Byron Clement
Byron Clement c. 1969

Historical Events:

The only time when psychedelic music was dominant on Top 40 radio was between the Summer of 1966 and Christmastime 1967. It was an emergent form from early 1965, and dwindled in importance as a residual form through most of 1968. During that time of course the world produced various events.

Of special note are the following. The first Acid Test was conducted at the Fillmore in San Francisco on January 3, 1966; daylight savings time was signed into law on April 13, 1966; the first anti-Vietnam demonstration on Washington took place and Martin Luther King made his first speech against the war on May 15, 1966; civil rights activist James Meredith was killed in Mississippi on June 6, 1966; the Miranda Rights were established on June 13, 1966; one of the first mass shootings in America took place at the University of Texas, killing 13 people and wounding 31 on August 1, 1966; groundbreaking for the NYC World Trade Center began on August 5, 1966; Star Trek began broadcasting on September 8, 1966; LSD was made illegal in the USA on October 6, 1966 and in the UK the same month; Ronald Reagan was elected as governor of California on November 8, 1966; boxer Muhammad Ali refused military service on April 28, 1967; Biafra announced its independence on May 30, 1967, beginning a long civil war with Nigeria; Israel’s Six Day War against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria began June 5, 1967; all U.S. state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 10, 1967; race riots developed across the U.S. during the summer of 1967; Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as the first African American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on August 30, 1967; the network for public broadcasting was established in the U.S. on November 7, 1967; the term black hole was introduced as a concept of physics on December 19, 1967; Laugh In began broadcasting on January 22, 1968; the My Lai massacre in Viet Nam took place March 16, 1968; the U.S. repealed requirement for a gold reserve to back U.S. currency on March 18, 1968; 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered on April 2, 1968; Martin Luther King was assassinated April 4, 1968; The Fair Housing Act became law on April 11, 1968; Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968; the first large demonstration of the Women’s Liberation Movement took place protesting the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City NJ on September 7, 1968; and 60 Minutes had its TV debut on September 24, 1968.

The classic psychedelic art form rarely reflects these incidents directly. (I can think of only three examples of “protest” music that are included in this study.) The previous folk period in popular music had been full of social commentary, but psychedelia signaled a retreat into the listener’s own mind. This change was accelerated by the fact that Bob Dylan, one of the leading composers of protest songs of the early 1960s abandoned the form, which he called “finger pointing music”, and was among the earliest of the psychedelic artists to map the possibilities and limitations of altered consciousness in comparison to sobriety and inebriation, religious devotion and existential doubt. According to the psychedelic aesthetic, change must first come from oneself by escaping the habits of traditional thought. By 1968 and the dominance of hard rock, social commentary again became more prevalent (though not so extensive as it had been when folk music was the dominant aesthetic). The Beatles abandoned psychedelia and had a chart topper in the Summer of 1968 with Revolution in response to Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China; the Rolling Stones shed most of their psychedelic trappings and attempted a rocking Summer hit with Street Fighting Man, directly reflecting the 1968 Paris student riots.

Alpha and Omega

When I first started this project of defining a movement in pop music development that had meant so much to me as a teenager, I remembered that my idea of "psychedelic" was first experienced as the Beatles' Rain, or maybe the Rolling Stones' Paint it Black. As I grew older I learned to include Dylan's symbolist poetry as lyrical psychedelia, starting with Rainy Day Women 12 & 35.

But as I focused renewed attention on 1966, I began to see even earlier examples of psychedelic music outside the big hits. There were tracks on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited album that certainly had a psychedelic vision. One of the earliest album cuts to use a sitar (a signature instrument of the era) was the Beatles' Norwegian Wood. But further back than the Big Three of 1960s Rock, it seemed to me that the Byrds and the Yardbirds had created a good body of proto-psychedelic material. For a long time, I settled on the Byrd's version of Mr. Tambourine Man as a start of the psychedelic collection, both for its gesture toward Dylan's psychedelic lyrics, and because it introduced the new sound of an electric 12 string guitar. True, Mr. Tambourine Man is more frequently thought to be the source of the folk rock genre, which only occasionally contributes to what I would call psychedelic music. Still, it was a different sound at the time, with a bell-like clarity. Much psychedelic music came from artists who had previously released folk rock songs (such as the Byrds, Donovan, Country Joe MacDonald, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Incredible String Band).

