Jamming out on 4/20

    In a serendipitous twist of fate, this year Record Store Day and stoner pseudo-Christmas 4/20 fall on the same day. (You can pick up your Flamin' Hot Cheetos, if you dropped them in shock.) From Beat hideouts to psychedelic enclaves to punk dives, marijuana and music have a long history together. Wiz smokes it. So does Willie. In light of this year's calendar coincidence, choosing the correct tunes to buy at record stores – and to enjoy with your refreshments of choice later that evening – is more important than ever. Hell, even if you aren't doing drugs, the music on these records is stellar enough and the guys on the recordings are high enough themselves to qualify them as 4/20 celebration hymns.

      Miles Davis – Kind of Blue: For his 1959 magnum opus, trumpt virtuoso Miles Davis assembled a band of all-stars – including saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly and pianist Bill Evans – to perform his cutting edge modal jazz compositions. Gone were the fast moving passages of bebop, replaced by sauntering grooves steeped in improvisation. Plus, ten years before Woodstock these guys were hitting the reefer as hard as anybody out there. Davis later graduated to harder shit, both in the way of drugs and his masterfully scary Bitches Brew (1970), but the bass thumps on "So What" and piano plinks on "Freddie Freeloader" are his noble contributions to the stoner canon.

      Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III: You know that asshole in high school who wore that mass-produced Target shirt commemorating Led Zeppelin's 1977 tour and could maybe hum part of "Stairway to Heaven" if you persuaded him to pause his Slipknot CD? Led Zeppelin III is not his Led Zeppelin. The band's third album is as unimpeachable as its more famous counterparts. But what makes it quintessentially stoner, over the perfect Led Zeppelin II ("Heartbreaker," "Whole Lotta Love") or the beloved Led Zeppelin IV ("Stairway to Heaven," "Black Dog")? Zeppelin III is the band's folkiest album, largely written at Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in the Wales countryside while the band took a breather from unexpected stardom. "Immigrant Song" starts the album with a bang, but the rest is diverse, inspired and wonderful. Guitarist Jimmy Page is the star: His mournful blues soloing on "Since I've Been Loving You" is the most underrated in Zeppelin's catalog, and he even learned the banjo overnight so he could play it on "Gallows Pole." Oh, and he wrote nostalgia-infused "That's the Way" in a field 30 minutes after conceiving his daughter – no doubt with a joint in his hand.

      The Grateful Dead - Europe '72: Admit it: You hear the words "Grateful Dead" and can only think of burned out hippies slowly swaying to interminable jams. That's ok, because that's what Deadheads have largely been reduced to today. But in their prime the Dead were a psychedelic juggernaut and arguably the greatest live performers of all time. Like Zeppelin, there's a reason these guys have become stoner cliches. It's hard to capture the Dead's diverse 30-year career in one release – their folky studio albums, LSD shenanigans of the Sixties, and jazzy excursions of the Seventies – but this record damn well tries. Culled from the band's legendary May 1972 European tour, Europe '72 has something for everyone and is surprisingly accessible. The medley of "China Cat/Sunflower" and "I Know You Rider" is the Dead at their psychedelic noodling peak, while tunes like "Tennessee Jed" and "Cumberland Blues" infused that sound into folk revivalist parameters. And the final 11-minute jam on "Morning Dew" is sublime – that is, unless you don't like having your mind blown.

      Peter Tosh – Legalize It: Have you ever been in a frat house plastered with posters of Bob Marley smoking joints? Or more accurately, have you ever been in a frat house? College kids give the guy, whose songwriting genius is on par with Lennon and Dylan, a bad name. Chances are these Marley "experts" are probably well-versed in one album: Legend, an amazing greatest hits record and stoner tome in its own right. But, more astute reggae scholars know that Marley's backing band, The Wailers, was a veritible Jamaican Beatles, a group of geniuses championed by Marley's abrasive, political peer Peter Tosh. And Tosh is at his best on his 1976 solo debut Legalize It, which sports a cover of Tosh wading through marijuana plants smoking a pipe. On the title track Tosh rattles off the different names for his favorite herb – and it's catchy too! Marley is great, but Tosh is the real reggae god you want to indulge in on 4/20.

