Psychedelic music (and specifically, psychedelic pop and rock) undoubtedly peaked in the middle of the 1960s, reaching its zenith of popularity during the “Summer of Love” in 1967. Of course, not all great psychedelic music came out in ’67 – it could easily be argued that 1966 was more important to the overall development of psychedelic music, since that was the year that two landmark albums of the genre: The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Revolver blew the doors wide open in terms of what was possible to put on record. But ’67 is where it all came together, and, alongside the prevalence and growing popularity of mild-altering drugs like marijuana and especially LSD, psychedelia spread like wildfire to both sides of the Atlantic. By 1968, there were a plethora of copycat bands diving headfirst into psychedelia, but the genre quickly faded in popularity as the world political situation became more grim, and the mainstream quickly pivoted towards a more blues oriented, stripped down sound. With that context, let’s take a look back at some of the landmark psychedelic albums and artists of 1967.
Are You Experienced
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: May 12th, 1967
The techniques that Jimi Hendrix used on the two records the Jimi Hendrix Experience released in 1967 were nothing short of revolutionary. Hendrix harnessed feedback into blistering, emotional psychedelic music heavily influenced by American R&B and rock and roll, and was also was one of the first guitarists to use different pedals and effects that quickly became commonplace, including the wah-wah and phaser. These advances may not seem like a big deal to us today in a world of music where nearly anything is possible, but Hendrix influenced a number of aspiring musicians at the time to think outside the box in terms of sound. The Experience’s first album, Are You Experienced, is a groundbreaking, thrilling and incredible album. From the bluesy “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady” and “Fire” to the more mystical “May This Be Love,” “3rd Stone from the Sun” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” the 11 album tracks and 6 additional single tracks that make up the most common modern day release of Are You Experienced were all immensely important in helping to shape the counterculture and music of the 60s and early 70s. The back cover of Are You Experienced reads, in part: “You hear with new ears, after being Experienced.” They weren’t kidding.
Magical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27th, 1967
I already talked at length about how important Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remains to modern music in a piece I wrote celebrating its 50th anniversary and if that was the only album the Beatles released in 1967, that’d be a massive achievement in its own right. But, there’s a reason that the Beatles are often called the most prolific band of all time. Even though its often overlooked in favor of Sgt Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour deserves just as much praise and attention, representing the Beatles at their most psychedelic. The highlights on this album are the singles that make up the back side, especially the meticulous tape-altering and vari-speed work done by George Martin on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” or the bright, warm technicolor glow of “Hello, Goodbye,” “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love.” All those songs are complemented by the more challenging soundtrack to the film “Magical Mystery Tour” that make up the front side, which includes John Lennon’s babbling ode to eggmen and custard “I Am The Walrus” and George Harrison’s especially trippy and criminally underrated “Blue Jay Way.” It might not have been as influential as Sgt. Pepper, but Magical Mystery Tour stands up in its own right as one of the best albums the Beatles ever made, and helps to give the over arching story of how the Beatles progressed psychedelic music forward in just one year.
Released: January 4th, 1967
Released only four days into the new year, the Doors debut album combined Jim Morrison’s beatnik inspired lyrics with jazzy and bluesy undertones, most predominantly defined by Ray Manzarek’s keyboard sound. During their time together, the Doors were unlike any other band, but their originality and the mysterious sound of their songs quickly helped them emerge as one of the leaders of the American wave of psychedelic music. The most famous song on this album is the #1 hit “Light My Fire,” the sprawling, winding, seven minute jam that features both extended keyboard and guitar solos, but the rest of the album is just as astounding: the tipsy, swaying vibes of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” Morrison’s howling blues rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” and the haunting, floating “Crystal Ship” all highlight the best album the Doors ever released during their short time together.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Released: August 5th, 1967
They might not be famous for it, but Pink Floyd started out as a psychedelic band with lofty, exciting visions. Their first singles alongside their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, were spearheaded by Syd Barrett, their original songwriter and front man. Piper is often described as the sound of a LSD trip, featuring pastoral and fanciful English psychedelia (“The Gnome,” “The Scarecrow”), as well as feedback laden guitar freakouts (like the ten minute “Interstellar Overdrive”) and overall strangeness (“Pow R. Toc H”) alongside some more accessible and poppy tracks like “Lucifer Sam” and “Bike.” Its wide range of unique sound effects make it an eerie listen: squiggly guitar lines, out of time keyboards, bells and whistles, organs, bongos – you name it – are littered throughout it, which give it a decidedly less of a pop feel that many of their contemporaries, but it is a rewarding album upon repeated listens. Unfortunately, Syd Barrett was one of the most high-profile “acid casualties” of the time, and the band lost their way for about five years before re-emerging as one of the leaders of progressive rock in the seventies.
