MUSICAL DECADES - 1960s - Psychedelic Music
Psychedelic music emerged during the 1960s among folk and rock bands in the United States and Britain, creating the subgenres of psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock (or acid rock), and psychedelic pop before declining in the early 1970s.
Psychedelic music (sometimes called psychedelia) was influenced by a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelia may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.
A number of features are quintessential to psychedelic music. Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common. Songs often have more disjunctive song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies, and drones than contemporary pop music. Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired lyrics are often used. There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental segments or jams. There is a strong keyboard presence, using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven 'sampler' keyboard.
Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning the music from one side to another of the stereo track, using the "swooshing" sound of electronic phasing, long delay loops, and extreme reverb. In the 1960s there was a use of electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin.
This week, let's sample some of this music.
In terms of bridging the relationship between music and hallucinogens, The Beatles and the Beach Boys were the most pivotal. The Beatles introduced guitar feedback with "I Feel Fine" (1964), Indian instrumentation on "Norwegian Wood" (1965) and reversed tape sounds on "Rain" (1966). Drug references began to appear in their songs, for example, "Day Tripper" (1965), and more explicitly in "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966).
Author George Case recognizes the Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver as the albums that "marked the authentic beginning of the psychedelic era", with Revolver's combination of otherworldly lyrical themes and studio experimentation signalling that psychedelic music "had irrevocably been launched".
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys attempted to translate the effects of LSD into music for the group's album Pet Sounds (1966), which significantly heightened the visibility of psychedelic rock.
Pet Sounds peaked at number 10 in the US and number 2 in the UK. This helped the Beach Boys become the strongest selling album group in the UK for the final quarter of 1966, dethroning the three-year reign of native bands such as the Beatles.
As psychedelia emerged as a mainstream and commercial force, it would be reflected in pop music. Pet Sounds is credited for sparking a psychedelic pop revolution, inspiring mainstream pop acts to take part in the psychedelic culture.
Jefferson Airplane was a rock band based in San Francisco, California, who pioneered psychedelic rock. Formed in 1965, the group defined the San Francisco Sound and was the first from the Bay Area to achieve international commercial success.
They were headliners at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969)—and the first Isle of Wight Festival (1968) in England. Their 1967 break-out album Surrealistic Pillow ranks on the short list of the most significant recordings of the "Summer of Love". Two songs from that album, "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit", are among Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
Big Brother and the Holding Company is an American rock band that formed in San Francisco in 1965 as part of the same psychedelic music scene that produced the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Jefferson Airplane. They are best known as the band that featured Janis Joplin as their lead singer.
Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills is considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco; it reached number one on the Billboard charts, and was ranked number 338 in Rolling Stone's the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album is also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Strawberry Alarm Clock is a psychedelic rock band formed in 1967 in Los Angeles. They are best known for their 1967 hit single "Incense and Peppermints". The song reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1967 where it stayed for one week, with 16 weeks in total on the chart. A gold disc was awarded for one million sales on December 19, 1967.
In their early days of touring, the band members would often sit on "magic carpets" as their roadies carried them to the stage. Drummer Seol would rig up wrist gas jets to give the illusion that he was playing the bongos and vibes with his hands on fire, until the gimmick became too dangerous.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is an British psychedelic rock band formed by singer Arthur Brown in 1967.
Brown quickly earned a reputation for both his powerful voice (which spanned four octaves) and his outlandish performances, including the use of a burning metal helmet, which led to occasional mishaps. During an early appearance at the Windsor Festival in 1967, Brown wore a colander on his head soaked in methanol. The fuel poured over his head by accident and caught fire; two bystanders doused the flames by pouring beer on Brown’s head, preventing any serious injury. The flaming head then became an Arthur Brown signature. He was also notable for the extreme make-up he wore onstage, which would later be reflected in the stage acts of Alice Cooper, Kiss, Mercyful Fate's King Diamond and Marilyn Manson.
The single, "Fire" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
This ends Musical Decades for this week. Thanks for listening and I hope to see you here next time.
(The information used in this post is from Wikipedia.)
Dominique "Nik" Petersen is an aficionado of "oldies" music and the author of Dr. Hook and Me: A Fan's Journal/ Scrapbook. Read about it and her other books at the website: