10 Underrated Psychedelic Bands of the 1960s
The 1960s ushered in a golden age of experimental music and paved the way for an unprecedented shift in the development of how bands wanted to sound. With the social consciousness of the 1960s changing through progressive ideas and a rebellion against the shackles of the former generation, music had to reflect that change.
The usual suspects of 1960s psychedelia are well documented, such as Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Jefferson Airplane. Though they were key exponents of the genre, they have inexplicably shadowed many of the other worthy contributors. I have tried to uncover some of the lesser known 1960s psychedelic bands that helped shape a generation of music. Some of the bands on the list did achieve moderate commercial success around the time of release of their respective singles or albums, but, for the most part, they are hidden gems. The spectrum of psychedelia is wide. Therefore, the selection of bands I have chosen feature some on the side of psychedelic-pop, some on the side of garage rock, and some that do away with convention entirely (but all are worth listening to).
10 Underrated Psychedelic Bands of the 60s
- The Golden Dawn
- The Rokes
- Ultimate Spinach
- The End
- Elephant's Memory
- The Avengers
- H.P. Lovecraft
1. The Golden Dawn
The Golden Dawn, an appellation lifted straight from the esoteric order devoted to magic teachings and spiritual exploration, is a fitting name for this garage-rock/psychedelic five-piece. With lyrics inspired by the mystic philosopher George Gurdjieff and explorative music that flirts with cutting garage-rock while also exhibiting a psychedelic idiosyncrasy, The Golden Dawn underpin the 1960s ideology of introspective expedition. It is unfortunate that they are not a well-known beacon of 1960s psychedelia. "My Time," a track from their 1968 album Power Plant, is a shining example of their fast garage-rock side, but their sound is balanced by more innovative numbers like "Every Day," a truly inspired track that sets them apart from the profusion of garage-rock that came out of the '60s.
Unfortunately, Power Plant, the only album the Golden Dawn released in the 1960s, was not thoroughly promoted by the record company International Artists. Despite being recorded first, Power Plant was released as a side note to Easter Everywhere by their fellow International Artists,13th Floor Elevators. Subsequently, Power Plant garnered poor critical reception and was regarded as a pale imitation of the 13th Floor Elevators' album. The Golden Dawn disbanded not long after the release of Power Plant and would only return in recent years after some line-up changes. Still, they have attained much more than a cult following.
2. The Rokes
Although the Rokes achieved moderate commercial success in Italy in the 1960s, the English expatriates failed to make any long-lasting waves or hardly any at all in the United Kingdom or America. Just like a lot of the bands of the 1960s, the Rokes started their career as an incarnation of garage-rock, but they soon experimented with the burgeoning psychedelic sound. "Telegram for Miss Marigold" uses the iconic jangly sounding guitars of '60s psychedelia coupled with ghostly vocals to make an upbeat spectral classic. The Rokes' original version of "Lets Live for Today" is an example of their garage-rock leanings edging into psychedelia, making use of the all too prevalent fuzz guitar tone to create a song that inspires the listeners' participation. However, it is on the track "When the Wind Arises" that the Rokes present their proficiency for the psychedelic. A short atmospheric masterpiece of beautiful choral crescendos, the wind quite literally arises within the aforementioned track, capitalising on the developing recording techniques of the 1960s.
It is rather unfortunate that the Rokes do not have more overseas awareness. At least they achieved nominal success in Italy and many of their tracks have Italian translated counterparts.
3. Ultimate Spinach
Lyrically, Ultimate Spinach characterise the floral optimism and disavowal of the preceding generation's ideologies within the 1960s psychedelic culture. Musically, they shift from a subtle rock-blues essence to more experimental notes of serene flights of sound. "Gilded Lamp of the Cosmos," from the album Behold and See, surmises Ultimate Spinach's hint of rock-blues offset by choral harmonies that elevate the song to tranquil psychedelia. Ultimate Spinach's music holds a tacit understanding that they are aware of something unsaid, laughing at a joke that only they know the punchline to. "Your Head is Reeling," a song from their first self-titled album, communicates a sense of doom which epitomises a generation. In their own words, "plastic masses don't know what to say, but they want the flowers to go away."
Without being too trite, Ultimate Spinach are exemplary '60s psychedelia. Sadly, due too many personnel changes and internal creative differences, the band collapsed after an all too short tenure and were never able to set the world alight as a commercial success.
4. The End
Even though The End's album Introspection is almost a cult classic now, the album initially failed to gather the commercial success they deserved. Considering Bill Wyman helped produce the album, this was unexpected. Introspection encapsulates the End's sound at its height: sharp funky bass lines and drums to match the ebbs into atmospheric sequences, creating seamless crests and troughs. The track, "Dreamworld," perfectly exemplifies their signature sound. Prior to Introspection, The End had a small amount of freakbeat singles, but their sound only truly came into psychedelic fruition with the album's release. Perhaps The End's best received song upon its release was "Shades of Orange," a psychedelic feast of the genre's quintessence (at least in sound, if not posterity). Without being in any way derivative, it has hints of Pink Floyd's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.
