Monday, February 21, 2011

Psychedelic Rock

Psychedelic Week: Part 1
After my last post about "Good Vibrations," I think it's a good week to look further into the genre of Psychedelic music. Well, as you could probably guess by the name, psychedelic rock is style of music that was influenced by the psychedelic culture of the mid-1960s, and even tries to imitate the experience of mind-altering drugs (which of course wasn't without its causalities). Other fusions of the genre include psychedelic folk, psychedelic pop, and psychedelic soul. Here are some of this genre's characteristics (from helpful Wikipedia):
- electric guitars, often used with feedback, wah wah and fuzzboxes;
- elaborate studio effects, such as backwards tapes, panning, phasing, long delay loops, and extreme reverb;
-exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla;
-a strong keyboard presence, especially organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron (an early tape-driven 'sampler');
-a strong emphasis on extended instrumental solos or jams;
-more complex song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones;
-surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics.

In 1965, when The Beatles began experimenting more with their music in the studio (as well as with "other things"), they were one of the first to use guitar feedback in "I Feel Fine" and the first to use a sitar in "Norwegian Wood" (although actually a folk song, it greatly influenced the further use of Eastern music in rock). However, one of the defining works of psychedelic rock music is "Strawberry Fields Forever." Inspired by The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" (see my last post), The Beatles released this double A-side single (with "Penny Lane") in February 1967.

A new favorite of mine that makes great use of the trademark psychedelic wah-wah guitar sound and the phasing audio effect is "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by the English group Status Quo. Sometimes considered as an example of bubblegum psychedelia, this song was released in January of '68 and was a hit single. This performance was from England's "Top of The Pops" TV show, on which Status Quo performed over 100 times throughout their career.

When I think of the psychedelic '60s, one of the first band that comes to mind is the San Francisco group Jefferson Airplane, and particularly their breakout successes, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love." And just your luck, I found a video that includes both performances, as featured on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. From the album Surrealistic Pillow released in February 1967, "White Rabbit," a psychedelic/acid rock song, was written by the group's lead female singer Grace Slick, and her husband, Darby Slick, wrote "Somebody To Love;" both are classic songs of the counterculture movement, included in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Alright, so here come some of the "heavies."
A significant 1960's "power trio" (besides Cream with Eric Clapton) was the psychedelic rock group The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Written and originally recorded by folk rocker Bob Dylan, this cover of "All Along The Watchtower" was released in September 1968 and since has been voted the #5 song in Guitar World"s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, as well as #48 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. One of the greatest electric guitarists in music history, Jimi Hendrix unfortunately died an early death two year later in 1970, but he remains one of the most influential musicians that made use of guitar feedback and wah-wah pedal like never before.

Another sad causality of the psychedelic era was Jim Morrison, lead singer of the American rock band The Doors, who died in 1971. Released in April 1967, one of The Door's first #1 single was the psychedelic/acid rock "Light My Fire," another song on the Rolling Stone's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. Here's the infamous Ed Sullivan Show performance, after which the group was banned from further appearances on the show because they did not change the word "higher," as requested by the producers.

And finally, my last featured group today is Janis Joplin with the San Francisco-based, psychedelic/blues-rock group Big Brother and the Holding Company, giving a great live performance of "A Piece of My Heart." Although originally recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967, the song gained greater mainstream attention after Janis and the gang released their cover on the summer of '68 album Cheap Thrills, reaching #12 on the U.S. pop chart, and it is another song on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. Just a few weeks after Jimi Hendrix's death in 1970, Janis was also found dead at the age of 27, the same ages as Jimi and Jim Morrison (as well as Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones; see 27 Club).

Since this is probably only a third of the songs I've picked out for this week, I should probably end this post (finally, right?). Hopefully you're not in psychedelic overload because there's still some great tunes to come!

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