As most of you know who studied history in high school and college, the 1960s were a tumultuous time in American history, with rapidly changing attitudes toward societal issues, combined with era-defining events that included a presidential assassination and a war in Vietnam. Throughout the decade, rock music evolved like never before, becoming more experimental and, consequently, controversial as the years went on.
The 1960s were also the decade during which time weed truly entered the mainstream, and many of our musical idols of the era were avid cannabis users. Let us take a look at some of the biggest rock bands of the decade who found a little inspiration with marijuana.
60s rock bands that used weed
When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met at school in Queens, New York, they didn’t know that they would, in a little over a decade, become one of the biggest musical duos of all time. In 1963, they earned a record contract for their harmony-rich take on folk music, and many music fans found them to be a breath of fresh air in contrast to the heavier sounds that were taking over the decade.
Simon and Garfunkel were known for their more straightlaced sound, especially when compared to the evolving experimental music produced by other acts like the Beatles and the Beach Boys. But that does not mean that these two musical legends didn’t enjoy some cannabis from time to time. In fact, they were fairly heavy users who, like many of the musical acts of the 60s, used it especially during writing sessions. Paul Simon was quoted as saying that cannabis did sometimes improve his writing, and both men were arrested at separate points for possession.
It is hard to imagine a person who could listen to Velvet Underground during the 60s and not pick up on the fact that front man Lou Reed was a marijuana user. His experimental, off-kilter approach to music was certainly a result of his innate creativity, but we can imagine that weed helped support his creative endeavors. The band was started in 1964 and defined the sound of the village in New York City, where some of the most artistic, avant-garde creatives lived and performed in coffee shops throughout the neighborhood. Lou was known for his particularly innovative approach to making music, which lauded him the title of musical genius throughout the decade.
While many bands of the era tried to hide their drug use, afraid that it would damage their mainstream image, Reed and his bandmates did no such thing. References to drug use, no matter how hidden in metaphor, were a prominent theme in the band’s lyrics. When the band collaborated with artist Andy Warhol in the late 60s, they became the coolest band in New York, pairing avant-garde rock music with cutting-edge visual art of the time.
Of course, as we know, Lou Reed struggled with harder drugs as the decade wore on. But, after all these years, Velvet Underground albums continue to sound fresh, modern and highly influential.
#3: Pink Floyd
The 1960s was the decade of the British invasion, a term used to describe the sudden growth in popularity of British bands that had enormous influence on American tastes. Pink Floyd came in during the peak of this era, starting off as a band with a relatively clean image, before taking on a more experimental tone that separated them from the rest.
Pink Floyd was formed in London in 1965, and their psychedelic tendencies were clear from early on, with their songwriting style, musicianship, and colorful lyrics. While they didn’t fully push the boundaries of music until the early 70s, any fan of the early stuff will tell you that the groundwork was being laid from the beginning. The group saw some changes of its members throughout the years, which also played a role in their evolving style.
Throughout the 60s, Pink Floyd’s members used marijuana regularly, and they also experimented with LSD, as did many musicians of the day. The direct influence that marijuana had on their music is hard to quantify, but we can say that they certainly embraced this aspect of 1960s culture in a way that defined their image. To this day, the band is heavily associated with modern cannabis enthusiasts, with their albums commonly being used as soundtracks to getting high.
#2: The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys had one of the most profound transformations throughout the 1960s. Starting out with a squeaky-clean image, they got more and more avant-garde as time went on, which almost any biographer will tell you was a direct result of their growing experimentation with psychedelic substances, and marijuana. In fact, Brian Wilson said that he wrote “God Only Knows,” one of the band’s most popular songs, after smoking weed, while listening to Rubber Soul, an album by The Beatles.
The band started out in 1961 in Hawthorne, California, as part of the surfer rock movement. Their harmonies were overly complicated, which set them apart from other bands, and their songs had mass appeal as they were a pop act, writing contemporary music that embodied the laid-back California vibes of the time.
Their sound changed in 1966, when they released Pet Sounds, which had a distinctively heavier and more experimental sound. Good Vibrations was a song that defined this change in musical style, and just so happened to coincide with the band’s heavier use of marijuana. Shortly after, the band’s success began to decline largely due to Brian Wilson’s increasing mental health issues. But the band does continue to perform to this day, while their current status as marijuana users almost definitely pales in comparison to that of their peak in the 1960s.
#1: The Beatles
It’s hard to avoid putting the Beatles at the top of this list. Their influence on music during the 1960s and beyond is incomparable, and their drug use has been widely discussed over the years. The Beatles are another band that began with a clean image, acting as the prototype for the modern-day boy band. Their earliest recordings were straightforward pop-rock songs with lyrics written strategically to appeal to teenage girls. But it was not long into their career that they began to use marijuana as a means to influence their songwriting, along with the psychedelics that were in vogue during the time, which changed their sound forever, and made them the influential band that they are still considered today, decades after they broke up.
The Beatles formed in Liverpool in 1960, and they claim that they first tried marijuana during this time, when the drummer of a local band gave it to them. But there wasn’t much of a cannabis scene in the area at the time, so it took a few years for them to become regular users. In fact, it was Bob Dylan who influenced the fab four to use it regularly, and the rest is history.
The evolving sound of the Beatles is known to have been inspired largely by their marijuana use, which made them more experimental, and opened the doors of creativity. By the time their album Revolver was released in 1966, they were using avant-garde techniques that changed the pop landscape forever.
A True Decade of Peace, Love, and Music
Marijuana and the 1960s go hand in hand, playing a major role in pop culture of the decade. It is easy to say that the most popular bands at the time played a role in weed’s prominence throughout the decade, using it to create soundtracks of the time that inspired others to give cannabis a try. Today, the albums of 60s rock bands continue to be favorites among cannabis users and non-cannabis users alike.