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Psychedelic music

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Title: Psychedelic music  
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Subject: Popular music of Birmingham, Counterculture of the 1960s, Psychedelia, Hippie, Neo-psychedelia
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Psychedelic music

Mati Klarwein's Annunciation, used as the cover of Santana's album Abraxas (1970).

Psychedelic music (sometimes psychedelia[1]) covers a range of popular music styles and genres, which are inspired by or influenced by psychedelic culture and which attempt to replicate and/or enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. It emerged during the mid-1960s among folk rock and blues rock bands in the United States and Britain.

Psychedelic music bands often used new recording techniques and effects and drew on non-Western sources such as the ragas and drones of Indian music. Psychedelic influences spread into folk, rock, and soul, creating the subgenres of psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock, psychedelic pop and psychedelic soul in the late 1960s before declining in the early 1970s. Psychedelic music bands expanded their musical horizons, and went on to create and influence many new musical genres including progressive rock, kosmische musik, synth rock, jazz rock, heavy metal, glam rock, funk, electro and bubblegum pop. Psychedelic music was revived in a variety of forms of neopsychedelia from the 1980s, in psychedelic hip hop and re-emerged in electronic music in genres including acid house, trance music and new rave.


A short sample followed by two flanging versions

Unprocessed organ followed by different phasing effects

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A number of features are often included in psychedelic music. Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven 'sampler' keyboard.[7] Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning, phasing, long delay loops, and extreme reverb.[8] In the 1960s there was a use of primitive electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin.[9][10] Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.[11]



Timothy Leary, a major advocate of the use of LSD in the 1960s, photographed in 1989.

From the second half of the 1950s, Beat Generation writers like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg[12] wrote about and took drugs, including cannabis and Benzedrine, raising awareness and helping to popularise their use.[13] In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other hallucinogens was advocated by new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler,[14][15] and, according to L. R. Veysey, they profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation of youth.[16]

The psychedelic life style had already developed in California, particularly in San Francisco, by the mid-1960s, with the first major underground LSD factory established by Owsley Stanley.[17] From 1964 the Merry Pranksters, a loose group that developed around novelist Ken Kesey, sponsored the Acid Tests, a series of events based around the taking of LSD (supplied by Stanley), accompanied by light shows, film projection and discordant, improvised music known as the psychedelic symphony.[18][19] The Pranksters helped popularise LSD use, through their road trips across America in a psychedelically-decorated converted school bus, which involved distributing the drug and meeting with major figures of the beat movement, and through publications about their activities such as Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).[20]

San Francisco also had an emerging music scene of folk clubs, coffee houses and independent radio stations that catered to the population of students at nearby Berkeley and the free thinkers that had gravitated to the city.[21] There was already a culture of drug use among jazz and blues musicians, and in the early 1960s use of drugs including cannabis, peyote, mescaline and LSD[22] began to grow among folk and rock musicians.[23] Soon musicians began to refer (at first indirectly, and later explicitly) to the drug and attempted to recreate or reflect the experience of taking LSD in their music, just as it was reflected in psychedelic art, psychedelic literature and film.[24]

Psychedelic folk

Donovan, shown in 2007

One of the first musical uses of the term "psychedelic" in the folk scene was by the New York-based folk group The Holy Modal Rounders on their version of Lead Belly's 'Hesitation Blues' in 1964.[25] Folk/avant-garde guitarist John Fahey recorded several songs in the early 1960s experimented with unusual recording techniques, including backwards tapes, and novel instrumental accompaniment including flute and sitar.[26] His nineteen-minute "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party" "anticipated elements of psychedelia with its nervy improvisations and odd guitar tunings".[26] Similarly, folk guitarist Sandy Bull's early work "incorporated elements of folk, jazz, and Indian and Arabic-influenced dronish modes".[27] His 1963 album Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo explores various styles and "could also be accurately described as one of the very first psychedelic records".[28]

This trend ran in parallel in both America and Britain and as part of the inter-related folk, folk rock and rock scenes. Blues, drugs, jazz and eastern influences had featured since 1964 in the work of Davy Graham and Bert Jansch.[29] Folk artists who were particularly significant in the psychedelic movement included the Scottish performers Donovan, who combined influences of American artists like Bob Dylan with references to flower power, and the Incredible String Band, who from 1967 incorporated a range of influences into their acoustic instrument-based music, including medieval and eastern instruments.[30]

