By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
From the trailblazers of experimentation arose a movement inspired by those sonic strides as well as art, fashion and mind-expansion known as Psychedelic. The sound was comprised of music (most often rock) which imbued the aforementioned with new found recording technology, effects pedals for the predominant instruments, guitar and bass with Eastern scale structures, was first noticed by most of the Western world in the mid 60’s through the Beatles in England and in the Byrds in the U.S.
From there, pop, folk and the blues, which were then primarily simple melodic tunes, became more experimental. Whole new projects/bands devoted to this sort of direction arose, especially in California. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and led by the infamous Jim Morrison, the Doors.
Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Ray Manzerek, keyboardist of the Doors were true masters of their instruments and led their respective bands to play and sing against some scale and chord structures that most pop fans have never heard; and it worked. The music was intriguing but still catchy. Again, as any movement seems to rely on, Jazz was employed and drawn from as was blues for the simple yet gritty melodies many of the frontmen came up with. It is not to say, that vocalists, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane did not have their head wrapped around what was going on instrumentally. In fact, Slick was one of the first songwriters to grab everyone’s attention with her famous unlipsyched performance of “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers show in ’67 and a host of catchy yet thought provoking songs on their most famous record, Surrealistic Pillow.
While anything by Airplane, the Grateful Dead or the Doors from the 60’s would be a great example of some of the best/best known in this sub-genre, it is important to acknowledge just how DEEP it got by the 1970’s. Instrumentally, tonally, lyrically and melodically. Things on the whole were getting heavy. More to the point, Psychedelic music (especially blues based) has had the most effect on what became Heavy Metal.
Many know the legend of Hendrix’s playing being described as, “Heavy metal falling from the sky…” and his death in the 70’s may have caused some artists/bands inspired by him to quit or follow down the same path as him. But in the 70’s, even though America had hits such as “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” England was booming with the heavy side of Psychedelic with Cream and the hard hitting, Blues-rooted Led Zeppelin and eventually Black Sabbath, who was known first as a Psych-Blues band called Earth.
American Psych Rock (for the most) part maintained their takes on the movement and led more than ever into Space Rock (perhaps due to propaganda of the times) as the Jefferson Airplane-turned-to-Jefferson Starship teased. However, little known bands that were following suit in other countries made enormous strides of their own and led to the Progressive Rock that would become famous as a huge European movement.
Did Psych Rock crash like a Led Zeppelin? It is through Pysch Rock and the ever revolving door of Brit Pop Revivals that led to the Madchester movement in the North of England in the 80’s and 90’s. Even more hair splitting took place with sub-genres which resulted from the poppy melodic dance elements New Order and the Happy Mondays employed (Beatles, Byrds) to the Psych inspired guitars of the Stone Roses, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr’s playing coupled with the group’s intelligent and outspoken front man, Morrissey (Airplane, Doors) and ultimately back to the heavy darkness of Joy Division (Sabbath).
Those elements’ thought provoking depths inspired Punk and Glam in the 70’s such as Loud Reed’s solo career and part of the New York Dolls’ early sound. Goth and Sludge acts in the 80’s and 90’s felt the influence too, most notably withe acts like Sleep, Kyuss and Tool. Kyuss’ psychedelic riffs on Blues for the Red Sun in 1992 and Tool’s psychedelic-prog masterpiece, Aenima in 1997. Shoegaze acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Brit Rock groups Oasis and Blur also hinted at the influence of 60’s Psychedelic rock. Finally, by the 00’s, sludge acts like Melvins and Isis, along with the rise of EDM and the rave scene, all flash a heavy influence of Psychedelic music with spacey reverb and hypnotic sounds.
And this shouldn’t have as much to do with it as all that but people in every decade since have taken drugs.
The Doors, live extended version of “Light my Fire” in ’68
Cream, live and very heavy in ’68
Little known early heavy 70’s psych trio, The Flow
New Order, very out there deep cut from 1983’s “Power, Corruption and Lies”
The Stone Roses, their far out Madchester single, 89’s ‘I Wanna be Adored”
Lastly, I leave you with a dramatization of making of Joy Divisions’ “She’s Lost Control,” as depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People, which spans the history of the Madchester movement.