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Psychedelic Rock 101

Who put the drugs in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll


What do you get if you cross a folkie with The Beatles and add LSD? You get psychedelic rock.

Psych rock first emerged in the mid-1960s, in part from the Beat Generation, famous for be-bop jazz, folk, bluegrass and poetry. The shock of Beatlemania in the US, the ready availability of LSD, and a growing interest in mysticism and Eastern culture all coincided to produce a new form of electric music.

The most significant city in the development of psychedelic music was San Francisco, where Grateful Dead hosted LSD parties (or acid trips) which grew large enough to be hosted at the famous Fillmore venue. Jefferson Airplane was the first of the Bay Area bands to score national attention in the US.

Many others followed, including Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape. This musical movement, coupled with growing opposition to the Vietnam War, led to a swelling counter-culture in San Francisco, culminating in the Summer of Love in 1967.

Many bands were to follow these pioneers, lesser known ones like 13th Floor Elevators, Electric Prunes, Third Bardo and Bubble Puppy, but eventually mainstream acts like The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) and Rolling Stones (Their Satanic Majesty's Request) were to release full fledged psychedelic albums.

British psychedelia reached its zenith with bands like Pink Floyd and Cream. A heavy acid rock, the precursor of heavy metal, made its presence felt with Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer.

So what are some of the key ingredients in psychedelic rock?

• A creative use of studio recording techniques to create effects that mirror an LSD trip, including phasing, swooshing and filtering

• The use of Indian instruments or sounds, particularly the sitar and tabla

• Improvisation or extended jamming (inspired by the free jazz of John Coltrane)

• Steam of consciousness lyrics usually alluding to drug use or social issues.

Here are my choices for the Top 10 Psych Rock tracks:

1. "Season of the Witch" - Donovan
2. "Eight Miles High" - The Byrds
3. "Dark Star" - Grateful Dead
4. "The End" - The Doors
5. "What’s Wrong" - Sweetwater
6. "I had too much to dream last night" - The Electric Prunes
7. "Time Has Come Today" - The Chambers Brothers
8. "Tomorrow Never Knows" - The Beatles
9. "Smell of Incense" - West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
10."Paint It Black" - Rolling Stones

by Paul Rhodes

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