One Toke Over The Line

Album: Tarkio (1970)
Charted: 10


  • 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
  • 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)."
  • The incident that sparked this song happened at the Vanguard in Kansas City, Missouri. The band was playing the show because, in seeking to escape the LA music scene, they started a tour of their Midwest homelands. Shipley reports that he was given a block of hash and told to take two hits. He ignored the advice and instead took three. Shipley recounts in The Vinyl Dialogues, "I go out of the dressing room - I'm also a banjo player, but I didn't have one, so I was playing my guitar - and Michael (Brewer) came in and I said, 'Jesus, Michael, I'm one toke over the line.' And to be perfect honest, I don't remember if Michael was with me when I took that hit or not. I remember it as 'not'; I think Michael remembers it as 'yes.' And he started to sing to what I was playing, and I chimed in and boom, we had the line."

    Brewer also remembers the occasion. "I just cracked up," he said. "I thought it was hysterical. And right on the spot, we just started singing, 'One toke over the line, sweet Jesus,' and that was about it; then we went onstage."
  • 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 the 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 and Shipley spent 35 years trying to find the performance. They finally found a woman in Branson, Missouri who had one. Shipley posted the clip to his Youtube account in 2007, and ever since that moment, he says he's been trying to find a way to stop the automatic notifications that come in every time a comment is left on the video's page. "It just keeps filling up my email (inbox). But at the same time, I'm reticent to pull it down because so many folks like it."
  • 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.
  • There's a Quantum Leap episode titled "One Strobe Over the Line" where the main character, Sam Beckett, and his holographic sidekick Al travel back to June 15, 1965, to save a model named Edie Landsdale from drug addiction. The song isn't played in the episode, but the reference is obvious.

Comments: 36

  • Rose from Damascus ArkansasLove this song and would like to know where l could purchase a cd
  • Leonard Alan Seni from Stow OhioLove this song someone told me that they wrote this song in shaker heights ohio. Anybody know for sure?
  • Stephen Howard from Greenfield, IllinoisI love the way they got over on Lawrence Welk... LOL
  • Barry from New York, NyThe song appeared on the Tarkio album, which was recorded at Wally Heider studio, San Francisco (August-September 1970). The Grateful Dead were recording their classic American Beauty at the same time. As mentioned, Jerry Garcia performed pedal steel on the album, though not on "One Toke."
  • Joe from OmahaInteresting to see this version on the "squeaky clean" Lawrence Welk show. They clearly didn't know the reference.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 7th 1971, "One Toke Over the Line" by Brewer and Shipley entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #84; and eight weeks later on April 4th, 1971 it peaked at #10 {for 2 weeks} and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #5 on the Canadian RPM singles chart...
    The duo had two other Top 100 records; "Tarkio Road" {#55 in 1971} and "Shake Off the Demon" {#98 in 1972}.
  • Carolyn from Knoville, TnI recently saw the video of the Lawrence Welk Show where this was sung--and it was referenced as "a new generation gospel song". I can only imagine the horror of Lawrence Welk's producers when this hit the air!
  • Ed from Lebanon, NhThis song was an 'extra tune' for the band; one that they used when they ran out of material. One time that happened: at a Carnegie Hall show, and their record company president told them "You gotta record it, you gotta put that on the (new) album". They had no idea it would be released as a single, but became their signature tune 9and old-age pension). The record company president's name? Why, it was ... Neil Bogart.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhA most excellent song! Love when it comes on the car radio! Love the way it's sung, sort of like a 'round' and it's so much fun to sing along with.
  • Steve from Valencia, CaI think that they also had a second chart hit, at least here in LA. The song was called "Tarkio Road" and it peaked at around #15 on the KHJ "Boss 30"
  • Steve from Beechmont, KyMy father, who was as anti-drugs as you can get, LOVED this song. He had no clue what it was really about.
  • Mike from Matawan, NjOK...fruitcakes...the song is in the MOVIE "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". Furthermore, I think Leonard from Ohio is about three or four tokes over the least.
  • Dave from Cullman, AlSome states-side radio stations may have refused to play it, but Armed Forces Network played the heck out of it while I was in Japan. I was a wanna-be folksinger at the time, and I really liked their style.
  • Taylor from Bronx, NyJames in Beloit...Brewer & Shipley expressly state on their website that it is about smoking pot. Don't know where you came up with the ticket reference....

