent nationwide movement to legalize and recreationally sell marijuana in the United States. This song is unlike any other country song about marijuana, where the use of the drug is mentioned or maybe even condoned, it’s Willie and Merle’s prediction on the future of cannabis, and, as one can guess just from the song title, the whole outlaw country song is about the drug. These two artists have never been known for following the precedent laid down by Nashville, and this new song by the outlaw country legends once again breaks the country music mold to show the listeners, once and for all, that marijuana is becoming a staple not only in country music, but in the United States as well.
Key Lyrics: “All of the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee/Just couldn’t hit the spot/I gotta hundred dollar bill, friend/You can keep your pills/Cause it’s all going to pot” “Well, it’s all going to pot/Whether we like it or not”
Historically, Country Music and Nashville have shunned the idea of using any type of illegal drug, instead opting for whiskey or moonshine, which are staples of the South. In recent years, however, more and more country artists have sung about using marijuana as the movement for legalization across the United States has gotten stronger and more prominent. No longer does Nashville attempt to solely produce music for families as a whole, but has been releasing mainstream songs with more adult content. What used to be “swept under the rug” in Nashville when it came to music content is now out in the open, and the genre as a whole seems to be, in the words of Willie Nelson, “all going to pot.”