Psychedelic Rock: A Brief History

Psychedelic rock is a style of rock music that emerged in the mid-1960s. Its roots can be traced back to the experimental music scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Psychedelic rock, also referred to as psychedelia, is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the mid-1960s. The style is characterized by a preoccupation with psychedelic experiences, often induced by the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. The music is intended to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs.

Early psychedelic music

Psychedelic music, also called psychedelia, is a style of rock music that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The style is intended to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. Psychedelic rock often used new recording techniques and effects, sometimes synthesizers and other electronic instruments, and drew on Eastern philosophy and the writings of Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley, and Carl Jung. Psychedelic music influenced fashion, art, literature, and film. It spawned subgenres including acid rock and experimental rock.

Psychedelic rock reached its peak popularity in the mid-1960s with bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Beatles (during their Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band periods), Beach Boys (during their Smile era), Doors, Byrds (during their Turn! Turn! Turn! period), Country Joe & the Fish experience peaks in popularity in 1967–1969.

The influence of drugs

Psychedelic music’s biggest influence came from the use of mind-altering drugs, primarily LSD. Drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin mushrooms were used by members of the early psychedelic music scene to enhance their experience of the music. The use of these drugs also played a role in the development of the psychedelic subculture and lifestyle.

In addition to LSD, other drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines, and barbiturates were also commonly used by members of the psychedelic music scene. These drugs were often used to help induce states of altered consciousness or to enhance the effects of LSD. The use of drugs was not limited to illegal substances, as many members of the psychedelic music scene also used legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

The British Invasion

Psychedelic rock, also known as acid rock, is a style of rock music that emerged in the mid 1960s. The style is characterized by feedback loops, distorted guitars, and heavy use of synthesizers. The first psychedelic rock band was The Beatles, who heavily influenced the genre with their album Sgt.

The Beatles

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The group, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, became widely regarded as the foremost and most influential music band of the 20th century. Rooted in skiffle and 1950s rock and roll, their sound incorporated elements of classical music and traditional pop in innovative ways; the band later explored music styles ranging from ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As pioneers in recording, songwriting and artistic presentation, the Beatles revolutionised many aspects of the music industry and were often publicised as leaders of the era’s youth and culture.

The Beatles built their reputation playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg over a three-year period from 1960, with Stuart Sutcliffe initially serving as bass player. The core trio of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, together since 1958, went through a succession of drummers, including Pete Best, before asking Starr to join them in 1962. Manager Brian Epstein moulded them into a professional act, persuading the Beatles to dress like clean-cut young men rather than the leather-jacketed motorcycling teddy boys they had been when they toured Hamburg nightclubs. Recognising their commercial potential, he negotiated a record deal plus an advance payment of £1,000 (about £26 thousand today) which was payable to them upon completion of their first recording session for EMI on 6 June 1962 at Abbey Road Studios. Through his efforts several record labels were interested in signing the Beatles including EMI’s Parlophone label which was led by George Martin.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones were one of the first British bands to bring psychedelic rock to the mainstream. With hits like “Paint It Black” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” the Stones fused elements of blues, rock, and pop into a unique sound that was heavily influenced by psychedelic drugs. The band’s use of drugs, particularly LSD, helped to popularize psychedelia in both Britain and the United States.

The American Scene

Psychedelic Rock is a subgenre of rock that emerged in the United States in the late 1960s. The style is characterized by a dense, often distorted sound, and is typically based on a foundation of electric blues. Psychedelic rock also often incorporates elements of other genres, such as folk, jazz, and experimental music.

The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. The band is known for its eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, country, jazz, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and psychedelic rock; for live performances of lengthy musical improvisation; and for their devoted fan base, known as “Deadheads.” “Their music,” writes Lenny Kaye, “was flowing and lyrical and spontaneous like the best of the jazz idiom. They were the first band to have their own sound system when they toured. And they were also the first band to insist on complete control over their live performances.” They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and Their Barton Hall Concert was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2012.

Jimi Hendrix

Born in Seattle in 1942, Jimi Hendrix was a pivotal force in the transition from blues-based rock to psychedelia. Self-taught on the guitar, Hendrix brought a new level of virtuosity and showmanship to the instrument that has influenced virtually every rock guitarist who has followed him. In 1966, he formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience and released two groundbreaking albums, Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love. The band’s innovative use of feedback and distortion redefined the sonic possibilities of rock guitar.

After touring Europe extensively, The Jimi Hendrix Experience made its U.S. debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Hendrix’s explosive performance, which included setting his guitar on fire, cemented his reputation as one of the most exciting and original live performers of his generation. In 1968, the band released Electric Ladyland, a double album that featured contributions from some of music’s most celebrated artists, including members of Traffic, Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood.

Psychedelic Music Today

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as psyrock or psyr, is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the 1960s. The genre is characterized by a distorted, “trippy” sound, often created by extended use of feedback, ironic lyrics, science fiction themes, and extended instrumentation. Psychedelic rock is often used to refer to music that is inspired by or influenced by psychedelic culture, as well as the name of a specific subgenre of rock music.

The legacy of psychedelic rock

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as garage rock, is a genre that emerged in the mid-1960s. Designed to replicate the mind-altering effects of psychoactive drugs, psychedelic rock achieved widespread popularity during the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. Although the genre faded from the mainstream in the early 1970s, it has continued to influence subsequent generations of musicians.

Psychedelic rock is characterized by distorted guitars, extended instrumentation, and experimentation with sound and production techniques. It often features elements of other genres, including blues, folk, and Eastern music. Psychedelic rock bands typically used LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and peyote as inspiration for their music.

The Beatles were one of the most influential psychedelic rock bands of all time. Their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) is considered a defining work of the genre. Other notable psychedelic rock bands include The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

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