It is 2014, and that means that the 90s was fourteen years ago! No, this is not an exercise in simple arithmetic, but the temporal distance between our present time and the 90s is widening with each second. That’s a shame because the 90s was an incredible decade for popular culture. Bridging the gap between the beginning of the 21st century and the bulk of the 20th century, the 90s was rich with now-effete popular culture. Sneakers were bigger, family sitcoms were cooler, and board games were still viable options for a carefree Saturday night—not just a novelty. The internet was not the colossal force that it is today, cellphones were big walkie-talkie-like contraptions that rich kids like Zac Morris would sport, and yoga pants were lame (some readers might not see this as a good thing). For people who grew up or were old enough to appreciate things, the 90s, like all nostalgic memories, must seem like a golden era of insouciance and happiness, a lost love seducing them in their dreams, a long walk on the beach followed by a night of passionate—well, you get the point.
For many people who bemoan contemporary music, the 90s also represents a period of great music from a variety of genres. Indeed, in the 90s, many ska, punk, and grunge bands reached their professional and artistic acme. The early 90s was an exciting time for bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana, as they popularized grunge music, a musical genre that had not yet been subsumed by the mainstream. Sublime, a band from California, spearheaded the popularization of ska music, juxtaposing different sounds to create something wholly new for mainstream listeners. A socially conscious band by the name of Rage Against the Machine—you may have heard of them—also flourished in this period, as frontman Zack de la Rocha aimed his querulous and anti-establishment lyrics at various institutions and the Clinton administration (imagine if Bush was president from 1992-2000!). Moreover, rap music ascended in the 90s, reaching its indisputable apogee from 1993 to 1998. Back in these days, mainstream charts were peppered with incredible songs, a far cry from some of the less-than-stellar music that dominates the charts today.
And what better way is there to celebrate the lost decade of fun cultural stuff and exceptional music than a toke? Of course, we don’t condone illicit use of drugs, but for those rebels out there, nostalgia and weed are part and parcel. This simple equation gets to the marrow of this list: stoner songs. The 90s was glutted with great songs for stoners, irrespective of genre. This list thus looks at ten classic “stoner” songs from the 90s; it has tried to feature songs from a variety of genres, but surely someone will feel offended by what’s missing. Drop us a line in the comments section and tell us your favourite “stoner” songs from the 90s. A note about rankings: though a good deal of these songs deal explicitly with weed, some don’t, yet they speak to a kind of stoner spirit.
10 “40 oz. to freedom” (1992)—Sublime
Sublime fans will probably scratch their heads at this pick, since there are far more stoner-appropriate songs from this band that could have made this list. However, “40 oz. to Freedom” captures the ethos of this band, as the band’s lead singer, Bradley Nowell, takes listeners on a narrative journey that ends at the liquor store, while Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson provide him with the perfect instrumental canvas to tell his story. The song gestures at the underlying melancholy that haunted Bradley’s life up until his tragic death from a heroin overdose, as the chorus goes, “A 40 oz to freedom is the only chance I have to feel good even though I feel bad.” But nevertheless, this song is the perfect accompaniment to sundry forms of inebriation.
9 “Hits from the Bong” (1993)—Cypress Hill
“Hits from the Bong” appears on Cypress Hill’s 1993 album, Black Sunday, a critical and commercial success that catapulted the group to 90s superstardom. This album is glutted with stoner songs, but this one makes the list because of its upbeat, yet not frenetic, tempo and pot-glorifying lyrics. The song essentially instructs its listeners how to smoke weed, but B-Real’s flow is anything but didactic. DJ Muggs’ beat is impeccable, as he samples from Dusty Springfield’s classic song, “Son of a Preacher Man” and adds a heady bass line to make this beat a mellow neck snapper.
8 “Black Hole Sun” (1994)—Soundgarden
“Black Hole Sun” is the most notable song from Soundgarden’s exceptional 1994 album, Superunknown. Whether diehard fans like it or not, this album catapulted the band into the ken of mainstream music fans who missed out on Badmotorfinger, the band’s 1991 album. This song will be a “stoner” classic for many years to come, as there it is timelessly listenable. Chris Cornell’s sonorous and smoothly plaintive voice is resounding and memorable and the melody gives the song an intoxicating, psychedelic quality that is both heartfelt and galvanizing. Despite the bleakness of the lyrics, the chorus establishes an affective link with listeners, and the song becomes anthemic by the end.
