Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
A brief history of psychedelic rock. Black light posters, trippy music and high fidelity quad speakers. Psychedelic rock as another momentary fad, pretty much dead in the water by mid-1968, the influence of psychedelic rock runs long and deep.
Beginnings: Psychedelic rock originated on the American West coast out of the hippie movement of the mid-to-late 1960s. First taking root in the San Francisco Bay area, psychedelic rock’s popularity quickly spread throughout America and to Europe.
Images of the counterculture of the 1960’s, Woodstock, and big names such as Jimi Hendrix or The Doors are what people first think upon hearing psychedelic rock. In fact, many of the bands we consider to be pillars of classic rock are considered psychedelic rock bands. Even the earliest psych albums are influential to this day, each post 1960’s decade heralding a revival of the genre. Important features are heavy reverb, a large key presence (especially electronic organs), Eastern instruments and musical themes, long instrumental sections, and surreal lyrics that often reference the use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Growing up on albums like Disraeli Gears and The Dark Side of the Moon were integral in the development of my personal music taste and exploring my own definition of music. Maybe this is why we love psychedelia- it reminds us of our parents, our grandparents, or our very first album. Perhaps it reminds you of the first song you heard on the radio.
The year is 1965. A clear youth counterculture has begun to emerge, experimenting in their usage of drugs such as weed, psilocybin, and LSD. A little over a decade has passed since the term “rock and roll” has been coined. The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13thFloor Elevators is released, its liner notes and album art explicitly advocating the use of LSD as a means of freeing the soul and expanding the mind. 13th Floor members Roky Erickson, referred to as the “godfather of psychedelic rock,” and Tommy Hall are credited with coining the term “psychedelic rock”.
Hall’s use of the electric jug in particular is a key element of reproducing the feel of an acid trip in music, emulating a bending of reality and a trance-like state. The lyrics also incite a distant, out-of-body feeling, from lyrics about “liquid distant castles” to “living on monkey island”.
Although moderate in success, the album is arguably one of the most influential in establishing the genre and helped Austin grow as a hub of music in the South. Other notable artists to emerge out of the Texas psychedelic rock scene include Janis Joplin, Red Krayola and Bubble Puppy. At the same time, author Ken Kesey and a group called The Merry Pranksters were touring the San Francisco Bay Area handing out acid (not yet outlawed), accompanied by early performances by The Grateful Dead, and visuals created by oil projections in what would later be known as “The Acid Tests”. As LSD became more influential in youth culture, it became more and more clear across the nation that it would shape the next wave of music.
The following year, The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds, not only hailed as one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time, but the defining album in bridging psychedelic rock and pop music.
Another pioneering album in psychedelic rock history, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.
In response, a British psychedelic rock scene began to grow, more experimental and pop-like in its sound than the heavy American counterpart which paved the way for the birth of metal and prog.
In 1969, psychedelic rock reached the peak of its popularity. This is the year we get the Woodstock Festival, one of the most definitive moments in rock and roll. This is the height of youth counterculture, and within the same year it comes crashing down with many “acid causalities”.
Although a few psychedelia bands remained, throughout the 80’s it mostly served to influence new genres such as the alternative scene, grunge and industrial rock in the 1990’s with such acts as The Flaming Lips, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Sound Garden and Alice in Chains. Although they achieve some popular success, this “neo-psychedelia” is still decidedly underground. It is not until around 2001, with the so-called “revival” of rock and roll and a flourishing and increasingly popular alternative scene that many neo-psychedelia bands form.
As the indie scene began to take on a particularly large role with youth in 2010-onward, so did psychedelia and its influences. Today, we see the development of subgenres like acid house and trance music developing from the once again rising psychedelic rock scene. Whether a lifelong fan or a listener trying to branch out, perhaps it’s time to spin that acid rock vinyl at the bottom of the bin just one more time.