Since there are a lot of psychedelic/freakbeat bands I want to talk about, I decided to make this a two parter, like I did for the British Invasion. If you want to read part 1 of the psychedelic/freakbeat series, click here. I talk about bands from The Action to Golden Earring in that post. In this post, I’ll be talking about bands from The Guess Who to 13th Floor Elevators.
The Guess Who
One of Canada’s most famous bands, you definitely know at least a few of their songs. Chad Allan formed the band in Winnipeg in 1962 as The Reflections, a name chosen as a tribute to and inspired by The Shadows. The band’s start was a bit bumpy with singles that flopped. Finally in 1965, they got a hit in Canada and the US with their version of “Shakin’ All Over”. Their record label once put the artist name as “Guess Who?” for marketing purposes to create a mystique that it was some British Invasion group, since they had that Beatle-like sound in the earlier years, but they later on went psychedelic. They kept getting called Guess Who and so the name stuck. Below, you can see the band’s biggest hits and you’ll definitely have heard them on classic rock radio. For another classic rock connection, Randy Bachman was in this band and after he left The Guess Who at the height of their success, he formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive, another Canadian classic rock radio staple.
- “Shakin’ All Over” – Their first American hit, reached #22 on the charts there and topped the charts in Canada. Song is originally by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.
- “These Eyes” – From Wheatfield Soul, an excellent album. Such a beautiful song.
- “No Time” – More country rock. Randy Bachman said this was the band’s attempt at a Neil Young/Stephen Stills’ sound
- “American Woman” – Anti-war song, but still a success, topping the charts in the US. Burton Cummings sounds a lot like Robert Plant on this one.
- “No Sugar Tonight” – Another chart topper in the US. Inspired by something that Randy Bachman saw while walking around in California: he saw these tough bikers and ran away to hide because he felt threatened and while eavesdropping on what happened, he heard one of the guys saying to this woman, “And one more thing, you ain’t getting no sugar tonight”.
Listen to This:
The first two are from the album Shakin’ All Over, originally credited to Chad Allan and the Expressions. I included these songs because I like seeing the evolution of a band and garage rock and beat music was a precursor to psychedelic rock. The other three are from Wheatfield Soul, my favourite Guess Who album.
- “Stop Teasing Me”
- “I’d Rather Be Alone”
- “I Found Her in a Star”
- “When You Touch Me”
- “Love and a Yellow Rose”
This band formed in San Diego in 1966 were a one hit wonder known for the epic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. 17 minutes long and paving the way for heavy metal, occult rock, hard rock, and acid rock. They were supposed to play at Woodstock, but they got stuck at LaGuardia Airport because their manager demanded the festival organisers get a helicopter for them so they could play, get paid, and go back to the airport straight away. They got a telegram back that read:
“For reasons I can’t go into / Until you are here / Clarifying your situation / Knowing you are having problems / You will have to find / Other transportation / Unless you plan not to come.”
Listen to This:
Rather than stop at the band’s one hit, here are other songs you should listen to.
- “Unconscious Power” – Released as a single, but not a hit, from the album Heavy
- “Iron Butterfly Theme” – Also from Heavy
- “Most Anything You Want” – From In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
- “Termination” – see above
- “Are You Happy” – see above
Janis Joplin was a singer-songwriter whose approach to psychedelic rock was more blues and gospel inspired. She was one of the biggest female rock stars of the 60s and appeared at both Monterey and Woodstock. Before going solo in 1969, she recorded with a band called Big Brother & The Holding Company, who she performed with at Monterey. She was born in Texas and was an outcast in secondary school who loved blues music and painting. It took a few tries for her to get famous, but by 1967, her career took off and she became a superstar. Her performance at Monterey was so good that Cass Elliot was staring at her and mouthing “oh wow”.
- “Down On Me” – A traditional freedom song that is one of the most popular Big Brother and the Holding Company songs. Janis rearranged the song and wrote new lyrics for it. It wasn’t the biggest hit – reached only #42 on the charts, but it’s a popular Janis Joplin song.
- “Piece of My Heart” – A Janis Joplin signature song and the most popular version of it. Originally recorded by Erma Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s older sister. The song was certified gold, selling over half a million copies and was a top 20 hit.
- “Ball and Chain” – A live favourite. Written by Big Mama Thornton, who sadly got ripped off by the music industry and didn’t get the royalties she deserved for it. Janis Joplin popularised the song in the late 60s and famously performed it at Monterey.