      The Clash - London Calling: If you're looking to add a punk flair to your 4/20, ditch The Ramones and Sex Pistols and go for the genre's best record, London Calling. Released two weeks before the end of the Seventies, The Clash's masterpiece captures the period's dystopian dread and boundless promise, via 19 impeccably crafted tracks that run the gamut of musical style and emotion. Like Zeppelin III, London Calling begins at its most ominous, with the dread-ridden title track. But from there, the band joyously spans rockabilly ("Brand New Cadillac"), disco ("Lost in the Supermarket") and dub ("Revolution Rock"). On top of the band's experimentation, "Jimmy Jazz," "Spanish Bombs" and "Train In Vain" are some of the best songs they ever wrote. There are few musical endeavors more enjoyable than listening to London Calling.

      Green Day – Dookie: You know how everyone says the Eighties sucked? It's probably because everyone was doing coke. White powder and big hair was in, sticky green leaves and good music were out. (Disclaimer: Yes, of course the Eighties spawned some good music. Have you heard The Joshua Tree or The Queen is Dead?) Enter three snotty Bay Area teens who idolized The Ramones and John Lennon and named their band after a day they got really stoned. It's easy to get lost in the modern day's corporate, ultra-politicized persona, but back in the day Green Day was just a trio of hoodlums who played music about getting stoned, masturbating and smashing lawn gnomes, out of sheer boredom. As grunge reached it's zenith of taking itself way too seriously – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, anyone? – Green Day dared to be goofy and accessible, creating a classic record of pop-punk gems. Smoking weed would never be the same.

      Madvillain - Madvillainy: Hip-hop has a storied tradition of ganja appreciation. Dr. Dre's best album is named The Chronic. Look at any picture of Snoop Dogg, ever. But Madvillainy, the storied collaboration between rapper MF DOOM and producer Madlib, is a stoner record in more subtle ways. Sure, the album features "America's Most Blunted," which has to be the most badass hip-hop song about weed ever recorded, but Madvillainy's real draw is its humor and pacing. In stark contrast to the bloat of most hip-hop albums, Madvillainy blows through it's 22 tracks in 46 minutes – and these aren't boring songs. Madlib's beats are wildly creative running the gamut from old school soul to cutting edge electronic elements. Meanwhile, DOOM tells stories more suited for comic books, with a comedic delivery that leaves listeners gasping for breath. At times the album feels more like a cartoon on Adult Swim than a hip-hop album; the 10-minute sequence of "Blunted," "Sickfit," "Rainbows" and "Curls" is the heart of the album, with dense sounds underscoring DOOM's hilarious rhymes. You can practically smell the smoke that went into this record.

      Radiohead - In Rainbows: What list of great music would be complete without a Radiohead record? This one's mostly a tossup – most Radiohead albums are dense, expansive and compulsively listenable. However, In Rainbows reigns supreme as a stoner record for its casual accessibility. To begin with, Radiohead memorably released the album on the web for whatever fans wanted to pay – so free, basically. Sounds like a Good Guy Greg meme to me. Beyond its stoner-friendly business model (the album predates Spotify by a few years), In Rainbows features Radiohead's most straight ahead songwriting, far more focused on melody and arrangement than Kid A's alluring textures. In Rainbow's rocks ("Bodysnatchers"), shimmers ("Jigsaw Falling Into Place") and ultimately loves ("House of Cards"). Get rid of OK Computer? Never. But In Rainbows clocks in at a concise 42 minutes, offering a brief thesis statement on what Radiohead is and why their music is trippy beyond belief. Hang on to your hats, because this one's a wild ride.

      And for the more current among us... Tame Impala's fantastic Lonerism recalls The Beatles at their trippiest and Wavves' recent Afraid of Heights conjures Green Day at their snottiest. Toro y Moi's Underneath the Pine is beyond funky and Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest has the songwriting nuance and production sheen that could make it a classic. Are these albums assimilated into the stoner canon? Not quite – but they might get there some day.


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