Stoned in Song

by Amanda Flinner

"Are You Jive Wise?" asked the editors of the Hepcats Jive Talk Dictionary in 1945.

An intriguing language was floating out of Harlem to the beat of jazz music, leaving some listeners scratching their heads. The handy booklet held over 1500 words and phrases to help even the biggest drip throw crusts with the hepcats at the latest clambake. Get it?

Maybe not, but some modern slang still synchs with jive: Stone (adj.) Excited or Intoxicated.

As far back as the 1920s, jazz music was laced with drug slang (not to mention strong doses of sexual euphemisms) - one of the earliest examples being Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon's "Willie the Weeper." The term "stoned," however, didn't begin making a prominent appearance in songs until the 1960s and the usage was not always clear.

Not all "Stoned Songs" are about drugs, but many of them are about the rush of getting high through other means. Some are about alcohol. Some are about love. Some compare a toxic relationship to an addiction. In the following list that spans from 1966 to 2012, the artists and genres are varied, but they all have one thing in common: they use the word "stoned" to convey their meaning.

So, in the words of Ray Charles, "Let's Go Get Stoned."
"Let's Go Get Stoned" - Ray Charles (1966)

After a sixteen-year struggle with drug addiction, the legendary Ray Charles was arrested three times on heroin charges before he finally went to rehab in 1965.

"Kicking was something I felt I had to do. I didn't quit because the heroin was killing me - maybe it was, maybe it wasn't - but because it was going to bring down my family and maybe cause me to rot away in some jail cell," he wrote in his autobiography, Brother Ray.

A year later, he was back on the charts with "Let's Go Get Stoned."

Not very reassuring, but maybe it's not as bad as it sounds:

Think everybody ought to come on and go with me
Let's go get stoned oh let's go get stoned
I'm gonna tell ya one more time what I'm gonna do
Let's go get stoned, oh, let's go get stoned

Not surprisingly, many listeners assumed the song was about doing drugs, but it was really about drinking alcohol and not at all related to Charles' drug past. In fact, it was originally recorded by the Coasters a year earlier.

"It was a hard song to totally defend. It was a hit, but you couldn't take a full bow," songwriter Valerie Simpson said with a laugh to the Chicago Tribune.

Simpson penned the song with her husband Nickolas Ashford (along with Josephine Armstead). The duo later wrote classic Motown hits like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing" and "Reach Out (And Touch Somebody's Hand)."

"Rainy Day Women #12 And #35" - Bob Dylan (1966)

Bob Dylan gave Playboy his opinion on marijuana in 1963: "These things aren't drugs; they just bend your mind a little. I think everybody's mind should be bent once in a while."

Author Andy Gill wasn't far off the mark when he suggested Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35" was performed by "a demented marching-band... staffed by crazy people out of their mind on loco-weed." In fact, Dylan and his crew achieved the song's zany quality by smoking joints and swapping instruments before recording:

Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good
They'll stone ya just a-like they said they would
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

46 years later, generations of fans are still fighting over the song's meaning. Some claim the term "stoned" is an obvious reference to drugs, while others insist its lyrics point to relationship woes. Still, others reference the biblical lesson on hypocrisy - "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan finally gave a clear answer (well, as clear as a Dylan answer can be). Despite the drug-fueled recording session, the song is not about drugs.

"It doesn't surprise me that some people would see it that way. But these are people that aren't familiar with the Book of Acts…" he said.

The Book of Acts is a part of the New Testament chronicle of the apostles' lives after Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Chapter 7 details Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin (council of judges) about their history of rebelliousness towards God. They respond by stoning him to death. His fate, however, was sealed before he even spoke a word, because the leaders were determined to find him guilty.

Like Dylan sings, "they'll stone ya" no matter what you try to do - and he got plenty stoned in '66 (with and without drugs).

It was a rough year for the singer, and the Blonde on Blonde album (featuring "Rainy Day Women") was released in the midst of chaos. Like the lyrics to the song suggest, "everybody must get stoned," and he was getting stoned by life again and again. He was barely functioning during a world tour, pumping himself with drugs to try and keep going. Like Stephen, he met some crowds who seemed to hate him before he even set foot on stage. Everything came to a head that summer when he crashed his motorcycle near his home.

He had better luck with his album. Blonde on Blonde produced two top twenty hits on the Billboard singles chart: "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35" came in at #2, while "I Want You" reached #20.

