Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Not-So-Usual Suspects

Psychedelic Week: Part 2
As you may have noticed, psychedelic music mainly emerged from the
folk-rock and blues-rock bands of the 60's, which bridged the transition to eventual genres like progressive rock, glam rock, hard rock, and influenced sub-genres like heavy metal. However, psychedelic rock also had an impact on mainstream pop and rock, leading to groups who you wouldn't expect to produce some psychedelic sounds as well.

A group influential in developing the music style of psychedelic rock was the American rock band, The Byrds, with their March 1966 single, "Eight Miles High." From Los Angeles, the group initially founded the genre of folk rock by combining the influence of the British Invasion bands with contemporary and traditional folk music. Later into the 1960's, The Byrds became significant in other genres such as raga rock (East Indian influence) and country rock, in addition to psychedelic, making them one of the most influential bands of the 1960's.

As a kid, a psychedelic pop song I loved listening to on my parents' record player was, "Crimson and Clover," by American rock 'n' roll group, Tommy James and the Shondells. Wanting to change the direction of the group's sound, singer-songwriter/guitarist Tommy James and drummer Peter Lucia Jr. wrote this single and released it in November of '68. The song uses a cool tremolo effect on the guitar that vibrates in time with the song's rhythm, and at the end of the song, they use the same vibrating effect on Tommy's vocal part, "crimson and clover, over and over..." This performance comes from the Ed Sullivan Show in January 1969, one week before the single reached #1 on the charts. By the way, does anyone else find Tommy a little creepy in this performance?

Initially a folk-rock musician, Scottish singer-songwriter, Donovan, was also influenced by the sounds of U.S. West Coast bands (like Jefferson Airplane), which led him to develop a unique style that combined folk, pop, jazz, psychedelia, and world music. After Donovan's first psychedelic record,
Sunshine Superman, became an American chart breakthrough in 1966, Donovan released the psychedelic/folk/acid rock song, "Hurdy Gurdy Man," in May of '68. He wanted to reach a wider audience in the U.S. where hard-rock artists (like Jimi Hendrix) were becoming quite popular, and as hoped, it became one of Donovan's biggest hits. On many of Donovan's recordings, he used session guitarist, Jimmy Page (later, of Led Zeppelin), though it's uncertain which guitarist is on this recording. Using a similar tremolo effect on the vocal part like "Crimson and Clover," "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is a harder rock sound than Donovan's previous music, using a variety of distorted guitars.
-------------------------------------------------------As you will eventually come to find out, I have a soft spot for the American band, The Monkees. Originally created for a zany TV show in 1966 and only allowed to sing on their first two albums, The Monkees fought "the system" and earned the right to write, record, produce, and play their own music. Singer-songwriter Michael Nesmith wrote a poem (full of psychedelic imagery) about the riots in '67 on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, and then set it to music as "Daily Nightly." This song features a Moog synthesizer and comes from The Monkees' fourth album, which was one of the first rock/pop albums to pioneer the use of this new synthesizer. Also one of the first to own this instrument, singer/drummer Micky Dolenz actually had no idea how to play the synthesizer, however, he makes wonderfully creative use of its psychedelic sound in this song, as heard in this video from their (normally in color) TV show. The first time my husband heard this song, he asked if it was Jefferson Airplane. Apparently, Grace Slick and Micky Dolenz have a similar quality to their voices (see last post with the video of "White Rabbit").
Typically a folk rock/sunshine pop band, the American vocal group, The Mamas and The Papas, also ventured into psychedelic territory in the late 60's. Released in May 1968, the group became more experimental with their album The Papas and the Mamas, especially with the Jimi Hendrix-like guitar sound in "Gemini Childe," as well as the more down-beat, darker sound in the song "Mansions" (posted below). Still with their signature sound of four-part vocal harmonies arranged by the band's songwriter, John Phillips, the group recorded "Mansion" in the home of John and his wife, Michelle (also a founding member of the group). Until today, I actually had never heard this haunting song before; I know, what kind of Mamas and Papas fan am I?

And now to finally end this post, it's The Rolling Stones performing, "Paint It, Black" on the Ed Sullivan. Another written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and released in May 1966, this psychedelic/raga rock song was a new direction for the normally rock 'n' roll/bluesy rock group. Also on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, it was the first #1 single to feature a sitar, which was played by the multi-instrumentalist of the group, Brian Jones. Influenced by the use of the sitar in The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," Brian taught himself to play the Eastern instrument after a visit with the sitar-playing Beatle, George Harrison. Definitely a favorite Stones song of mine.

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