Styles & Forms | Psychedelic Rock

Several musical movements are associated either directly or indirectly with a specific recreational drug or drugs; psychedelic rock went a step further, and was practically borne out of LSD or acid, as well as other hallucinogens including peyote, mescaline and even marijuana.

Much psychedelic rock attempts to recreate the mind expanding and awareness-enlarging sensations of an acid trip – the counter-culture of the 1960s put great emphasis on expanding one’s mind through mind-altering drugs. So, musicians made use of the burgeoning new studio technology available and used effects such as the fuzzbox on guitars and exotic instruments such as the sitar, and broke away from traditional song structures of intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, final chorus. They also looked further afield for inspiration and forms of expression, to jazz or Indian music, for example. The BeatlesGeorge Harrison became interested in the sitar that was used for an Indian restaurant scene in The Beatles film Help!, which led to the band becoming interested in Eastern culture.

The Yardbirds made a tentative exploration of this area with their ‘Heartful Of Soul’ single in 1965. In an effort to expand their sound and blend east and west in a kind of cross-cultural melting pot, the band drafted in a sitar player to play the song’s instrumental hook. Unfortunately, the hapless sitar player was so used to playing complex eastern rhythms, that he couldn’t get the hang of the basic rock beat, so guitarist Jeff Beck imitated the sound of the sitar with a fuzzbox.

This anecdote neatly illustrates the problem with some psychedelic rock – mixing disparate musical elements may sound fine on paper, but in practice it might not work. Consequently, when it works psychedelic rock can represent rock music at its most ambitious and breathtaking, but when it doesn’t work it can appear incompetent, over-ambitious and foolhardy.

One of the first psychedelic records, The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’ single (1966), saw the band’s guitarist Roger McGuinn attempting to emulate jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and also displaying an Indian influence in his rambling improvisation. The lyrics were assumed to be drug-inspired – an accusation often aimed at the psychedelic bands – although The Byrds denied this.

John Lennon attempted to recreate the mood of an LSD trip on The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ from Revolver (1966), with multiple tape loops, a processed lead vocal, backwards guitar solo and lyrics inspired by LSD guru Timothy Leary and The Tibetan Book Of The Dead; George Harrison contributed a sitar part. The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ single (1966) used a sitar to great effect and their fleeting psychedelic incarnation culminated in Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967).

The Summer Of Love

1967, the so-called ‘Summer Of Love’, was an important year for psychedelic rock in America and Britain. In the US, The Doors released their self-titled debut album; singer Jim Morrison’s highly poetic lyrics, keyboard player Ray Manzarek’s hypnotic organ and the flamenco-trained...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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