"Naturally Stoned" - The Avant-Garde (1968)

Chuck Woolery wasn't always a game show host. Really. Before he was matching couples on Love Connection or spinning the wheel as the original host of Wheel of Fortune, Woolery was a founding member of the Avant-Garde, a psychedelic pop band, along with Elkin "Bubba" Fowler. Although they never released a full album, the group released three singles through Columbia Records in the late '60s: "Yellow Beads," "Fly With Me" and the moderately successful "Naturally Stoned."

Like other singers on our list, Woolery and Fowler don't get their high from drugs, but from love.

I can feel a good vibration
When I put my mind on you alone
I can get a real sensation
Feel like I'm naturally stoned
Naturally stoned

The song has a coming-of-age wistfulness that appealed to a generation of listeners yearning to be young and free forever. The song made it to #40 on the Billboard charts; Fowler and Woolery went their separate ways after the release of their next single, "Fly With Me."

Fowler went on to perform with folk legends Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan; Woolery branched off into country music, which impacted his career in an unexpected way. Actor Jonathan Winters heard one of his albums and invited him to appear on the Johnny Carson show where he was seen by Merv Griffin. Griffin posed the question that would change Woolery's life: "Have you ever thought of becoming a game show host?" And the rest is pop-culture history.

"Naturally Stoned" also inspired the title of Woolery's short-lived reality series in 2003.

"Stoned Soul Picnic" The 5th Dimension (1968)

When Laura Nyro was 15 years old, she used to drink bottles of cough medicine and lie down on her bed while her jazz albums spun on the record player.

"[I'd] put them on, drink cough medicine and dig people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane all night," the songwriter told Beat magazine in 1970.

Nyro was a white girl from the Bronx, but she absorbed a lot of soul along with that cough medicine, as she later wrote hits like The 5th Dimension's "Stoned Soul Picnic."

"Can you surry, can you picnic?" asks the opening lyrics of the song. No one quite figured out what "surry" meant, but everyone was pretty sure they could picnic.

Make no mistake, Nyro doesn't mean your grandma's fourth of July affair, unless your grandma was a '60s soul sister. Instead, she promises:

There'll be lots of time and wine
Red yellow honey, sassafras and moonshine

Prior to The 5th Dimension's smooth invite to the "Stoned Soul Picnic," this quintet was known for their 1967 breakthrough hit "Up-Up and Away."

Nyro penned other 5th Dimension hits such as "Blowing Away," "Wedding Bell Blues," "Sweet Blindness," "Save the Country" and "Black Patch." Her final project, before her death from ovarian cancer in 1996, was Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro.

"Stoned Cowboy" - Fantasy (1970)

By the time the psychedelic band Fantasy scored a record deal with Liberty/United Artists in 1970, the group of Miami teenagers was already marred by tragedy. Lead vocalist Billy Robbins disappeared one night and was later found dead. The remaining members - Bob Robbins, Jim DeMeo, Mario Russo and Greg Kimple - sought a new frontman who would have as much charisma as the first. The frontman turned out to be a frontwoman, or rather frontgirl, 16-year-old Jamene Miller.

With their new line-up, Fantasy recorded their self-titled album, which would be their first and only release. Although Miller was praised for vocals that rivaled even the legendary Janis Joplin, it was an instrumental song that stood out: "Stoned Cowboy."

"There were words and a melody to 'Stoned Cowboy' but, they were questionable. So we left it a jam!" Miller told fans at the Limestone Lounge website.

The band broke up shortly after, but their freshman album, with its catchy, psychedelic "Stoned Cowboy," is considered a cult classic among fans of the genre.

"Stoned Love" - The Supremes (1970)

The Supremes were going through significant changes in 1970, but becoming symbols of the drug culture wasn't one of them. That year, lead singer Diana Ross broke away from the group to start her solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell. Under Terrell's helm, the Supremes would go on to have two more top ten hits on the US Charts: "Up the Ladder to the Roof" and "Stoned Love."

"Stoned Love" earned a controversial reputation for being a sly drug reference wrapped in a love song. It was nearly banned by radio stations and was cut from an episode of The Merv Griffin Show. Hey, it was the '70s - there was good reason to be suspicious, but in this case it was unfounded.

"Stoned Love" was actually written and recorded as "Stone Love," a song by a teen songwriting maven named Kenny Thomas. His idea came out of opposition to the Vietnam War and was a call for peace and love around the world.

The song was the only single from the Supremes' New Ways but Love Stays album, released in 1970.

"And It Stoned Me" - Van Morrison (1970)

Van Morrison never forgot his first experience getting high off a hit of... water, or so he thought.

