Theoretically Speaking S3 | E3: What Makes Psychedelia, Psychedelia? … part 2

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Bill Bois’ Music Theory For Non-Musicians

…if there was ever an art where breaking the rules is one of the rules, it’s music.

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S3:E3- What Makes Psychedelia Psychedelia? Part 2

Let’s recap Part 1:

Psychedelic drugs suppress or boost neural networks in the brain.

Some thinkers, including the beatniks, believed these drugs could be used to know yourself, and knowing yourself leads to a happier, less conformist society. Psychedelic music uses unusual sounds, Indian instruments and techniques, studio tricks, and trippy lyrics to simulate a drug experience or express the peace, and love that the world could and should have.

The philosophy of the Beat Generation, and certain religions, says that there are three possible human states:

suffering,

not suffering,

and elation.

Christianity and similar religions say that earthly life has suffering and not suffering. Elation comes only in the afterlife. 

The beatnik idea said elation could happen in this life, through drugs, transcendental meditation or other techniques. Some of these techniques provide only temporary elation. One must know oneself in order to reach elation permanently.

The beatniks had some now-familiar terminology. Conformists or other people who didn’t understand beat philosophy were “square.” People who understood and were involved were “hip.”

And the people who were interested in sex and drugs and a liberated society but not so interested in putting in the work of knowing oneself weren’t hip. 

The beatniks derisively called these folks “hippies.” In other words, they weren’t square – but they weren’t really hip either.

The hippies liked this name, whether they understood the beatniks were making fun of them or not, and took it to heart. Their goal was peace and love.

Ringo Starr still says “Peace and love” every chance he gets.

Admirable goals, but some were interested in sex and drugs and rock and roll as mere escapism.

The hippies thought that elation could be had by returning to nature. Unhappiness isn’t natural, they thought. It’s caused by our distance from nature. Many started communes to live simply. They wore clothing inspired by Native American or Indian culture. They believed in flower power.

Some believed love is man’s natural state.

Some just wanted to get laid.

Either way, the middle of 1968 was known as the Summer Of Love.

The musicians of the Summer Of Love may have believed in this Age Of Aquarius, or they may have been following the latest trend.

Regardless, they made some great music.

And that music falls into three categories: psychedelic rock, psychedelic folk, and psychedelic soul.

Psychedelic rock or pop is what we think of first. Some bands were strictly psychedelic, like the 13th Floor Elevators, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Electric Prunes, and Pink Floyd. Others were bands with long careers who went through a psychedelic phase. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and even The Beach Boys had such a phase.

We can’t really say what the first psychedelic pop song was, since its various elements show up starting in the previous decades and centuries. However, the first deliberately psychedelic song may be either Eight Miles High by The Byrds or You’re Gonna Miss Me by the 13th Floor Elevators. Eight Miles High was recorded first but released after You’re Gonna Miss Me.

You’re Gonna Miss Me is one of the few records made featuring an electric jug.

Eight Miles High uses an electric 12-string guitar that sounds something like a sitar. Its lyrics describe a trip, too.

It’s hard to picture the clean cut Beach Boys in their matching striped, short sleeve shirts singing about cars, girls, and surfing over anything other than a basic rock & roll beat. On their classic album Pet Sounds, they stick to that subject matter – but just listen to the studio wizardry and disjointed arrangement of Good Vibrations or God Only Knows. It’s not cut from the same cloth as Fun, Fun, Fun.

Pet Sounds is Brian Wilson’s creation. The rest of the Beach Boys just sang on it, and some weren’t happy that it was so different from their usual surf music. It’s the first album meant to be taken as a whole rather than just a collection of songs. It’s tremendously influential, and one of the first bands it influenced was The Beatles.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band took so long to record that there were rumors they had broken up. In truth, it was only five months, and it’s a masterpiece of psychedelia.

It’s the target every other band aimed for.

Sgt. Pepper’s was released on June 1, 1967. By the end of the year, the Rolling Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Jimi Hendrix Experience released Axis: Bold As Love, The Who released The Who Sell Out, Cream released Disraeli Gears, and The Beatles followed up with Magical Mystery Tour.

That, of course, is a partial list. There are tons of other well-known bands and one hit wonders who rode the psychedelic train. 

It’s possible the last big song of psychedelic rock is David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

It details Major Tom’s space trip where Ground Control loses touch with him.

