Psychedelic Rock is arguably the most important genre in Rock history. Bred from a 1960’s counterculture centered on taking psychedelic drugs in order to experience a heightened sense of reality through distortions, vibrations, vivid colorizations and lucid dreaming, the culture tried to replicate LSD effects through vibrant pictures and sounds.
Psychedelic Rock is characterized by heavily effected instrumentation. Reverb echoes incessantly, tremolo takes the place of standard lead guitar lines, while distortion buzzes throughout. Lyrics attempted to relay visions and feelings produced during these cosmic inner journeys.
The sound was pioneered by The Beatles, and taken up by such bands as The Yardbirds, Cream, Pink Floyd and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band primarily attributed to inventing the term Psychedelic Rock is the Austin, TX based The 13th Floor Elevators.
The movement hit its peak with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, all eventually climaxing in 1969 at Woodstock, where psychedelic acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Santana played.
A number of events contributed to the decline in popularity of Psychedelic Rock. LSD had been declared illegal, the link between Sharon Tate’s murder by Charles Manson and The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” led to a “hippie backlash”. “Acid casualties”, or people negatively affected by hallucinogens and drugs in general, became posters for avoiding psychedelic experiences: Syd Barrett’s insanity, the deaths of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin led to a more raw “back to basics” trend in Rock.
However, due to the appeal of Psychedelic Rock, new genres were being formed, including Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal. Musicians who grew up listening to Psychedelia still wanted to take elements from the movement, and included their favorite aspects into their respective sounds.
In the late 1970’s, bands primarily in the Post-Punk scene strived to revive Psychedelia, blending the distortions, reverb and phaser (et al) with the upbeat dance beats of New Wave. Bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Soft Boys, and The Church utilized the 60’s nuances to full 80’s effect.Hence, Neo-Psychedelia came to be.
The popularity of these bands bled into the 90’s, with the Shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus of Mary Chain carrying over from the 80’s, the emergence of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Dandy Warhols, and the Electric 6 Collective including The Apples in Stereo, of Montreal, and Neutral Milk Hotel. Neo-Psychedelia can basically be summed up as any form of music incorporating Psychedelic elements within its songs.
True Psychedelic Rock is untouchable, having ended with the decline of the counterculture. If one were to write original songs in the Psychedelic Rock style those songs would be Neo-Psychedelic.
Psychedelic Music was so powerful in its statement, primarily through its promise of experiencing heightened art, that it continues to dominate our musical trends to this day. And I’m willing to bet that it will never fizzle out entirely.