A Brief History of Psychedelic Rock

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A Brief History of Psychedelic Rock Psychedelic rock is a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs.

Psychedelic Rock Origins

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as psy rock or garage rock, is a subgenre of rock music that is based on the use of psychedelic drugs. The first psychedelic rock song is believed to be “I Hear You Knocking” by the British band The Pretty Things, which was released in 1965. The genre then reached its height in the late 1960s with bands like The Beatles, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.

The first psychedelic rock bands

Psychedelic rock, also sometimes called garage rock, emerged in the mid-1960s as a subgenre of rock music. The defining characteristic of psychedelic rock is its heavy use of feedback, drop-tuned guitars,enhanced drums and exploration of new sonic territory. Psychedelic rock developed out of the British Invasion and American garage rock scenes, and was heavily influenced by Eastern religions and East Coast jazz.

The first psychedelic rock bands were the Yardbirds, who began experimenting with feedback and unusual noises in their tracks “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Psycho Daisies”. The Beatles’ album Revolver (1966) featured heavily distorted guitars on the track “Doctor Robert”, as well as sitar sounds on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. The Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds (1966) incorporated elements of psychedelia into its overall sound, particularly in the track “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.

As the genre developed, other artists began to experiment with different sounds and production techniques. The Byrds’ album Fifth Dimension (1966) featured heavily reverbed vocals and spacey sound effects, while the Kinks’ album Face to Face (1966) employed a horn section to create a more psychedelic sound. Pink Floyd’s album Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), which is often credited as being the first true psychedelic rock album, made extensive use of feedback, volume swells, and tape effects to create an otherworldly soundscape.

The influence of the psychedelic culture

Psychedelic rock, often abbreviated to “psychedelia”, is a style of rock music that was inspired by the subculture that developed around psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and DMT. The genre often employs audio feedback and distorted guitars, and is marked by extended jams and unusual time signatures.

Psychedelia first began to emerge in the early 1960s, with bands such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys experimenting with new sounds and textures. The psychedelic sound reached its height of popularity in the late 1960s with bands such as Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix leading the way. Psychedelic rock continued to be popular in the 1970s and 1980s with bands such as New Order, Joy Division and The Jesus and Mary Chain keeping the sound alive.

The influence of the psychedelic culture can still be heard in many contemporary bands who have taken inspiration from the genre’s sounds and aesthetics.

Psychedelic Rock in the 1960s

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as acid rock or garage rock, is a style of rock music that emerged in the mid-1960s. The style is characterized by distorted guitars, echoing vocals, and a trippy, dreamlike atmosphere. The music is meant to replicate the experience of taking psychedelic drugs, such as LSD. Psychedelic rock was popularized by bands like The Beatles, The Doors, and The Grateful Dead.

The British Invasion

The British Invasion of the 1960s was led by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. These bands brought a new sound to rock ‘n’ roll that was influenced by the blues and influenced by the drug culture of the time. Psychedelic rock emerged from this scene and blended these influences with a more experimental approach to music.

The Beatles were the first psychedelic rock band with their album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This album featured a more psychedelic sound with sounds such as backwards vocals and sound effects. The Rolling Stones followed suit with their album, “Their Satanic Majesties Request.” This album was even more experimental and featured a cover of “We Love You” that featured an image of the band members in Satanic robes.

The Who also experimented with psychedelic sounds on their album, “the who sell out.” This album featured backward vocals on the track “I Can See for Miles.” Psychedelic rock had a major impact on popular culture in the 1960s and was a driving force behind the counterculture movement.

The Summer of Love

In the summer of 1967, at the height of the so-called “counterculture revolution,” an estimated 100,000 young people converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in search of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Amid the resulting chaos—and with the help of mind-altering substances like LSD—a new musical genre known as psychedelic rock was born.

Psychedelic rock is generally characterized by mind-bending (or “trippy”) sound effects, extended guitar solos and lyrical preoccupations with peace, love and interstellar travel. The genre reached its commercial peak in 1967 with the release of two landmark albums: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Doors’ self-titled debut.

Despite its short-lived popularity, psychedelic rock left a lasting impression on the world of music. Many of the genre’s key innovators—including Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead—went on to become some of the most celebrated musicians in history. Psychedelic rock also paved the way for subsequent genres like progressive rock and metal.

Psychedelic Rock in the 1970s

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as psychedelia, is a diverse style of rock music that emerged in the mid-1960s. The style is characterized by a preoccupation with LSD and other mind-altering drugs, and often incorporates distorted guitars, flourishes of keyboard playing, and prolonged feedback. Recreational drug use became an integral part of the culture of psychedelic rock.

The decline of the hippie culture

By the early 1970s, the hippie culture that had defined the psychedelic sound of the previous decade was in decline. Psychedelic rock was no longer the sound of young counterculture; it had become firmly entrenched in the mainstream, and was starting to be co-opted by corporations looking to cash in on its popularity. Additionally, many of the pioneering bands of the psychedelic era were either breaking up or abandoning their psychedelic sound altogether. As a result, psychedelic rock entered a period of creative stagnation in the early 1970s.

The rise of punk rock

The late 1970s saw the rise of punk rock, a form of music that was diametrically opposed to everything that psychedelic rock stood for. Punk rock bands such as the Ramones and the Sex Pistols rejected the peace-and-love message of psychedelia and instead wrote songs that glorified violence, drug use, and other anti-social behavior. The punk movement would have a profound effect on popular culture in the years to come, but it would also pave the way for a new generation of psychedelic bands.

Psychedelic Rock Today

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as “psychedelia”, is a diverse style of rock music that originated in the mid-1960s. The genre is characterized by distorted guitars, mind-altering lyrics, and drug-inspired imagery and experiences. The term “psychedelic” is derived from the Greek word ψυχή (psyche, “soul” or “mind”) and δέλτος (delos, “manifest”), and was first coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1956.

The influence of psychedelic rock

Psychedelic rock emerged in the mid-1960s as a subgenre of rock music that was influenced by psychoactive drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline. The term “psychedelic” (coined in 1956 by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond) refers to the mind-altering effects of these drugs. Psychedelic rock music often incorporates elements of Indian and Eastern music, as well as experimental sound effects and studio techniques. The genre is generally associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, although it has continued to influence musicians in subsequent decades.

Psychedelic rock reached the height of its popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Pink Floyd becoming household names. The genre began to decline in popularity in the late 1970s, but experienced a resurgence in the 1990s with bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Today, psychedelic rock is enjoying something of a renaissance, with newer bands such as Tame Impala and Foxygen drawing inspiration from the sounds of the 1960s and 1970s.

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