Remember, Timothy Leary said that people taking LSD must be accompanied by a guide who isn’t tripping so they don’t lose contact with reality.

Space Oddity could be simple science fiction, or the story of a drug trip gone bad.

Psychedelic rock is the best known of the three subgenres, and 1967 and ’68 were the peak years, but it faded by 1969. Rock started going back to its blues roots with bands like Led Zeppelin. When Cream broke up, Eric Clapton formed the bluesy Derek & The Dominos and left psychedelia behind him. In the 1980s, after overcoming his heroin addiction, he went mainstream and anti-drug.

I talked about folk music in a previous episode, and it took on psychedelic tinges through this same time period.

While sticking with its traditional acoustic instruments, it added fuzz guitar, Indian instruments, and sound effects.

The Holy Modal Rounders’ version of Lead Belly’s Hesitation Blues is silly and not really psychedelic, but it’s worth a mention because it’s the first song we know of to use the word “psychedelic” in its lyrics. That was in 1964, eight years after the word was coined.

Donovan is probably the best known artist in the psychedelic folk scene. His songs like Mellow Yellow and Hurdy Gurdy Man were a relaxed, acoustic take on the elements of psychedelia. 

Others in this mold include Jake Holmes, Tim Buckley, and Syd Barrett’s solo records after being removed from Pink Floyd. Psychedelic folk also faded out by 1970.

Psychedelic soul doesn’t get as much appreciation as it should.

It’s the same soul music I wrote about previously but with the addition of effects like the wah-wah pedal on guitar and the envelope filter on bass.

It’s worth noting that Larry Graham, bassist for Sly & The Family Stone, invented the slap and pop bass technique that would rule disco and funk a decade later.

Also, soul is classy and sophisticated. It demands respect. When Aretha Franklin sang Respect, it could be taken two ways. It could be that she demanded respect for herself from her lover, or she was demanding respect for her people from the nation. It was, after all, just after passage of the Civil Rights Act. 

What psychedelic soul did differently was look inward, as all psychedelic music does.

Some troubles are external, and some are internal.

We need to work on fixing both. It’s a ball of confusion.

The Temptations were another existing band who went through a psychedelic phase. They had been a hit-making machine in the elegant Motown tradition. Then, from about 1968 to 1970, they became a freaky, funky outfit, starting with their Cloud Nine album. Through the 70s, they went more funk, and then more adult contemporary.

Sly & the Family Stone was one of the few bands with male and female, and black and white, members, and they took turns on lead vocals. They embodied the hippie ideals of equality, peace and love, and they were definitely psychedelic.

You musicians out there:
Just try figuring out the chord changes to Hot Fun In The Summertime.
That’s some mind altering stuff.

Isaac Hayes had been a songwriter at Stax Records, writing three minute soul songs. He leaned into psychedelia with longer songs and full orchestras. Saxie Russel’s Psychedelic Soul became popular in the Northern Soul scene in the UK. The Chambers Brothers went Top 20 with Time Has Come Today and Edwin Starr’s version of War hit #1.

While psychedelic soul lasted longer than the rock and folk subgenres, it changed through the 1970s. Even Sly & The Family Stone started wondering if peace and love would ever be universal. In looking at the world around them, they went from Everyday People to There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Their sound and the topics got darker.

Parliament/Funkadelic brought the dance beat and kept the hippie ideals with One Nation Under A Groove, but it was more groove than melody. While some found these endless grooves liberating, others didn’t understand that ten minutes of repetition could be a trip in and of itself.

The whirling dervishes of Turkey’s Mevlevi Order could be another example of finding a path to enlightenment through extended dance.

Earth, Wind And Fire, with their Egyptian symbolism, stretched out the psychedelic soul era a little. Musically though, they weren’t any more psychedelic than any other band.

Psychedelic music went underground for a while, and it emerged in various ways.

It showed up in the space rock of Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre. Brian Eno invented ambient music as a new genre meant to be high quality background music, and a replacement for Muzak.

Frankie Knuckles mixed records for dancers, mostly gay black men, in a Chicago warehouse. That’s why it was called warehouse music, which became house music, which became acid house.

In the 1980s, acid house and MDMA, a drug also known as ecstasy, became popular at underground and sometimes illegal raves. After hours of dancing, people chilled out listening to ambient music.

