What’s the best music to get high to? Now, now, we’re not going to tell you that (nor advocate or promote recreational drug use). But we understand that some of our listeners appreciate listening to good music while “under the influence” and are interested in expanding their horizons.
So in honor of the yearly global pro-cannabis cultural event 4/20, we provide classical alternatives to your stereotypical stoner soundtrack with help from our resident “musical multilinguist” (& host of the weekend edition of In The Still of the Night!), Kathleen Kajioka. Hereby, seven toker tunes you may already “like” (in no particular order), and seven classical equivalents you’ll “love”.
If you liked Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” … Frank Zappa is as stoner as they come in his life work devotion to strange creatures and a deranged imagination. But this prime cut from 1969’s Hot Rats — which the musician considered “a movie for your ears” — truly exemplifies the canon of experimental stoner rock.
… You’ll love the Four Seasons by Vivaldi.Wait, the famous baroque composer was a stoner? “Oh, I doubt it. It’s not about him being a stoner,” Kajioka says. Here’s her handy way of understanding an alternative reality where four of the major baroque composers who were born around the same time went to the same high school:
“Handel would of been the football star who was so popular he couldn’t lose. Telemann would of been the school president because he was highly regarded and respected but his music isn’t necessarily brilliant. Bach would of been the computer nerd devising so much stuff that would change our lives later but at the time, you’d be like, ‘what are you doing?’ And Vivaldi — he was a little older than them, so he would of been the drop out guy who keeps coming back to the school and he’s always like, ‘hey guys, look what I wrote, I was so inspired’ because he’s pouring out all of this music. So much of it is the same, but every once in awhile some of it’s out there and great.”
Kajioka is a particular fan of Il Giardino Armonico‘s “trippy” interpretation: “Anyone who listens to this recording doesn’t listen to the ‘Four Seasons’ the same ever again.”
If you liked Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues… Ah, symphonic rock, the soundtrack to many “pack the bowl again” sessions. The Moody Blues‘ classic was the first bona fide prog rock hit that introduces many of the genre’s trademarks, like lengthy tunes, the use of an orchestra, cosmically-inclined yet intellectually over-wrought lyricism (“letters are written/never meaning to send”) and mellotrons.
… You’ll love the fourth movement of Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. It’s common knowledge that Berlioz wrote Symphonie Fantastique whilst on a opium trip. Kajioka points out that the fourth movement’s “March To The Scaffold” in particular is a “bad trip”. But Berlioz — a product of the Romantic movement’s fascination with navel-gazing ego tripping — was a sensitive guy who was compelled to push the genre’s boundaries. “The form of it is rather innovative because it’s not really a symphony,” says Kajioka. “It has an actual narrative to it, so it’s this whole journey into the artist-as-hero thing that was starting to develop in the 19th century.” Consider Berlioz then the O.G. Struggling Artist.
If you liked the Jeff Beck Group’s Beck’s Bolero… This rock instrumental — which features future Led Zeppelin mates Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon — was inspired by Ravel’s Bolero, and according to Beck himself, featured rock’s first heavy metal riff. But Ravel’s such an obvious reference, isn’t it? And you’re looking for another point to which you can justify to your Q 107-listening friend that classical has unstructured jam band possibilities.
… You’ll love Divertimento for String Orchestra by Béla Bartók.“This has some cool stuff in it,” says Kajioka of this three-movement work performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker. “It’s kind of — jaunty, and then there’s some strange sounds that happen later on. Bartók drew a lot from traditional Hungarian folk songs, and then turned it into a whole other language. They’re great melodies but not singable.”
If you liked Deep Purple’s Child of Time … Deep Purple‘s 10 minute 1970s stadium staple was reportedly inspired by Cold War paranoia — yes, akin to the paranoia one gets when they’ve misplaced their lighter — with octave tripping vocals and an “anything goes” rock out session that let’s loose at the 5 minute mark.
… You’ll love String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor (II) by Dmitri Shostakovich.“This isn’t strict stoner, but it’s just rocking,” says Kajioka of a piece that typifies the Modernist “anything goes” tendency. Well, not just anything. “This is a part of a work that people see as one of Shostakovich’s most private expressions around the Stalinist era. His symphonies had to toe a party line publicly, but in pieces like this, he could be honest. If you listen [in the next movement], there’s a part that mimics the KBG knocking on the door. It’s very intense.”
If you liked any classical guitar solo by Yngwie Malmsteen… Is it the tight leather pants and wild mane? Or the Swedish shred guitar pioneer’s neo-classical approach to heavy metal? Either way, you’re needing a breaking from those arpeggios from hell.
…You’ll love Hector Vasquez’s performance of Solo Viola Sonata Op. 25 no.1 by Paul Hindemith. If this isn’t the original metal head banger, we don’t know what is. The 20th century composer and viola player wasn’t popular with the audiences, but wrote “dense and heady music” that don’t sound too far off from electric guitar solos, explains Kajioka. (And we’re a fan of this interpretation from cellist Hector Vasquez — a Guelph Symphony Orchestra player!)
If you liked He Poos Clouds by Final Fantasy… Canadian multi-genre-ist Owen Pallett‘s tribute to Dungeons & Dragons‘ eight schools of magic — this track in particular touches on “illusion” — give a pop flash to the baroque-esque that’s likely responsible for shifting hipsters’ interests towards the orchestra pit. But listening to Pallett’s gorgeous scoring of New York Times Magazine’s Great Performers series leaves you wanting more swooping violins and intensity.
…You’ll love Different Trains by Steve Reich. Kajioka considers Reich’s 1988 masterpiece “profound” in how it sets out to combine his propensity for ambitious avant-garde rhythmic patterns with field recordings of trains and porter calls to explore a deeply personal childhood experience: the “wartime years spent travelling with his governess between his estranged parents, his mother in Los Angeles and his father in New York.” The exploration of these train rides — from Middle America to those that Reich (who is of Jewish background) considered occurred during the Holocaust — makes for an immersive but cerebral listening experience.
If you liked Girl/Boy Song by Aphex Twin… Richard D. James — AKA “sinewave surfer” Aphex Twin — took electronic music to the next level with 1996’s “Girl/Boy Song” by merging breakbeats with symphonic strings. But let’s be honest: while those techno loops were perfect for post-rave chill outs, you’re interested in an oscillating future-forward classical sound that can be fully appreciated lying on the floor with stereo head phones on.
… You’ll love In C by Terry Riley. Described as the “founding work of Minimalism” by New York Magazine, the 1964 piece contains 53 short musical phrases — repeatedly arbitrarily by a desired group of 35 musicians — that begins on a C major chord and subtly progresses to other chords, hence the work’s title. Reportedly conceptualized by Riley whilst “properly stoned” on a San Francisco bus ride, it really goes without saying that “you kind of have to be stoned to deal with this,” says Kajioka.