    "You know people are always going to be reading whatever they want into a song whether it's there or not .... One day we were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, "Man, I'm one toke over the line tonight." I liked the way that sounded and so I wrote a song around it." But he doesn't deny the meaning of 'toke'. In fact, in concert, Shipley introduced the song as "our cannabis spiritual."
  • Cody from St Joe, Moim going to agree to disagree with some people but i think this song is just plain and simply about smoking marijuana and waiting for a train.
  • Thomas from Willimantic, CtThis song actually does have something to do with the book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" One toke over the line was the author, Hunter S. Thompson's, favorite song. And it would be assumed that he could have really been listening to it at the time that he was writing the story.
  • Casey from Austin, Texas, TxOKAY, I grad High School in 1968, moved to Kansas City and saw Brewer and Shipley MANY times in the Coffee Shops and High School Gym Concerts in the KCMO area. This was MY introduction into the Hippie Life that I was wrapped into in KCMO from 1968 to the early 1970s. My first 'toke' was March 18, 1969 and was spent listening to Inna Godda DaVida. Summer Weekends in the Parks were filled with a fragrance of Love and Freedom, toke, toke. Then I moved to Austin, Texas chasing the money, and found the Armadillo World Headquarters, Soap Creek Saloon and the Split Rail. I have never left Austin, bought 6 acres and a chain saw. Still Love Brewer and Shipley, even named my road as Rural Space Road.
  • Gina from Arkadelphia, ArI love this song it is a classic and it might not have been ment to be spiritual in nature but in a way it it . if your in the right state of mind. ( if you know what i mean.)
  • Leonard from Stow, Ohthis song was writen in a bus station in eleria ohio by george and the dragon siten downtown in elera ohio one toke over the line back in the 70s len seni stow ohio from hudson ohio
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBrewer and Shipley are listed on the record label as the songwriters.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyThis was perfomed by a male-female duo on the Lawrence Welk Show - thre's a You Tube video confirming it! Evidentially they thought the title was "One Toe Over The Line", and the references to Jesus and Mary meant it was a modern gospel song!
  • Mike from Philadelphia, PaActually, Jerry Garcia doesn't play on "One Toke Over The Line". He did play pedal steel guitar on a few tracks on the album "Tarkio" where "One Toke" comes from, as well as the previous album "Weeds", which is also a great album if you guys like "One Toke Over The Line".
  • Jay from Ferndale, WaIt has been my understanding that the song "One Toke Over the Line" was written by a gentleman named Ken Mongar - can this be verified by anyone?
  • Steven from Fairfield, IaI heard this song on AM radio, many years ago. I was about 10 or 12. It was on all request show. Other songs popular and some of my all time favorites were: Dead Skunk, Looking Out My Back Door, Signs, Turtle Creek, and others I don't recall right now. But 'One Toke' was and still is that song that puts a smile on my face and makes wanna make a joyful noise. Sing it brothers and sisters.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesGale Farrell and Dick Dale, attired in squeaky-clean 'country music' garb, sang a rendition of this on the Lawrence Welk show, which you can see on youtube. Welk referred to the song as 'a modern spiritual'.
  • Garth from Portland, OrI wouldn't say this song is "about" drugs. Not any more than it's about downtown railway stations. And while I can see how it can be interpreted as being said to Jesus, it isn't necessarily. I think this guy's simply been thru the joyful & the painful (it's called 'life') and has learned a lot from it all. I can't see that he regrets anything or feels betrayed.
  • Jason from Columbia, ScThis song has a great feel and great lyrics. I can see the guy in the song sitting at a train station with just a old suitcase and a guitar on his back.-- He has been all around the country and seen and sampled many things.--- The wild life has betrayed him as an old song goes and he is turning to God to sort out the mess.- been there. :)
  • Todd from Minneapolis, MnRock on Jerry!!
  • Fred from Laurel, Md"One-hit wonder" may be a mischaracterization of B&S -- by 1970, albums were becoming as important as singles, especially for "alternative" groups. Their album "Tarkio Road" was something of an alternative hit for 5 or 6 of its tracks, and got a fair amount of play on "alternative" stations. Today it is among the top neglected albums of that era. If you like this song, you will almost certainly enjoy the rest of Side 1 of that platter. Oh, and, James/Wis, if either Brewer or Shipley said that about 'toke,' they were just funnin the interviewer. We all knew what a toke was back then, even those of us who had never taken one. We had all read Zap comics, after all.
  • Tony from Mariposa, CaThis song brings back so many wonderful times My mom and dad and I had this old green 69 lincoln and we would lissen to one toke over the line on a tape "called open road rock Vol.1" It was the summer of 1999, The best time of my life. Now the lincolns in the junkyard and my dad passed away,but I still lissen to the song with my friends and we sing along. Tony Mariposa Ca
  • Mike from Winnipeg, CanadaTo Kris in Toronto, this song has nothing to do with the book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" as already mentioned a 'toke' is a hit of marijuana smoke from a smoking device and is commonly used in many different places and did not originate from this song.
  • Phil from Concord, Maone toke over the line is a great song it may have been a 1 hit wonder but it still is a good song
  • Lazer from Buffalo, Nythe song is also mentioned in a Doonesbury Comic (early '70s) where Mark takes Zonker's Dad out to party, Zonker's dad promises "Don't worry son, I won't go one toke over the line"
  • Jake from Milwaukee, Withis is played at the beginning of cheech and chong's up in smoke movie.
  • James from Beloit, Wiaccording to a interview with brewer ans shipley, toke means ticket, hence the line about wiating for the train
  • Kris from Toronto, Canadathis song was used in the book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" briefly in the beginning. "One toke? You poor misguided fool"
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