Psychedelic music draws its inspiration from the experience of mind-altering drugs such as cannabis, psilocybin, mescaline, and especially LSD.
The genre is not rigorously defined, and is sometimes interpreted to include everything from Flower Power music to Hard Rock and Acid Rock. However, an inner core of the genre that came to fruition in 1967 can be recognized by characteristic features such as modal melodies; esoteric lyrics often describing dreams, visions, or hallucinations; longer songs and lengthy instrumental solos; and recently invented "trippy" electronic effects such as distortion, reverb, and reversed, delayed and/or phased sounds.
The first use of the word "psychedelic" in a rock music context is usually credited to the 13th Floor Elevators, and the earliest known appearance of this usage of the word in print is in the title of their 1966 album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators . The genre reached its maximum popularity in 1967 and then quickly tapered off, though a number of bands continued to produce it for several years, and there has been a revival since the 1980s.
In the 1960s
In the United States, psychedelic music was particularly characteristic of the West Coast sound, with bands such as the Beach Boys, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish, Spirit, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the United States of America, Love and Jefferson Airplane in the vanguard. Jimi Hendrix and the Doors helped to popularize acid rock, a closely related style of music.
Initially, the Beach Boys, with their squeaky-clean image, seemed unlikely as psychedelic types. Their music, however, grew more psychedelic and experimental, perhaps due in part to writer/producer/arranger Brian Wilson's increased drug usage and burgeoning mental illness. Albums like Pet Sounds and Wilson's magnum-opus SMiLE which was never finished, and was remade by Wilson with a new band in 2004 show this growing experimentation.
There were also less well known psychedelic bands in outlying regions, such as the 13th Floor Elevators and Bubble Puppy working out of Texas, and the Third Bardo in New York City, a group which had a brief revival in the 1990s. The Byrds also contributed to psychedelia with "Eight Miles High," a song with odd vocal harmonies and an extended guitar solo that guitarist Roger McGuinn states was inspired by raga and John Coltrane. The influence was also felt in black music, where record labels such as Motown dabbled for a while with psychedelic soul, producing such hits as "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" and "Psychedelic Shack" (by The Temptations), and "Reflections" (by Diana Ross & the Supremes), and the 11-minute-long "Time Has Come Today" by The Chambers Brothers, before falling out of favour.
In Britain, the impact of the psychedelic revolution was profound within the British music scene. Established artists such as Eric Burdon (previously of The Animals), The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who produced a number of psychedelic albums and singles, including The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), The Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request ("In Another Land"), and The Who's Sell Out ("I Can See for Miles"). The music of Kaleidoscope and of very early Pink Floyd is also representative of British psychedelia.
A good number of the bands who pioneered psychedelic rock gave it up by the end of the 1960s. The increasingly hostile political environment and the embrace of amphetamines, heroin and cocaine by the underground led to a turn toward harsher music. At the same time, Bob Dylan released John Wesley Harding and the Band released Music from Big Pink, both albums that rejected psychedelia for a more roots-oriented approach. Many bands in England and America followed suit. Eric Clapton cites Music from Big Pink as a primary reason for quitting Cream, for example.
The musicians and bands who continued to embrace psychedelia often went on to create progressive rock in the 1970s, which maintained the love of unusual sounds and extended solos but added jazz and classical influences to the mix. For example, progressive rock group Yes sprang out of three British psychedelic bands: Syn (featuring Chris Squire), Tomorrow (featuring Steve Howe) and Mabel Greer's Toy Shop (Jon Anderson).
More recent bands
Phish, active from the early 1980s, played psychedelic music with a strong jazz influence and a great deal of technical skill, utilizing elaborate modal melodies and complex rhythmic accompaniment. In the mid 1980s a Los Angeles-based movement named the Paisley Underground acknowledged a debt to the Byrds, incorporating psychedelia into a folky, jangle pop sound. The Bangles were the most successful band to emerge from this movement; amongst others involved were Green on Red , the Three O'Clock and Dream Syndicate.
A British counterpoint to the Paisley Underground was a number of post New Wave bands, most notably The Soft Boys and the solo albums of their singer Robyn Hitchcock, and The Teardrop Explodes and their vocalist Julian Cope. Hitchcock was heavily influenced by Syd Barrett and John Lennon, which accounts for part of the sound, though his famous flow-of-consciousness inter-song links in concerts is also responsible. Other British dabblers in Pschedelia include XTC and Martin Newell with The Cleaners from Venus and The Brotherhood of Lizards . Alternative rock groups also dabbled in psychedelia, most famously, Nirvana on their debut single, 'Love Buzz'.
Recently the group Kula Shaker, under the leadership Crispian Mills, created much Indian-influenced psychedelic music such as their most recent album 'Peasants, pigs and Astronauts'. A number of bands such as Ozric Tentacles and the Welsh Gorky's Zygotic Mynci continue to play psychedelic music, in a tradition that goes back to the sixties via acts such as Steve Hillage, Gong and their assorted side projects.
British bands Anomie and My Bloody Valentine are standard-bearers for British garage psychedelia, citing Pink Floyd and Hawkwind as their musical influences. Some electronic or electronic-influenced music now termed "ambient" or "trance" would have fallen within the category of psychedelia in the 1966 to 1990 period, such as Aphex Twin or Orbital. Stoner rock acts like Kyuss and their successors also carry forward the flag of explicitly psychedelic music into the present day. The Smashing Pumpkins fused psychedelic rock sounds with heavy metal, becoming a highly successful alternative rock act in the 1990s. Rising from the Japanese noise underground, Acid Mothers Temple mix the subtle, relaxing resonance of Blue Cheer and most obviously Grateful Dead's psychedelic sound, the thought provoking melodies of French folk, and concrete bursts of noise that run through music of Boredoms.
For a comprehensive list see: List of psychedelic music artists
Last updated: 08-13-2005 02:25:13