From this vantage point in history, it seems almost absurd to imagine Cheech & Chong collaborating musically with heavies such as George Harrison, Michelle Philips, Billy Preston, Tom Scott, Carole King, and The Blossoms. And yet, in 1973, this strange partnership did, indeed, come together to record a song named “Basketball Jones” for Cheech & Chong”s Los Cochinos album. Philips and The Blossoms sang backup (credited as “The Cheerleaders”; Harrison played guitar; King played electric piano; Preston played organ; Scott was on saxophone. It all came together at A&M Studios in Los Angeles after Lou Adler, who was producing the album, played the song for Harrison, who was recording in the studio next door. Harrison wanted to be part of it, and once he was on board, everyone else joined the team.
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“It was a big coming together,” recalled Chong in The Vinyl Dialogues. “It was a product of the times. That”s what was happening then.”Though they came from very different strata of the entertainment landscape, the comedic duo were no strangers to the world of the mega-stars. “I must have smoked with George (Harrison) a good half-dozen times, maybe more, where we sat around and shared a joint, shared the moment,” said Chong.Chong smoked with every Beatle, in fact, except for Paul McCartney. As of 2014, that feat remained on his bucket list.
“Basketball Jones,” about a baby who is the best dribbler (drooler) in town and grows up obsessed with basketball, was inspired by an experience shared with another celebrity of the era: Jack Nicholson. One day, Cheech & Chong found themselves in the actor”s car, late for a Lakers game. Nicholson, remembered as a “maniac” of a driver, ended up driving “a good mile into oncoming traffic.” While this was happening, the Chicago song “Love Jones” (1972) came on the radio. A nervous Cheech started improvising to the tune, singing, “Basketball Jones, I got a Basketball Jones.”Chong got a kick out of the tune and declared that they needed to record it. The song ended up being a surprise hit.
Cheech & Chong were accustomed to getting airplay on FM radio which, at that time, played “underground” music. But “Basketball Jones” also broke into AM, even hitting #15 on the Hot 100. It helped Los Cochinos earn the 1974 Grammy for Best Comedy Recording.
The song went a long way in making the comedy do realize that they could make hit singles. Their success was great enough that Cheech thinks they deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “But people say “they”re not musical,” Cheech said. “What the f–k do you mean we”re not musical? We have four hit singles and other bands cover our stuff.”Not the most eloquent defense, perhaps, but still a solid one.
“Basketball Jones,” covered by Barry White and Chris Rock, appeared in the 1996 film Space Jam. The song appeared again in 2008 on a trailer for House of Payne and in 2011 on “A Midsummer”s Nice Dream” episode of The Simpsons, where Homer has a trippy daydream to it. Strange as its genesis may have been, the song has have some lasting power.