Bob Dylan, the most important American songwriter of the 20th century, turned 80 in May, reminding music lovers around the world of his Mt. Rushmore-size musical legacy and aeonic influence on American culture. While Dylan is celebrated for his serious protest songs, he is less recognized as the jokester for his comedy chops and fondness for irony.

In 1966, Dylan released his brilliant double album Blonde on Blonde, which included one of the wackiest novelty hits of the year in “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35.” The song, perhaps the only top 10 record to ever get away with uttering the phrase ‘get stoned,’ demonstrated Dylan’s razor-sharp, sarcastic wit, comparing the barbaric ritual of stoning people to death for doing nothing to bullying in the ‘50s and ‘60s, while capturing the silly spirit of the drug culture by repeating the chorus again and again with circus-ragtime pomp and humor.

The lyrics have a double meaning of course: Everybody in life is “stoned” or punished at one time or another by an uncaring, unfeeling world where the crime doesn’t fit the punishment, and the antidote for it – sing it loud! – Everybody must get stoned! It was a funny, liberating limerick to sing back then when marijuana was very much illegal and heavily stigmatized by the establishment.

There hasn’t been a hit record quite like it since, but that’s Dylan. He didn’t start out to write hit singles; he wrote what he wanted to write, outside the formulas of the music business, and the world soon caught up with him on his terms because his songs were each one of a kind, carved by a gifted sculptor, painted with the brushstrokes of a master. Is the song relevant today? Well, the joy of partaking in cannabis never stops, it’s instantly renewable, that hasn’t changed. Cannabis is often celebrated in songs, but perhaps not as intelligently and hilariously today as it was by Dylan amid the repressive climate of the late ‘60s. Back then, it was a breakthrough, producing a societal earthquake that suddenly brought the underground to the surface. And people are still stoned today for just walking around, still getting wrongly imprisoned or shot because of the color of their skin. So, all in all, the song is still as much a glowing example of open rebellion against society today as it was back then when the U.S. invaded Vietnam on an earlier Big Lie. More than 50 years later it still rings true: Everybody must get stoned. Happy birthday, Bob!

Read the lyrics and the meaning behind “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” on at