Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman

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My mother thought well enough of The Beatles in the 1960s to buy two of their albums—Beatles For Sale and Help!—and she continued to enjoy the Fab Four’s songs up to the point when (in her words) “they went funny”, by which she meant the period after Rubber Soul when they dropped the beat stylings, picked up sitars and took to recording drums and guitars in reverse. They were also taking drugs, of course, hence the funniness, and this rapid evolution—from loveable moptops to freaked-out weirdos in a matter of months—is the subject of Rob Chapman’s huge study of psychedelia as a cultural phenomenon, the period from around mid-1965 to late 1969 when Western youth “went funny” en masse.

This isn’t an undocumented era but Chapman’s book provides an overdue counterweight to the American focus of earlier studies such as Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (1987). Psychedelic art evolved in San Francisco but it’s an irony of the form that many of the wildest, most typically psychedelic concert posters were promoting acts that were only marginally psychedelic in their sound or, in the case of the older jazz, soul and blues acts, weren’t psychedelic at all. Chapman is more interested in the multi-media light shows than the poster art, and he reaches back in his early chapters to the origin of the San Francisco light shows in the avant-garde art of the Modernist era (especially László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator of the 1920s) and the art schools of the 1950s; he also traces the familiar journey of LSD from the Sandoz laboratories in Switzerland and the clinics of America to the front pages of newspapers and magazines. One of the most remarkable and unlikely aspects of psychedelia was the way in which a short-lived poly-cultural phenomenon maintained an aura of danger and illegality late into the 1960s even while psychedelic aesthetics were filtering into every facet of mainstream life: films, fashion, decor, advertising, even children’s television—all bloomed briefly with vivid colours and melting typography.

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Playboy gets hip to the trip, December 1967. Art by Wes Wilson.

Chapman touches on all of this but the bulk of his study is concerned with the music which was always the core of psychedelic culture, even if many of the artists involved were only following a trend (or, to be less charitable, jumping on a bandwagon). American groups are given their due, and Chapman has some smart things to say about the often neglected surf boom of the early 60s; as noted here last month, the first piece of popular music to use “LSD” in its title was LSD-25 (1960), a surf instrumental by The Gamblers. Surf bands and garage bands mutated into psychedelic groups but there was often little change in the overall sound beyond adding an effect or two to the instrumentation. Adulterated or processed sound is what I usually look for in psychedelic music, the psychedelic experience being one of distorted or exaggerated perception. Adulteration (or lack of it) is the most obvious factor that differentiates American psych from its British equivalent: White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is a great song (its final line is fixed to every page of this blog) but is psychedelic only as a result of its lyrical context. Musically, the song is a simple rock bolero next to which Strawberry Fields Forever sounds like a broadcast from another planet.

Continue reading “Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman”

Weekend links 264

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Stonehenge Suite, No.10 (1977) by Malcolm Dakin.

• “Part of me always wanted to write a teatime drama. That’s something that I wanted to get out of my system,” says director Peter Strickland. The results may be heard here. In the same interview there’s news that Strickland will be adapting Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape for radio later this year.

• “He was, as one obituary stated in terms unusually blunt for the time, ‘not as other men’.” Strange Flowers on the eccentric and profligate Henry Cyril Paget (1875–1905) aka The Dancing Marquess.

• “Please tell Mr Jagger I am not Maurits to him.” MC Escher rebuking The Rolling Stones. The artist is the subject of a major exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland from June 27th.

Often mentioned in the same breath as works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, Ó Cadhain’s novel is, in some ways, even more radically experimental. For starters, all the characters are dead and speaking from inside their coffins, which are interred in a graveyard in Connemara, on Ireland’s west coast. The novel has no physical action or plot, but rather some 300 pages of cascading dialogue without narration, description, stage direction, or any indication of who’s speaking when.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin on the newly-translated Cré na Cille (The Dirty Dust) by Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Paul Woods examines “10 Edgy Properties No Film Producer Dared To Touch
(Yet)”. No. 2 is David Britton’s Lord Horror.

Mallory Ortberg ranks paintings of Saint Sebastian “in ascending order of sexiness and descending order of actual martyring”.

The Sign of Satan (1964): Christopher Lee in a story by Robert Bloch for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Sympathy For The Devil – The True Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment.

• At Dangerous Minds: Paul Gallagher on the seedy malevolence of Get Carter (1971).

• Mix of the week: Sonic Attack Special – Earth by Bob’s Podcasts.

Sanctuary Stone (1973) by Midwinter | The Litanies Of Satan (1982) by Diamanda Galás | Sola Stone (2006) by Boris

Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part Three

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Continuing the psychedelic mega-mix based on Jon Savage’s list of “100 mind-expanding masterpieces” (see this post). The third of the six mixes is the final visit to the UK, with songs from the years 1967 to 1969. As before, the selections from the Savage 100 are in bold, and I’ve added a few notes about my additions or amendments.

