Psychedelia...Who, what, when and possibly where.
Psychedelia…. Who, what, when and, possibly where?
The usual definition of 'psychedelia' is along the lines of:
" the subculture, originating in the 1960s, of people who often use psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline (found in peyote) and psilocybin (found in some mushrooms). The term is also used to describe a style of artwork and music. Psychedelic art and music typically try to recreate or reflect the experience of altered consciousness. Psychedelic art uses highly distorted and surreal visuals and bright colours to evoke and convey to a viewer the artist's experience while using such drugs, or to enhance the experience of a user of these drugs. Psychedelic music uses distorted electric guitar, Indian music elements such as the sitar, electronic effects, sound effects and reverberation, and elaborate studio effects, such as playing tapes backwards or panning the music from one side to another."
Well, be that as it may, in my mind some of the 'best' psychedelic music meets few, if any of those criteria. For what it's worth, here's several of my favourite tracks (in no particular order) which evoke some, or all of the 'effects' of, errr, LSD and/or other 'stimulants'.
Jaynetts-'Sally go round the roses'. Almost nursery rhyme type song which does disorientate the listener (well, me anyway) with its circular format and slightly threatening lyrical subject matter. A song so good it received quite a few covers in the sixties including The Great Society (whose Grace Slick would utilise Alice in Wonderland to create a similar ambience in 'White Rabbit'), the Doors, who regularly featured the song in their early live sets, the Ikettes, Tim Buckley, Pentangle and ? And the Mysterians.
? And the Mysterians- '96 Tears' . Again, outside the criteria listed above, this time we're in 'garage music' stylee (no, not THAT 'garage music'!!). This song actually reached No 1 in the US and Canada in October 1966 and is usually credited as one of the earliest 'punk' singles, although even that is open to conjecture. Surely 'Louie, Louie' has that honour? Question Mark (or ? as he is usually known) is either Rudy Martinez or a creature from another time and place (his definition!) and issued this song originally on the Pa-Go-Go label in Bay City, Michigan before it was picked up for national distribution by Cameo Parkway, home to Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, the Orlons etc. Its 'bare bones' organ sound was copied by many US bands including the Doors and saw ? and the guys headlining country wide tours with The Seeds , The McCoys and Sonny Geraci and The Outsiders . They also appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand." and opened for 'Hey Joe' hit-makers the Leaves in Hollywood. Cover versions abounded, including a fine 'soul' take by, unbelievably, Aretha Franklin.
Big Boy Pete-'Cold Turkey'. One of the 'heaviest' guitar sounds around in January 1968, (I first heard it on, I think, the Tony Blackburn radio show and immediately ordered it from trusty Chas J Fox in Donny) and featuring Norwich's finest guitarist on a track which pre--dates Lennon's similarly unhinged Plastic Ono song with a common title. Pete (Miller) had been guitarist for local band the Offbeats (anyone got their 'Introducing…' EP form 1958?) before being poached by Mr Yarmouth himself, Peter Jay, and featured on their lone hit single 'Can Can '62'. Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers were ever present on early/mid-sixties package tours supporting, among others, the Kinks, The Animals, Dave Clark 5, Billy J. Kramer, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, The Cream, Donovan, Freddy and the Dreamers, Billy Fury, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Tornados, The Moody Blues, Marianne Faithfull, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes, The Byrds, Gene Pitney and, in addition, the Beatles and Stones. P.S. There's also the super-psych grooviness of 'My love is like a spaceship' on the flip too!!
Miller-'Baby I've got news for you'. An earlier outing than BBP's 'Cold Turkey', here's his early November 1965 single which, again, pre-dates a more 'important' release…. The Velvet Undergrounds self-titled debut, originally demoed in April 1966 but 'prettied-up' some months later. Minimalist in instrumentation and lyrics, this sits easily alongside many US 'garage' and 'psych' records from the '66-67 era.
The Beatles- 'Rain'. Released two months before the 'acid drenched' 1966 album 'Revolver', and only a b-side to boot (or was it a 'double A?) to 'Paperback Writer', here are deliberately slowed down rhythm tracks and vocals, backwards taped guitars and drums and lyrics which hinted at the 'other-worldly' effects of hash and LSD which came to fruition on 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and, importantly, the classic No 2 single 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. Was there ever a greater No 2 (no pun intended!)? 'My Generation' and 'God save the Queen' spring to mind….
Donovan- 'Hey Gyp (dig the slowness)'. Another great b-side, this time to 1965's minor hit 'Turquoise' , this re-write of '"Can I Do It For You", a February 1930 song by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, features an additional final two verses relating to 'I'll buy you a sugar cube…' and 'I don't wanna go for no trip…', a less than veiled nod to LSD which was probably only picked up by the 'hip' elite at the time. Don also sang of 'Violent hash-smokers' in 'Sunny Goodge Street' the same year and, unsurprisingly, became the first major rock singer to be busted!
