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... and the smell of incense fills the room...

Updated on October 3, 2009


Ah, Psychedelia! A musical underground which fed on the springs of youth. God knows where it came from or how it evolved (there are many theories based upon preconceived notions which may or may not have anything to do with anything except ego), but it most likely was a media conception: Old people trying to write about things they didn't understand, looking at the new world through cataracts and prejudice, and that view taking hold. A world of Be-ins, tuning in, tuning out, mind altering drugs...  No matter. The molecules have had four decades to divide and multiply and morph and while the media can still categorize, they cannot dictate. That is, not unless you allow them to. I mean, that's what the whole psych movement was all about, wasn't it? Freedom? Choice?

For myself, it was about the music. Okay, and maybe the drugs. But it was mostly about the music and in the world of psychedelia, when the music is good, it is great! Of course, the lines have been blurred. Any mind-altering music can be considered psych these days, be it new age or jam or progressive or even jazz. It appears to be all in the head.

In my head, the germ began eating brain cells decades ago, and has allowed me to limp through even today's music with an ear for anything remotely psych. With the Internet and sites like Youtube, it is a mental and musical adventure unlike anything I thought I would ever experience. If you're willing, let me take you through the caves and uncover a few treasures worthy of the genre.

The Soundcarriers

It wasn't more than a few months ago that I discovered Ophelia Hope, a Norwegian concoction which took me back to the sixties in very cinematic fashion.  Their self-titled album swept me away with a lounge sound in a movie atmosphere and the late sixties, once thought dead, slowly crept back into my soul.  It is a magnificent album, full of jazz- and folk-tinged songs which recreate at times the aura of those days.  It is also the germ which led me back to psych music. 

Not long after hearing them, a friend mentioned a UK band known as The Soundcarriers.  They had just released an album called Harmonium, a supposed psych masterpiece.  I got one.  I listened.  While it tripped around psych, it leaned more toward acid rock and progrock and I wondered, why call it psych?  Well, things change and when I went back to hear their earlier album, I understood.  Harmonium is an excellent album, being a rock side of the aforementioned Ophelia Hope, but their earlier music hit the psych nail on the head.  Watch this video of I Had a Girl and tell me it doesn't belong in a psych-ploitation movie.

Soundcarriers/I Had a Girl

A Cat Coughing Up a Hairball...

That's what KAK has always brought to my mind.  Not the music, mind you, but the name.  Out of tha Davis, California area, they rode into San Francisco on the coattails of Quicksilver, the Airplane and The Dead and grabbed the brass ring, a recording contract with Epic Records.  One album and one "film" (video, today) later, they dissolved and disappeared.  Luckily, this video remains to chronicle their existence.  In those days, when you mentioned psych, this is pretty much what you meant.

KAK/Everything's Changing

One Pajama, Green

There is no one--- no one--- better at the psych bridge than Jeff Kelly of The Green Pajamas.  He has an imperfect voice perfect for his music and wields a guitar capable of psych magic.  This video is a bit rough, but I can say that I would have rather been at the King Cobra the night this was recorded than at any Beatles or Led Zeppelin gig ever performed.  Kelly tiptoes around the edges of the psych garden so well you almost don't notice--- until the bridge.  When the guitar begins to sing, you understand.

Is it psych? You tell me!

The Strawberry Alarm Clock

Leave it up to Hollywood to exploit teens (and bands) at every turn.  This clip, from the movie 'Psych-Out', is a watered down, media-hyped version of the genre, but it certainly wasn't SAC's fault.  Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow was one of many really fine tracks on their misunderstood and much maligned first album.  Of course, after hearing Incense and Peppermints for a million or so times, you might not like them much anymore, either.  Regardless, The Strawberry Alarm Clock will remain in my heart as one of the truly original bands of the sixties.  And dig those clothes!

SAC/Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow

Maybe it's the spirit of the thing...

Take two top Tulsa disc jockeys from the sixties, plop them down in Los Angeles four decades later with a son who can play guitar and write and a drummer just happy to be there and you have Spirit Alley.  Musically, they are all over the place, but when they put together the video for Aztec, they brought a morphed sense of psych into the 21st Century.  This is what decades of playing music and doing voice-overs does to you.  Right after filming this, they put them all in straitjackets and carted them away.  Unfortunately, they escaped and are still out there playing.  Where is J. Edgar when you need him?

Spirit Alley/Aztec

The Smell of Incense...

If Southwest FOB had been given just the inkling of a shot in 1968 when this was recorded, they might well have been stars.  As it was, England Dan Seals and John Ford Coley went on to bigger and better things and we still have this excellent little docu-video to show us how good these guys were.  The film was uncovered not long ago and was taken during the recording of Smell of Incense, a song which more than any other captures the feel of psych.  Recorded (and filmed) at Robin Hood Bryan's studio in Tyler, Texas.

Southwest FOB/Smell of Incense

In New Jersey? Are You Serious!?

Like a friend of mine in the Army used to say, as serious as Trenchfoot.  The Grip Weeds feel right at home in New Jersey (which is good because it is their home) and have been putting out great psych for years.  Every time I play their music for my psych-oriented friends, they wonder why they've never heard of them.  I felt the same way the first time I heard them.  This is a perfect example of what I call retro-psych.  Psych music for today, if you will.  So good, you can almost smell the roots.

The Grip Weeds/Astral Man

Jefferson Airplane... Psych or No?

One of the first bands mentioned when you say 'psych' is the Jefferson Airplane. Gawd knows why because outside of White Rabbit and a few of their jams, they had more straight rock and folk rock in them than anything. To this day, most old-timers point their fingers in that direction. I put this here so you can compare the Airplane to the others here. Psych? Only in the preconceived mind...  Still and all, great music, nonetheless.

Jefferson Airplane/We Can Be Together

Meanwhile, in England...

The Weaver Twins are making music worthy of comparison to bands like The Small Faces and Status Quo in the sixties.  Why these guys are not huge among even the psych set, I have no clue.  Scope out the video, much of which was evidently filmed at the Chicago World's Fair in, wot?, 1939?  Holy cow!  Do they have a time machine?

The Weaver Twins/Girl in Dolorous Blue

Speaking of the UK...

We'll end this with one of the early English examples of Brit Psych.  I would venture to day that more dope has been smoked to this song than just about any other.  My eyes glaze over just hearing the organ.  Have we learned anything, kids?  I thought not.  Well, it was fun anyway.  Segue to Procol Harum and fade to black...

Procol Harum/Whiter Shade of Pale


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    • Frank Gutch Jr. profile image

      Frank Gutch Jr. 8 years ago from Oregon

      Spirit Alley? How did THEY get in there...

    • profile image

      cheryl 8 years ago

      I LOVE Spirit Alley