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Psychedelic rock is 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. It often used new recording techniques and effects and drew on non-Western sources such the ragas and drones of Indian music.

It was pioneered by acts including the Beatles, The Byrds and The Yardbirds, emerging as a genre during the mid 1960s among folk rock and blues rock bands in United States and the United Kingdom. It reached a peak in between 1967 and 1969 with the Summer of Love and Woodstock rock festival, becoming an international musical movement and associated with a widespread counter-culture, before beginning a decline as changing attitudes, the loss of some key individuals and a back-to-basics movement, led surviving performers to move into new musical areas.

Psychedelic rock bridged the transition from early blues- and folk music-based rock to progressive rock, glam rock, hard rock and as a result influenced the development of sub-genres such as heavy metal. Since the late 1970s it has been revived in various forms of neo-psychedelia.

It is 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. It often used new recording techniques and effects and drew on non-Western sources such the ragas and drones of Indian music.

It was pioneered by acts including the Beatles, The Byrds and The Yardbirds, emerging as a genre during the mid 1960s among folk rock and blues rock bands in United States and the United Kingdom. It reached a peak in between 1967 and 1969 with the Summer of Love and Woodstock rock festival, becoming an international musical movement and associated with a widespread counter-culture, before beginning a decline as changing attitudes, the loss of some key individuals and a back-to-basics movement, led surviving performers to move into new musical areas.

Psychedelic rock bridged the transition from early blues- and folk music-based rock to progressive rock, glam rock, hard rock and as a result influenced the development of sub-genres such as heavy metal. Since the late 1970s it has been revived in various forms of neo-psychedelia.


A sitar, much used on early records of the genre.
As a musical style psychedelic rock attempted to replicate the effects and enhance the mind-altering experiences of hallucinogenic drugs, incorporating new electronic and record effects, extended solo's and improvisation and was particularly influenced by eastern mysticism, reflected in use of exotic instrumentation, particularly from Indian music or the incorporation of elements of eastern music.

often contains some of the following features:

electric guitars, often used with feedback, wah wah and fuzzboxes;
elaborate studio effects, such as backwards tapes, panning, phasing, long delay loops, and extreme reverb;
exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla;
a strong keyboard presence, especially organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron (an early tape-driven 'sampler');
extended instrumental solos or jams;
complex song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones;
primitive electronic instruments such as synthesizers and the theremin;
lyrics that made direct or indirect reference to drugs, as in Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' or Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.
surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics;


In the 1960s, in the tradition of jazz and blues, many folk and rock musicians began to take drugs and included drug references in their songs. Beat Generation writers like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and especially the new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler, profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation, helping to popularise the use of LSD.

Psychedelic music's LSD-inspired vibe began in the folk scene, with the New York-based Holy Modal Rounders using the term in their 1964 recording of 'Hesitation Blues'. The first group to advertise themselves as psychedelic rock were the 13th Floor Elevators from Texas, at the end of 1965. The term was first used in print in the Austin American Statesman in an article about the band titled 'Unique Elevators shine with psychedelic rock', dated 10 February 1966, and theirs was the first album to use the term as part of its title, in The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, released in August that year.

After being introduced to cannabis by Bob Dylan, members of The Beatles began experimenting with LSD from 1965 and the group introduced many of the major elements of the psychedelic sound to audiences in this period, with 'I Feel Fine' (1964) using guitar feedback; 'Norwegian Wood' from their 1965 Rubber Soul album using a sitar, and the employment of backwards spooling on their 1966 single B-side 'Rain'. Drug references began to appear in their songs from 'Day Tripper' (1965) and more explicitly from 'Tomorrow Never Knows' (1966) from their album Revolver.

