One of the funnier gags in season four of Stranger Things has to do with everyone’s favourite smoker of what El calls “funny plants”, Argyle. Jonathan’s one and only new friend in California is your archetypal stoner: laconic drawl, mediocre delivery job, easy-going attitude, and lack of self-awareness completely intact. When Argyle gets swept into the action starting in the season’s fifth episode ‘The Nina Project’, it’s both hilarious and terrifying.
That’s because, unbeknownst to Argyle, he’s arriving at the Byers’ house in the middle of a gunfight. Argyle is even initially bummed seeing all the cars in front of the house, assuming that Jonathan has thrown a party without inviting him. While bumping down the street in his smokey little van, Argyle is getting the full weed experience as ‘Pass the Dutchie’ plays in the background. The light-as-air reggae-pop tune gets a rude interruption as Jonathan, Will, Mike, and a government agent who’s been shot tumble in, seriously harshing Argyle’s mellow vibes.
The appearance of ‘Pass the Dutchie’ has caused the song to re-enter the pop culture world. It might not be a chart-topping sensation the way that Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ is, but ‘Pass the Dutchie’ is shining a spotlight on a similarly decades-old pop tune that was just waiting for the right time to return. Despite being a bit of goofy comic relief, the show’s use of ‘Pass the Dutchie’ is actually returning the song back to its ganja-centred roots.
First thing’s first: ‘Pass the Dutchie’ was a 1982 hit single for British band Musical Youth, a quintet of young kids whose parents were Jamaican immigrants and reggae musicians. The group’s oldest member, singer Dennis Seaton, was only 15 when the band released ‘Pass the Dutchie’. Landing in the top ten in America and climbing all the way to number one in the UK, ‘Pass the Dutchie’ transcended the novelty factor of young kids playing reggae and became a legitimate mile marker in the history of reggae invading popular music.
The history of ‘Pass the Dutchie’ doesn’t start and end with Musical Youth, however. The song is actually a mash-up of a few different other tracks, with the song’s intro coming from U Roy’s ‘Rule the Nation’ and the vocal sections taken on by guitarist Kelvin Grant coming from U Brown’s ‘Gimme the Music’. ‘Pass the Dutchie’ is mostly a cover of the Mighty Diamonds’ ‘Pass the Kouchie’, with the central “Kouchie” being a slang term for a cannabis pipe.
Obviously, it wouldn’t have been in good taste for a group of teens and pre-teens to be singing about getting high, so “Kouchie” was changed to “Dutchie”, making reference to a kitchen pot rather than any kind of drug pot. With that change, the song became a subtle protest track against poverty and hunger, even if the only initial intention was to obscure the drug references at the heart of the original song.
Whether the producers of Stranger Things knew the whole story behind ‘Pass the Dutchie’ or simply thought that a super-high 1980s hippie would probably be playing the song in his burnout van during that era, ‘Pass the Dutchie’ has returned to its initial roots as a marijuana-focused song. You can check out all the elements that make up the final version of ‘Pass the Dutchie’ down below.