Psychedelic rock

The Beatles introduced many of the major elements of the psychedelic sound to mainstream audiences in the mid-1960s, for example with "I Feel Fine" (1964), which used guitar feedback; in late 1965 the Rubber Soul album used a sitar on "Norwegian Wood"; they employed backmasking on their 1966 single B-side "Rain" and other tracks that appeared on their Revolver album later that year.[5] Drug references began to appear in their songs, in "Day Tripper" (1965), and more explicitly in "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966).[31] However, the first use of the term "psychedelic rock" is generally attributed to Austin, Texas band The 13th Floor Elevators, whose early tours would inspire San Francisco's still-incubating psychedelic scene.[3] The Byrds rapidly progressed away from purely folk rock in 1966 with their single "Eight Miles High", widely taken to be a reference to drug use.[5]

In Britain arguably the most influential band in the psychedelic music genre were The Yardbirds,[5] who, with Jeff Beck as their guitarist, increasingly moved into psychedelic territory, adding up-tempo improvised "rave ups", Gregorian chant and world music influences to songs including "Still I'm Sad" (1965), "Shapes of Things" (1966), and "Over Under Sideways Down" (1966).[32] From 1966 the UK underground scene based in North London supported new acts with psychedelic influences, including Pink Floyd, Traffic and Soft Machine.[33] The same year saw the début albums of rock bands Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience which featured extended solo improvisation sections using heavily distorted and sound-processed electric guitar, which went onto become a key feature of psychedelic music.[5]

Psychedelic rock reached its peak in the last years of the decade. In 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, including the track "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and the Rolling Stones responded later that year with their only psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request.[5] Pink Floyd produced The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.[5] In America the Summer of Love was prefaced by the Human Be-In event and reached its peak at the Monterey Pop Festival, the latter helping to make major American stars of Hendrix and The Who, whose single "I Can See for Miles" delved into psychedelic territory.[34] Key recordings included Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow and The Doors' Strange Days.[35] These trends climaxed in the 1969 Woodstock festival, which saw performances by most of the major psychedelic acts, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Santana.[36]

Psychedelic pop

Electric Prunes in 1966

As psychedelia emerged as a mainstream and commercial force, particularly through the work of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, it began to influence pop music, which incorporated the sounds of sitars, fuzz guitars, and tape effects. The Beach Boys were a distinctive influence for their vocal harmonies.[37] Their 1966 single "Good Vibrations" was one of the first pop songs to incorporate psychedelic lyrics and sounds, making use of a Tannerin (an easier to manipulate version of a Theremin).[38][39] American pop-oriented bands that followed in this vein included Electric Prunes, Strawberry Alarm Clock and Blues Magoos. Psychedelic sounds were also incorporated into the output of early bubblegum pop acts like The Monkees and The Lemon Pipers.[40] Scottish folk singer Donovan's transformation to 'electric' music gave him a 1966 pop hit with "Sunshine Superman", one of the earliest overtly psychedelic pop records.[5] Pink Floyd's "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play", both written by Syd Barrett, helped set the pattern for psychedelic pop in Britain.[41][42]

More pop-oriented psychedelia was popular among the emerging bands in Australia and New Zealand, including The Easybeats, which formed in Sydney but who recorded their international hit "Friday on My Mind" (1966) in London and remained there for their forays into psychedelic-tinged pop until they disbanded in 1970.[43] A similar path was pursued by the Bee Gees, formed in Brisbane, but whose first album Bee Gees 1st (1967), recorded in London, gave them three major hit singles and contained folk, rock and psychedelic elements, heavy influenced by the Beatles.[44] The Twilights, formed in Adelaide, also made to trip to London, recording a series of minor hits, absorbing the psychedelic scene, to return home to produce covers of Beatles' songs, complete with sitar, and the concept album Once upon a Twilight (1968).[45] The most successful New Zealand band, The La De Das, produced the psychedelic pop concept album The Happy Prince (1968), based on the Oscar Wilde children's classic, but failed to break through in Britain and the wider world.[46]

Psychedelic soul

Sly and the Family Stone pioneered the genre of psychedelic soul in the late 1960s.

In the late 1960s, psychedelic music began to have an impact on African American musicians, particularly the stars of the [50]


A 'gate fold' record sleeve featuring UV/stroboscopic photography.

