With the sad news that Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright just passed away from cancer at the age of 65, we remember his great contributions and those he inspired and who inspired him. RIP.
Not to be confused with "Freedom Rock," psychedelic rock is very much an altered state of mind. Generally, it gets applied anytime someone performs something that seems a little "wacky." Therefore, you get references to "Sounds Like Tony Bennett on Acid" (that would be "Who is Scott Walker?," Alex). Well, LSD was pretty popular in the music culture for a time, so it would figure that the results would show up in the music. Just as today's music is fortified with all kinds of artificial sweeteners. Not that we should look down on the Splenda crowd! High Fructose Corn Syrup Rock never resulted in a major movement that I'm aware of. Then again, maybe it did.
Here are 25 fine, fine bands who made their name back when Psychedelic Rock first made its presence known. (And, yes, I'm aware not EVERY band made the list. Peanut Butter Conspiracy fans the world over will no doubt be picketing the Yahoo! Music offices. Say hi to the Quicksilver Messenger Service fans on your way over!)
25) The Litter: "Action Woman" is considered a Minnesotan Classic. Right up there with "Purple Rain" and the Bob Dylan songbook. With three original albums that were always on the wall of local record shops for big money, within a decade the band decided to "reform" several times in the 1990s. I'm all for this kind of thing, but I always wonder who shows up for the gigs besides their families?
24) Blues Magoos: I think I've listed them among my favorite blues bands. And I know I've listed them in the "Best Magoo Rock" category. Why do I rate these guys so often? Because I owned their debut album, Psychedelic Lollipop, at a very crucial stage in my own personal development and wish to lay the blame where it so conveniently belongs. And I always liked the songs "Love Seems Doomed" and "Albert Common Is Dead" for obvious non-musical reasons.
23) The Seeds: "Pushin' Too Hard" was the big "hit." "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" was the song I knew better by the Alex Chilton cover and "Up In Her Room" was sorta like The Doors' "The End" but different. You can't argue with a band whose lead singer is named Sky Saxon. Your name is automatically worse.
22) The Pretty Things: Once a blues rock band, with S.F. Sorrow, the Pretty Things transformed themselves into psychedelic soldiers taking on the good fight and changing the lives of at least a half-dozen people in the process. Not exactly a Herbalife Cult, but effective in its own way.
21) Vanilla Fudge: I recently saw footage of these guys looking much older and they still sounded exactly like they did on their original albums. Still trudging along as if lead ankle weights were still in style. "You Keep Me Hangin' On" still sounds like it's stuck in first gear. I assume they play theme parks and old rock clubs out on Long Island. For some reason, people who love this music seem to congregate only there. Anyone know why?
20) The Zombies: Odessey And Oracle, its deliberate misspelling aside, is one of those treasures that sounds better as time goes by. Most psychedelic music does sound "dated." But then, most music eventually sounds dated. A Phil Collins album from 1982 sounds like 1982. A grunge album from 1992 sounds exactly like that. Personally, I'd rather listen to this or the Rolling Stones' much unfairly-maligned Their Satanic Majesties Request over anything by Phil Collins. Let's just pretend the year 1982 never even happened!
19) Silver Apples: One of these bands that when history is rewritten, they suddenly show up as if everyone loved and knew them by name the first time around. I'd bet the band--really a duo--would beg to differ with that truth. Otherwise, they either would've stayed together longer--or wouldn't have needed to "reform" decades later to smartly cash in on their sudden "importance." Someday Justin Timberlake will experience this phenomenon--but in reverse.
18) The Moving Sidewalks: Before he went on to his big reward with ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons worked it out with these fellas and no better psychedelic version of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" exists than the one these folks pulled off.
17) The Incredible String Band: They put the word "incredible" in there to make it true. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Or a way to control the message? In either case, it was a smart move, though when you shorten the band's name to an acronym: ISB it does sound like a regrettable medical condition. However, any band that names an album The 5000 Spirits or The Layers Of The Onion and then later names a double album Wee Tam And The Big Huge and doesn't quit but continues with Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending and Liquid Acrobat as Regards The Air...well, you just wonder why they weren't more successful?
16) Pearls Before Swine: Tom Rapp is often cited as being one of the most important, influential and stunningly poetic troubadours of his--and anyone's--generation. The comparisons to Shakespeare are constant--and certainly annoying to anyone of Mr. Rapp's level of prestige. But such are the burdens of greatness. Some of his albums--both solo and with Pearls Before Swine--are still in print.
15) The Grateful Dead: These guys symbolize an entire movement of Volkswagen campers, tie-dye t-shirts and grilled cheese sandwiches. Without them, we might live in Phish-Free society. What would that be like?