(Grace Slick and) The Great Society- 'White Rabbit' (Live at the Matrix 1966). Unlike the well-known but truncated Jefferson Airplane version, here's Grace's magnum opus as nature intended! An extended 'raga' type intro, lasting several minutes, shows the band at its experimental best, even though the musicians themselves were still only learning their trade. Just as their reputation was starting to grow, thanks to the local release on Autumn Records of the 'Somebody to love' single, the Airplane's singer, Signe Anderson, fell pregnant and the bands eyes alighted on their regular support bands singer, former model Grace Slick. As soon as Grace flew the nest (sic) to the Airplane the Great Society splintered with some members de-camping to India, for meditation and musical studies, and others becoming University lecturers and minor musicians.
West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band- 'Smell of Incense'. Taken from their third album, entitled 'Volume Two' (don't even ask about why, their whole history is strange to say the least), this features instrumental interplay between Ron Morgan's distorted guitar-playing coinciding with Shaun Harris's heavy bass sound and overlaid with Shaun and Danny Harris's breathy vocal harmonies. Released as a single, to minimal interest, it captured the ear of local psychedelic group, Southwest F.O.B. at Dallas club LouAnns who were so impressed by the song that they recorded it themselves. Their shortened version was released in September 1968, reaching number 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.
WCPAEB (as we call 'em) went on to lesser commercial success, releasing the classic 'Volume 3: A Child's Guide to Good and Evil' (their fourth album, natch) to total apathy. However, here in the UK, a hippie/Tolkien influenced Alan Watson picked up on the band thanks to AFN's 'Underground' show and managed to pick up a copy, which is now worth a lot of money apparently!
Kaleidoscope- 'Seven ate sweet'. Or 7/8 Suite, a track played in 7/8 time!!! One of several long tracks by the band, all essential, as are their first three albums. This track shows the bands vivid imagination and dexterity on a multiplicity of exotic instruments and I could quite easily have nominated either 'Taxim' or 'Beacon (Bacon) from Mars' to prove the point. I should also mention the imagination shown on shorter tracks such as 'Egyptian Gardens', 'Keep your mind open' or 'Pulsating Dream' but, you get the point, here's a band at the top of their talents for three albums who would influence many others (including soon to be Zepper James Page Esq) during their short, and overlooked career. Head-honcho David Lindley became a highly respected session and live musician with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and others whilst the remaining band members retreated into relative obscurity amongst various ethnic and folk units.
Ultimate Spinach- 'Your head is reeling'. And so it will be if you manage to hear this track from their debut self-titled album, released in January 1968. Part of the hyped 'Bosstown Sound' (i.e. bands from Boston!!) their pretentiousness should be overlooked, particularly on tracks such as this one, plus '(Ballad of the )Hip Death Goddess' (surely the root of all things Goth), the four part 'Sacrifice of the moon' and 'Ego Trip'…. 'prog' was just around the corner here in the UK, and this was a signpost!! However, just to prove the band could actually cut it, a live album recorded at Boston's famed Unicorn Club in 1967 slipped out in 2014 and is well worth seeking out.
The Looking Glasses-'Visions'. A total obscurity, released on Media Records in 1967, here's a band who had obviously picked up on 'Syd-era' Floyd at an early stage. Thought to be from L.A. (or maybe not), you can catch this 'spacey acid punk' on Pebbles Vol 11 alongside such goodies as Leather Boy, Third Evolution and the essential Beaver Patrol!! Strangely the exact same song was released on the Independence label, this time credited to The Clouds.
The Butterfield Blues Band- 'East-West'. Title track from the bands second album, recorded at the famed Chess studio in 1966, the band would show that US bands were both behind the times (i.e. still covering hoary old blues tunes in a 'can white men sing the blues' style) and also ahead of the game, by extending the instrumental side of rock, in this instance with much more panache than, say, Cream. This was a 'super group' before the term was invented with leader Pauln Butterfield an excellent blues harmonica player and singer. After early training as a classical flautist, he had developed an interest in blues harmonica which he explored on the blues scene in his native Chicago. Here he met Muddy Waters and other blues greats, who provided encouragement and opportunities for him to join in jam sessions. Other band members were guitar virtuoso Elvin Bishop, bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay ( who were both from Howlin' Wolf's touring band). "East-West" incorporates Indian raga influences and some of the earliest jazz-fusion and blues rock excursions, with extended solos by Butterfield and guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. It has been described as "the first of its kind and ... the root from which the acid rock tradition emerged" with live versions of the song sometimes lasting nearly an hour, and performances at the San Francisco Fillmore Auditorium noted as " a huge influence on the city's jam bands' such as Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
H.P. Lovecraft- 'Electrallentandro'. Nope, me neither! No idea what it means!!! Taken from their curiously named second album 'H.P. Lovecraft 2', here's another fine extended work featuring British born 'audio engineer' Chris Huston, whose expertise in creating then thought of 'strange effects' on guitar (feedback, distortion etc) is well to the fore. This was, allegedly, the first major label album recorded where all the participants were under the influence of LSD…. Wonder how that was handled in the press at the time? Named after the famed US horror author, the band re-worked several of his themes into their work, as well as recording songs by the now well respected folkie, and long-time friend of vocalist George Edwards, Terry Callier. Again, like the Ultimate Spinach, a fine live album, 'Live May 11th 1968 at the Fillmore East' was released posthumously in 1991.
So, there we have it……. A bakers' dozen of psych goodies to enjoy.