By the end of the 1960s, the trend of exploring psychedelia in music was largely in retreat. LSD was declared illegal in the US and UK in 1966.[51] The linking of the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca by The Manson Family to Beatles songs such as "Helter Skelter" contributed to an anti-hippie backlash.[52] The Altamont Free Concert in California, headlined by The Rolling Stones on December 6, 1969, did not turn out to be a positive milestone in the psychedelic music scene, as was anticipated; instead, it became notorious for the fatal stabbing of a black teenager Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel security guards.[53]

Early "acid casualties" in the music scene, including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys,[39] Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, helped to shift the focus of the respective bands of which they had been leading figures away from psychedelia.[54] Some bands which had earlier led the psychedelic rock trends, such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, broke up.[55] Jimi Hendrix died in London in September 1970, shortly after recording Band of Gypsies (1970), Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in October 1970. Jim Morrison of the Doors died in Paris in July 1971.[56] Many surviving acts moved away from psychedelia into either more back-to-basics "roots rock"; into traditional-based, pastoral or whimsical folk; the wider experimentation of progressive rock; or into riff-laden heavy rock.[5] By the early 1970s psychedelic-soul influenced records were losing their grip on the charts and most of the major artists began to look for inspiration elsewhere.[47]

After the death of Brian Epstein and the unpopular surreal television film, Magical Mystery Tour (1967), the Beatles returned to a raw style with The Beatles (1968) and Let It Be (1970), before their eventual break-up.[5] The "back to basics" trend was also evident in the Rolling Stones' subsequent albums, from Beggar's Banquet (1968) to Exile on Main St. (1972).[5] English folk rock outfit Fairport Convention released Liege and Lief in 1969, turning away from American-influenced folk rock toward a sound based on traditional British music and founding the sub-genre of electric folk, to be followed by bands like Steeleye Span and Fotheringay.[57] The psychedelic-influenced and whimsical strand of British folk continued into the 1970s with acts including Comus, Mellow Candle, Nick Drake, The Incredible String Band, Forest and Trees, Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine[58] and with Syd Barrett's two solo albums.[59]


Kraftwerk, one of the key acts in developing psychedelic music into electronic Kosmische Musik.

Many of the British musicians and bands that had embraced psychedelia moved into creating the progressive rock genre in the 1970s, including Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and members of Yes. King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), has been seen as an important link between psychedelia and progressive rock.[60] While some bands such as Hawkwind maintained an explicitly psychedelic course into the 1970s, most bands dropped the psychedelic elements in favour of embarking on wider experimentation.[61] As German bands from the psychedelic movement moved away from their psychedelic roots and placed increasing emphasis on electronic instrumentation, these groups, including Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can and Faust, developed a distinctive brand of electronic rock, known as kosmische musik, or in the British press as "Krautrock".[62] Their adoption of electronic synthesisers, along with the musical styles explored by Brian Eno in his keyboard playing with Roxy Music, had a major influence on subsequent development of synth rock.[63] The incorporation of jazz styles into the music of bands like Soft Machine and Can, also contributed to the development of the emerging jazz rock sound of bands such as Colosseum.[64]

Psychedelic rock, with its distorted guitar sound, extended solos, and adventurous compositions, was an important bridge between blues-oriented rock and the later emergence of the heavy metal genre. Two former guitarists with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, moved on to form key acts in the new blues rock-heavy metal genre, The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin, respectively.[65] Other major pioneers of the heavy metal genre had begun as blues-based psychedelic bands, including Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and UFO.[65][66]

Psychedelic music also contributed to the origins of glam rock. In 1970, when Marc Bolan moved away from his psychedelic folk style and formed the rock band T. Rex, he became the first "glam" rock star.[67] From 1971, David Bowie moved on from his early psychedelic explorations to develop his Ziggy Stardust persona, which incorporated elements of professional make-up, mime and performance into his act.[68] Psychedelic influences lasted a little longer in pop music, stretching into the early 1970s and playing a major part in the creation of Bubblegum pop.[40] Similarly, psychedelic soul continued into the early 1970s, and its sounds were incorporated into funk music and eventually became part of the disco music style.[47]


Pioneering neo-psychedelic band Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Psychedelic rock began to be revived in the later 1970s by bands of the post-punk scene, including Siouxsie and the Banshees,[69] the Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Church, and the Soft Boys.[70] In the US in the early 1980s, these bands were joined by the Paisley Underground movement, based in Los Angeles, with acts like Dream Syndicate, The Bangles and Rain Parade.[71] There were occasional mainstream acts that dabbled in neo-psychedelia, including Prince's mid-1980s work and some of Lenny Kravitz's 1990s output, but it has mainly been an influence on alternative and indie-rock bands.[70] After the breakup of the Teardrop Explodes Julian Cope continued an esoteric psychedelic course in his solo career.[72]

