April 20th may not be a federal holiday but we’re assuming that’s just because the government spaced on the date. Of course, we have it circled on our calendar. And of course, we have a playlist to mark the occasion.
As usual, we’ve got some history first, mostly about the song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” but with the usual trivial tangents.
What’s a Hero?
420 is a celebration of all things green. The annual weed-smoker’s holiday commemorates the 1971 gathering of five stoners from a high school in San Rafael, all in search of a lost cannabis crop somewhere in the woods near their town.
They never found the mythical herb, but they discovered something far greater—the true meaning of friendship. Just kidding. Actually, they sparked a tradition that is now observed by slackers the world over. And I’m a total sucker for tradition.
So how to mark this year’s observance? I’ll start with a salute to Jeffrey Lebowski…The Dude…The greatest stoner in cinematic history.
Of course, you may disagree, but that’s just like, your opinion, man.
I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski
The Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski is the pièce de résistance in the marijuana masterpiece theatre. Jeff Bridges stumbles, croaks, and tokes his way through a noirish mystery in early ‘90s Los Angeles, haplessly unraveling the insidious capers of wealthy socialites, sleazy pornographers, and wealthy socialites.
Meanwhile, record producer T-Bone Burnett compiles a brilliant soundscape—one that plays with the neurodivergent eclecticism of your brain on buds.
Perhaps no moment nails it harder than the scene featuring “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.
Yup, that Kenny Rogers. The Gambler. The guy with the chicken roasters. Famous for his AOR country radio dominance in the 70s and 80s, Kenny’s breakout hit was an otherwise uncharacteristic psychedelic epic with searing guitar licks, backwards looping, and mind-bending lyrics.
But where did it come from?
What’s a Pederast, Walter?
In 1967, the increasingly influential country songwriter Mickey Newbury composed “Just Dropped In” and handed it over to Jerry Lee Lewis. It had been nearly a decade since Jerry Lee married his 14-year-old cousin. A year later, he would make a full and successful transition into a career as a country music lifer. But at the time, his career was still pretty much in the toilet.
The November 1967 release went nowhere. In fact, though Jerry Lee recorded the original version in May, an otherwise obscure R&B singer beat him to the punch. Teddy Hill & the Southern Soul released their version of “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” in October.
A Good Man…And Thorough
While Teddy Hill didn’t make the charts either, his version may have reached the ears of Kenny Rogers. He entered Valentine Recording Studio in California that exact same month with The First Edition and a few ace studio sessioneers.
The sessions were overseen by producer, composer and studio prodigy Mike Post. Just 22 at the time, Post would land his first Grammy the next year for Best Instrumental Arrangement with Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.”
Today, Post is nothing short of a legend in the TV Theme genre, responsible for the iconic title sequences for, among many others, Law & Order, The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I. and, my personal favorite, Hill Street Blues.
But I digress.
The Occasional Acid Flashback
Post had the idea of opening “Just Dropped In” with a backwards looping guitar. The great Glen Campbell dropped in just to play the red hot electric leads.
Allegedly, the song was originally conceived as a cautionary tale against LSD. It has opposite effect here.
It did, however, give Kenny Rogers his first hit.
Throwing Rocks Tonight!
Though the First Edition would soon find success in the country market, “Just Dropped In” was a mainstream Billboard Top 10 upon its release in 1968, which should give you a good idea of how popular psychedelic drugs were at the time.
In fact, so popular was the song that Kenny Rogers and the First Edition even performed it on prime time television during The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
30 Years of Beautiful Tradition
Over the next three decades, “Just Dropped In” was covered by artists from nearly every genre. Highlights include a soulful rendition by Bettye LaVette (1968), a post-punk deconstruction from Die Haut and Nick Cave (1988) and an angular Britpop take from Supergrass (1995).
But of course, it gained its widest visibility when T-Bone Burnett and Jackie Treehorn used it as the featured song in Jeffrey Lebowski’s XXX-inspired dream sequence—Gutterballs.
(I know that’s the first time I heard the song.)
As a testament to the residual popularity inspired by Lebowski, far more covers have been recorded since 1998 than in the 30 years prior, including versions by Mojo Nixon, Willie Nelson, Sharon Jones, and Tom Jones.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday without a playlist, so here goes…
I Am The Walrus…or, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing…A very complicated case…a lotta ins…a lotta outs…lotta what-have-yous.
I’m not gonna tell you how to listen to this one. But I will say that if you’re doing it right, you will get the munchies.