The Byrds, emerging from the Californian folk scene, and the Yardbirds from the British blues scene, have been seen as particularly influential on the development of the genre. The psychedelic life style had already developed in California, particularly in San Francisco, by the mid-60s, where there was also an emerging music scene. This moved out of acoustic folk-based music towards rock soon after The Byrds 'plugged in' to produce a chart topping version of Bob Dylan's 'Tambourine Man' in 1965. As a number of Californian-based folk acts followed them into folk-rock they brought their psychedelic influences with them to produce the 'San Francisco Sound'. Particularly prominent products of the scene were The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, The Great Society, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Charlatans, Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane. The Byrds rapidly progressed from purely folk rock in 1966 with their single 'Eight Miles High', which made use of free jazz and Indian ragas and the lyrics of which were widely taken to refer to drug use. In Britain The Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck as their guitarist, increasingly moved into psychedelic territory, adding up-tempo improvised 'rave ups', Gregorian chant and world music in particular Indian influences to songs including 'Still I'm Sad' (1965) and 'Over Under Sideways Down' (1966) and singles: 'Heart Full of Soul' (1965), 'Shapes of Things' (1966) and 'Happenings Ten Years Time Ago' (1966). They were soon followed into this territory by bands such as Procol Harum, The Moody Blues and The Nice.

Development in the USA

Typical psychedelic style poster. Iron Butterfly at the Carousel Ballroom.
The San Francisco music scene continued to develop as the Fillmore, the Avalon Ballroom, and The Matrix began booking local rock bands on a nightly basis. The first Trips Festival, held at the Longshoremen's Hall in January 1966, saw The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company play to an audience of 10,000, giving many their first encounter with both acid rock, with its long instrumentals and unstructured jams, and LSD. Also from San Francisco, Blue Cheer played psychedelic-influenced rock in a blues-rock style.

Although San Francisco was the centre of American psychedelic music scene, many other American cities contributed significantly to the new genre. The first psychedelic single to reach the US top 10 was 'Psychotic Reaction' by San Jose garage band Count Five in July 1966. Los Angeles boasted dozens of important psychedelic bands, besides The Byrds, these included Iron Butterfly, Love, Spirit, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, The United States of America, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and the Electric Prunes; perhaps the most commercially successful were The Doors. Frank Zappa and his group The Mothers of Invention began to incorporate psychedelic influences in their first two albums Freak Out! (1966) and Absolutely Free (1967). The Beach Boys concept album Pet Sounds helped herald the psychedelia movement in America, with its artful experiments, psychedelic lyrics based on emotional longings and self-doubts, elaborate sound effects and new sounds on both conventional and unconventional instruments. New York City produced its share of psychedelic bands, such as folk pioneers The Fugs, The Godz, and Pearls Before Swine, besides the Blues Magoos, the Blues Project, Lothar and the Hand People and the blues influenced Vanilla Fudge. The Detroit area gave rise to psychedelic bands the Amboy Dukes, and the SRC, and Chicago produced H. P. Lovecraft. Texas (particularly Austin) is often cited for its contributions to psychedelic music: besides the 13th Floor Elevators it produced acts including Bubble Puppy, Lost and Found, The Golden Dawn, The Zakary Thaks, and Red Crayola.

Development in the UK

In the UK before 1967 media outlets for psychedelic culture were limited to stations like Radio Luxembourg and pirate radio like Radio London, particularly the programmes hosted by DJ John Peel. The growth of underground culture was facilitated by the emergence of alternative weekly publications like IT (International Times) and OZ magazine which featured psychedelic and progressive music together with the counter culture lifestyle, which involved long hair, and the wearing of wild shirts from shops like Mr Fish, Granny Takes a Trip and old military uniforms from Carnaby Street (Soho) and Kings Road (Chelsea) boutiques, Britain's hippies comported themselves in stark contrast to the slick, tailored Teddyboys or the drab, conventional dress of most teenagers prior to that. Soon psychedelic rock clubs like the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road, Middle Earth Club in Covent Garden, The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, the Country Club (Swiss Cottage) and the Art Lab (also in Covent Garden) were drawing capacity audiences with psychedelic rock and ground-breaking liquid light shows.