In the 1990s the Elephant 6 collective, including acts like The Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power and Of Montreal, produced eclectic psychedelic rock and folk.[73] Other alternative rock acts that delved into psychedelic territory included Australian bands The Church, Tyrnaround, and The Moffs; Nick Saloman's Bevis Frond, the space rock of Spacemen 3 and diverse acts like Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals.[70] In the early 1990s, stoner rock emerged, combining elements of psychedelic rock, blues-rock and doom metal. Typically using slow-to-mid tempo and featuring low-tuned guitars in a bass-heavy sound,[74] with melodic vocals, and 'retro' production,[75] it was pioneered by the Californian bands Kyuss[76] and Sleep.[77] In the UK The Stone Roses[78] debut single in 1988 set out a catchy neo-psychedelic guitar pop, helping to create the Madchester scene, and influencing the early sound of 1990s Britpop bands like Blur,[79] and Oasis, who drew on 1960s psychedelic pop and rock, particularly on the album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.[80] In the immediate post-Britpop era Kula Shaker incorporated swirling, guitar-heavy sounds of late-1960s psychedelia and with Indian mysticism and spirituality.[81] In the new millennium neo-psychedelia was continued by bands directly emulating the sounds of the 1960s like Tame Impala[82] and The Essex Green,[83] while bands like Animal Collective applied an experimental approach that combined genres from the 1960s and the present.[84]

Psychedelic hip hop

Psychedelic hip hop pioneers De La Soul

Psychedelic hip hop emerged at the end of the 1980s as rappers began to sample mellower grooves, with De La Soul's debut album 3 Feet High and Rising (1989). White rappers Beastie Boys double album Paul's Boutique (1989) moved towards a more sophisticated sound that incorporated diverse influences, including Curtis Mayfield and Pink Floyd. In the 1990s there was considerable experimentation and cross-fertilisation between psychedelia and rap. The Jungle Brothers merged hip hop and acid house on "I'll House You" (1990) and A Tribe Called Quest used samples of jazz and Lou Reed on "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" (1990). Digital Underground incorporated elements of sex, science fiction and druggy in-jokes of P-Funk into their stage shows, while Arrested Development were influenced by Sly and the Family Stone. Other acts influenced by psychedelia included Digable Planets, Divine Styler and Cyprus Hill. P.M. Dawn, an ensemble formed by bothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes drew on diverse samples of modern pop music from the Beatles, through Sly and the Family Stone to Spandau Ballet. Their Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991) and The Bliss Album...? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence) (1993) were hits in the US and UK and crossed over into the rave scene.[85] From the late 1990s other artists working in this area included RZA, The Roots, D'Angelo and Erykah Badu.[86]

Psychedelic electronic music

Acid house

A Roland TB-303 Bassline sequencer

Acid house originated in the mid-1980s in the house music style of Chicago DJs like DJ Pierre, Adonis, Farley Jackmaster Funk and Phuture, the last of which coined the term on his "Acid Trax" (1987). It mixed elements of house with the "squelchy" sounds and deep basslines produced by the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. As singles began to reach the UK the sound was re-created, beginning in small warehouse parties held in London in 1986–87. During 1988 in the Second Summer of Love it hit the mainstream as thousands of clubgoers travelled to mass raves. The genre then began to penetrate the British pop charts with hits for M/A/R/R/S, S'Express, and Technotronic by the early 1990s, before giving way to the popularity of trance music.[87]


Trance music originated in the German techno and hardcore scenes of the early 1990s. It emphasized brief and repeated synthesizer lines with minimal rhythmic changes and occasional synthesizer atmospherics, with the aim of putting listeners into a trance-like state. Derived from acid house and techno music, it developed in Germany and the Netherlands with singles including "Energy Flash" by Joey Beltram and "The Ravesignal" by CJ Bolland. This was followed by releases by Robert Leiner, Sun Electric, Aphex Twin and most influentially the techno-trance released by the Harthouse label, including the much emulated "Acperience 1" (1992) by duo Hardfloor. Having gained some popularity in the UK in the early 1990s it was eclipsed by the appearance of new genres of electronic music such as trip-hop and jungle, before taking off again towards the end of the decade and beginning to dominate the clubs, with DJs including Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong, Tony De Vit, Danny Rampling, Sasha, Judge Jules and in the US Christopher Lawrence and Kimball Collins. It soon began to fragment into a number of subgenres, including progressive trance, acid trance, goa trance, psychedelic trance, hard trance and uplifting trance.[88]

New rave

New rave band the Klaxons in concert in 2007

In Britain in the 2000s (decade), the combination of indie rock with dance-punk was dubbed "new rave" in publicity for The Klaxons, and the term was picked up and applied by the NME to a number of bands,[89] including Trash Fashion,[90] New Young Pony Club,[91] Hadouken!, Late of the Pier, Test Icicles,[92] and Shitdisco.[89] It formed a scene with a similar visual aesthetic to earlier rave music, centred around visual effects: glowsticks, neon and other lights were common, and followers of the scene often dressed in extremely bright and fluorescent coloured clothing.[89][93]

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