- “Me and Bobby McGee” – A posthumous hit for Janis Joplin and one of her most popular songs. Written by Kris Kristofferson. Went to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1971.
- ‘Mercedes Benz” – An original written by Janis Joplin, on her album, Pearl. Recorded in one take.
Listen to This:
First three are Big Brother and the Holding Company songs. I’m not the biggest Janis fan (I have a lot of respect for her work and her influence on rock and roll though), but I found the first Big Brother album pretty good and I enjoyed those songs.
- “Bye, Bye Baby”
- “Light is Faster Than Sound”
- “All Is Loneliness”
- “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”
- “As Good As You’ve Been to This World”
One of the most important rock bands to come out of San Francisco, they were at Woodstock. Grace Slick is one of the most important female rock musicians of the 60s and her voice is very memorable and distinctive and her songs were the band’s biggest hits. Jefferson Airplane are key figures in 60s counterculture.
- “Somebody to Love” – Originally a Great Society song, written by Grace Slick’s brother in law, Darby Slick after his girlfriend left him. It’s a free love, Summer of Love sort of anthem. Reached #5 in the US and #1 in Canada.
- “White Rabbit” – Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, this was a song Grace Slick wrote while still with Great Society. It was one of the first songs she ever wrote, written in late 1965 or early 1966. All about following your curiosity. The song was a top 10 hit in the US and topped the charts in Canada.
Listen to This:
The first two songs are from Jefferson Airplane’s first album with Signe Toly Anderson. The other three are from Surrealistic Pillow.
- “Let’s Get Together” – Originally by The Youngbloods. A song about peace and brotherhood. As hippie as you can get.
- “It’s No Secret” – The band’s first single, did not chart.
- “Today” – One of the most beautiful songs on the album, it’s a love song. Written by Marty Balin.
- “D.C.B.A. -25” – One of my favourite songs on the album. Song title is a reference to LSD.
- “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – There’s some talking blues influence in this song. Rap before rap? Marty Balin wrote this song about a stereo system, no it’s not risqué, despite the song title possibly suggesting that. The b-side of “Somebody to Love”
In short, absolute guitar legend who went from Seattle to London and became a superstar with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. You can’t turn on a classic rock station without hearing some Hendrix. He was an incredible performer and skilled at guitar showmanship and would pull stunts like burning his guitar on stage. Take that Pete Townshend, who only smashed his guitars!
- “Purple Haze” – You know about the strain of marijuana named Purple Haze. Everyone knows this one. The lyrics of this song came from these free verse stream of consciousness ramblings that he would write down. Reached #3 in the UK.
- “Foxy Lady” – Not a big chart hit, but a classic rock radio staple, and you might remember hearing it in Wayne’s World.
- “The Wind Cries Mary” – This song was inspired by a girlfriend of Jimi’s. Reached #6 in the UK.
- “All Along The Watchtower” – One of the best Bob Dylan covers of all time. Reached #20 in the US. Jimi made this song famous by speeding it up and making it more rock and roll psychedelic.
- “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” – Don’t confuse this with “Voodoo Chile” – a long, slow, bluesy song, which is a separate song. It was his only #1 hit in the UK, topping the charts after his death.
Listen to This:
- “Third Stone From The Sun” – No clear lyrics in this one and that’s what I like about it. Turn on, tune in, drop out.
- “Stone Free” – The b-side to “Hey Joe”, Jimi’s debut single. Imagine being such an amazing musician that the b-sides are just as good as the a-side.
- “Manic Depression” – The old name for bipolar disorder.
- “Sunshine of Your Love” – I love this instrumental cover of the Cream classic. Was not officially released until decades later.
- “Valleys of Neptune” – My favourite song of his. Was never released while he was alive. It was supposed to be part of a follow up to Electric Ladyland. Billy Cox played bass on this song.
Psychedelic rock band formed in LA in 1965 and one of the first multiracial rock bands. Their sound mixes folk, psychedelic rock, blues, jazz, orchestral pop, and world music. The band are best known for the album Forever Changes, which is considered a classic and you might recognise the album cover. They had a couple of minor chart hits before Forever Changes.
- “My Little Red Book” – A cover of a Bacharach/David song written for Manfred Mann, who recorded the song for the movie, What’s New Pussycat?. Love’s version reached #52 on the Billboard charts. They made the song a garage rock standard and has a proto-punk sound.
- “Seven and Seven is” – The band’s biggest chart hit, it reached #33 on the Billboard charts in 1966. It was inspired by Arthur Lee’s high school sweetheart, Anita Billings, and his life at that time.