7 “Tears in Heaven” (1991)—Eric Clapton
6 “Burn One Down” (1995)—Ben Harper
“Burn One Down” appears on Ben Harper’s 1995 album, Fight for Your Mind. The song is reminiscent of Bob Marley and the Wailers, as it is a ballad that unabashedly extols pot use, construing it as a positive and liberating act. The song’s composition is simple, as a melodic drum beat and acoustic guitar provide the perfect foundation for the heady lyrics. Harper’s voice is pleasant and serene, despite his defiant lyrics. Indeed, the song tansports listeners away from the tumult and down a path of placidity. The song’s message is simple: no matter what, “I’m gonna burn one down.”
5 “Wake Up” (1992)—Rage Against the Machine
“Wake Up” appears on Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled 1992 album. Unlike the other songs on this list, this song pulsates with hard-hitting guitar chords and Zack de la Rocha’s galvanizing lyricism. De la Rocha, among other things, points to propaganda in the media and the government’s hypocrisy and its attempts to undermine Martin Luther King Jr. The song climaxes with an energetic breakdown and de la Rocha’s seditious and strained admonishments to “Wake Up.” And yet, the anti-establishment ethic that Rage espouses pairs well with a toke. After all, the government certainly isn’t condoning pot use.
4 “The Next Episode” (1999)—Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, and Nate Dogg (uncredited)
Several Dr. Dre songs could have made this list, but this one deals explicitly with pot use, and the beat is relaxing without being soporific. “The Next Episode” appears on Dre’s now-classic album, 2001, an album that features a pot leaf on its front cover. Snoop Dogg flows well on the beat, and Dre’s verse is surprisingly good. The beat breaks down several times, which makes its return more intoxicating. Everyone’s favourite guy on the hook, Nate Dogg, punctuates the track with his admonishment to listeners: “Smoke weed every day.” Indeed, the song is a great stoner track for rap fans.
3 “Notorious Thugs” (1997)—Notorious B.I.G. ft. Bones Thugs N Harmony
“Notorious Thugs” is the first song on the second disc of Notorious B.I.G.’s classic album, Life after Death, an album that uncannily reflected reality as B.I.G. was tragically killed before its release. Several of Biggie’s songs could have made this list, despite his scarce output compared to other rappers. This song, though, glorifies pot use, so it definitely creates an affective link with pot-smoking listeners. Bones Thugs N Harmony, as is their wont, lend a melodic quality to this track, and they sound great on top of the heady bass line. Of course, the star of the show is Biggie, and his verse does not disappoint. In his verse, Biggie says, “Pass that weed I gotta light one,” a line that captures the late rapper’s spirit.
2 “93 ‘til Infinity” (1993)—Souls of Mischief
Timelessness separates great songs from good songs, and “timeless” perfectly describes this anthemic classic from Souls of Mischief’s 1993 album of the same name. “93 ‘til Infinity” is not just a song; it’s a lifestyle, an ethos. The members of Souls—Tajai, A-Plus, Phesto, and Opio—come together on this one to produce one of the most intoxicating tracks of the 90s and an indisputable rap classic. The track starts with Tajai, who prepares listeners for a “chill” song. Essentially, the song tells listeners how the group likes to chill, and the frequent chorus—“This is how we chill from 93 ‘til”—never gets trite. Lyrically, the song is whimsical and fun.
1 “Murder She Wrote” (1992)—Chaka Damus & Pliers
“Murder She Wrote” appears on Chaka Damus & Pliers’ 1992 album, Tease Me, an album that enjoyed a good deal of success throughout the first half of the 90s. This song is the list’s sole reggae song, but its frequent play on contemporary radio stations attests to the song’s timelessness. Like their contemporary, Shaggy, the song’s verses is a hodgepodge of sounds for mainstream listeners, but heady beat and chorus are perpetually satisfying. Though DJs have remixed it into various dance songs, the original song is a great stoner song, for it is energetic, yet not overly so.