A contemporary of Mr. Tambourine Man, the Yardbird's slightly earlier release of For Your Love, has elements of pop that would usually exclude it from the psychedelic category, such as boy-girl lyrics and the "twist" beat. But it is appropriate to give respect to this Top 40 hit because it introduced the U.S. to the Yardbirds, the first successful group to introduce psychedelic experimentalism to the Top 40 radio. Nowadays, we hear For Your Love as a sort of early progressive rock, which it is, though the early career of the Yardbirds is most decidedly in the direction of psychedelic music. (In 1966, there was no such thing yet as the genre "progressive rock", though looking back I see its popular genesis in the Zombies hits Tell Her No and She's Not There.) But I digress. For Your Love was the first successful pop record to include a harpsichord, one of the signature psychedelic instruments, though there is little of the traditional delicacy of harpsichord treatment. The harpsichord sound would soon act as an identifier of what was known at the time as "baroque rock", an early tendency in psychedelic music that continued through the whole period (most notably with the Beach Boys, Donovan and Love) but was considered its own sort of music for a while, drawing on traditional European sources of earlier artistic periods for their musical forms, textures and harmonies.

Another reason to begin the Psychedelic Masterworks collection with For Your Love was that it was written by Glenn Gouldman, who also wrote the even more psychedelic Heart Full of Soul for the Yardbirds. In Heart Full of Soul, Jeff Beck's guitar imitates a sitar raga riff using modalities that suggest a Middle Eastern tradition. (Indeed, Jeff Beck had tried a real sitar for this song, and a copy of that session exists, but it was discarded for having too weak of a sound. Had the song come out in the sitar version, Heart Full of Soul would have pre-dated the release of the Beatles' Norwegian Wood. ) Drawing inspiration from cultures outside the Western tradition was another psychedelic trait, and it was respectable at the time to appropriate Muslim and Buddhist sounds, which might be considered exploitative today. (There wasn't such a thing as "world music" at the time, though psychedelic music is the beginning of that, the sitar being the initial instrument of the exotic.) Gouldman, the writer of early Yardbirds songs (as well as the Hollies' Bus Stop) also shows up in the 1970s, toward the trailing end of the first psychedelic influence on pop music, with the 10cc hit I'm Not in Love. The song seemed an appropriate bookend to For Your Love.

Initially I was thinking of ending the collection in mid-1968 with the Jimi Hendrix Experience version of Dylan's All Along the Watchtower, particularly when I was thinking of using the Byrd's Mr. Tambourine Man to begin the sequence of "Masterwork" psychedelic cuts. I still think that the production of commercially successful albums that would be considered psychedelic (in the main) ended with the Jimi Hendrix Experience album Electric Ladyland; it was certainly the last psychedelic album to hit the Number One spot on the Billboard chart. Though there were a few far less popular stragglers shortly after the release of Electric Ladyland, many of the works of Masterwork level after that period did not chart well or at all. I would now give Aoxomoxoa, released in June 1969 by the Grateful Dead, the title of the last classic psychedelic album. Progressive rock groups such as King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Yes began to take the place of psychedelia for some listeners, while others might have chosen the art rock scene of Simon & Garfunkel or Joni Mitchell as the next fashion. Still others, most specifically those drawn to the guitar virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, turned to Led Zeppelin and Santana.

By mid-1969, there were truly no more psychedelic albums in the classical sense, though occasionally, individual cuts and single releases would reflect psychedelic influence for another decade, mostly as just one of the colors in the artists' palette. The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, who had begun their album careers as psychedelic artists, continued to develop into progressive rock, which I do not follow here. Other artists, such as John Lennon and David Crosby, pioneers in psychedelia, kept the aesthetic alive in some form through the 1970s. I end the Masterworks collection with a song by David Crosby, In My Dreams, released in June 1977 on the CSN album, as the last psychedelia from one the original psychedelic artists.

