No. 15: ‘Crown of Creation’

"Is it true that I'm no longer young?" Grace Slick sang in "Lather," the luscious and cinematic opening number of "Crown of Creation." Slick was singing about the arrested development of her lover, the Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, but by extension she addressed the fast-forward aging afflicting the San Francisco scene. That sunny Summer of Love had given away to the chill winds of LBJ's 1968. "Crown of Creation" finds the Airplane coming of age, wary but not yet transformed into the jaded radical-chic collective that rolled out "Volunteers" a year later. The erratic and playful psychedelia of "After Bathing at Baxter's" gives way to songwriting for adults: "Long time since I climbed down this mountain before," a weary-sounding Martin Balin sings on "In Time." "Things … [Read more...]

No. 45: ‘Ball’

"Filled with Fear" was more than a song title -- consider it truth in advertising for the contents of Iron Butterfly's "Ball," the hurried but solid followup album to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." Anchored by songs of dread and existential panic, the album in some ways anticipates John Lennon's primal-therapy explorations of "Plastic Ono Band," still several years away. Imaginative listeners can hear in 1969's "Ball" the death throes of the 1960s. Here is "the story of a maddening darkness," one song warns listeners. Still, the Southern California band remained true to its ethos of heavy and light -- acid rock leavened with a "melodic consciousness" -- resulting in a relatively tight album that to modern ears sounds like Iron Butterfly's best. To the extent that Iron Butterfly ever truly … [Read more...]

No. 18: ‘Happy Trails’

Bo Diddley didn't do psychedelic. Yet, somehow, the primal rock 'n' roller received credit for writing most of one of the hippie era's darkest and most imaginative albums. Diddley and Quicksilver Messenger Service were strange bedfellows -- Diddley claimed decades later to never had heard of the psychedelic rangers -- but the arm's-length collaboration produced more than a half hour of mindbending rock, spread across two songs. While 1969's "Happy Trails" is mostly a live album, it's considered an important original work from the San Francisco ballroom scene, along the lines of the Grateful Dead's 1968 "Anthem of the Sun." The albums were breakthroughs for both sophomore bands. As with "Anthem," the "Happy Trails" live recordings were spiced & spaced with studio overdubs. The … [Read more...]

No. 22: ‘Ummagumma’

Here be dragons. Dragons, and dust from the bones of kings and traitors. Stonehenge. The funk of 4,000 years. Spacemen and madmen. Your mental movie may vary. Hear in it what you will, but English psychedelic music peaked here, courtesy of the sonic beast that was Pink Floyd circa 1969 -- captured live and in full throat on disc 1 of "Ummagumma," the band's polarizing third album. "Ummagumma" could have been the greatest live psychedelic music album of them all, and perhaps it still is, by default. But before that discussion we must dispense with disc 1's sad-sack sibling, a studio vanity project that gave each member of the quartet his own album side to flail about. Consider that one the "Ummagumma" bonus CD, odds & sods for hardcore fans. A record to be played once a decade, if … [Read more...]

No. 47: ‘Vincebus Eruptum’

Like psychedelic pharaohs, the men of Blue Cheer erected a wall of Marshall amplifiers as a testament to their powers. To understand the power trio, singer-bassist Dickie Peterson said, "you've got to stand in front of that stack." To do so, of course, was to risk auditory damage. But that was part of the devil's bargain when experiencing a band enthusiastically billed as "louder than god." Blue Cheer released "Vincebus Eruptum" at the dawn of 1968. Often hailed as the first heavy metal record, the trio's debut album preceded Black Sabbath's bow by a good two years. The heavy metal tag is a bit of a stretch, though, with psychedelic blues or acid rock better descriptions. (Like Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer started out as a blues outfit.) In any case, "Vincebus Eruptum" -- very … [Read more...]

No. 50: ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts’

It's 1972. FM radio is king, with the 23-minute version of "Whipping Post" on heavy rotation. Top 40 radio gets you "My Ding-a-Ling," "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" and "Alone Again (Naturally)." The glory days of Top 40 are over, at least for those of us who dug the dangerous sounds of 1966-1969. Songs like "96 Tears," "My Little Black Egg," "Talk Talk." You either owned those gruff one-off records or you didn't. In 1972, there were no rock record collector conventions. No album compilations worth a crap ("20 Original Hits! 20 Original Stars!"). Radio silence enveloped all but the most golden of golden oldies. "No one much cared about music that was even 2 years old, let alone 6," says Bill Inglot, who would help revive "Nuggets" for Rhino Records several decades later. Musician … [Read more...]

No. 10: ‘Anthem of the Sun’

In the fall of 1967, the Grateful Dead had a problem. One of the original big-buzz bands of the San Francisco scene, the Dead fell flat earlier in the year with their highly anticipated debut album. It was a thin and tinny collection dominated by blues and folk covers. The album's cover art was psychedelic all right, but nothing else on the album qualified. "The next one certainly won't be like that in any way," Garcia assured local radio listeners. The heat was on. The Bay Area already had produced a pair of heady psychedelic masterpieces: the Jefferson Airplane's "Surrealistic Pillow" and Country Joe and the Fish's "Electric Music for the Mind and Body." The Dead, however, seemed on course for mere local-legend status. Determined to capture the essence of their psychedelic … [Read more...]

No. 19: ‘Fifth Dimension’

A first-time listener to the Byrds' "Fifth Dimension" probably won't be all that impressed. On what is considered a seminal psychedelic album, there are three, maybe four psychedelic songs. When they recorded their third album, the "American Beatles" had just lost their main songwriter, Gene Clark. The Byrds also were weaning themselves from the Bob Dylan covers that brought them fame and a pair of No. 1 hits. Consequently, a good bit of "Fifth Dimension" was surrendered to filler. Yet in July 1966, "Fifth Dimension" stood alone. The Beatles had not yet released "Revolver." The Jefferson Airplane's "Surrealistic Pillow" was seven months off. Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and Country Joe and the Fish had yet to record their first albums. Psychedelic music was mostly a … [Read more...]

No. 42: ‘The Who Sell Out’

"Are you a mod or a rocker?" the reporters asked Ringo. "No," he always said. "I'm a Mocker." Once upon a time, the Who were Mockers, too. Their third album, "The Who Sell Out," is a blast, full of fun and fire, with no fewer than a half dozen killer songs. A vocal minority of critics and fans consider the 1967 album the band's best. The space between Who songs goes to a running spoof of pop radio and advertising. There are pirate radio PSAs ("Go to the church of your choice") and a series of goofy adverts: some by Pete Townshend, and some cooked up in a pub by Keith Moon and John Entwistle. The concept album -- using the term loosely but correctly -- also served as a farewell to the Orrible Who's youth, with its balls-to-the-wall pop singles. After "Sell Out," it was time for … [Read more...]

No. 29: ‘Spirit’ (debut album)

The great and criminally underappreciated L.A. band Spirit rarely makes the list of the '60s psychedelic groups. These days Spirit mostly is remembered for "Nature's Way," an FM radio classic. It's a wistful midtempo plea for ecological sanity that appeared on the original band's fourth and final album. Two years before "Nature's Way," in 1968, a much heavier Spirit blasted its way onto the scene with another ecological warning, this one awash in psychedelic touches and heavy guitar. The band sang: Look beneath your lid some morning See those things you didn't quite consume The world's a can for your fresh garbage That serving of tight, light-heavy rock soon was followed by the dark psychedelic masterpiece "Mechanical World." As a one-two punch, these side 1 tracks … [Read more...]

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