"This is the best part of the trip...this is the trip...the best part...I really like!"
What exactly was Jim Morrison gibbering about in the song "The Soft Parade"? I can't rightly say with any certainty because, as you may or may not know, each 'trip' is its own special journey. But I have got a pretty damn good idea where The Doors were going, and it wasn't to London to visit the Queen -- save in a wholly illusory, extemperaneous sense.
I had originally set out to quantify the best psychedelic albums of all time, but the more I listened to each album that would qualify for such a list, I found that they weren't as good as I recalled back when I first heard them through the haze of a psilocybin stupor. Many of these albums are simply quaint reflections of a tempestuous and decidely odd epoch in human events.
For example, it may be heretical to say, but Pink Floyd's Pipers at the Gates of Dawn is the most overrated album in the whole Floyd catalog (not the worst, mind you, just the most overrated -- the worst is Atom Heart Mother). It is certainly tripped-out, but from the standpoint of song structure the album does not have the compositional strengths that later Floyd psychedelia contained. Likewise, albums such as Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica or Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's are barely listenable these days, and Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs is painful to hear, a sad expression of a promising performer who fell off the edge, and in his own words "was long, long gone."
Certainly, albums like Love's Forever Changes and The Doors Strange Days are exemplary examples of their trippy time, but another phenomenon I noticed is that many of the best psychedelic songs are not necessarily on releases that would be strictly regarded as psychedelic albums, which is the case for bands like Cream, The Beatles and Traffic, who experimented heavily within the genre but had a far greater palette with which to color their compositions. In addition, some bands simply had only one or two psychedelic masterpieces in them -- blowing their wad on a single far-out trip, as it were -- and the rest of their output amounts to half-mumbled, hallucinogenic musical drivel. And so, in concurrence with that inebriated satyr of Bacchanalian rock Jim Morrison, I am only looking for the best part of the trip here.
But what makes a song psychedelic and, furthermore, what makes a psychedelic song great? Our friends over at the lazy scholar's medium for Internet research, Wikipedia, defines psychedelic music as follows:
...a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs.
A little dry perhaps, given the colorful and decidedly frenetic genre we are referring to, but I can live with that. Additionally our space cadet friends at Wiki add, and I paraphrase, that psychedelic music usually contains: exotic instruments (sitar and tabla drums, for instance), complex song structures, surreal or literarily allusive lyrics, lengthy leads, feedback and footpedals for the guitar, a strong emphasis on keyboards, synths and mellotron, backward taping, phasing, panning and vocal manipulation. I might add that the duration of a great psychedelic song is in direct proportion to the peak time of an acid or mescaline trip, in which case "the longer the better" certainly would be a proviso.
Also, pyschedelic music in the 60s and early 70s provided the first, great expansion of musical boundaries within rock structure: symphonic orchestras, strings, jazz, Indian music and instrumentation, dissonance, minimalism, modernist aesthetics in lyricism, improvisation -- an eclectic fusion of various influences and styles coalesced and hovered like a cloud of sandalwood incense over the patchouli candles, shag carpets and the ever-revolving turntables of old phonographs with inadequate speakers.
And so here, in no apparent order (as any symmetry or strict hierarchy would be anathema to the whole proposition), sixty-nine outlandish tunes for your halucinogenic edification...
Alright, for ease of reading, I will at least alphabetize the order of the bands. But that's it. Seriously. Ummm...what were we talking about again? And are you gonna eat that twinkie? Man, I got the munchies something serious.
Oh, by the way, here is the second installment (in case this first blast from the past wasn't enough): Son of Psychedelicide! 69 More Great Songs from the Psychedelic Age.
AMBOY DUKES --
Journey to the Center of the Mind
Ted Nugent before he began eating animal carcasses and liberals.
THE BEATLES --
I am the Walrus
The amazing string and horn sections, as well as Lennon's feverish vocals and slyly obtuse lyrics sets this song apart. Where else will you hear about "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye" and a rendition of Shakespeare's King Lear in one song?
Tomorrow Never Knows
Backward dubbing? Check. Hypnotic drums? Check. Lyrics based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Check. Well, looks like we hit each item.
Notable for the early use of the mellotron and a swarmandel (an Indian zither). I actually played a zither once, but I let it go. Not much of a market for zither music.
Love You To
The first rock song with an Indian motif and sitar running through the entire composition ("Norwegian Wood" had sitar only as an accompaniment). George Harrison's singular contribution to psychedelia, and a more spirited attempt at Indian music than "Within You Without You" from Sgt. Pepper's.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
The song has three different keys, two different beats, and Lennon's voice is sped up. And then of course, there is the LSD reference, which Lennon denied. But did anyone believe him? Cellophane flowers, tangerine skies, plasticine porters, kaleidescope eyes? The BBC didn't believe it. They banned the song.