14) Hawkwind: Perhaps more Space Rock. Debuting with an album in 1970, once the first wave of psychedelia had pretty much passed, Hawkwind were a definite trip that people with a certain undiagnosed brain disorder would enjoy without reservation. These people are known to "overindulge" and boy do they ever get the chance with these guys.
13) Can: German rockers understood rock music in a way that kids from other countries often didn't. How else to explain why there are no real French Rock bands? And when these young German kids decided to freak out, they did so uncompromisingly. And Can were so far out there at the time that it took years for most people to figure out just how "in there" they actually were. I'm not claiming that I would've been one of those who figured it out beforehand. But I would've known someone who figured it out, for sure.
12) The Jefferson Airplane: Sure, they eventually became Jefferson Starship and then just Starship, but for a time they were a loud, raw, messed up group that played like a garage band with chops. Two lead singers that didn't do anything else but bang a tambourine. Now that's decadent.
11) The Velvet Underground: Lou Reed is not a guy you associate with psychedelics. Hard drugs, sure. He sang about heroin and speed, after all. But the first two Velvet Underground albums are a trip into some dark, some might suggest evil places that music had never gone before and was soon going quite often once the new wave-punk movement got underway.
10) The Soft Machine: There is evidence that teenagers exposed to this type of music at a young, impressionable age never actually recover from the trauma, but instead spend their lives sequestered in bunker-like conditions swearing that the answer is out there somewhere if only they could collect it! It can also lead one to later in life to begin using an unusual amount of exclamation points to get their point across! The band itself is often associated with Progressive Rock since they knew a lot of chords! It should be noted that Paul Simon knows a lot of chords but has never been considered psychedelic or progressive rock! Something's fishy!
9) The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band: With a band name guaranteed to make them a household name, TWCPAEB (now there's a catchy acronym) went directly into obscurity and have relied on reissues and innocent, curious souls to rediscover them. Or discover them in the first place. According to one report, the main guy was in a mental hospital at one point and another one was involved with working with Barry Manilow and Shaun Cassidy. Is this true? If so, how is that the guy who worked with Manilow and Cassidy is the sane one?
8) Amon Duul II: They recorded side-long opuses and weird freaky stuff that John Lydon (Rotten) would steal for Public Image Limited. Yeti, their second album, is practically a sacred text. German music existed before Amon Duul II, but notice it took two tries for it to succeed.
7) The Doors: Jim Morrison eventually turned them back into a blues band. But he also sent them wallowing into that good ol' mire, never mind what he was up to regarding his parents! Greek myths, Roman gods, Lizard Kings all delivered in a voice that could be best described as Ralph Kramden sounding like a blues singer--or is that Fred Flintstone singing in the shower and slipping on the soap. "Whoa, don't you LOVE her? as she's walking out the...hey, where'd I put the soap?"
6) Love: Arthur Lee couldn't hold it together for long, but when he did, he turned folk music into rock, and rock into jazz, and jazz into poetry, and so on. Lee never recorded enough and that side-long jam ("Revelation") on the second Love album, Da Capo, isn't what the band needed. But Forever Changes, the band's third album, is so good they just keep reissuing it hoping you won't notice it's still the same album.
5) Jimi Hendrix Experience: Of the many Jimis that we got to know in such a short time, I always preferred the psychedelic freak-out one, the guy who liked to solo into another dimension and bring it all back with tons of distortion and song structures that were all of his own making. "I Don't Live Today"? No, the calendar is far too restraining for someone who doesn't like to live in ordinary time. That's why banks now offer direct checking and other online conveniences.
4) Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention: Zappa made so much music that he could probably qualify for just about any list. But while his instrumental work has always been interesting, it was his first batch of albums--Freak Out, Absolutely Free, We're Only In It For the Money--that truly announced his fractured and ironic point of view. He didn't like anyone and why should he? What was in it for him?
3) Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band: Was the great Captain psychedelic? He was plenty weird. And I'd rather his doomed visions over what passes for "social commentary" in popular song. "Orange Claw Hammer" could be our national anthem if it was a completely different song.
2) 13th Floor Elevators: Did Roky Erickson lose his mind from drugs or from living in a mental institution where he learned the ways of the weird? Muddled thinking can still lead to amazing music if you've got a voice like Roky's and your band isn't afraid to fire up the amps. Like most bands of this persuasion, they didn't record for long.
1) Pink Floyd: While other bands either broke up or headed in other directions, Pink Floyd stayed true to their ambient soundwaves till this day. They never went country. They never did a blues album. No folk revival. No jazz-rock. Just epic space rock with lots of creepy sound effects and lots of songs about their original leader, Syd Barrett, going insane from taking too much acid. And now we learn that their keyboardist, Richard Wright, has passed. RIP.