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The 60s Psychedelic Experiment: “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles – Folk 1965

3 May

Norwegian Wood” was released in the nascent years of psychedelic music, and, if not for a fortuitous sitar, this hit from Rubber Soul would not be psychedelic at all. It’s creation would still be interesting, but it wouldn’t be psychedelic. John Lennon was the primary writer for this piece despite the co-writing Lennon/McCartney label. He sites Bob Dylan as a big influence on the song. The verses are Dylan-esque, concentrating on an acoustic guitar driven melody and vocals that follow the rhythm. “Norwegian Wood” is about extramarital flings, and Lennon actually wrote it while on vacation with his wife. “Honey can you play me the new song.” Pretty dumb move on the part of Lennon, though he attempted to be subtle. The song’s creation is all well and good, but for the purpose of this post we must talk about the impact by George Harrison, who is the reason this song has a sitar and is psychedelic.

According to Harrison, he was inspired by Indian musicians on the scene of The Beatles‘ movie Help to start messing around with a sitar. This turned into a more substantial interest when he bought a Ravi Shankar record and purchased a cheap sitar in London. He had it with him during the recording of “Norwegian Wood,” and, you know what they say, the rest is history.

” It was lying around. I hadn’t really figured out what to do with it,” says Harrison in the Beatles Anthology. “When we were working on Norwegian Wood it just needed something, and it was quite spontaneous, from what I remember. I just picked up my sitar, found the notes and just played it. We miked it up and put it on and it just seemed to hit the spot.”

The sitar is very coordinated, and Harrison did not have the mastery to freestyle with the sitar, which would have made the song more experimental and psychedelic. But, it still maintains a hint of that psychedelic quality and that makes the song certainly worth the mention.

The Psychedelic Experiment – Art Rock – Emerson Lake & Palmer “The Three Fates”

27 Apr

Totally Arting It Up

Psychedelic music inspired many talented performers to explore rock n’ roll’s endless possibilities. At its root, psychedelic music is experimental, and like any pioneering scientific discoveries, it engenders more research and, well, experimenting. While psychedelic music has numerous sub-genres, even more striking is the amount of genre manipulation that happened after the wave of psychedelia came to a near-end in the late 1960’s. I say near-end because psychedelic music never truly ended. But since it experienced a wave of popularity in the mid-late 60’s, it naturally became less popular. I know that I called this section the 60’s psychedelic experiment, but it is equally important to describe music that was created directly after the initial boom. I’m talking about the early 1970’s, which saw the rise of progressive rock and art rock, two genres that owe their creation to the success of psychedelic music. In a sense, art and progressive rock are both the complex expansion of psychedelic experimentation featuring music that concentrates on intricate and lengthy melodies combined with either a classical musical approach or more modern representation.

How did that paragraph go down? Smoothly, I hope. Seriously, the progression of Rock music is sometimes bulky, and this time period saw several changes to how rock would evolve. Art and progressive rock evolved from psychedelic music. Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) was composed for Keith Emerson, from the psychedelic rock band The Nice, Greg Lake, from the late 60’s prog-rock band King Crimson, and drummer Carl Palmer who played in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. These three musicians composed one of the first Art Rock supergroups and their music reached for the classical portion of Art rock.

In my opinion, art and progressive rock are practically the same term. But, one of the key differences is progressive rock tends to focus more on guitars. As evidenced by the piece I am including, ELP swayed more towards piano and keyboards.

“The Three Fates” is the first song off of side two of their debut eponymous album. It is split up into three parts, each named for a mythical figure (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos). The piano playing is extraordinary. Keith Emerson is skillful beyond words. The ode to classical music is clear and this classifies the music as 1970 Art rock. So, you may be thinking, how does this apply to psychedelic music? Travel to around 5:30 in the song. Okay, this is Jazz-rock. But, wait, what are all of the background sounds and the musical layering and strange notation. Yes, this is psychedelic music of the 1960’s kicked up a notch to fit into the genres of Jazz and Classical. It is Art rock, and a perfect example of the evolution of psychedelic music.

“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension – Psychedelic Soul

12 Apr

Psychedelic soul is one of the most thought-provoking spawns of the psychedelic music movement. It initially seems like an impossible breed. Soul and Psychedelic are two different animals, right? Actually, no. Let’s break both genres down. Soul music is based in gospel and rhythm and blues. At the time of the psychedelic revolution, soul’s rhythms were morphing into the nascent phase of funk. Psychedelic music is characterized by eccentric instrumentation, keyboard and odd melody. These two genres can mesh. Rhythm and blues combined with psychedelic instrumentation form a brand of music that is fresh and different.

After Jimi Hendrix, who combined R&B and rock, added psychedelic to the mix, he proved that the two genres fit together like puzzle pieces. Other bands were inspired to take the leap into this style of music. The 5th Dimension, with strong foundations in melodic soul and pop, released “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” in 1969, recording a medley of the two songs that had appeared in the musical “Hair.” What came of this combination was tremendous success.