Defining the Genre

There are a number of very big hits of the 1960s that might be considered psychedelic music but are not included here, even though they charted in the classic period of 1966-1968. In my collection of Masterworks, however, some of them are excluded due to four criteria.

(1) I was at least partially inspired to take up the Trance Love Airwaves project when several years ago I asked for psychedelic music radio programming from the Pandora website, and was frequently offered a selection by the Monkees. [Pandora, unfortunately at the time for my purposes, combined psychedelic with garage music, but the Monkees don't seem to fit into either.] In some of their efforts to approximate contemporary Beatles sounds (for which they were not unique, but other groups had a better feel for the psychedelic aesthetic than the Monkees), they might be mistaken for psychedelic artists, particularly as a thing called "bubble gum", evolving at the same time, found an audience using some of the psychedelic techniques (the surface of which was easily copied). Immense hits like Strawberry Alarm Clock's Incense and Peppermints and the Lemon Piper's Green Tambourine are examples of the combination of bubble gum and psychedelia I have in mind. But there were also very popular "bubble gum" parodies of psychedelic music when critical taste started to turn against the genre, such as Freddie and the Playboy's Judy in Disguise, a send-up of John Lennon’s Lucy in the Sky. I don't plan to include the bubblegum genre here, for a better critique comes from I Dig Rock and Roll Music by Peter Paul & Mary (September 1967), Mighty Quinn by Manfred Mann, and First Edition's Just Checked In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), both from January 1968, and a few others which can be found in the Supplemental list.

(2) Another kind of music that sometimes ends up being lumped with psychedelia is "garage rock". By this I'm thinking of such hit singles as the Electric Prunes' I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night and the Count Five's Psychotic Reaction. But this also influences me about groups like the Velvet Underground, for whom I have more artistic respect, and who did indeed put out a few songs with a [supplemental] psychedelic sensibility, but whose aesthetic is closer to my ear to being proto-punk. Although the 13th Floor Elevators have the distinction of being the first to use the word "psychedelic" in the title of their first album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, released in November 1966, and the liner notes for this album praise LSD consciousness, I also exclude them because their aesthetic seems too raw, too "garage" for the psychedelic aesthetic. I can't get over the constant gimmick of the “electric jug”. It's a novel sound used repeatedly that has never stopped being more than jugband to my ears.

(3) A third kind of music sometimes confused with psychedelic is hard rock. Sometimes, as in the case of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, a psychedelic group could be considered both. But when Jimi Hendrix and the Cream tend toward the blues, such as in such numbers as Voodoo Chile or Sunshine of Your Love, I consider them more as the precursors of the hard rock fashion that followed psychedelic music, and that quickly gained a champion in Led Zeppelin. Initially psychedelic music had a tendency to avoid the blues, or disguise it. After the works of the Experience and Cream, hard rock blues became the dominant fashion on Top Forty radio and in the album market. (I should note here that at the same time as the Summer of Love, Soul music was experiencing an explosion of popularity; it was a Summer when Aretha Franklin's Respect was on the radio as much as the Beatles’ All You Need is Love. I believe this explosion of Soul popularity, and the beginnings of Funk in the Summer of 1967, with James Brown’s Cold Sweat, was built on earlier Motown hits that in the first half of the 1960s served to erase the concept of "race music" which had previously kept most Black artists away from White teenagers—at least, in Montgomery, Alabama, where I lived during this time.) Some groups, like The Who and the Rolling Stones, were working toward hard rock during the psychedelic era. I consider the Stones’ Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby and The Who’s My Generation as precursors of hard rock, and not informed by the psychedelic aesthetic.