British psychedelic rock, like its American counterpart, had roots in the folk scene. Blues, drugs, jazz and eastern influences had featured since 1964 in the work of Davy Graham and Bert Jansch. However, the largest strand was a series of bands that emerged from 1966 from the British blues scene, but influenced by folk, jazz and psychedelia, including Pink Floyd, Traffic, Soft Machine, Cream, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience (led by an American, but initially produced and managed in Britain by Chas Chandler of The Animals). The Crazy World of Arthur Brown added surreal theatrical touches to its dark psychedelic sounds, such as the singer's flaming headdress. Existing British Invasion acts now joined the psychedelic revolution, including Eric Burdon (previously of The Animals), and The Small Faces and The Who whose The Who Sell Out (1967) included psychedelic influenced tracks 'I Can See for Miles' and 'Armenia City in the Sky'. The Rolling Stones had drug references and psychedelic hints in their 1966 singles '19th Nervous Breakdown' and 'Paint It, Black', the latter featuring drones and sitar.

Peak years

Psychedelic rock reached its apogee in the last years of the decade. 1967 saw the Beatles release the double A-side 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane', opening a strain of British 'pastoral' or 'nostalgic' psychedelia, followed by the release of what is often seen as their definitive psychedelic statement in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, including the controversial track 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. They continued the psychedelic theme later in the year with the double EP Magical Mystery Tour and the number one single 'Hello, Goodbye' with its B-side 'I Am The Walrus'. Also enigmatic and surreal was one of the most influential records of 1967, 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' by Procol Harum, which reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 8 June 1967, and stayed there for six weeks. The Rolling Stones responded to Sgt Pepper later in the year with Their Satanic Majesties Request, and Pink Floyd produced what is usually seen as their best psychedelic work The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In 1967 the Incredible String Band's The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion developed their folk music into full blown psychedelia. From 1967 Fairport Convention became a mainstay of the London Underground scene, producing their eponymous first album of American-inspired folk rock the following year.

In America the Summer of Love of 1967 saw huge number of young people from across American and the world travel to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, boosting the population from 15,000 to around 100,000. It was prefaced by the Human Be-In event in March and reached its peak at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, the latter helping to make major American stars of Janis Joplin, lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix and The Who. Key recordings included Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, the first album to come out of San Francisco during this era, which sold well enough to bring the city's music scene to the attention of the record industry: from it they took two of the earliest psychedelic hit singles: 'White Rabbit' (1967) and 'Somebody to Love' (1967). The Doors' first hit single 'Light My Fire' (1967), clocking in at over 7 minutes, became one of the defining records of the genre, although their follow up album Strange Days only enjoyed moderate success. These trends climaxed in the 1969 Woodstock festival, which saw performances by most of the major psychedelic acts, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Santana. Psychedelic rock was glamorized on screen in Easy Rider (1969), which used songs including Steppenwolf's 'Born to be Wild' as part of its soundtrack.

International expansion

The Bee Gees, one of the most commercially successful survivors of the psychedelic era, performing on Dutch television in 1968
The US and UK were the major centres of psychedelic music, but in the late 1960s scenes began to develop across the world, including continental Europe, Australasia, Asia and south and central America.

In the later 1960s psychedelic scenes developed in a large number of countries in continental Europe, including the Netherlands with bands like The Outsiders, Denmark where it was pioneered by Steppeulvene, and Germany, where musicians began to fuse music of psychedelia and the electronic avant-garde. 1968 saw the first major German rock festival in Essen, and the foundation of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin by Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Conrad Schnitzler, which helped bands like Tangerine Dream and Amon Düül achieve cult status.

