Song Lyric Sunday | “One Toke Over the Line” – Brewer and Shipley

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Song Lyric Sunday was created by Helen Vahdati from This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time and author Jim Adams from A Unique Title For Me is our current guest host. For complete rules or to join in the fun, click here.

The theme for Song Lyric Sunday this week is End/Finish/Over/Stop.

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“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,” explained Tom Shipley, one half of Brewer and Shipley and co-writer of the song.

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.”

FUN FACTS:

  • The song peaked at #10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #8 Cash Box during the spring of 1971, and was the duo’s only Top 40 hit.
  • 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 song is notably mentioned in the opening of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and was “sung” by Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) in the 1998 film of the same name.
  • One Toke Over the Line 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.
  • Spiro Agnew said the song with its reference to marijuana use was “blatant drug-culture propaganda” that “threatens to sap our national strength,” pressuring the FCC to include the song on its list of music banned from the airwaves because of drug references. (Poor Spiro! He resigned in disgrace and Brewer and Shipley are still collecting royalties! 😀 )

I couldn’t decide which video to use, so you guys get an “old” performance from 1971, a “newer” live performance from 1998, and yes…THE LAWRENCE WELK PERFORMANCE!!! I dare you to watch it without grinning! 😀 😀 😀

Enjoy!

See my Song Lyric Sunday selection for Nesie’s Place!

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Disclaimer: I have no copyrights to the song and/or video and/or hyperlinks to songs and/or videos and/or gifs above. No copyright infringement intended.

One Toke Over the Line

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