Unbelievable!

December 2, 2012 • 8:49 am

Yes, it’s the old Brewer and Shipley tune from 1970, “One toke over the line”—performed on the Lawrence Welk show!  Did they not know what the song is about? Apparently not (see below).

From Songfacts (my emphasis):

This song is about drugs, especially marijuana. A “Toke” is a puff from a marijuana cigarette or pipe. Tom Shipley explained: “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.”

Brewer says of the song’s origin: “We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, ‘What was that we were messing with last night?’ We remembered it, and in about an hour, we’d written ‘One Toke Over the Line.’ Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us. Actually Tom and I always thought that our ballads were our forte.” (quotes from brewerandshipley.com)

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 a 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.” Brewer & Shipley heard about the performance and searched for the footage, but didn’t see it until the clip showed up on YouTube in 2007.

43 thoughts on “Unbelievable!

    1. Just what I was gonna say! And Mary! Probably all Lawrence needed to here.

      Still, ya gotta think some guys in the band knew about it–a practical joke?

    2. The song does have a revival meeting kind of feel to it, yes?
      Would loved to have seen the Lenin Sisters doing Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.

  1. I’m old enough to remember the Lawrence Welk Show when it was playing live. It always drove me crazy, somehow wrapping up the worldview of those of a “Nixonian” stripe: self-deception, ignorance, and nostalgia for a non-existent past… kind of like today’s Republican Party.

    Ugg.

  2. I don’t know, I think Lawrence got it right. It is a modern spiritual. A pretty good one, too. I think they got the drug reference (they are musicians after all). Over indulgences leading to god (usually booze and gambling) is a common theme in spiritual music. They probably just saw this as being a natural progression of the form.

  3. Reminds me of your conservative radio station WlS in the 70s. They had an acid rock program called SPOKE, with brother John an announcer who spoke through an extreme reverberation processor. He talked about anything and everything and the management were evidently none the wiser. Suddenly one day the program disappeared.

  4. Gotta love ol’ Larry. Probably the most racist show I can think of from my childhood. I mean, what kind of “Jazz” orchestra would have no black people (Oh, except for the tap dancer, of course)?
    Mind you, the music was OK, the musicians were pretty good. What always cracks me up is the sea of white when you watched the show. And, given the cluelessness of ol’ Larry, I’d be surprised if the folx who included that song in the play list knew what a “toke” was.

    1. In one episode, when introducing the tap dancer, Lawrence finished the sentence with, “… a credit to his race.” I was watching the episode and I cringed when I heard that.

      I consider Welk’s background and the time in which he lived. Yes his introduction of the dancer was racist, but it was a different time and place, and remember that Lawrence himself came from the Great White North (North Dakota) and was born in 1903, only about 40 yrs. after the Civil War.
      Probably any psychologist would tell you that it’s usual that someone gravitates towards the same sort of people or values that they themselves grew up with.

      Was he racist TO that dancer? Or did he employ him because of his talent DESPITE what society would say at the time? I’m not a good enough historian to judge either way.

      Some U.S. Public Televison stations are airing re-runs of his show, complete with introductions by some of his employees/artists. The artists claim that Welk was quite a generous individual. He would find a talented artist and add him/her even though his crew was already huge.

      Is it spin?

      And yes the show is dated, and I myself hated it when I was growing up, as my grandmother watched it all the time. Polyester suits and squeaky clean songs, etc….
      So why watch it now? I am actually quite amazed at the sheer quality of the singers and dancers — the skill of the artists is quite amazing, if you can overlook the other stuff.

  5. One of my former colleagues, whose specialty is popular culture, posted this on Facebook a while back. Of course I reposted it and got many likes, albeit from folks like me who were old enough to remember what “toking” is, and indeed enjoyed the original (and still enjoyable) Brewer and Shipley version while doing so. Do watch the male singer’s hands closely.

    1. Actually, you just provided clear, irrefutable evidence that religious people tend to ignore things that don’t conform to the Christian narrative.

      And I thank you for that! 🙂

    2. So “the Lord always wins these battles” here means blocking information from reaching your brain? I’m actually not at all surprised by this, nor by the fact that you think your inability to perceive things which don’t fit your worldview is a good thing. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

        1. I never claimed to know you, and (having read your blog) I’d really rather not know you. But you said that your inability to understand what the song means was the Lord winning a battle. How, exactly, is that not you celebrating the idea that the Lord prevents your brain from receiving information?

          Let’s recap: You never noticed what the lyrics actually say about drugs, you just heard the part about Jesus, and (according to you) that’s the Lord winning a battle. You happily believe that information failing to reach your brain is a battle won by the Lord. It doesn’t matter if I know you or not. That’s what you said.

          You celebrate the idea that god makes you ignorant. That’s what you said.

        1. So explain it.

          “I’m afraid you have missed the point. You don’t know me or what I meant.”

          So explain it. Jebusite trolls are a dime a dozen. Tell us why you are different.

    3. Also, since we know for a fact that intercessory prayer is bad for the victim (if he knows about it, else it is just meaningless), I don’t think having religion meddling in medicine is permissible.

  6. I like her. She has a nice, breezy unpretentious voice. I’m not sure I even care whether they understand the implications of toking or not. That’s sort of a cheap retro-laugh at their expense. This isn’t a bad performance.

  7. “Too much of anything will probably kill you.”

    What IS the lethal dose for cannabis? The last I heard it hadn’t been established – nobody had actually died directly from overdose.

  8. It’s this type of deadpan concatenation of circumstance that meta-fictionists claim place us squarely in the “post-ironic” age.

    I recall a similar experience in walking into the living room to be brought up short by the sight of Donny & Marie Osmond on the tube singing a duet of Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In the Years. They were trading lyrics when Donny looked at Marie (with what I take was a teenage Mormon’s version of a rueful grin) and delivered the line “The weekend at the college didn’t turn out like you planned” — as though mildly rebuking his sister for missing the Saturday chow line at a BYU cafeteria.

    As Philip Roth explained regarding the difficulty of writing contemporary realistic social fiction when the culture continually coughs up characters like Roy Cohn (the red-baiting, arch-conservative, deep-in-the-closet New York power-macher who died of AIDS) — it is an embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination.

  9. A former girl friend had me in stitches recounting how she and her family were led by her Lutheran minister father in singing the Jellyroll Blues while driving on vacations.

  10. I can imagine this cute couple sitting on a bench, giggling, and waiting for the train to go back to their home town.

    What could be more wholesome?

  11. The accordion player, Myron Floren, during the introduction had a bit of scratchy throat episode. One wonders if he was really was slightly sick or perhaps acting out as a form of subtle disapproval.

  12. I can’t believe someone else picked up on this! This has been one of just a few videos in the Sprockets Inside employee video library for months. It is a true American classic. Anna one, anna two. . . .

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