Days of Future Passed
The Moody Blues
Released: November 10th, 1967
Starting out as a beat band during the mid-60s, the Moody Blues dramatically shifted gears when lead singer and guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge joined the group in late 1966. The story goes that the Moody Blues owed their label, Decca/Deram, thousands of pounds in advances, and so in exchange for their debts being forgiven, they agreed to help record a “rock and roll version” of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” to help the label show off their new “Deramic Stereo Sound” audio format. However, the Moodies didn’t end up recording Dvorak – instead, they hijacked the sessions and recorded Days of Future Passed, a concept album about “the day in the life of the every-man” which is often referred to as one of the pillars of progressive rock. But, without a doubt, Days is psychedelic – though not in the classic “swirling guitars” sort of way, as it is different in texture and sound than most of other music that came out in 1967 because of the full orchestra that the Moody Blues had at their disposal during the sessions. Days of Future Passed features spoken word interludes, the prevalent use of the flute and mellotron, and orchestral interludes between complex songs that were often comprised of multiple parts. The famous single here is the overplayed and over-dramatic “Nights in White Satin,” but that doesn’t tell the whole story of the album – check out “The Morning” or “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)” for some unique, symphonic psychedelic themes.
Released: November 2nd, 1967
During the mid sixties, Eric Clapton was the king of British guitar rock. Before joining forces with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce to form the power-trio Cream in 1966, he had already been a part of the Yardbirds, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, groups who played mainly blues based rock songs. With Cream, Clapton continued to play with blues themes on 1966’s Fresh Cream, but his attention shifted dramatically into more psychedelic based blues because of the emergence of Jimi Hendrix on the scene in early 1967. Their second album, Disraeli Gears was Cream at the height of their powers – mellowing out and expanding their bluesy sound into something more palatable. “Sunshine of Your Love” is the most famous example of Cream during this period, but “Strange Brew” takes the cake as the most accessible song on here. When Cream wanted to get a little heavier, they could push the limits like Hendrix could – take the wah-wah heavy “The Tales of Brave Ulysses,” full of colorful, fantastical lyrics and swirling soloing guitar, or the driving, “SWLABR.” The album cover is also classic of the time period – in fact, the album’s release was delayed for months because of the production of the psychedelic-patterned cover itself. Due to boredom with the project and increasing tensions between the three members, Cream split up, but not after becoming one of the most successful bands of the psychedelic era.
Bee Gees 1st
Released: July 14th, 1967
Similar to Pink Floyd, The Bee Gees really didn’t become megastars until the next decade, though they did have a good deal of success as a psychedelic pop band in the late sixties. It’s not a stretch to say that Bee Gees 1st is the best album effort that the Bee Gees released during their entire career. The Gibb Brothers’ perfect harmonies match perfectly with the various psychedelic styles they use without any hiccups; in one album, the Bee Gees play off the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and the British pastoral style of the Kinks to keep your attention, but the Bee Gees were mainly focused on creating short, radio ready pop songs that were easily digestible and without any extended jamming or crazy instrumentation (no song on this album is over 3:45). For an album that’s based so strictly in pop, the Bee Gees have a surprising range of songs – from the Revolver-esque “In My Own Time” or the hazy “Please Read Me,” to the straight pop ballad “To Love Somebody,” to the gloomy “New York Mining Disaster 1941” or “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You,” the Bee Gees do a great job in altering their sound over the course of just fourteen tracks.