Tag Archives: Psychedelic music

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.”

“You’re Gonna Miss Me” by 13th Floor Elevators – Early Psychedelic Garage Rock

8 Mar

Okocim issued a challenge in his last post. He posed the broad question, what is the 60’s psychedelic music? As a single question, I believe it is impossible to answer. The genre expanded into many sub-sections and there is not one sole example of 60’s psychedelic music that I can give to him and say this is your answer. The sub-sections make 60’s psychedelic music unique. Because, in itself, psychedelic cannot be a genre. Psychedelic becomes a genre when it pairs with a type of music (like rock or pop). Therefore, the music is always perpetuating more sub genres because in order to survive it needs to. Following my thinking?

This is why I find psychedelic music (specifically of the 60s variety) to be so intriguing. Psychedelic, in itself, can be esoteric and abstruse. In order to make rock or pop psychedelic, a musician needs to add an oddness to the melodic structure, thereby expanding the listeners mind. Yes, a lot has to do with drugs, but a perfectly sober listener (like myself) can get just as much out of it. The music itself is a drug.

I could not turn down Okocim’s challenge though. I proposed in my comment to him a new sub-section of “Journey To The Center of the Mind” called “The 60’s Psychedelic Experiment.” Damn, this post already sounds like “Inception,” a section inside a genre inside a section. That is what psychedelic music is, in a way. It delves deep into music’s structure, like a genetic mutation, and morphs it into something different (either slightly or tremendously).

I am going to answer Okocim’s question of what is 60’s psychedelic music by exploring different songs by different artists over the course of several weeks, answering the question of what makes it “psychedelic” and what specific genre it finds itself swimming in. We begin with one of the aboriginal psychedelic bands, hailing from Texas (starting in 1965), the 13th Floor Elevators.

At the beginning of the psychedelic rock revolution, the psychedelic garage rock component was strong. Garage rock is generally raw and easily tourable. It needs no special studio effects and is solid the way it is. This made it an easy for psychedelic music to manipulate. It was not the first of its kind, this still being reserved for psychedelic folk that came on the scene 1-2 years earlier. But, it is the first example of psychedelic rock. The Cream and the Beatles would explore psychedelic attributes in their music at around the same time, but of the limited examples of 1965-66 psychedelic music, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” the 13th Floor Elevators 1966 single, is the best example of early psychedelic garage rock (a sub-section of a sub-section).

Now when I say garage rock, I am talking about the genre that formed in the late 50s, but really blossomed in 1963. Think of “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen. It is that ol’fashioned rock. That’s why many consider garage rock to be the distant ancestor of punk, because of its chordal simplicity.

13th Floor Elevators came on the scene two years after garage rock’s blossoming and they transformed the genre with a psychedelic component.

The question posed by Okocim is basically what makes this (and any other song during the time period) 60’s psychedelic and how did it help form the term “60’s psychedelic music” which is just way to large to ever conquer.

Well, the first four chords sounds like a variation of the Yardbirds “For Your Love” which was released a year earlier. The guitar is amplified with a little reverb and a slight echo. Their bluesy sound is original. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top cites the guitar work as inspirational.

At around 6 seconds, you hear this muffled noise in the background of Roky Erickson and Stacy Sutherland Gibson guitars. That is an electric jug of Tommy Hall. Hall created vocalized sound with the jug that gave each song an underground stutter. This is paired with Erickson’s powerful voice (with bluesy screams).

Hall also inspired band members to record and perform music while on LSD, which was unique during the time.

The best psychedelic rock example occurs at the breakdown at 1:30. Listen to the combination of time. The electric jug competes with the drums while the voices sing “I’m Not Coming Home.” This takes in the psychedelic effect. The jug combined with the reverbed guitars do this. It is garage psychedelic because it is simple, but, it is different from typical garage rock examples because it adds different elements that make the music more acid-inspired and art-based.

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