At the time, many people disregarded the psychedelic rock movement of the mid-1960s as a short-lived fad, but it has, in fact, endured all the way up to the present day. The idea of creating rock music that pushed the boundaries of human thought and experience through weird and wonderful sounds, obscure lyrics and abstract artwork may have begun in the swinging 60s, but it has continued in some corners of the rock music landscape ever since then. From the big names like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix right the way through to relative newcomers like Tame Impala and Temples, it looks like psychedelic rock is here to stay.
You will probably already be familiar with the author Lewis Carroll’s tale of Alice in Wonderland and it was this children’s story that inspired Jefferson Airplane’s best loved hit song, ‘White Rabbit’. The themes of self-discovery, a journey through the unknown, talking animals, bizarre scenarios and affecting your experience through ingesting various different unknown substances are all classic psychedelic motifs. With this song and others like ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘Embryonic Journey’, the band were pioneers of the psych rock movement.
Although Hendrix’s mainstream career was, tragically, as short-lived as the mainstream psych rock movement, he was an enormous influence on the musical landscape of that time. With his Experience (the rest of his band), his first album ‘Are You Experienced?’ reached no 2 in the UK charts and he also had chart success with a number of singles. Songs like the classic ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ and ‘If 6 Was 9’ track his interest in portraying the strangeness of the human mind through his music and speculation about science fiction and outer space.
With strong connections to Ken Kesey, Owsley Stanley and the Acid Test crowd, the Grateful Dead were at the forefront of psychedelia on the West Coast of America. They were involved with the Hare Krishna movement in the US, the beat poets, the music scene with Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, and the movement towards expanding consciousness that took place in the late 60s and early 70s. For many people, they were a genre-defying band making original, mind-blowing music that spoke about enduring themes such as life, death, religion and love.
For all of the acts mentioned above, the experience of the live show was just as important as the finished record. Visuals, band members’ outfits, the crowd, musical improvisation and collaboration all contributed to truly unique experiences such as Hendrix’s performance at Woodstock 1969 or the Grateful Dead at Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests. These days, we are lucky enough to have the internet as a tool to access entertainment which is out of our reach due to distance, time or budget. Just as we would now think nothing of watching movies or chasing an ace at PokerStarsCasino, we can listen to classic psychedelic rock on Napster or watch a performance on YouTube.
The internet also gives us access to the new crop of psychedelic rock artists who carry on the legacy of those pioneering few in the 1960s.
Driven by multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, Tame Impala have been producing music heavily influenced by the 1960s psychedelic rock movement since the mid-noughties. Taking inspiration from many different genres developed in the interim between now and then such as shoegaze, pop music and lo-fi, he constructs big symphonic sounds to great critical acclaim. Much like the music of Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, his lyrics tend to explore the human mind, nature and an exploration of the human experience whereas his music can be soothing, motivating or mind-bending.
King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard
A truly strange and genre-defying collection of musicians, King Gizzard are a prolific and accomplished psychedelic band also hailing from Australia as Tame Impala does. Their band name is a nod to the famous ‘Lizard King’, Jim Morrison, of 60s psych rockers The Doors and their music covers everything from the American frontier to mind control to fantasy. This band seems to truly embody the fractious, varied style of the original psychedelic rockers and they have so much material, they recently released 5 entire studio albums in just one year.
The Flaming Lips
Although the Flaming Lips have been performing since the early 80s, they still came after the original psych rock of the 1960s and 70s. With their crazy visuals, mad stage props and outrageous stage costumes, this infectiously good natured yet utterly bizarre band have enjoyed a quiet but enduring success over the years. Their lyrics often cover fantasy-based storylines and characters, harking back to the music of Jefferson Airplane and even Led Zeppelin, who incorporated the psychedelic motifs into a much heavier sound.