"And It Stoned Me" debuted on Morrison's third album, Moondance. He explained the significance of the title:

"I suppose I was about twelve years old. We used to go to a place called Ballystockart to fish. We stopped in the village on the way up to this place and I went to this little stone house, and there was an old man there with dark weather-beaten skin, and we asked him if he had any water. He gave us some water which he said he'd got from the stream. We drank some and everything seemed to stop for me. Time stood still. For five minutes everything was really quiet and I was in this 'other dimension.' That's what the song is about."

Using substances to reach the peak of spiritual awareness is something another musical Morrison could appreciate: The Doors' Jim Morrison, who wrote of a similar experience in "The WASP (Texas Radio and The Big Beat)" - only, he used something a little stronger.

"The WASP (Texas Radio and The Big Beat)" - The Doors (1971)

In the classic nostalgia flick American Graffiti, a group of teens cruise the streets on a summer night in 1962 listening to an outrageous, raspy-voiced Wolfman Jack on the radio. The real-life DJ was the uncensored voice of an era, blasted across the border from a high-powered Mexican radio station.

"We had the most powerful signal in North America. Birds dropped dead when they flew too close to the tower. A car driving from New York to L.A. would never lose the station," he told interviewer Tom Miller for On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier.

The signal also reached the Doors' lead singer Jim Morrison loud and clear.

Morrison wrote the poem Stoned Immaculate in 1968. Three years later, it debuted as a spoken-word song, "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)," on L.A. Woman, his final album with The Doors. It would also inspire a phrase that would go down as the most famous in the band's history: "Stoned Immaculate."

Out here on the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stoned immaculate

Like any other phrase that has risen to prominence, "stoned immaculate" has been picked apart and subjected to many interpretations. One of the most prevalent is the act of being "intoxicated to the point of spiritual perfection or revelation." Aldous Huxley explored this idea in his influential work, The Doors of Perception (1953), which detailed his first psychedelic experience (and later inspired the Doors' band name).

"Stoned Immaculate" also appears on the Doors' 1978 album, An American Prayer. The phrase was used for the 2000 tribute album, Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors.

"Stoned to the Bone" - James Brown (1973)

James Brown was known for his drug-fueled tirades in the '80s, but a decade earlier he was a strait-laced performer who fired members of his entourage at even the slightest whiff of drugs or alcohol. In "Stoned to the Bone," Brown's drug of choice was sex:

She's my sex machine
She knows just what to do
She knows how to love me
Makes me feel real good

There's no mention of actually being "stoned to the bone" in the song, but there's no denying Brown is having a good time and, like an addict with his latest fix, he ain't gonna give it up.

At #4 on the charts, "Stoned to the Bone" was Brown's biggest R&B hit of 1973. It peaked at #58 on the Pop Singles chart.

"Stoned Out Of My Mind" - Chi-Lites (1973)

"Stoned Out Of My Mind" is a key song in the Chi-Lites' repertoire for more than one reason. First, it was the last song to feature the Chicago-based soul group's original line-up (Eugene Record, Marshall Thompson, Creadel "Red" Jones and Robert Lester). Second, it displayed the creative genius of lead singer and songwriter Record, who knew just such a song title would entice an audience of stoners. It worked.

"Stoned Out of My Mind" is a song about addiction, but not about drugs. These guys are addicted to a bad kind of love they just can't shake.

Been around with every guy in town
(Stoned out of my mind)
Funny but I just can't put you down
(Stoned out of my mind)

Unfortunately, not all of the Ch-Lites could get their fix from a woman. Jones left the group shortly after the release of "Stoned Out of My Mind" because, well, he was stoned out of his mind. The group kept going strong, however, and performed at the White House at President Nixon's invitation.

Thirty years after "Stoned Out of My Mind" peaked at #3 on the US R&B Charts, the Chi-Lites maintained their relevancy through modern performers like Beyonce and Jay-Z. Beyonce sampled the group's "Are You My Woman" in her hit song "Crazy In Love." Jay-Z scored a hit with his cover of "That's How Long I Love You," which was re-titled "December 4th."

"Stoned Out of My Mind" is featured on the Chi-Lites eponymous 1973 album.

"I Got Stoned And I Missed It" - Jim Stafford (1975)

As children, we thought we knew all of the Shel Silverstein classics Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic and The Giving Tree. Little did we know, we were only catching a glimpse of Silverstein's legacy. He wasn't just a children's author, but a talented songwriter who penned hundreds of songs, including his Grammy Award winning "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash and the less-than-childlike ditties like "The Smoke-Off" - about a joint rolling/smoking contest - and the singalong "I Got Stoned and I Missed It."

Jim Stafford covered the song on his 1975 album, Not Just Another Pretty Foot, and it peaked at #37 on the US charts.