By late 1968 different musical trends were becoming apparent in pop music, all of which would develop into distinct movements of their own in the 1970s. Some of the strands are evident here, notably heavy rock, progressive rock, and the first stirrings of electronic music. Savage didn’t include any electronic songs in his UK listing but I had to have something from White Noise, an obscure group at the time whose first album, An Electric Storm, has since proved very influential. That album is infused with the psychedelic spirit, especially on Your Hidden Dreams, one of the many songs of the period that conflates dreams with drug experiences. An earlier version of this mix did include Your Hidden Dreams but I’ve ended up going with Love Without Sound, the first piece the group recorded.

The most surprising entry in all six mixes is probably the song by Cilla Black, an artist whose name seldom (if ever) appears in discussions of psychedelia. This was a discovery via another list for Mojo magazine compiled by Rob Chapman, a collection of novelty hits, comedy songs (Dick Shawn’s Love Power from The Producers), and various obscurities. Cilla’s song was included for featuring yet more lyrics that may or may not be about drugs. The faux-Arabian arrangement is by George Martin. If I ever track down all of Chapman’s songs I may upload them as well.

UK Psychedelia, Part Three by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

The Rolling Stones — 2000 Light Years From Home (The Stones at their most cosmic.)
The Nice — Flower King Of Flies (The Savage 100 has Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon, a B-side that’s also very badly recorded, hence this substitute.)
Status Quo — Pictures Of Matchstick Men
Big Boy Pete — Cold Turkey
The Pretty Things — Talkin’ About The Good Times (Another marvellous single from a group at the peak of their powers.)
Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and The Trinity — This Wheel’s On Fire (Julie Driscoll also did a great cover of Donovan’s Season Of The Witch. This gets included for the modish phasing and for being the theme song for Absolutely Fabulous on which Driscoll also sings.)
Nirvana (UK) — Rainbow Chaser
The Rokes — When The Wind Arises (An English band recording for the Italian market.)
Boeing Duveen & The Beautiful Soup — Which Dreamed It? (Hank Wangford in an earlier guise. A Lewis Carroll poem set to music, this was the dreamy B-side of the group’s Jabberwocky single.)
The Mirror — Faster Than Light
Fairport Convention — It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Witchcraft
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown — Fire
Pink Floyd — Jugband Blues
Cilla Black — Abyssinian Secret
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
White Noise — Love Without Sound
The Apple — The Other Side
Kaleidoscope (UK) — Faintly Blowing
Jason Crest — Black Mass (A Satanic obscurity that pre-empts Black Sabbath by several months.)
The Open Mind — Magic Potion (By late 1969 it was much too late to still be writing drug songs but that’s what you have here. The heavy riff points to the future.)
Blind Faith — Can’t Find My Way Home

Previously on { feuilleton }
Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part Two
Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part One
What Is A Happening?
My White Bicycle
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake
Tomorrow Never Knows
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
A splendid time is guaranteed for all

Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part Two

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Carnaby Street circa 1967.

Continuing the psychedelic mega-mix based on Jon Savage’s list of “100 mind-expanding masterpieces” (see this post). The second of the six mixes is where British psychedelia is in full swing after shedding its R&B/Mod/Freakbeat origins: what was black-and-white a year before is now blazing colour. There’s much I enjoy about US psychedelic music but I’ve always favoured the British variety. The sound of US psychedelia is less adulterated than its British equivalent, and even the later examples are often little more than country or folks songs with suitably dreamy lyrics. The gravitational mass of The Beatles so overwhelmed the UK scene that the experimentation at Abbey Road was endlessly copied and refined by the younger groups, some of whom—like Pink Floyd and The Pretty Things—were working in the same studio with the same engineers.

It’s the adulteration of the sound that I enjoy, the audacity of recording an orchestra at great expense then feeding the result through a phaser, as Nirvana (UK) did on Rainbow Chaser. (See next week’s mix). The Who’s Armenia In The Sky is an excellent example of studio pyrotechnics. Pete Townshend had complained that some of The Beatles’ arrangements were slight so this song can be regarded as his riposte. At the end of the mix the Fab Four fire back with I Am The Walrus.

Everything here dates from 1967, and as before the listing is roughly chronological bold type indicating the selections from the Savage 100. Given the choice I’d take See Emily Play over Mathilda Mother—the former being a particular favourite—but Savage’s choice works very well as a melodic come-down after the cosmic racket of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. David McWilliams’ one-hit-wonder is an odd choice and not especially psychedelic but once again I defer to Savage’s selection. The Kinks are also notable by their absence although they never adopted any of the studio trickery that might have spoiled their exceptional songwriting.

