Single Stories: Peter, Paul and Mary, “Puff The Magic Dragon”
54 years ago today, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers released a single which wasn’t actually about smoking pot, although the media repeatedly tried to convince the public that it was so. #FakeNews
Seriously, though, “Puff the Magic Dragon” was not, in fact, about smoking marijuana. The beginnings of the song were the work of Leonard Lipton, a student at Cornell University who was friends with Yarrow’s housemate at the university. Reportedly, Lipton was inspired by Odgen Nash’s “Custard the Dragon,” and when Lipton came up with the idea, he sat down at Yarrow’s typewriter to get it out of his head, and once he’d typed it out, he left it behind. Yarrow took the lyrics and composed a song around it, with Lipton unaware that he’d done so.
Sounds shady? Not so much, actually. After Peter, Paul and Mary recorded the song, Lipton was contacted by a friend who told him that Yarrow was trying to get in touch with him. That’s right: Yarrow did things completely above board, giving Lipton co-credit on the composition, setting him up for a lifetime of songwriting royalties. (This proved particularly lucrative in the ‘70s, when - in addition to the song itself – Puff also became the star of his own animated TV special.)
“Puff the Magic Dragon” was also a major chart hit, climbing to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Adult Contemporary Singles chart. We understand that Jackie Paper continue to harbor jealousy over the fact that more people remember him than Puff, but you can’t have everything.