The fledgling Australian and New Zealand rock scenes that formed in wake of Beatlemania were most influenced by British psychedelia, often with bands of first generation immigrants, who returned to further their musical careers. Among the most successful were The Easybeats, formed in Sydney but who recorded their international hit 'Friday on My Mind' (1966) in London and remained there for their forays into psychedelic-tinged pop until they disbanded in 1970. A similar path was pursued by the Bee Gees, formed in Brisbane, but whose first album Bee Gees' 1st (1967), recorded in London, gave them three major hit singles and contained folk, rock and psychedelic elements, heavily influenced by the Beatles. The Twilights, formed in Adelaide, also made to trip to London, recording a series of minor hits, absorbing the psychedelic scene, to return home to produce covers of Beatles' songs, complete with sitar, and the concept album Once upon a Twilight (1968). The most successful New Zealand band, The La De Das, produced the psychedelic pop concept album The Happy Prince (1968), based on the Oscar Wilde children's classic, but failed to break through in Britain and the wider world. A thriving psychedelic music scene in Cambodia was pioneered by Sinn Sisamouth, Pan Ron and Ros Sereysothea. In Turkey Anatolian rock artist Erkin Koray, released his first psychedelic rock track 'Anma Arkadaş' in 1967 and helped found a Turkish psychedelic scene.

Latin America proved a particularly fertile ground for psychedelic rock. The Brazilian psychedelic rock group Os Mutantes formed in 1966, and although little known outside Brazil at the time, their recordings have since accrued a substantial international cult following. In the late 1960s, a wave of Mexican rock heavily influenced by psychedelia and funk emerged, especially in several northern border Mexican states, in particular, Tijuana, Baja California. Among the most recognized bands from this 'Chicano Wave' (Onda Chicana in Spanish) were Three Souls in my Mind, Love Army and El Ritual. In Chile, from 1967 to 1973, between the ending of the government of President Frei Montalva and the government of President Allende, a cultural movement was born from a few Chilean bands that emerged playing a unique fusion of folkloric music with heavy psychedelic influences. The 1967 release of Los Mac's album Kaleidoscope Men (1967) inspired bands such as Los Jaivas and Los Blops, the latter going on to collaborate with the iconic Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara on his 1971 album El derecho de vivir en paz. Meanwhile in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, a burgeoning psychedelic scene gave birth to three of the most important bands in Argentine rock: Los Gatos, Manal and Almendra.


By the end of the decade psychedelic rock was in retreat. LSD had been made illegal in the US and UK in 1966. The murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca by Charles Manson and his 'family' of followers, claiming to have been inspired by Beatles' songs such as 'Helter Skelter', has been seen as contributing to an anti-hippie backlash. At the end of the year, the Altamont Free Concert in California, headlined by The Rolling Stones, became notorious for the fatal stabbing of black teenager Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel security guards. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (whose much anticipated Smile project would not emerge until 2004), Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd were early 'acid casualties', helping to shift the focus of the respective bands of which they had been leading figures. Some bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream broke up. Jimi Hendrix died in London in September 1970, shortly after recording Band of Gypsies (1970), Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in October 1970 and they were closely followed by Jim Morrison of the Doors, who died in Paris in July 1971. Many surviving acts moved away from psychedelia into either more back-to-basics 'roots rock', traditional-based, pastoral or whimsical folk, the wider experimentation of progressive rock, or riff-laden heavy rock.

In 1966, even while psychedelic rock was becoming dominant, Bob Dylan spearheaded the back-to-basics roots revival when he went to Nashville to record the album Blonde on Blonde. This, and the subsequent more clearly country-influenced albums, John Wesley Harding (1967) and Nashville Skyline (1969), have been seen as creating the genre of country folk. Dylan's lead was also followed by The Byrds, joined by Gram Parsons to record Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), helping to define the genre of country rock, which became a particularly popular style in the California music scene of the late 1960s, and was adopted by former folk rock artists including Hearts and Flowers, Poco and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Other acts that followed the back to basics trend in different ways were the Canadian group The Band and the Californian-based Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Grateful Dead also had major successes with the more reflective and stripped back Workingman's Dead and American Beauty in 1970. The super-group Crosby, Stills and Nash, formed in 1968 from members of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies, were joined by Neil Young for Deja Vu in 1970, which moved away from many of what had become the 'clichés' of psychedelic rock and placed an emphasis on political commentary and vocal harmonies.

