Rock Genres – Psychedelia.

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Psychedelia was the name given to the British music produced in the mid to late sixties influenced by the psychotropic substances such as LSD – Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.

The similar type of music produced on the West Coast of America was called Acid Rock. The two styles fed off each other and were an important element of the sixties counter-culture that is stereotyped as ‘Hippie’.

LSD was legal in the mid-sixties (It was only made illegal in Britain in 1966, in 1966 in California but not until 1968 federally). The interaction of the Rock industry and Youth Culture between the UK and US meant that the two scenes were well integrated.

The drugs of choice of the Rock Bands included marijuana and LSD. At the time these drugs were widely regarded in the Youth Culture of the day as being mind expanding. The generation gap reflected this. The ‘old’ generation with their alcohol and tobacco were seen as unhip while the ‘young’ generation with their dope and Acid were seen as cool.

The Rock musicians in the mid-sixties were indulging in a lot of hallucinogens. The results can be heard in the music of the day. In 1966 a definite Psychedelic tinge was discernible. On the Revolver album the Beatles were producing numbers like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. This was a sign of what was to come. Other established bands, such as the Yardbirds (with the immaculate Jeff Beck on guitar), were producing numbers like ‘Over Under Sideways Down’, The Pretty Things were producing the Rock Opera ‘SF Sorrow’ with tracks like £SD. Eric Burdon split the Animals up to create the New Animals. The Who were releasing tracks like ‘I Can See For Miles’ and the Move ‘I Can Hear the Grass Grow’.

The earliest Psychedelic sound was actually an album by Alan Watts called ‘This is It’ and early converts were Donovan with ‘Sunshine Superman’ and Roy Harper released the psychedelic ‘China Girl’ on his first album.

1967 was the year when Psychedelia went interstellar. Pink Floyd led the way with their ground-breaking ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. Syd Barrett was the mastermind of the spacey Sci-fi ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and the fantasy imagery that was to become part and parcel of Psychedelia. Hendrix was blasting us with ‘Axis Bolder than Love’ with numbers like ‘Spanish Castle Magic’. The Beatles came out with ‘Sgt Peppers’ and the Stones did ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’. There were a plethora of other bands including Arthur Brown, Family, Traffic, Tomorrow, Spooky Tooth, Edgar Broughton, Soft Machine, Procol Harum, Incredible String Band, Moody Blues and Action. Blues Bands like Cream got in on the scene with their Disreali Gears album and Pete Green’s Fleetwood Mac released ‘Green Manalishi’.

The clubs were full of light shows and happenings.

The charts were full of psuedo-psychedelic Pop such as the Lemon Pipers, Status Quo, the Flower-pot Men and Scott McKenzie.

Out in the streets it was different. There was a social revolution. The British and American counterculture were burgeoning and Acid Rock with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Country Joe & the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Buffalo Springfield, Doors, Byrds and Quicksilver Messenger Service were setting the pace.

All the clubs were full of Psychedelic sounds and US Acid Rock and there were a plethora of smaller bands like Blossom Toes, Andwella’s Dream, Syn, Idle Race, Misunderstood and Dantalion’s Chariot.

The fashions also reflected this Psychedelia. Paisley and fluorescent colours were in. It was all colourful and voluminous – very trippy.

The repercussions are still audible today!


5 thoughts on “Rock Genres – Psychedelia.

  1. Nice blog, Opher. I hadn’t realised that Alan Watts had made any records. I assume this the same guy best known for his distillation of Eastern Phliosophy?

    Also, Quo were always a good rock n roll band and produced some good genuine psychedelic music, IMO

    And although Mr Zappa didnt do drugs apart from nicotine, the early Mothers of Invention albums should surely count as psychedelia?

    Then there was the BBC Radiophonic Workshop comprising of Eileen Derbyshire and Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin, best known for the original Dr Who theme. I had an LP by them called ‘White Noise’ which was very, very trippy and genuinely frightening at times.

    Also Terry Riley’s ‘Rainbow in Curved Air’ and ‘Terry Riley in C’ and the magnificent Tim Buckley and much later his son Jeff. And lastly the wonderful late great John Martyn

    1. Thanks for that Ian. yes, that’s the same Alan Watts. He and Tim Leary championed LSD.
      There’s a book you could write on this. I deliberately left Frank Zappa out because although you could certainly make the case for things like ‘Who are the Brain Police?’ and ‘Help – I’m a Rock’, being Acid Rock – he’s a bit of a one-off. He was always satirical and political – difficult to categorise.
      Quo definitely got into their heavy Boogie style following their ‘Pictures of Matchstick men’ phase. I’m not sure I’d call it psychedelic though.
      Terry Riley was a definite as was Man. I loved all of them.
      You could even make a case for the Beachboys ‘Pet Sounds’.
      I had that White Noise album. It was very much of its time. I caught Ron Geesin a number of times. He was very imaginative, original and quirky.
      The list goes on – where do you stop? Even Deep Purple had their psychedelic moments!
      Thanks for the comment. It’s always good to hear from someone as knowledgeable as yourself.

      1. There’s a blog I’m subscribed to ‘Collective Evolution’ which has a good article on Watts in their latest blog. It’s a complex site with a collective of contributers and they roll up several articles into a single blog, much like a newspaper. The guy wrote the Watts article is apparently working a biography of him.

        I’m pretty sure Quo were a pretty competent covers band just prior to getting into psychedelia, and before finding their real groove with 12-bar boogey. I remember Man very well and saw them live a couple of times at the Hyde Park free concerts. They didnt strike me as psychedelia though, more a very accomplished heavy rock band. Along with Edgar Broughton.

        AS you’re probably aware, the word psychedelia derives from 2 Ancient Greek words which translate to ‘clear sight’ so I still stand by my inclusion of the early Mothers material as part of the genre. The Beach Boys were heavily into marihuana during their Pet Sounds period and Brian Wilson was experimenting with using acid as well, particularly as part of the song creation process. The album after Pet Sounds ‘Smiley Smile’ continued the trend and although it didnt sell well at the time is now acknowledged as a psychedelic masterpiece.

        Hendrix is one of my personal gods. He was such an accomplished guitarist, long before he started to play around in the studio, incorporating blues, r’n’b, jazz and funk, plus he was also an incredibly gifted poet (imo). Many of his songs lyrics come from much longer poems. His trademark mastery of feedback was part of his pioneering work, and dovetailed nicely with Marshalls developing the powerful speakers and amps that were necessary. There was a really good BBC4 doc on the Jim Marshall’s influence on the development of rock music last year – he was another very quiet, yet very accomplished unassuming genius who started as a master drummer before getting into developing his trademark speakers and amps. A truly amazing man with a big big heart.

      2. Yes Jimi was one of my heroes. I saw him three times and still haven’t seen anything as exciting. He was amazing. He used to play the feedback as well as the guitar! Incredible.
        I know what you mean about Man and even Edgar Broughton. It very much extends to your definition.
        Frank was a one-off. He was a bit of an enigma, though I would accept that as a founding member of the West Coast and instigator of the sound he was an Acid Rock Band, at least for the first few albums. My favourite is ‘We’re only in it for the money’. Some of the music is unclassifiable.
        Thanks for the inputs – the Jim Marshall amps were integral to the sound that Hendrix and Cream created.

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