BUBBLE PUPPY --
Hot Smoke and Sasafrass
Smoke and Sassafrass: the arch-nemesis of Crimson and Clover. Over and over.
TIM BUCKLEY --
Acoustic psychedelia from another budding star clipped too soon.
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD --
Neil Young and Stephen Stills play the Rolling Stones on blotter.
Space Oddity (film demo)
Ah, the places psychedelia may lead one! This song, from Bowie's 1969 album of the same name, broadly hints at the influential direction Bowie would turn in the early 70s. The second video, a funny clip from Bowie's promotional film Love You Till Tuesday shows the song in an earlier, rawer state (seduced by space sirens!).
ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS --
I love the bagpipes and explosions.
A commercial advertisement for psychedelics.
THE BYRDS --
Eight Miles High
The band claimed this song was about an airplane ride and not getting high. Right.
Turn! Turn! Turn!
Even the bible was not safe from psychedelia! Pete Seeger took credit for writing the song, but it was taken almost verbatim from the King James' version of Ecclesiastes (Seeger admitted to actually writing six words total).
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART --
Zig Zag Wanderer
If you must smoke pot, the original Zig-Zag whites are still the best for rolling. Or so I am told.
CANNED HEAT --
On the Road Again
A great bit of psychedelic blues. Love the tambura drone that...ummm...drones through the whole song.
THE CHAMBER BROTHERS --
Time Has Come Today
Hey, they're just a bunch of black guys making psychedelic music. They were sort of the 60s version of the 80s band Living Colour.
COUNT FIVE --
Perhaps they should've counted to ten.
COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH --
Sorry, I don't really care for Country Joe and the band -- too sloppy and sophomoric. But hey, this is a psychedelic tune with harmonica! Take that, Floyd! Yet they were one of the first psychedelic bands in 'Frisco, so they get their due.
THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN --
One of my all-time favorites. You've got to love a guy who sets his head on fire.
In the White Room
Ginger Baker's drumming is amazing. It's like he's not even playing to the same song.
The rainbow has a beard? The picture has a moustache? Eric, man, what you been smoking?
Season of the Witch
You've got to pick up every stitch? The rabbit's running in the ditch? Well, obviously, must be the season of the witch.
THE DOORS --
When the Music's Over
A much better trip than the equally long "The End", and where else can one hear "the scream of the butterfly"?
Mother...I want to...ummm...take you to Macy's for the lingerie sale.
The Soft Parade
The monk bought lunch.
Strangely enough, "Strange Days" is stranger than the song "When You're Strange". I just find that strange.
THE ELECTRIC PRUNES --
I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
I remember hearing this when I was really little. That's it. I just remember it.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD --
It seems you can't get studio versions of the Dead on YouTube; therefore, this is all that you get. Which is probably just as well, because the vocals are uniformly dreadful and the Dead are hugely overrated. Not that Deadheads would know. I wonder if they're even aware Jerry Garcia is dead? Oh, sorry -- should've put a spoiler note up.
H.P. LOVECRAFT --
Some nice, trippy stuff from H.P. Lovecraft, whose song "Mountains of Madness" bears so little resemblance to Lovecraftian horror that I refuse to add it to the list.
JIMI HENDRIX --
Third Stone from the Sun
Often cited as one of the earliest examples of fusion, this song has been covered or excerpted by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, Frank Marino, Jaco Pastorius, Joe Satriani, Pat Metheny and Dick Dale.
Bold as Love
Why is this song on the list? Just ask the axis.
Burning of the Midnight Lamp
A master's class on the use of guitar effects. One of my favorite Hendrix tunes.
Are You Experienced?
Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.
IRON BUTTERFLY --
A stoned slur of "In the Garden of Eden", it is the longest one-hit-wonder song in history. Maybe even eternity.
IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY --
Didn't Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Catherine O'Hara sing this in A Mighty Wind? Just kidding. I've always had a soft spot for this one.
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE --
Grace Slick's vocal performance alone is worth praise in this clever song that manages to turn even the topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll on its head.
Grace Slick's homage to James Joyce's Ulysses. It's a perfect combination, really -- you have to be high to listen to the song or read the book.
KING CRIMSON --
Progressive minimalist psychedelia.
A House is not a Motel
Forever Changes is one of those albums that have been critically acclaimed as a truly great lost classic, and for once the critics are right.
MOBY GRAPE --
The can't miss, critically acclaimed greatest band that never went anywhere after their first album, which just goes to show you that critics are usually wrong.
THE MOODY BLUES --
Visions of Paradise
One of the most beautiful bits of psychedelia ever recorded. Paradise, indeed.
Have You Heard?
I could just as easily added "Are You Sitting Comfortably" from the same album. A good buzz and a pair of headphones is all you need!
Legend of a Mind
Timothy Leary is dead, and The Moody Blues predicted it 30 years before it happened!
