Psychedelic Rock Themes in Contemporary Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A discussion of how Psychedelic Rock themes have found their way into Contemporary Music.


Psychedelic rock, also referred to as garage rock, is a genre of popular music that first became popular in the mid-1960s. It is characterized by electric guitars, drumming, and mind-altering lyrics, often inspired by drugs such as LSD. The style often includes elements of garage rock, surf rock, and proto-punk.

Psychedelic rock began to decline in popularity in the late 1960s, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Contemporary bands that have been influenced by psychedelic rock include Tame Impala, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and The Black Keys.

Themes of Psychedelic Rock

Psychedelic rock, which is also sometimes called acid rock, is a style of music that is known for its psychedelic, mind-altering themes. Psychedelic rock often incorporates elements of other genres, such as acid house, electronica, and even hip hop. Themes ofPsychedelic rock can be light and positive, or dark and negative. Psychedelic rock is often used to explore social and political issues, as well as personal issues.

Social Themes

Psychedelic rock often contains social commentary, particularly in the form of criticizing mainstream society, politics, and authority. Common themes include mind control and brainwashing, government oppression and corruption, showbiz fakery and phoniness, drug addiction and exploitation. Another common theme is subsconsciousness (represented by dreamlike or floating images), which can be interpreted as a reaction to the regimentation/control of modern life. Nature is also commonly found as a theme; trees, flowers, open fields, waterfalls, jungles, rivers, rainforests are often featured in psychedelic artwork (such as album covers) or mentioned in song lyrics.

In some cases, such as with The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, the psychedelic experience is conveyed through more abstract means such as sound and imagery rather than direct lyrics.

Political Themes

Psychedelic rock often incorporates political themes, as seen in songs like The Beatles’ “Revolution,” The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” and Cream’s “Politician.” These tunes critique the establishment and call for change, utilizing the psychedelic soundscape to create an added sense of urgency. Political messages in psychedelic rock can be overt or more subtly embedded in the lyrics and music. As the youth culture of the 1960s became more politically aware, many young people turned to psychedelic rock as a way to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Personal Themes

Psychedelic rock is often associated with personal themes, such as drug use, mental illness, and the belief that we are all connected. This type of music often features lyrics that are difficult to understand, as well as long, drawn-out jam sessions.

Contemporary Music Inspired by Psychedelic Rock

In the late 1960s, Psychedelic Rock emerged as a major force in the music industry, with artists like Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and Pink Floyd changing the sound and feel of rock music. Today, many contemporary artists are inspired by the psychedelic rock of the past and are creating their own unique sound.


Though contemporary hip-hop rarely employs the mind-bending sound effects, sitar lines, and extended instrumental freakouts of classic psychedelic rock, the genre often borrowed themes from the drug-fueled musical movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Indeed, many of the biggest names in hip-hop have name-checked LSD, mushrooms, and other illicit substances in their songs, while others have brought a hallucinogenic edge to their music through surreal wordplay and hypnotic delivery. Here are 10 contemporary hip-hop tracks that have been inspired by psychedelic rock.

Electronic Dance Music

Psychedelic rock is a style of rock music that emerged in the mid-1960s, inspired by the experience of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin. The sound typically features extended jams, distorted guitars, and trippy lyrics. Early psychedelic rock bands included the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles. In the 1970s, psychedelic rock gave way to heavier styles like progressive rock and hard rock. But in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic-inspired music.

One genre that has been heavily influenced by psychedelia is electronic dance music (EDM). Many EDM artists have cited psychedelic rock as an important influence on their sound. For example, Skrillex has said that he was inspired by the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” when he was creating his song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” Other EDM artists who have been influenced by psychedelia include Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, and Tipper.

If you’re a fan of psychedlic rock, or just looking for something new to listen to, check out some of the contemporary artists who are keeping the spirit of psychedelia alive in their music.

Indie Rock

Psychedelic rock, which became prominent in the mid-1960s, was characterized by distorted guitars, drug-related lyrics, and extended improvisational jams. The genre was influential on subsequent groups such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane in the US, and Pink Floyd and Soft Machine in the UK. In the 1970s, rock bands such as Styx and Boston began to incorporate elements of psychedelic rock into their sound. More recently, indie rock bands such as MGMT, Tame Impala, andpsych-influenced singer-songwriters like Beck have drawn from psychedelic rock in creating their music.


In conclusion, it is evident that there are many psychedelic rock themes in contemporary music. These themes include, but are not limited to, the exploration of personal identity, the use of symbolism and allegory, and the blurring of boundaries between reality and fantasy. By studying these themes, we can better understand the ways in which contemporary musicians are using the past to create their own unique art.

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