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This song is about drugs, especially marijuana. A "Toke" is a puff from a marijuana cigarette or pipe. Tom Shipley explained: "When we wrote 'One Toke Over the Line,' I think we were one toke over the line. I considered marijuana a sort of a sacrament... If you listen to the lyrics of that song, 'one toke' was just a metaphor. It's a song about excess. Too much of anything will probably kill you."
Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley were Folk singers in Los Angeles. This was their only hit.
Brewer says of the song's origin: "We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, 'What was that we were messing with last night?' We remembered it, and in about an hour, we'd written 'One Toke Over the Line.' Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us. Actually Tom and I always thought that our ballads were our forte." (quotes from brewerandshipley.com
Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead was brought in to play played steel guitar on the Tarkio sessions. He didn't play on "One Toke Over The Line," but did appear on the B-side, "Oh Mommy' (I Ain't No Commie)."
Some radio stations refused to play this song because of the drug references, but not everyone got this meaning. In 1971 the song was performed on the Lawrence Welk Show
by a wholesome looking couple Gail Farrell and Dick Dale, who clearly had NO clue what a toke was. Welk, at the conclusion of the performance of the song, remarked, without any hint of humor, "there you've heard a modern spiritual by Gail and Dale." Brewer & Shipley heard about the performance and searched for the footage, but didn't see it until the clip showed up on YouTube
This appears on numerous compilation albums, making its way onto albums with songs about drugs, hits of the '70s, and one hit wonders. It remains a major source of income for Brewer and Shipley.
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