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The psychedelic era evolved out of the social consciousness movement engendered by a commitment to civil rights, anti-war protest, the legalization of recreational drugs, and other issues on the part of the youth subculture. These issues were frequently addressed in rock song lyrics while the music itself often employed special effects geared to underscoring the message at hand. For example, the Doors' "Unknown Soldier" (1968) included a marching interlude accented by a drill sergeant's shrieked commands and the discharge of rifles. The Chicago Transit Authority's "Prologue, August 29, 1968" featured an actual recording from the 1968 Democratic National Convention which conveyed the following sequence: black militants exhorting demonstrators, "God give us the blood to keep going"; the beginning of the march; police attempting to disperse marchers; and the demonstrators chanting, "The Whole World's Watching." Pearl Before Swine's polemic on the horrors of war, Balaklava (1968), began with a turn of the century recording of the trumpet which was blown to commence the fabled charge of the British Light Brigade in 1856.

These spacey sound effects, however, paled in contrast to the mind expanding techniques utilized to evoke the psychedelic drug experience. Guitarist Les Paul was the spiritual godfather of studio augmentation as a result of his experiments with overdubbing and multi-tracking; his seminal 1950s recordings with vocalist Mary Ford rivaled big band and orchestral productions for fullness of sound. The unique tones he was able to coax out of his guitar within a studio environment were not equaled until Jimi Hendrix's appearance on the scene. The infancy of stereo recording in the early 1960s had witnessed a succession of sonic experiments primarily within the light pops sector. Enoch Light and the Light Brigade pioneered the spatial left-right channel ping-pong effects later employed in a spectacular manner by Hendrix in his albums, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. The introduction of synthesizers into the recording process by inventors such as Robert Moog in collaboration with Morton Subotnick, Walter (Wendy) Carlos, and other avant garde artists, made available another key tool for rock production wizards.

As in so many other genres, the Beatles played a pioneering role in the evolution of psychedelic effects. The group's recording engineer, George Martin, proved extremely facile at reproducing the sounds that the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team professed to have in their heads. Martin's arsenal of studio effects included tapes run backwards, filtered voices, and the inventive use of exotic instruments (e.g., the piccolo trumpet on "Penny Lane") and ambient sounds. The critical raves and commercial success of Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)--both of which reeked of psychedelic touches--spurred a tidal wave of imitators. The vast majority of rock acts insisted on (or were talked into) doing their own psychedelic projects. Even artists whose prior output appeared to be the antithesis of such studio excess--e.g., roots rocker Johnny Rivers, who was then enjoying a career revival with a series of soft ballads, and blues stylists, the Rolling Stones--were swept up by this new fad. Only Bob Dylan, who released a country-rock masterpiece, John Wesley Harding, at the peak of the psychedelic era, seemed able to run counter to prevailing fashion.

Psychedelia was sometimes referred to as "acid rock." The latter label was generally applied to a pounding, hard rock variant which evolved out of the mid-1960s garage punk movement. By late 1966, the Blues Magoos were calling their brand of wailing blues-rock "psychedelic" music. Although generally devoid of the studio gimmickry typifying the Beatles school of psychedelia, acid rock provided its own form of mind expansion by means of guitar pyrotechnics. Leading practitioners included the Cream, Blue Cheer, and the Amboy Dukes. When rock began turning back to softer, roots-oriented sounds in late 1968, acid rock bands mutated into heavy metal acts. Traces of the psychedelic era can still be found in the stylistic excesses of many third-generation metal groups.


Top Artists and Their Recordings

The Beatles--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967); Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

The Blues Magoos--"(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" (1966); Psychedelic Lollipop (1966); Electric Comic Book (1967); Basic Blues Magoos (1968)

The Byrds--The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1967); "Goin' Back" (1967); "Artificial Energy" (1968)

The Cream--Wheels of Fire (1968); "White Room" (1968)

The Doors--Strange Days (1967)

The Family--Music From a Doll's House (1968)

The Grateful Dead--Anthem of the Sun (1968); Aoxomoxoa (1969)

Jimi Hendrix (Experience)--Are You Experienced? (1967); "Purple Haze" (1967); "Foxey Lady" (1967/8); Axis: Bold As Love (1968); "All Along the Watchtower" (1968); Electric Ladyland (1968); "Crosstown Traffic" (1968); Band of Gypsys (1969); The Cry of Love (1970)

Iron Butterfly--Heavy (1967); In a Gadda Da Vida (1968); Ball (1969)

The Jefferson Airplane--After Bathing at Baxter's (1967)

The Lemon Pipers--"Green Tambourine" (1967/8)

The Rascals--Once Upon a Dream (1967); "It's Wonderful" (1967)

The Rolling Stones--Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

The Small Faces--"Itchycoo Park" (1967/8)

The Status Quo--"Pictures of Matchstick Men" (1968)

The Strawberry Alarm Clock--"Incense and Peppermints" (1967); Incense and Peppermints (1967); "Tomorrow" (1967/8); "Sit With the Guru" (1968); Wake Up! It's Tomorrow (1968); World in a Sea Shell (1968)

The Thirteen Floor Elevators--"You're Gonna Miss Me" (1966); Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (1966); Easter Everywhere (1967); Thirteenth Floor Elevators (1968); Bull of the Woods (1969)

Bill Wyman--"In Another Land" (1967)