No. 34: ‘Mechanical World’

Psychedelic rock never was long on drama. There were exceptions, of course -- notably Jim Morrison and the Doors -- but most bands of the acid rock era were content to noodle, protest and freak out. In January 1968, the debuting L.A. band Spirit unleashed "Mechanical World," a long, dark and strange single. Every second of the psychedelic track was played for maximum drama. Jay Ferguson's vocals sounded wrenched from the grave. He begins: "Death falls so heavy on my soul ... " Ed Cassidy's funereal drums came right out of a Hammer Films horror-show. The strings of arranger Marty Paich did a dans macabre with Randy California's guitar. Needless to say, Top 40 radio didn't know what to make of this psychedelic masterpiece. (The single's playing time was given only as "very … [Read more...]

No. 61: ‘Hypnotized’

Two friends are having coffee together. Something flies by the window. Very strange. A UFO? The astral traveler Don Juan? Perhaps it's a meaningless question in the alternate world of Bob Welch's "Hypnotized." Fleetwood Mac, among the most famous bands in the world, remains best known for the beautifully crafted mid-'70s rock that took the world by storm. And, of course, for the early years with Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer in a unit that rolled out British blues with verve and authority. Both great bands, with two different sets of fans. Truth is, Fleetwood Mac has been several distinct bands (with something like 10 lineups), the only link being drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. "Hypnotized" emerged from the somewhat forgotten Mac era of 1971-'74, which stretches … [Read more...]

No. 100: ‘Just Dropped In’

What do Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell and Mickey Newbury have in common? None of them have any business being associated with a list of the best psychedelic rock songs. Yet ... here they are. Someone has to be last, and their 1968 collaboration "Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)" slides nicely into the 100th slot on PsychedelicSight's list. The record -- by ex-folkies the First Edition -- got plenty of airplay in 1968, peaking at No. 5 on the singles charts. The unknown Rogers sang the number with authority, but he wasn't the band's lead singer. Rogers played bass and was known as "Hippie Kenny" around that time. If San Francisco hadn't declared the Death of the Hippie a year earlier, the success of this faux freakout would have done the … [Read more...]

No. 39: ‘Song for a Dreamer’

"Song for a Dreamer" wasn't really a Procol Harum song. The lyrics weren't about meeting the recently departed Jimi Hendrix "on the far side of the moon." And while Robin Trower wrote the music in tribute to Hendrix, he wasn't all that familiar with the master's music at the time. Rock myths aside, "Song for a Dreamer" remains one of the best evocations of Hendrix ever recorded. Beautiful and mysterious, elegiac and seemingly profound, it is among the great dark works of psychedelic rock. "I couldn't believe I did that," guitarist Trower said of the 1971 recording, essentially a solo effort on which he sang and played most of the instruments. Thus inspired, the guitarist left Procol Harum for a long and fairly successful solo career -- one, ironically, that drew … [Read more...]

No. 20: ‘My White Bicycle’

Tomorrow never arrived. The band had no future. But it left behind one gloriously psychedelic song. Tomorrow was one of the three "underground" acts to play Joe Boyd's UFO Club in London of 1966-67. The best known, then and now, of course, is Pink Floyd. Next is line was the prog-jazz outfit Soft Machine. Both of those bands found their places in rock history. Tomorrow was another matter. Today, those who know of the the band generally do so for one of two reasons: Steve Howe of Yes Fame was the group's brilliant young guitarist; The single "My White Bicycle," beloved by many over the years but bought by few at the time. Despite its head-spinning charms, the song failed to even chart. A few myths did attach themselves to the song over the years. Howe and others have been … [Read more...]

No. 79: ‘San Francisco Girls’

Fever Tree was another in the long line of Texas bands that migrated to California in the psychedelic era. Before the Houston group made its move, however, it celebrated the charms of the Bay Area ladies with "San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)," an intriguing single that (barely) cracked the Billboard singles chart in 1968. "San Francisco Girls," written by manager/producers Scott and Vivian Holtzman, came on the heels of the 1967 hits "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" sung by Scott McKenzie and "San Franciscan Nights" by Eric Burdon. Fever Tree's song certainly holds up its end of that city trilogy. "San Francisco Girls" opens as a ballad with a tasty but improbable dance of harpsichord and cymbal. Vocalist Dennis Keller sets the scene as a flute … [Read more...]

No. 77: ‘Ball of Confusion’

Motown's hitmaking machine flirted with psychedelic sounds in the late 1960s, in large part a commercial move intended to keep the label relevant and clicking with the beautiful people. Leading the way were the Temptations, a group in transition after the departure of troubled lead singer David Ruffin. The group fell under the influence of of Sly and the Family Stone -- whose "Dance to the Music" arrived like a thunderbolt in early 1968 -- and convinced producer Norman Whitfield to bring some of that funk, chaos and communal vibe to the Temptations' sound. In particular, the Temps liked the Family Stone's technique of changing singers multiple times during a song. The first "psychedelic soul" single out of Motown was "Cloud Nine" (October '68). Criticized as a pro-drug song, it … [Read more...]

No. 13: ‘Time Has Come Today’

The producer called for more cowbell and the Chambers Brothers happily complied. Thus was forged "Time Has Come Today," the most famous of the hippie soul classics. "Time Has Come Today" was everywhere in the late 1960s. The song kicked serious ass as a jukebox number, sounded great blaring out of a VW van's AM radio, and proved plenty mind-blowing for free-form FM radio. The number was written by Joe and Willie Chambers (according to the disputed credits). The first-person tale of displacement was inspired by the waves of hippie transients headed for the coasts. (A simpler reading would be that of a man thrown onto the streets by love gone wrong.) The high-speed call-and-response format reminds the listener that time never lets up: Now the time has come (time!) There's no place … [Read more...]

No. 66: ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix

"Hey Joe" seems like it's been around since the frontier days, but when Jimi Hendrix recorded that tale of a revenge and murder, it was only 5 years old or so. In that short time, "Hey Joe" -- aka "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go" -- had been covered by the Leaves, Love, the Byrds, the Music Machine, the Shadows of Knight and the Standells, along with every garage band on your old block. The Leaves hit the charts with their third recording of the number, in 1966, although the year before the song had spread like wildfire through the California rock scene. Most sources agree that the author was U.S. folkie Billy Roberts, who holds the copyright. The singer-songwriter Dino Valenti was credited as the author on some recordings, although that may have been with Roberts' blessing. Tim … [Read more...]

No. 44: ‘Maggot Brain’

The legend goes like this: Funkadelic maestro George Clinton delivered to Eddie Hazel the sad news that the young guitarist's mother had just died. Now play a solo, Clinton said as the tape rolled. The musicians may or may not have been on Yellow Sunshine acid at the time. Clinton may have actually told Hazel to play as if his mother had just died, and then as if she had been resurrected. Only George Clinton knows for sure, it seems. There's no doubt that the resulting 10-minute song -- a psychedelic instrumental for the most part -- ranks as one of the great rock guitar works of all time. "It really is a cosmic song," Clinton says of the 1971 masterpiece. "Maggot Brain" owes much to Jimi Hendrix and "Machine Gun," obviously, but Hazel's guitar playing sounds dirtier, heavier and … [Read more...]

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