What makes this song psychedelic? The lyric fits the parameter. It is based in astrological belief and zany extraterrestrial writing is perfect for psychedelic music. Though, the lyric is not the tell-tale sign of psychedelic soul. The strong musical base beneath the heavenly harmonies fulfills the qualifications. The song is also two full parts (the first medley to ever hold the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), and both parts are certifiable psychedelic soul (in their own ways). Let’s discuss part one first.

Listen up to 2:18. The whistle and percussion that comes before the opening lyric provides a mystical sound that gets listeners in the mood to hear something different. The first verse is psychedelic, no doubt. It has a keyboard backing and is airy. The chorus then comes and starts moving like a R&B/Soul/Pop song. The horns and harmonies keep us in the psychedelic realm. The second verse features even stronger keyboard and whispered backing vocals that demonstrate creative vocal interplay. The song is playing with both psychedelic and soul music in the first portion. The strong soul and R&B is not really there in the first part, despite the chorus which tinkers with these elements. Then, press play at 2:18, and woah!

The bass guitar and horns drive the song into soul music. Wow. Listen to that bass guitar. What is this? This is psychedelic soul. Hear the keyboard backing turn to more traditional piano? The transition into this soul exploration is awesome. The backing harmony and horns are still psychedelic, but that psychedelic feel has been replaced with R&B and Soul and this is genius. The songs feature different strengths. The first part is more psychedelic, while the second part is more based in soul.

The 60s Psychedelic Experiment – Pop Psych – Strawberry Alarm Clock

29 Mar

Something about Tuesdays has started smelling a lot more psychedelic, and in the nasal orifice of a certain psychedelic band from Los Angeles, psychedelia smells like strawberries. We continue our psychedelic exploration of the 1960s with the genre of psychedelic pop music and one of the bands that mastered this potential corny genre was Strawberry Alarm Clock, who rode the line of bubblegum and psychedelic music like a professional.

So, I guess the first question we have to ask is what exactly is psychedelic pop music and why is music that can be considered “watered down” relevant on our psychedelic trip? The answer to this question is simple. Psychedelic pop, at its finest, is not hackneyed, but rather creative and infectious. Yes, I understand that because the music had to fit under the description of “pop” it usually needed close-knit harmonies and catchy rhythms, but, while it was “mainstream” at the time, these necessities did not take a way from the music’s worth. While the music succumbed to rigid specifications, it was still allowed to venture forth into the world of guitar distortion and zany instruments. Take a listen to this.

In the first 20 seconds the genre is practically described. “Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock was released in 1967 and it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The keyboard mixes beautifully with the reverbed, distorted guitar. The background vocals provide a haunting beginning to the tune. The song’s high-pitched keyboard provides an unmistakable psychedelic presence to the song that is a shining example of why the song is psychedelic.

Can you get the song out of your head? No. I didn’t think so. It fits the pop convention perfectly and this is why it was so popular. I consider this an instrumental work of psychedelic music and I disagree with those who believe that pop’s conforming to the psychedelic phenomenon was a bad thing. It allowed pop bands to create psychedelic pieces (a la Beach Boys) and psychedelic bands to market themselves with pop classics like “Incense and Peppermints.”

The Holy Modal Rounders – Psychedelic Folk – 60’s Psychedelic Experiment

15 Mar

We move now to the psychedelic folk portion of our 60’s Psychedelic Experiment. Psychedelic folk is not as specified as last week’s garage rock psychedelic genre. Psych Folk (for short) exploded in the mid 1960’s as one of the most malleable forms of psychedelic music. One of the reasons why Psych Folk became the most common form of psychedelic music (at first) was because it was not a huge jump from current music. Psych Folk simply adjusts acoustic instruments and adds obscure sounds common with psychedelic music. As it became more refined and widespread, musicians added creative vocalization (like chanting).

When people explore the foundations of this broad sub-genre, most point to the band above, The Holy Modal Rounders, as one of the main Psych Folk originators. The Holy Modal Rounders came from the burgeoning music scene in Greenwich Village. They released their eponymous first album in 1964. The album is folk, but underneath the obvious exterior is some elements of latent psychedelia. (By the way, Sam Shepard played drums for them for a time – yes, the playwright).

Many people point to the Holy Modal Rounder’s version of “Hesitation Blues” because they actually mention the term “psychedelic” in this song. They pronounce it “psycho-delic,” but it was the first mention of the term in a song, ever. That stands for something. But, do listen.

This is simply a sped-up folk version of the blues classic. Yes, Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber have cool voices, but their Psych Folk mastery did not come until later. Listen to this.

“The Bird Song” released on the 1969 album The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders was featured in the movie “Easy Rider” which profiles the counterculture (and AWESOME music). This is a classic example of Psych Folk. We have a old-timey piano riff that you could hear at a saloon playing over a reverbed nasaly voice. In the background you can hear the airy backdrop of the song. This is clearly upbeat psychedelic music that has folk elements (especially with the addition of the acoustic guitar.)

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