These raves and festivals, and ecstasy’s tendency to make people want to be close to others, gave mid-1988 the nickname of the second summer of love.

There was also a revival of psychedelic rock in the late 80s. Tears For Fears and Oasis updated The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s sound. The Dream Syndicate and other bands had the Paisley Underground scene in California. 

And a very strong scene developed in Manchester, England.

With prominent psychedelic elements, bands like the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses led what came to be called Madchester.

Part of this neo-psychedelia movement included the shoegaze bands of the 1990s. Shoegaze gets its name from its performers looking down rather than engaging the audience. The vocals are buried behind waves of distorted guitars. The best known shoegaze bands are probably My Bloody Valentine and Lush.

After the turn of the century, artists continue making mind bending soundscapes.

Bands like Animal Collective and Tame Impala make atmospheres ripe for engaged mind wandering. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard uses microtonal scales, which include the notes between our standard notes on the piano, to create an otherworldly vibe.

Jon Hopkins latest album, released only a year ago, is called Music For Psychedelic Therapy.

Timothy Leary would be proud.

The counterculture, whether it was the futurists or the beatniks or the hippies, assumed that everyone can think for themselves.

The painful truth is some people are followers, whether they follow Kurt Cobain or Newt Gingrich.

Not everyone understands the need for individual enlightenment, and they can’t be forced into a kind of intelligence they don’t have. Not everyone is a seeker.

We don’t even talk about knowing one’s self anymore.

Psychedelia couldn’t and didn’t reach the beatniks’ goal of universal enlightenment, or the hippies’ goal of worldwide peace and love. For some, it’s still just an escape from reality and responsibilities.

But psychedelia did help a few individuals achieve transcendence here and there.

The world’s a better place for it, and for the great music.

In a gadda da vida, baby.

Goo goo g’joob.


Suggested Listening:

Hesitation Blues
The Holy Modal Rounders
(1964)

You’re Gonna Miss Me
The 13th Floor Elevators
(1966)

Eight Miles High
The Byrds
(1966)

Dazed And Confused
Jake Holmes
(1967)

Hurdy Gurdy Man
Donovan
(1968)

Walk On By
Isaac Hayes with The Bar-Kays
(1969)

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
Sly & The Family Stone
(1970)

Ball Of Confusion
The Temptations
(1970)

The Seeker
The Who
(1970)

Space Oddity
David Bowie
(1972)

Oxygene, Pt. 4
Jean-Michel Jarre
(1974)

Pulstar
Vangelis
(1976)

Acid Tracks
Phuture
(1987)

Loaded
Primal Scream
(1990)

Only Shallow
My Bloody Valentine
(1991)

In The Name Of The Father
Black Grape
(1995)

Tattva
Kula Shaker
(1996)

My Girls
Animal Collective
(2009)

Rattlesnake
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
(2016) 

Borderline
Tame Impala
(2019)

Welcome
Jon Hopkins
(2021)


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Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

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Phylum of Alexandria
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December 2, 2022 6:49 am

Great job, as ever!

Funny that the beats were so derisive about the hippies, given that they were associates with Leary and Ken Kesey, and likely had a hand in helping to spread LSD all over the country. Frankenstein’s flower creature will like, not abide such conceptual tyranny, man. It must break free…

One aspect of psychedelia that I’m eager to write about is the dark side.
Of the music, that is.

The Velvet Underground and The Monks had an angry, noisy style that influenced punk, but it also influenced German bands to get into what they called kosmiche musik. As those bands refined their sounds in the early 70s, they often got darker but no less hypnotic, and we got what we now (for some reason still) call krautrock. This stuff was essential for early industrial. And industrial itself, at least in the early days of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Nurse With Wound, Current 93, Coil, and some others–was a type of dark psychedelic sound.

Later on some also got into a gothic type of psychedelic folk, with Current 93 making his own dark apocalyptic canon over the years. That stuff was heavily inspired by the dark psychedelic gothic folk that Nico released in her albums with John Cale from 68-74.

Speaking of gothic, all of the bands that fans of goth cite today as progenitors of the genre, all of them love and stole from (aside from David Bowie of course) 60’s psychedelic releases from the Velvets, Nico, the Doors, Syd Barrett’s Floyd, and Jefferson Airplane.