UK Psychedelia, Part Two by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

The Fairytale — Guess I Was Dreaming (An obscure single that can be taken as being about dreams, drugs or both.)
The Rolling Stones — We Love You
The Small Faces — Itchycoo Park
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Radio One
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice
Pink Floyd — Mathilda Mother
Traffic — Hole In My Shoe (Their other great psychedelic single.)
The Who — Armenia In The Sky (The Savage 100 has Relax but this is much more tripped out with surreal lyrics flying through squalls of backwards guitar.)
The Herd — From The Underworld
Svensk — Dream Magazine
Dantalian’s Chariot — Madman Running Through The Fields
Kaleidoscope (UK) — Flight From Ashiya
The 23rd Turnoff — Michaelangelo
The Hollies — King Midas In Reverse
David McWilliams — The Days Of Pearly Spencer
The Idle Race — Imposters Of Life’s Magazine
Eric Burdon & The Animals — San Franciscan Nights
The Troggs — Love Is All Around
Family — Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens (Savage has Me My Friend from their first album. This substitute is a mini-epic that was their first single.)
The Accent — Red Sky At Night (Their only release, and a song that turns up on many compilations.)
Simon Dupree & The Big Sound — Kites
The Pretty Things — Defecting Grey
Tintern Abbey — Vacuum Cleaner
The Beatles — I Am The Walrus

Previously on { feuilleton }
Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part One
What Is A Happening?
My White Bicycle
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake
Tomorrow Never Knows
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
A splendid time is guaranteed for all

Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part One

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Blame these things: the Jon Savage booklet, and Mojo Presents Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers (design by Phillip Savill).

One of the commissions for the New Year is psychedelia-related so to get in the mood I’ve been listening to the six CD compilations of psychedelic songs I made some years ago. I must have spent about five years gathering everything on these discs which comprise 132 selections in all, three for UK music and three for the USA, covering the years 1966–1969. The impetus was an annotated booklet listing “100 mind-expanding masterpieces” that Jon Savage had compiled for Mojo magazine in 1994; a revised list was published in 1997 along with some debatable contemporary additions. Things came to a head (so to speak) in 2001 when Savage and fellow Mojo journalists put together a four-CD collection of prime UK psychedelia for EMI, Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers, which included many of the songs from Savage’s list. That collection and the Rhino Records Nuggets box began the mania to accumulate everything on Savage’s list. Once I’d started burning my own compilations the Savage 100 quickly expanded when I realised that I ought to include more favourites of my own.

To start the year, then, I’m uploading all six compilations to Mixcloud beginning with the UK selection. Despite all the effort and the number of songs this still isn’t a definitive collection. As Savage observes in his notes, the late 1960s was a time of massive over-production by record companies with hundreds of singles released, especially in the UK. Many one-off releases by obscure bands are as good as those that topped the charts which is why psychedelic compilations are so numerous, and why omissions are unavoidable.

With that proviso here’s the first part of the UK collection covering the years 1966 to 1967. The tracklist below indicates in bold the songs from the Savage 100 with notes about my additions. The listing is by order of release although this isn’t strictly accurate throughout. I’ll be uploading the rest of the compilations over the next few weeks.

UK Psychedelia, Part One by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Dialogue — Alice In Wonderland (From Jonathan Miller’s BBC film, 1966.)
The Beatles — Tomorrow Never Knows
The Rolling Stones — Paint It Black
The Creation — Making Time
Craig — I Must Be Mad (A ferocious single by a band that only released one other 45 before splitting. Carl Palmer is on drums.)
Donovan — Season Of The Witch
The Yardbirds — Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
The Misunderstood — I Can Take You To The Sun (An American band who moved to London in 1966. This was their second and final single, and one of John Peel’s all-time favourites.)
Cream — I Feel Free
The Beatles — Strawberry Fields Forever
Pink Floyd — Interstellar Overdrive (Savage has the version from Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London which runs for almost 17 minutes. The version here is the shorter one from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.)
The Smoke — My Friend Jack
The Poets — In Your Tower
The Move — I Can Hear The Grass Grow
The Troggs — Night Of The Long Grass
Traffic — Paper Sun
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Are You Experienced?
Tomorrow — My White Bicycle (Savage has a later single, Revolution, but I much prefer this earlier 45.)
John’s Children — Midsummer Night’s Scene
Dialogue — Yellow Submarine
The Beatles — It’s All Too Much
The Attack — Colour Of My Mind
Small Faces — Green Circles

Previously on { feuilleton }
What Is A Happening?
My White Bicycle
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake
Tomorrow Never Knows
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
Yellow Submarine comic books
A splendid time is guaranteed for all