After the death of Brian Epstein and the unpopular surreal television film, Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles returned to a more raw style with The Beatles (1968), Abbey Road (1969) and Let It Be (1970), before their eventual break up. The back to basics trend was also evident in The Rolling Stones' albums starting from Beggar's Banquet (1968) to Exile on Main St. (1972). Fairport Convention released Liege and Lief in 1969, turning away from American-influenced folk rock toward a sound based on traditional British music and founding the sub-genre of electric folk, to be followed by bands like Steeleye Span and Fotheringay. The psychedelic-influenced and whimsical strand of British folk continued into the 1970s with acts including Comus, Mellow Candle, Nick Drake, The Incredible String Band, Forest and Trees and with Syd Barrett's two solo albums.


Many of the British musicians and bands that had embraced psychedelia went on to create progressive rock in the 1970s, including Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and members of Yes. King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) has been seen as an important link between psychedelia and progressive rock. While bands such as Hawkwind maintained an explicitly psychedelic course into the 1970s, most dropped the psychedelic elements in favour of wider experimentation. The incorporation of jazz into the music of bands like Soft Machine and Can also contributed to the development of the jazz rock of bands like Colosseum. As they moved away from their psychedelic roots and placed increasing emphasis on electronic experimentation German bands like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can and Faust developed a distinctive brand of electronic rock, known as kosmische musik, or in the British press as 'Kraut rock'. The adoption of electronic synthesisers, pioneered by Popol Vuh from 1970, together with the work of figures like Brian Eno (for a time the keyboard player with Roxy Music), would be a major influence on subsequent synth rock. In Japan, Osamu Kitajima's 1974 psychadelic rock album Benzaiten utilized electronic equipment such as a synthesizer and drum machine, and one of the record's contributors was Haruomi Hosono, who later started the electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra (as 'Yellow Magic Band') in 1977.

Psychedelic rock, with its distorted guitar sound, extended solos and adventurous compositions, has been seen as an important bridge between blues-oriented rock and later heavy metal. American bands whose loud,, repetitive psychedelic rock emerged as early heavy metal included Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes and Steppenwolf. From England, two former guitarists with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, moved on to form key acts in the genre, The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin respectively. Other major pioneers of the genre had begun as blues-based psychedelic bands, including Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and UFO. Psychedelic music also contributed to the origins of glam rock, with Marc Bolan changing his psychedelic folk duo into rock band T. Rex and becoming the first glam rock star from 1970. From 1971 David Bowie moved on from his early psychedelic work to develop his Ziggy Stardust persona, incorporating elements of professional make up, mime and performance into his act.


Psychedelic rock began to be revived in the late 1970s/early 1980s by bands of the post-punk scene, including The Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Church, and the Soft Boys. New wave band XTC published records under the pseudonym, The Dukes of Stratosphear. In the US in the early 1980s these bands were joined by the Paisley Underground movement, based in Los Angeles, with acts like Dream Syndicate, The Bangles and Rain Parade. There were occasional mainstream acts that dabbled in neo-psychedelia, including Prince's mid-'80s work and some of Lenny Kravitz's 1990s output, but it has mainly been an influence on alternative and indie-rock bands.

In the 1990s the Elephant 6 collective, including acts like The Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power and Of Montreal, produced eclectic psychedelic rock and folk. Other alternative rock acts that delved into psychedelic territory included Nick Saloman's Bevis Frond, the space rock of Spacemen 3 and diverse acts like Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Porno For Pyros and Super Furry Animals. In the UK The Stone Roses debut single in 1988 set out a catchy neo-psychedelic guitar pop, helping to create the Madchester scene, and influencing the early sound of 1990s Britpop bands like Blur, and Oasis who drew on 1960s psychedelic pop and rock, particularly on the album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. In the immediate post-Britpop era Kula Shaker incorporated swirling, guitar-heavy sounds of late-'60s psychedelia and with Indian mysticism and spirituality. In the new millennium neo-psychedelia was continued by bands directly emulating the sounds of the 60s like Tame Impala, MGMT and The Essex Green.


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