The ability to evoke strong emotions, expand consciousness, release neurotransmitters and instill bliss — the simpatico relationship between music and psychedelics is nothing short of harmonious.
Bonded by their expansive range of soulful similarities, the impact of psychedelics on music is indisputable. With entheogenic substances like psilocybin and LSD boldly re-imagining the sound of music in the Western world, artists like Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and Pink Floyd, may derive their undeniable vehemence to a similar unorthodox source.
The 1960’s were heavily influenced by hallucinogens, a cultural shift that would soon lead to the rise and demise of the infamous counterculture movement. Using cohesive rebellion to defeat societal norms, the movement was highly-embraced by a particularly audacious generation, one that felt utmost inspired by newly altered states of consciousness.
The widespread adoption of psychedelics would surge major developments in music, fashion, pop culture, and art — reflecting the divine hallucinatory experiences of those it impacted in its unique, vibrant rapture.
Psychedelic Influence on Music
Amongst the plethora of things that were greatly influenced by psychedelic integration, music is one thing that would be changed forever as a result of the fuzz-inducing kinship.
As a result of psychedelic influence, musicians began to adopt new forms of experimentation, lyricism, and aesthetics, birthing a new universe of sounds we still derive from today.
It is thought that the sensory enhancing aspect of psychedelics is what caused the outpour of musical experimentation to take place, as the heightened sensitivity encouraged musicians to explore new mediums, textures, as well as instruments from different cultures that would then produce an entirely new and progressive musical experience.
Another psychedelic-instilled factor involving the counterculture movement, was the bold eradication of societal confides and tight cultural barriers. This in itself would influence music greatly also, leading musicians to experiment with new genres and sounds that were once deemed as inherently questionable or taboo. This is how the emergence of new styles would mystify the public eye, pushing the boundaries of what was once considered “normal” in mainstream music and replacing it with intuitive creativity.
Refusing the permanency of ongoing normality, a new way of lyricism showcased the true mind-expanding effects of psychedelics in a truly artistic manner. Without a shred of doubt, the introspective qualities of psychedelics is what encouraged artists like Pink Floyd to explore and elaborate on more esoteric and existential themes, leaving listeners perplexed by the new poetically abstract structure of comprehensive songwriting.
The psychedelic relation to music is widespread, and has left an indelible impact on artistry as a whole. Through feedback, distortion, and surreal lyrics, bands were able to pull from a variety of influences from jazz to Indian classical, to best reflect the mystical experiences in which they were undergoing throughout their creative process.
Though the neo-psychedelic genre is better known now with artists like Tame Impala and the Flaming Lips producing chart hits globally, the more nascent stages of psychedelic music is where hallucinogen-infused albums paved the way for many successful artists to come.
For those looking to submerge themselves in the sounds of psychedelic music from the era it was conceived, here is a list of albums that best reflect the exploration of psychedelics within the movement of which they were embraced.
- Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
Surrealistic Pillow would be Jefferson Airplane’s second studio album, penning them as one of the pioneering bands in the genre of psychedelic rock. The singles “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” would become successful hits, using abstract lyricism to sneak drug-related references past radio censors. The galvanizing guitar-playing by Jorma Kaukonen produced authentic psychedelic sound on the album, defining San Francisco sound and becoming one of the first bands to gain widespread recognition from the Bay Area. White Rabbit is still considered one of the era’s best psychedelic anthems, using Alice and Wonderland imagery to ignite songwriter Grace Slick’s psychedelic creative process.
- Pink Floyd: Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
Being Pink Floyd’s debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn is believed to be one of the most influential albums in history. Though the masses often associate the psychedelic elements of Pink Floyd to their mind-bending 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon,” the progressive avant-garde experimentation involved in Pink Floyd’s debut album is what coined the band as being one of, if not the most, influential bands in psychedelic rock history. The single “See Emily Play” was a feverish example of iconic frontman Syd Barrett’s LSD-laden endeavors, utilizing a generous amount of echo and reverb to compliment the bizarre nature of his psychedelic influence. With LSD named as a direct influence, Piper at the Gates of Dawn will be hailed as a psychedelic masterpiece forevermore, establishing Pink Floyd as the soundtrack of the era.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are you Experienced (1967)
Yet another groundbreaking psychedelic-infused 1967 release, is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time — and for good reason. The album “Are you Experienced” at the time was thought to be alluding to the question “have you experienced drugs?” which was not entirely the case. Hendrix explained that the album was about being at peace with oneself, though the confusion was likely due to the album’s complex layers of 60’s psychedelic sound. Some might say the groundbreaking album showcases the truest definition of experimentation, with the song “Purple Haze” capturing the 60’s counterculture flawlessly. Jimi Hendrix created a sound that no artist could replicate, making his mind-blowing yet unconventional music a forever long monument in psychedelic history, as well as 3 studio albums that will never be matched or forgotten.
- The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Without requiring much elaboration, the Beatles are without a doubt revolutionary in more ways than one. The Beatles influenced the hippie movement presumably more than any other artist or band, incorporating ideals of the movement in their behavior, appearance, and of course, their music. The album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” uses mind-bending lyricism to the fullest degree to portray the symbols of the times, breaking all stereotypes and traditional rules of what a rock album should be. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (which many fans believed to be a euphemism for LSD) was a top single on the album, using mind-meltingly whimsical lyrics to give fans a mystifyingly psychedelic experience. Though there were multiple successful songs on the album, the psychedelic masterpiece was constructed to be without a designated single, in hopes of shifting people’s focus to an entire album. Naturally it worked, with The Beatles integrating innovative production techniques to best capture the high spirits of the 60’s summer of love.
- Love: Forever Changes (1967)
Lastly, though never least, is a slightly less famous album in comparison, “Forever Changes” By Love. With a profound amount of critics considering the album one of the best psychedelic pop albums of all time, it’s fair to say that the Los Angeles folk-rock band used their unique, organic sound to create something truly magical. Integrating what was considered unusual at the time, Love uses traditional instrumentation like mariachi horns and classical strings to master the great depth that is this chorus-less, yet freakishly re-playable album. Like other influential bands from the era, Love captivates listeners through compelling lyric themes, with “Forever Changes” expanding on their disillusionment toward the infamous fall of the counterculture movement.