Black Sabbath's Epic Stoner Anthem 'Sweet Leaf' Turns 45
Let's count down the covers of Sabbath's most smoked-out tune!
With an opening tape loop of guitarist Tony Iommi ferociously coughing after taking a hit off a joint with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath hurled stoner rock into being on July 21, 1971. Within the 18 months prior to releasing Master of Reality, the dark wizards' third album, Black Sabbath had invented heavy metal outright with its debut LP and predicted punk with its second full-length record, Paranoid.
Master of Reality's opening song, “Sweet Leaf,” is Sabbath’s gushing outburst of mad affection for marijuana. It’s hard to think of any other love song that’s nearly so passionate. Consider Ozzy’s bold declaration: “You introduced me, to my mind/And left me wanting, you and your kind/I love you!”
“Sweet Leaf” remains the blueprint for all stoner rock and sludge metal that has followed in its endlessly wafting wake—which means all stoner rock and sludge metal.
The song’s down-tuned, circular riff is a forward-charging brontosaurus stomp. The Sabbath rhythm section of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward keeps the thunder propulsive. Ozzy sails above it all, commanding a new strain of hard and heavy music as intoxicating to hear every time as the herb being celebrated was the very first time it introduced you to your mind.
As the song plays on, Ozzy explicitly proclaims his pure love again. He predicts, correctly, that a full planetary embrace of cannabis looms inevitable, singing: “Straight people don't know what you're about/They put you down and shut you out/you gave to me a new belief/and soon the world will love you, sweet leaf!”
“Sweet Leaf” remains the blueprint for all stoner rock and sludge metal that has followed in its endlessly wafting wake—which means all stoner rock and sludge metal, period. Sludge titans the Melvins still enter the stage to the sound of Iommi’s cough-heard-’round-the-world. It’s been sampled everywhere from “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” by the Beastie Boys to “Give It Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Sweet Leaf” has also been a go-to cover for every music act that hopes to veer into the extreme, from bong-passing garage bands to arena-packing superstars.
Let’s all celebrate the 45th anniversary of “Sweet Leaf” by lighting up and inhaling the headiest versions of this classic ode to a devilish weed that has its roots in paradise.
The bluesy, grungy psychedelic Weedpecker hail from Warsaw, Poland, where they spearhead stoner rock’s Eastern front with a style electrically captured by their “Sweet Leaf” redo.
Primitive Man (2014)
New York noise squad Primitive Man describes their genre as “death sludge/funeral punk.” You can hear it in the clip above.
Quiet in the Cave (2013)
Italian doomsters Quiet in the Cave infuses its strain with seeds of black metal. As a result, the Quiet in the Cave “Sweet Leaf” hits the ear with more than a hint of paranoia. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.
The Flaming Lips (2011)
Wayne Coyne’s long-reigning psychedelic powerhouse the Flaming Lips ignited a celebratory “Sweet Leaf” at Moogfest 2011. Was there ever any doubt as to how those lips started flaming in the first place?
Dripping slow, hard, and hot from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sludgemeisters Thou coat “Sweet Leaf” with their own sticky residue. Score some.
The post-hardcore Canucks in Alexisonfire back off a bit from their emo impulses with “Sweet Leaf,” although their love for both the song and its subject matter certainly comes through loud and dazedly clear.
Gov’t Mule (2003)
Southern rock’s supreme contemporary jam masters Gov't Mule frequently surprise audiences with their cover choices. “Sweet Leaf,” of course, comes across as a natural.
Godsmack is a beast of a band. “Sweet Leaf,” in their cloven hooves, becomes an all-out smoke monster. Inhale fully, but with caution.
Six Feet Under (2000)
“Sweet Leaf,” as interpreted by Florida death metal royalty Six Feet Under, transforms into a blazing table-of-contents of extreme rock influences and expressiveness. It’s on fire.
“Dulce Hoja” by Las Ultrasónicas (1999)
Hailing from what they deem “Mexico Shitty,” the female power trio Las Ultrasónicas literally translate “Sweet Leaf” into a language of their very own, but their playing is absolutely universal rock-and-roll.
It’s a challenge to categorize the complex, unpredictable efforts of the arty Scottish ensemble Mogwai, but there’s no mistaking where the band members’ hearts lie when they barrel through “Sweet Leaf.” Some songs turn everyone into pure rockers.
Pantera, the 1990s’ definitive heavy metal band above all others, blasted into stoner rock’s definitive 1971 coming-out party live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They play it like they mean it, and you know they do.
Stuck Mojo (1996)
Rap-metal gets a bad, uh, rap these days, but “Sweet Leaf” is so dependable a vehicle that even the genre pioneers in Stuck Mojo have to be hailed for a properly dynamic cover.
Sacred Reich (1995)
Sacred Reich brought the mid-’80s thrash-metal revolution to Phoenix, Arizona, and, from there, conquered the globe as esteemed practitioners of the form. They take “Sweet Leaf” from head-banging to neck-snapping.
From the Black Sabbath tribute album, Masters of Misery, Norwegian death metal practitioners Cadaver flood “Sweet Leaf” with Viking menace.
Alice in Chains (1991)
Black Sabbath’s direct impact and overwhelming influence on the Seattle grunge movement is undeniable. Alice in Chains taking on “Sweet Leaf” live offers more proof than any doubter could need.
Ugly Kid Joe (1991)
Alt-metal jokesters Ugly Kid Joe take a crack at “Sweet Leaf” and the result is just that: cracked—and that is not a bad thing (as nothing "Sweet Leaf"-related could be).
“Sweat Loaf” by the Butthole Surfers (1987)
The 2012 book If You Like Metallica… describes “Sweat Loaf,” the Butthole Surfers' acid-drenched decimation and berserk reconstruction, as follows: “ ’Sweat Loaf' is the sound of inspired stoners so in love with Black Sabbath that they dive into the music itself and bend it and stretch it and mold it and wrap themselves in it so that they can blow the whole thing up in order to do it all over again.” Who could possibly disagree?