- “Alone Again Or” – The most popular track from Forever Changes, it’s the opening track. Surprisingly not a big hit, not even cracking the Hot 100.
Listen to This:
- “Can’t Explain” – A very Byrds-esque song
- “My Flash on You”
- “The Daily Planet” – Released as a single, but it didn’t chart.
- “Maybe The People Would Be The Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”
- “Bummer in the Summer” – Talking blues sound, a rap of sorts.
The Pretty Things
This band were formed in London in 1963 and were considered one of The Rolling Stones’ biggest rivals (even considered more raw and rebellious than them) – fun fact, they knew each other quite well since Keith Richards went to art school with Dick Taylor and Phil May. They started off as an R&B band, but by 1967, they evolved to a more psychedelic sound with albums like SF Sorrow and Parachute. The band only had hits in the UK and didn’t have much fame in the US, never touring there in the 60s.
Since The Pretty Things were not famous in the US, for American listeners, these songs won’t be overplayed at all. But they’re still great.
- “Rosalyn” – A great example of why The Pretty Things are so loved and people say they’re overlooked. Imagine it being 1964 and you hear this and this is just the band’s debut. Keep in mind they were releasing songs this wild before The Rolling Stones took the world by storm with “Satisfaction”. Their debut single reached #41.
- “Don’t Bring Me Down” – One of their most R&B songs, this was their biggest UK hit, reaching #10. David Bowie covered both this song and “Rosalyn” for Pin Ups. Bowie had good taste!
- “Honey I Need” – Song written by Dick Taylor. Reached the top 20 in the UK.
- “Midnight To Six Man” – A more garage rock song of theirs. Reached the top 20 in the Netherlands. I’d definitely suggest this song to anyone who likes early Rolling Stones, but want something more raw.
- “She’s a Lover” – My favourite track from Parachute and one of my favourite songs by them overall. Wasn’t a hit, but is one of their most streamed songs on Spotify. I only put it in this section because of that, but it definitely needs to be played on the radio.
Listen to This:
- “Buzz The Jerk” – A danceable song. I love the guitar in this song. The b-side to “Progress”, which wasn’t a chart hit.
- “£.S.D.” – Pounds, shillings, and pence or lysergic acid diethylamide? Just a fun play on abbreviations.
- “Progress” – From their transitional album, Emotions. In this album they experimented more with their sound and started to move more away from their R&B heavy sound.
- “Walking Through My Dreams” – A bonus track on SF Sorrow. One of my favourite songs of theirs. Psychedelic era Pretty Things is poetic, beautiful lyrics.
- “Grass” – From Parachute. Funny enough, this song is 4 minutes and 20 seconds long. Blaze it!
Quicksilver Messenger Service
This psychedelic rock band formed in San Francisco in 1965. They didn’t have much chart success with their singles, but they were more of an album oriented rock band, with a few top 30 albums. By the late 60s/early 70s, you’d see a lot more bands that focused more on albums rather than singles. Their sound takes influences from jazz, classical, and folk. The band performed at Monterey Pop Festival and touring the west coast right after that helped them build a following. In 1969, famous session piano player Nicky Hopkins joined the band. Music historian Colin Larkin said of Quicksilver, that they typified most of the style, attitude, and sound of the 60s San Francisco psychedelic era.
The band’s biggest hit only charted at #49 and that was “Fresh Air”. Still, I don’t hear it on any classic rock stations.
Listen to This:
- “Pride of Man”
- “Dino’s Song”
- “Gold and Silver” – a jazzy/prog psychedelic instrumental
- “Who Do You Love Suite” – I don’t often listen to live albums, but I love an epic and this one is based on the Bo Diddley song “Who Do You Love”. 25 minutes long!!! As a prog rock fan, I’m here for it.
This garage/psychedelic/proto-punk band were formed in LA in 1965 and were a prototype for garage punk bands of the 70s. Like The Doors, they didn’t have a bass player, so the keyboard player would perform bass parts via a separate bass keyboard, just like Ray Manzarek would do with The Doors.
- “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” – This song was a regional hit in Southern California in 1965 and when re-released in 1967, it made the top 40 in Canada and reached #41 in the US. This song appears on the Nuggets compilation.
- “Pushing Too Hard” – The bigger hit, it reached #36 in the US and #44 in Canada in 1967, but was originally released in 1965. The song could be interpreted to be about a controlling girlfriend or about society being controlling. It was also included in the Nuggets compilation. This song was banned in some places because people misunderstood it to be about drug pushers.