As such, some of the bands’ own songs sport a psychedelic sound: The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Echo & the Bunnymen once in a while, and even occasionally Christian Death. And bands like Siouxsie and the Cure were direct influences on dream pop acts like Cocteau Twins and A.R. Kane, as well as shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.

Last edited 1 month ago by Phylum of Alexandria
thegue
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thegue
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December 2, 2022 9:42 am

The threads/family trees of these different genres is fascinating!

I mean, I guess it makes sense that shoegaze came from psychedelia, but I’m still surprised by it. For me, MBV was The Beginning, and I never considered where they looked to for inspiration.

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 2, 2022 9:57 am
Reply to  thegue

I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to their earlier stuff, but it’s pretty clear that MBV initially looked to The Cramps for inspiration!

(but I mostly stick to the Velvets/Siouxsie/SY/Cocteau Twins inspired stuff)

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 2, 2022 9:57 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Great teaser!

I’m intrigued…

LinkCrawford
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December 2, 2022 11:43 am

Gotta be post grunge acid a capella country-funk

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 2, 2022 12:07 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

That was my second guess.

My first was DVD menu screen music.

JJ Live At Leeds
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December 2, 2022 2:17 pm

After mt entertained us with the history of wallpaper paste I wouldn’t rule out this appearing at some stage.

mt58
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mt58
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December 2, 2022 2:30 pm

On it.

Eric-J
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Eric-J
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December 2, 2022 12:54 pm

Another thread that could be followed is the branch of Psychedelic Folk to Roots Rock and Southern Rock. Early Allman Brothers certainly had psychedelic elements, and the Greatful Dead spent much of their career in the folk/country/blues borderlands. (And not for nothing, but in the 80s and early 90s, Dead shows were probably the primary distribution network for LSD.)

And I just want to highlight this story of Bootsy Collins’ transition from James Brown’s bassist to George Clinton’s:

https://rollingout.com/2020/06/16/bootsy-collins-says-he-decided-to-drop-acid-to-prove-james-brown-right/

JJ Live At Leeds
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December 2, 2022 11:20 am

How did I not know until now that Led Zeppelin ripped off Dazed and Confused? I knew that there were plenty other songs they took for their own but this one had eluded me.

Glad to see The Temptations get a mention. Their run of psychedelic soul albums from Cloud Atlas onwards are the go to Temptations era for me. Not that they seem to have had any say in much of what they released or even approved of the direction that Norman Whitfield took them in from what I understand. Tough luck for them but they gave their voices to some incredible tracks.

JJ Live At Leeds
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December 2, 2022 2:16 pm

Cloud Atlas?!?! I can’t even blame autocorrect for that. Cloud Nine of course. At least its not like I own and love the album…ahem.

lovethisconcept
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December 5, 2022 1:50 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Except, of course, for mushroom coffee.

cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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December 2, 2022 7:34 pm

You read contemporary literary fiction.

cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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December 2, 2022 7:31 pm

“Space Oddity” reminds me of William Hurt in Altered States.

dutchg8r
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December 3, 2022 11:46 am

Fascinating- I had never really considered psychedelic music evolving onto the 21st century. But now that I think about it, it really is a legit statement whenever I hear something and question – what were they smoking to have come up with that?!

Now I see what you meant VDog about the hippie music explanation. I’ve always told people it’s a good thing my parents were living in Seattle in the late 60s, else they totally would have gone to Woodstock and sat around for the rest of their lives reminiscing like it was a war story. And my name would be Rainbow or Willow, or Poplar, or Dandelion….

They had their niche while in Seattle, that’s for sure. A son of their best friends went on to work with Nirvana in the studio, so that kind of counter culture mentality of the late 60s is probably a big part of what contributed to the 90s Seattle sound of their kids.

Quite the buffet of tidbits to chew on with this entry, thanks VDog!!! Nom-nom-nom

dutchg8r
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December 4, 2022 11:04 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I could be ok with Sparrow; better than Grackle.

🙃

mt58
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mt58
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December 3, 2022 10:24 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r
mt58
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mt58
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December 4, 2022 12:53 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Quite rightly.

DanceFever
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December 7, 2022 10:28 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

And she’s just wild about me!

DanceFever
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DanceFever
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December 7, 2022 10:29 pm

I would add Jefferson’s Airplane’s “White Rabbit” as the ultimate psychedelia song!

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