Friday, 5 November 2010

News, Views and Music Issue 79 (Top Five): Early Examples Of Psychedelia 1965-66

Hmm, so psychedelia – that must mean the ‘summer of love’, right? All Monterey Pop, Sgt Peppers and Magical Mystery Tours? Well, not necessarily. Whilst 1967 will always be heralded as the heyday of all things psychedelic, movements don’t just suddenly erupt out of nowhere overnight. So this week we’re looking at the pioneering songs that set the tone early on, back when flowers were things that you found only in gardens and when hippies were still the things that connected your leggies together. And we come up with some very surprising finds about who the earliest ground-breaking flower powery artists were...

5) The Who “Circles” (AKA “Instant Party”) (First released under the former name as the b-side to single ‘Substitute’ 2/1966): Noisy psychedelia doesn’t come any better than this disorientating track about how the narrator is trapped between needing his love in his life and falling out with her big time. Circles play a big part in 1967-68’s music (The Small Faces had green ones, George Harrison had colliding ones, The Monkees saw one in the sky), partly because they were the most interesting looking shapes used in the ‘acid light shows’ of the psychedelia set (Pink Floyd, et al) and possibly partly because of the idea of everything being possible to the youngsters of 1967 reinventing ‘the wheel’ and claiming the shape for their own. Or perhaps they just thought it looked groovy! Anyway, this song’s music suit its psychedelia-ish words, featuring a droning backing similar in style to eastern ragas and a drenched-in-feedback disorientating sound that was still deeply unusual in those early months of 1966. It took a cover version by one-hit wonder Fleur De Leys to fully exploit this song’s psychedelic sound, however, one well worth seeking out by curious Who fans even if it can’t match the sheer oomph of this original. The fact that this fine song was relegated by The Who to a B-side (and one with a very troubled history when their old producer, Shel Talmy, used it as the scapegoat for this publishing dispute with the band and re-issued his own mix of the song on the back of the A-side ‘Substitute’, renaming it ‘Instant Party!’ against the band’s wishes) shows just how great Pete Townshend’s songwriting was back in 1966 – and needed to be, too, given how many great psychedelia classics are waiting just around the corner...

4) The Beatles “The Word” (First released on the album ‘Rubber Soul’ 12/1965): The word, for those who don’t know, is love. Unusually for this list it’s ‘The Word’s lyrics rather than its melody or production values that set it out as being an early example of psychedelia. And what a psychedelic bunch of words they are too: a slight tongue-in-cheek spoof of gospel, this song is all about ‘spreading the word’ of love so that humanity can delight in its togetherness. A rare example of the Lennon/McCartney partnership in full flow (it’s arguably the last 50/50 track until late 1967’s B-side ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’) the pair celebrated their new found song by writing out this song’s lyrics in brightly coloured crayons – very psychedelic! (The lyric sheet was later given away by Lennon for charity). Musically, this track is very much in keeping with the fab four’s increasingly more sophisticated-sounding pop of 1965 and is played by their usual line-up of instruments, despite the fact that the Beatles had already single-handedly invented most of the sounds of 1967 (feedback on ‘I Feel Fine’, long guitar solos and tape loops).    

3) The Beach Boys “The Little Girl I Once Knew” (First released as a single 11/1965): It may have been the Beach Boys’ biggest flop since 1962, but this little known single arguably paves more of a way towards the ‘Pet Sounds’/’Smile’ recordings the band will go on to be most famous for than any of their better known material. Lyrically, it’s not that different to earlier Beach Boys records, albeit still light years ahead of most songs from the mid-60s – the narrator’s girl has changed since they started dating, growing more mature with every passing day while he wants to stay as a teenager and its causing a big rift between them (it’s a logical extension of Brian Wilson’s jaw-dropping 1964 song about aging ‘(When I Grow Up) To Be A Man’). This forever-changing personality is  a key part of the song, though, transforming herself with such regularity that the narrator is left gasping for breath the second time he ever sees her, after ignoring her the first. Musically, though, it’s the start of a whole new species of songs, the sort that are out to confuse the listener and take them somewhere else rather than merely enforce or reflect what they feel, complete with sudden jolting full stops (part of the reason why this single sold so badly was that radio DJs objected to this song’s few seconds of dead air) and it’s lurching switch between jolly nursery rhyme singalong chorus and verses of desperate grief. Very psychedelic, in other words, and an obvious stepping stone towards the sounds of 1966-68, even though it is yet again all played on conventional instruments.

2) The Kinks “See My Friends” (First released as a single 30/7/1965): Ray Davies was inspired to write this beautiful single after The Kinks played a rare show in India and the elder Kink brother was inspired by the sitar sounds he’d never heard in close proximity before (the same time George Harrison came across the instrument while filming ‘Help!’ , although his experiments with the instrument won’t make it to disc until December that year). This Kinks single doesn’t actually feature any unusual instrumentation outside the two guitar-bass-drums set up, but its droning one-note vibe is clearly inspired by Eastern music and its haiku-like lyric phrases are much closer to summer of love gobbledegook than 1965’s folk-rock boom. The subject matter – betrayal and jealousy – aren’t exactly perennial psychedelic themes but no matter, this song is still clearly

1) The Searchers “He’s Got No Love” (First released as a single 16/7/1965): Bet you didn’t see that coming! But as far as our research goes, the earliest example of the sort of spaced-out, groundbreakingly freeform and other-worldly sounds goes to The Beatles’ baby brothers who have for too long been forgotten for their pioneering work. The band never got much chance to show off their stuff in the ‘summer of love’ when they were at their most unhip, which is a terrible shame given how much this band grows between late 64 and early 66. This flop single ‘He’s Got No Love’ – released at the same time as ‘Help!’ and ‘My Generation’  - sounds much closer in spirit to 1967 than 1965 with its world-weary vocals, smothered production sound and feedback-filled chiming Rickenbacker guitars. The sound of this song also fits nicely with the theme of isolation and despair –not a traditional psychedelia subject, perhaps, but there are lots of examples of it out there on later, much better known summer of love songs. Above all, this song ticks the boxes of sounding other-worldly, transcendental and downright different compared to everything else around at the time. Ha, bet The Spice Girls don’t even know what psychedelia is (or how to spell it!) – hmm, I’ve just got an image of hearing the new Spice Girls reunion single ‘I wanna huh with flowers on’...

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