British vs. San Francisco Psychedelic Rock

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


What’s the difference between British and San Francisco psychedelic rock? We explore the two styles and their key features.

The Sound

Psychedelic rock emerged in the mid-1960s and is based on the interaction of electric guitars and drugs. The sound is typically characterized by distorted guitars, feedback, and other sound effects. The genre was popularized by bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The British Psychedelic Sound

Despite bold predictions that the British psychedelic sound would conquer America, it was the American psychedelic bands who really made inroads in Britain. The San Francisco bands, in particular, were popular with the British audiences, and many of them toured there extensively. British groups who followed in the wake of the San Francisco bands included Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Traffic, and Pink Floyd. These groups took the basic elements of the San Francisco sound – extended improvisation, use of feedback and other electronic effects, an emphasis on atmosphere and texture – and expanded upon them, creating a new type of psychedelic rock that was more impactful and experimental than what had come before.

The San Francisco Psychedelic Sound

The San Francisco Psychedelic Sound is a subgenre of psychedelic rock that developed in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s. San Francisco had been at the forefront of the West Coast counterculture since the 1950s, and by the 1960s, it was home to a number of influential psychedelic bands, including The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. These bands were inspired by British bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, as well as by Eastern music and philosophy. They created a new sound that incorporated elements of rock, folk, blues, and jazz, with traditional psychedelic elements like distorted guitars and trippy sound effects.

The Bands

British Psychedelic Bands

British psychedelic rock, also called Brit psychedelic, or Brit psych, is a subgenre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s and reached a peak in popularity in the mid-to-late 1960s. Its golden era lasted until around 1973. The genre emerged from a British mod scene and arose concurrently with the British Invasion of America.

Psychedelic rock often used distorted electric guitars, electronic effects, tape music, and prolonged improvised jamming. It was largely an attempt to give rock music more structure and improvisation than it had in the past.

San Francisco Psychedelic Bands

In the 1960s, San Francisco became a Mecca for young people who wanted to experience an alternative lifestyle. The hippie movement valued peace, love, and free expression, and throbbing psychedelic rock from the Bay Area’s Fillmore West helped carry those values across America. San Francisco’s psychedelic bands also looked to Eastern religion and philosophy for inspiration, creating a particularly trippy brand of music designed to expand the mind. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana were just a few of the Bay Area bands that defined psychedelia with their groundbreaking work in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Legacy

Psychedelic rock is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the mid-1960s. It is characterized by a distorted, trippy sound that was created by using various effects pedals. The genre is often associated with the British Invasion of the 1960s, when bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones popularized it in the United States. San Francisco also played a significant role in the development of psychedelic rock, with bands like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

The British Psychedelic Legacy

In the mid-1960s, British psychedelic rock emerged as a distinct subgenre of rock music. It is characterized by the use of electronic instruments and studio effects, and is often associated with the use of drugs, particularly LSD.

Psychedelic rock began to lose its commercial appeal in the early 1970s, but was revived in the 1980s by a new generation of bands influenced by the original psychedelic sound. In the 1990s and 2000s, British psychedelic rock experienced something of a renaissance, with a number of new bands emerging that were influenced by the sound of the 1960s.

San Francisco also has a long history of psychedelic rock, dating back to the early 1960s. The San Francisco Sound is often thought of as being more experimental and free-form than its British counterpart. This is reflected in the fact that many San Francisco bands were signed to independent labels, and were not as commercially successful as their British counterparts.

However, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in San Francisco psychedelia, with a number of new bands emerging that are influenced by the sound of the 1960s.

The San Francisco Psychedelic Legacy

The San Francisco Psychedelic sound is often wrongly attributed to British bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. While it is true that these bands were a major influence on the San Francisco Sound, they were not the only factor. The California lifestyle, counterculture, and experimentalism all played a role in shaping the sound of psychedelic rock in San Francisco.

The acoustic guitar was replaced with electric guitars and feedback became an important element of the music. Keyboards and electronic effects were also used to create an atmospheric sound. This was all combined with elements of folk, blues, jazz, and Eastern sounds to create a unique blend that became known as the San Francisco Sound.

Bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana were at the forefront of this new sound. They would go on to have a huge impact on popular music and culture in the 1960s and beyond. The legacy of the San Francisco Psychedelic Sound can still be heard in today’s music.

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