PINK FLOYD --
Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict
The greatest song title ever devised by man while in an irrational state. Roger Waters' broad Scots brogue is priceless.
Echoes, Part I
Echoes, Part II
Echoes, Part III
From a single, measured note rises an entire primeval symphony, a titanic and ageless tome that slinks from netherworldly, prehistoric slithering to the bright sunlight of a modern morn. The crowning achievement of Floyd psychedelia.
Many critics prefer "Interstellar Overdrive" from Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, but I like the meter of the lyrics and the overall structure of "Astronomy Domine". Plus, there's a lot less aimless noodling about.
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
The only song where all five Floyd members (including Syd Barrett) are included in one recording.
THE PRETTY THINGS --
Private Sorrow/Balloon Burning/Death
Considered by many to be the first rock concept album, The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow never became a hit, because anyone that bought it during its first release committed suicide. I'm kidding. Sheesh.
PROCOL HARUM --
Shine On Brightly
Harum was always too literary to be truly psychedelic. They nearly skipped psychedelia altogether and moved right into progressive music.
QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE --
Sort of a showdown between Clint Eastwood and Cheech Marin at the Ok Corral and Hash Bar.
THE ROLLING STONES --
Paint it Black
The thing I remember most vividly about the Stones during this period were the bags under Brian Jones' eyes. Did that guy ever sleep?
2000 Light Years From Home
About as psychedelic as the Stones ever got.
THE SMALL FACES --
Steve Marriot before shrieking his lungs out in Humble Pie.
STATUS QUO --
Pictures of Matchstick Men
It is the abrasive and strident electric guitar in this piece that makes it noteworthy. I haven't the slightest idea what matchstick men are, but it sounds cool.
Damn the Pushers! I hate them! Hey, would you pass me that joint?
A psychedelic history of America. No, I am serious! A truly great protest song.
THE STRAWBERRY ALARMCLOCK
Incense and Peppermints
The antidote for Hot Smoke and Sassafras.
(Roamin' Thru the Gloamin' with) 40,000 Headmen
A tall tale from Steve Winwood & Company. Either that, or an altered-state fantasy.
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Crosby, Stills & Nash had the effrontery to add two extra verses to this song when they covered it. Fortunately, Steve Winwood was so stoned at the time that he thought he wrote them, and so a good time was had by all.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA --
The American Metaphysical Circus
One of the greatest examples of psychedelia ever created. The weirdness just keeps on building as the song progresses.
VANILLA FUDGE --
You Keep Me Hangin' On
Psychedelia hits Motown all because of the Vanilla Fudge. Next came the "Mudshark Episode" in which a sexual act was perpatrated with a fish on a groupie by members of the Fudge and Led Zeppelin, or that is what Frank Zappa alleges in his "Mud Shark" song.
VELVET UNDERGROUND --
The only Lou Reed song I can tolerate. Face it, the man sings worse than Bob Dylan.
THE WHO --
I Can See For Miles
Never a band to delve too deeply into psychedelics, the Who released "I Can See For Miles" just to show they were still better than everyone else.
THE YARDBIRDS --
Heart Full of Soul (sitar demo)
Heart Full of Soul (single version)
In 1965, The Yardbirds wanted to release a sitar-driven song with psychedelic, "Eastern-exotic" overtones, but they decided the sitar sound was too thin and not powerful enough to drive the song. Thus, Jeff Beck mimicked the sitar with an electric guitar and an experimental fuzz box. The result, as they say, was history-in-the-making.
FRANK ZAPPA/MOTHERS OF INVENTION --
Trouble Every Day
A brilliant psychedelic-blues protest song from the Mothers' Freak Out album from 1966 (yes, 1966, far beyond its time). Allegedly, Freak Out was a major influence for Sgt. Pepper's.
A scathing satire of the hippie scene from the Mothers' anti-psychedelic, anti-Beatles We're Only In It for the Money.
Willie the Pimp
Blues/Jazz-fusion psychedelia from Zappa's 1968 materpiece Hot Rats. That's Captain Beefheart singing, by the way.
THE ZOMBIES --
Time of the Season
Hasn't everyone sang the "Who's yer daddy?" part of this song at one time or another? Love the funky keyboard.
EXCLUSIVE BONUS: POETRY CORNER!
They don't recite poetry on rock albums anymore, and rappers' turgid rhymes are altogether wretched. So here are some worthwhile pyschedelic odes:
Horse Latitudes -- THE DOORS
This is just plain eerie and disturbing.
Departure/Ride My See-Saw -- THE MOODY BLUES
The best poetically manic interlude of the whole psychedelic era is reason enough to put this song on the list. Add to that great harmonies and guitar by Justin Hayward, and dude, righteous!
Atlantis -- DONOVAN
Donovan recalls Atlantis so well, you actually wish it were real. Sort of like the Bible.