Listen to This:
- “No Escape” – Sounds a lot like “Pushing Too Hard”. Just as much of a bop.
- “Try To Understand”
- “Out of the Question” – love the fuzzy guitar on this one
- “You Can’t Be Trusted”
- “Mr Farmer” – A smaller hit than “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” and “Pushin’ Too Hard”.
This Canadian rock band were formed out of the ashes of The Sparrows, which formed in Canada in 1964. Three members: John Kay, Goldy McJohn, and Jerry Edmonton moved to LA and formed Steppenwolf with Americans Michael Monarch and Rushton Moreve. The band were active for five years before breaking up in 1972 because of personality clashes. The band had three big hits in the late 60s and were one of the first to use the expression “heavy metal” in their signature song “Born To Be Wild”.
- “Born To Be Wild” – The biker song. Famously featured in the Easy Rider soundtrack. Some people describe it as the first heavy metal song because of the lyric “heavy metal thunder”, but that wasn’t referring to music, but rather motorcycles. Reached #1 in Canada and #2 in the US.
- “Magic Carpet Ride” – The other major hit from Steppenwolf. The lead single from their album The Second. Reached #3 on the US charts and #1 in Canada. John Kay said he may or may not have smoked a joint the night he and Michael Monarch came up with the song.
- “Rock Me” – A top 10 hit for Steppenwolf. Performed on Smothers Brothers and Beat Club.
- “The Pusher” – The 4th most streamed song for Steppenwolf on Spotify
Listen to This:
- “Sookie, Sookie” – Steppenwolf’s second single. Did not chart in the US.
- “Everybody’s Next One – Slade covered this song in 1969
- “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” – A pro-marijuana legalisation song. At the time this song was written, the US began the racist War on Drugs, which is still continuing to this day and has ruined millions of people’s lives. Enough is enough, legalise it already!
- “Lost and Found By Trial and Error/Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie/Resurrection” – Medley on The Second
The 13th Floor Elevators
Psychedelic/garage rock band formed in Austin, Texas in 1965 by Roky Erickson, Tommy Hall, and Stacy Sutherland. They were one of the first self described psychedelic rock bands. While they only had one success with the single, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, they have been cited as an influence by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Peter Albin of Big Brother and the Holding Company, 70s punk band Television, and 90s band Primal Scream. The band got their name from the suggestion that they call themselves the Elevators and that tall buildings typically don’t have a floor 13.
- “You’re Gonna Miss Me” – The band’s biggest hit and debut single. It reached #55 on the Billboard charts in 1966. One of the first rock songs to use an electric jug. It’s a counterculture classic. Sadly, the band couldn’t market the single and get it higher in the charts because they were forbidden from extensively touring because they were on parole for possession of marijuana. You can hear some Little Richard and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins influence in the vocals.
Listen to This:
- “Roller Coaster” – Reminds me a lot of more modern stoner rock/metal.
- “Fire Engine”
- “Through The Rhythm”
- “Tried to Hide”
1. “Crying is For Writers” – July (1968)
July formed in London in 1968. Before the band played psychedelic rock, they played skiffle and R&B, like a lot of other British rock bands. They only released one self titled album in 1968.
Is this my theme song? I am a writer and I have depression. Great psychedelic song and band, give the whole album a listen.
2. “Real Life Permanent Dream” – Tomorrow (1968)
First heard this song because of my obsession with Yes, back when I was an undergrad. Before Steve Howe was in Yes, he was in this psychedelic rock band called Tomorrow, which formed in London in 1967. This is my favourite track on the album.
3. “The Woods” – The Nickel Bag (1966)
Not much is known about this band, except that they are from Carbondale, Illinois. They only recorded one single. It’s a really good hidden psychedelic/garage gem. It’s a song I forgot about for a while, but when I remembered it, it sounded like magic again.
4. “Vacuum Cleaner” – Tintern Abbey (1967)
This psychedelic rock band were formed in London in 1967. “Vacuum Cleaner” is one of their best known songs. It’s one that was stuck in my head for a few days, so I’m gonna share it with you.
5. “I’m Rowed Out” – The Eyes (1965)
The Eyes were formed in 1964 and broke up in 1967. They only released one EP, The Arrival of The Eyes, which is considered a rare collector’s item. I couldn’t believe this song was from 1965, to me it sounds like it’s from later in the decade.
Below, you can find the full playlist of songs mentioned in parts 1 and 2:
Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!
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