MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2015
WEEK 11: US PSYCHEDELIA
In 1965, the youth of America were still searching for an identity. The British beat invasion had changed the way rock’n’roll was played while politically and socially the country was heading into the abyss. However, of far more significance, certainly for modern pop culture, was the moment Dr Timothy Leary introduced LSD to a generation hellbent on escaping the straight jacket of the past.
The psychedelic age didn’t really kick off with The Byrds first improvised version of ‘Eight Miles High’ but because that moment is impossible to define, it’s as good a place to start as any, those three minutes the first audio representation of the LSD rush encapsulating the pulse of the times. When the overrated, skinny, messiah Dylan got himself ‘stoned’ a few months later, to use the old cliché; a decade that began in dreary monochrome promised to explode into glorious Technicolor.
The roots of San Francisco as psychedelic Jerusalem started as a whisper, when the beatniks, students, musicians and drifters attracted to the city, found they could rent crumbling Victorian houses for next to nothing in a neglected neighbourhood known as Haight Ashbury. Almost as an aside, during the first and arguably greatest psychedelic summer of 1966, as the Haight’s became a beacon for disaffected youth everywhere, a music scene led by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane blazed trails into the trippy realms of altered consciousness.
Unfortunately, by the time most San Francisco groups made it to the studio the following year, psychedelia was already in its death throes, the Bay area swamped by junkies, rapes, beatings and drug burns. The alternative had suddenly become the mainstream, the anti-commercial spirit of psychedelia a contradiction in terms. Most of the early innovators had met resistance from a record industry struggling to understand the soundtracks for ritualistic communal mindblowing that were such an essential element of the age. Los Angeles, with its more accessible if slightly sinister brand of psychedelia, overtook San Francisco as the major music city, The Doors Jim Morrison capturing the lurking malevolence encroaching on the good vibrations.
Symbolically, in March 1968, the Grateful Dead were forced to move out of Haight Ashbury, hounded by the police, tourists and every nut in the Bay. Following Martin Luther King’s assassination a month later, race riots and looting swept through San Francisco as they did all over America, love and peace finally turning to hate and war. Whipped and weary from clashes with the establishment, fried and burnt on chemicals, the counterculture proved powerless as the battle lines were drawn between generations, races, genders, ideologies and religions.
The Airplane, the Dead and Country Joe still appeared at the Woodstock Fair in August 1969, but as much as that festival was viewed as the final flowering of psychedelia, so the Stones at Altamont were seen as the crucifixion. As the seventies beckoned ominously on a tide of mistrust and disillusionment, the few remaining hippies finally realised that the ‘Frisco Hells Angels never did believe in the Age Of Aquarius, although by then, nor did anyone else.
01 THE BYRDS ‘Eight Miles High’ (Originally Unreleased Recorded December 1965)
02 BOB DYLAN ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ (A Side April 1966)
03 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS ‘Reverberation (Doubt)’ (Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators LP August 1966)
04 THE SEEDS ‘Mr Farmer’ (A Web Of Sound LP October 1966)
05 VELVET UNDERGROUND ‘All Tomorrows Parties’ (Velvet Underground & Nico LP December 1966)
06 JEFFERSON AIRPLANE ‘White Rabbit’ (Surrealistic Pillow LP February 1967)
07 THE DOORS ‘The Crystal Ship’ (The Doors LP March 1967)
08 MOBY GRAPE ‘Omaha’ (Moby Grape LP June 1967)
09 KALEIDOSCOPE ‘Keep Your Mind Open’ (Side Trips LP July 1967)
10 CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND ‘Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love In)’ (A Side September 1967)
11 BEAU BRUMMELS ‘Magic Hollow’ (Triangle LP October 1967)
12 SOPWITH CAMEL ‘Frantic Desolation’ (Sopwith Camel LP October 1967)
13 CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND ‘Electricity’ (Safe As Milk LP November 1967)
14 WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND ‘Smell Of Incense’ (Volume Two LP November 1967)
15 COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH ‘Fish Cheer/Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die’ (I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die LP November 1967)
16 QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE ‘Pride Of Men’ (Quicksilver Messenger Service LP May 1968)
17 IRON BUTTERFLY ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’ (A Side July 1968)
18 BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY ‘Ball And Chain’ (Cheap Thrills LP September 1968)
19 STEPPENWOLF ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ (Steppenwolf The 2nd LP November 1968)
20 THE YOUNGBLOODS ‘Darkness Darkness’ (Elephant Mountain LP June 1969)
21 GRATEFUL DEAD ‘Mountains Of The Moon’ (Aoxomoxoa LP June 1969)