Nobody really knows what the song is about, but it sounded suggestive enough, both in title and in lyrics, to be banned by several stations after release. Singapore and Hong Kong went so far as to ban it completely within their borders for possible drug references, but through it all the songwriters — Leonard Lipton (a 19 year Cornell student when he wrote the song), Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers steadfastly denied there were any drug references in their song.
On this day, March 16, in 1963 the musical group of Peter Paul and Mary released their hit single “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The controversy did little to inhibit its spread in popular culture — if anything, the condemnation helped it along — and the song remains a timeless classic to this day.
“Puff” had the misfortune of coming out around the same time as a provocative Newsweek magazine article highlighted the hidden drug references in popular songs. And there were more than a few “dual-use” lines in the song: aside from the obvious “puff” referencing the act of smoking marijuana, the “autumn mist” the dragon liked to frolic in was a common metaphor for marijuana smoke; and Jackie Paper, the boy who befriends the magic dragon had a surname commonly name given to rolling paper. Then there was was the town name — “the land of Hanna Lee” — a suspiciously similar name to Hanalei, the Hawaiian marijuana spot.