(4) Lastly, another fashion that was more closely linked with psychedelia, and that for the most part took its place by the end of the 60s decade, was "progressive rock." It could be argued that such songs as the Beach Boy's Good Vibrations or The Band's Chest Fever are more progressive than psychedelic, but the category didn't exist then, and anyway, these songs were still informed by the "weird" psychedelic aesthetic. Two major bridge artists into the progressive began with the psychedelic: the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. But the progressive came into its own with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Yes and Genesis, with a distinctly more virtuoso style, where improvisation (often rock or jazz adaptations of Western European classical music) played a greater role.

Of Its Own Time

Psychedelic music may have a more limited audience today because psychedelia reflects social conditions different from American values of the 21st Century. The form is strongly dominated by White American or English males, with one Australian group thrown in. (The rest of Europe is barely mentioned here; I can't think of a successful psychedelic artist outside the English speaking nations.)

There is only one female singer, Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, who had wide popularity. (For the most part, I don't consider Janis Joplin a psychedelic artist; she was too bluesy and her sound--and audience--tended to have a more hard rock aesthetic. Joplin became nationally recognized with the 1968 top 20 hit Piece of My Heart, which is included on my supplemental list, but this collection does not follow her further.) Few other women made this list and none of them, save Nico of Velvet Underground, were names widely known in the 1960s: Licorice McKehnie and Rose Simpson of the Incredible String Band; Dorothy Moskowitz of the United States of America: Cynthia Robinson of Sly & the Family Stone; and Patti Santos of It’s A Beautiful Day.

Attitudes about Gay orientation were rarely brought up in psychedelic music. When it was mentioned, such as in Dylan’s Ballad of the Thin Man, or Purple Haze by the Experience, or House in the Country by Blood Sweat and Tears, it was as a joke. Gay artists such as Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Elton John are included in Trance Love Airwaves but at the time they weren’t widely considered Gay, though there were rumors they might be Bisexual. Nor during this period did they write psychedelic songs that related to the Gay experience. But psychedelia may have appealed to some Gay people because there wasn’t a lot of boy-girl romance in psychedelic lyrics. On a more abstract level, they weren’t reminded of their sexuality and could share in a common consciousness with other “freaks”.

Racially integrated pop groups were--for most of America--unheard of before the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It is true that racially integrated bands had existed before. However, the concept of a group (not born of the psychedelic era, but certainly a dominant idea in the 1960s) rather than a band was different. In a group, all members were equal and split their earnings equally--at least as an ideal. (There were complicating issues like payment for songwriting.) A band had a leader, and backup, which whether Black or White supported the leader, and usually were not the leader's equal in status or pay. The Jimi Hendrix Experience wasn't the first integrated group to form in popular music. Love's leader Arthur Lee was Black and is well represented in this collection, and Love's first psychedelic music in Da Capo precedes the release of the Experience's Are You Experienced by eight months. But Love was not popular at the time, and wasn't heard much outside of Los Angeles in the 1960s. A year after the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Sly & the Family Stone and other racially integrated groups could break onto the pop scene, without prohibitive hostility from the general public. But by that time, psychedelic music was already becoming a residual form to other dominant and emerging types of music. The Chambers Brothers can be included as another (modestly) successful integrated psychedelic group, getting a top twenty hit in 1968 from a song they'd first recorded in 1966, Time Has Come Today. The Temptations also, in the twilight of the psychedelic era, made at least a couple of successful psychedelic soul records, and are the only completely Black group in this collection. But by 1968 both soul music and psychedelia, through such talents as Sly Stone, the Isley Brothers and George Clinton, were coming together into something called Funk.

I note here that there are no representatives in the Psychedelic Masterworks of any Latin groups. Pop music was being made by Latin artists, such as Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, and Question Mark & the Mysterians, contemporaneous with the psychedelic era. But it wasn't until Carlos Santana's album Santana, released in 1969, that a Latino had solid and long lasting popular success. Santana certainly had some of the trappings of psychedelia in the beginning, but for the most part, he and the fashion had moved on, and his fusion of Latin rhythms with hard rock musical structure were contributors instead to the tradition of progressive rock.