The song follows a guy sitting in his basement rolling himself "something green and gold and glorious." He's addicted, he needs it to get himself through the day, but he soon realizes his habit not only gets him through the day, but makes him forget most of it.

He misses the guy on the street corner giving away dollar bills. He misses the "sweet virgin" he finally got into his bed after a 7-month pursuit.

By the end, he realized his entire life will be lost because "I was stoned and I missed it."

Silverstein's nephew, Mitch Myers, elaborated on the song in an interview with Songfacts:
"I mean, these were the people Shel was around: Musicians, and artists, and intellectuals, and partygoers, and a fast crowd. And I'm sure he was exposed to plenty of people that did get stoned, and missed it. And I'm not saying Shel was above it, I'm not saying that that was his pursuit, either. But he certainly, he had enough exposure to it to be able to write a song like that."

Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show also covered "I Got Stoned and I Missed It" in 1975 on their Bankrupt album. The band often covered Silverstein's poems, including "Sylvia's Mother," which became their first hit in 1971.

"Get Stoned" - Hinder (2005)

Hinder was living the high life in 2005. The Oklahoma-based rock band earned triple platinum certification for their first major release, Extreme Behavior, and declared their Rock Star status in their debut single, "Get Stoned."

In the music video, the guys are in a hotel room living out a rock-star fantasy with girls on each arm and enough breakables to cause epic damage. According to Hinder, the video might as well be a documentary, because their life is one big party.

"We just live up to that extreme behavior. We're a party band, we like to bring the fun back into rock-n-roll - that's what we're all about!" Joe "Blower" Garvey told

If that isn't convincing enough, the song borrows part of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" guitar solo to drive the point home (and an Aerosmith-inspired intro akin to "Dream On").

The lyrics, however, tell a different story - that of a couple on the brink of disaster.

Lead singer Austin Winkler pleads with his nagging girlfriend to hear him out. He has a solution to their problems:

Let's go home and get stoned
We could end up making love instead of misery
Go home and get stoned
Cause the sex is so much better when you're mad at me

"LoveStoned" - Justin Timberlake (2007)

"Justin Timberlake is horny," the Washington Post announced in 2006.

The singer famously "brought sexy back" with his FutureSex/LoveSounds album, but in "LoveStoned," the freaky girls in the club are bringing it.

Those flashing lights come from everywhere
The way they hit her I just stop and stare
She's got me love stoned
I think I'm love stoned
She's got me love stoned

Timberlake co-wrote "LoveStoned" with Timbaland and Nate "Danja" Hills. It drew attention for the juxtaposition of an up-tempo dance beat with the soft, stringed interlude "I Think She Knows." The change follows the transition of lust to love.

The song won a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording in 2008.

"I'm Gettin' Stoned" - Eric Church (2012)

Country singer Eric Church's songbook reads like a catalogue of vices: "Smoke a Little Smoke," "Drink In My Hand," "Hungover & Hard Up" and "Jack Daniels." He also co-wrote Terri Clark's "The World Needs a Drink" and Dean Miller's "Whiskey Wings."

With "I'm Gettin' Stoned," he's not getting high on drugs, smoke or alcohol. He actually means he's getting pelted by rocks. At least, it feels that way when his ex gets married:

They made plans to be together
I made plans to be alone
She got a rock
I'm gettin' stoned

Church explained in an interview with The Boot: "A buddy of mine had a hook that talked about a girl that had gotten married and he always thought they'd get back together. I said, 'Man, how was that?' And he said, 'She got her rocks and I'm getting stoned.' I loved it. So we wrote it."

"I'm Gettin' Stoned" is featured on Church's 2012 album, Chief.

September 25, 2012
More Song Writing

Comments: 9

  • Darthwayner from London, OnAnd how bout - Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones) - for the love of heroin
  • Charlie from Las Vegas, Nv... Did they conveniently slip the roofies on 'Because I Got High' by Afroman?
  • Crazyjaney from Pittsburgh"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" - Bruce Springsteen: "Rosalita jump a little lighter/senorita come sit by my fire/I just want to be your lover aint no lie/rosalita you're my stone desire."
  • Jeff from Austin, TxStone Love - Kool and the Gang
  • 3davidI'm Stone in Love with You by the Stylistics?
  • D from UsIsn't the Journey song "STONE in Love"?
  • Zekethefreak from OregonJourney, "Stoned in Love!"
  • Garrett from OregonOr "Stoned In Love" by Journey?
  • Willie from Scottsdale, AzHow about "Last Dance with Mary Jane" by Tom Petty?
see more comments

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