The End suffered from line-up changes and eventually became Tucky Buzzard. Subsequently, they halted their development into psychedelia to become a progressive-rock band.
5. Elephant's Memory
"Now that the final potato is peeled for the stew of my mind" is a lyric from the track "Super Heep" that most suitably introduces the commercially overlooked and technically accomplished psychedelic rock band, Elephant's Memory. Despite having two songs featured on the Oscar winning 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy, and being the live back-up band for John Lennon during his solo career, Elephant's Memory do not have the recognition one might expect. As a considerably unique ensemble, making use of seven musicians without it going to waste, Elephant's Memory's songs are incredibly innovative and difficult to pin down. No one genre can accurately describe them. Their style fluctuates, but most often they play inventively psychedelic harsh jazz with a bit of soul (sometimes mellow and loose). "Jungle Gym at the Zoo" has a grooving bass line resounding of controlled madness. The bass is certainly a driving force amongst the huge ensemble of virtuosos consisting of saxophone, trombone, and clarinet (just to mention a few).
As a backing band to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, throughout the 1970s Elephant's Memory carved out minor repute for themselves, but never were commercially elevated beyond the realms of a backing band. Despite releasing albums of their own in the '60s and '70s, they have not gained much recognition in their own right.
6. The Avengers
Edging closer towards psychedelic-pop, rather than the more experimental encounters on this list, the New Zealand based Avengers are a hidden gem with their four-minute-or-less hypnotic quirks. The Avengers scored a few top forty singles in New Zealand, but are archetypal psychedelic-pop. They have, unfortunately, been swept away by time, despite having a reasonable amount of individuality. "Fisherwoman" is perhaps their most noteworthy musical excursion, coupling an enigmatic organ phrase with iconic '60s sounding vocals over energetic rhythm tracks. The album Medallion is the best example from their oeuvre. The track "You Don't Understand" is the heaviest experiment of the bunch, but is a short-lived direction for the album. However, the Avengers are at their best when playing lively baroque psychedelic-pop and this direction is the most prevalent within their music. The track "Sally" is a great example of this.
The Avengers failed to accrue any commercial success outside of their native country and thereby disbanded in 1969.
7. H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft's first album is carried by members George Edwards and Dave Michaels' sonorous vocal harmonies over mostly reinterpreted folk songs. However, it is H.P. Lovecraft's second album (released in 1968) of reinterpreted folk songs, in which atmospheric keyboards and a more unconventional approach to songwriting play a larger role in the construction of their sound. Ultimately, this created a more deliciously lysergic musical platform. The original track "Mobius Trip" combines folk inspired guitar overlaid by spectral vocals and ethereal sound effects that simmer in the background thanks to audio engineer Chris Huston. It is a truly unique piece of tranquillity. True to the horror author whom they are named after, H.P. Lovecraft have a haunting edge to their sound. The near seven-minute trance inducing track "Electrollentando" is a macabre stricken exploration of psychedelia that conveys H.P. Lovecraft's virtuosity and undeniable ability to pen truly inspired original tracks. It is a shame that there are not more self-written tracks because that is where the band truly shined. H.P. Lovecraft's rendition of the folk song "High Flying Birds," by Billy Edd Wheeler, moves somewhat closer to earth. It demonstrates their lighter side, which is also great.
Regrettably, H.P. Lovecraft disbanded in 1969 and, out of the ashes, came Lovecraft. Though few original members remained, and the band moved away from psychedelia, Lovecraft were still a talented and inspired group.
Kaleidoscope are a lighter side of psychedelic experimentation and garner less recognition than they deserve. Although Kaleidoscope are plagued with a few uninspired songs, their fantastic album Tangerine Dream surely redeems them. The track "Dive into Yesterday," from the aforementioned album, is a singular achievement. It beautifully encases the epitome of 1960s U.K. psychedelia without being formulaic in its approach to the genre. "Dive into Yesterday" tinkers with garage-rock guitar riffs and becomes an exploratory journey with hypnotic quiet sections. "Flight from Ashiya," which contains a thumping drone bass, Donavanesque vocals, and the familiar jangly guitar, captures Kaleidoscope's relatively understated greatness.
To avoid confusion with the U.S. psychedelic band also called Kaleidoscope, the band changed their name to Fairfield Parlour. Although, it did little to garner commercial success. They have remained under the radar. In recent years, Kaleidoscope have gained a bit of a cult following. Lead singer and main songwriter Peter Daltrey still continues to produce music (albeit as a solo artist).
Perhaps the most stylistically innovative band on this list, Please use little to no archetypal 1960s sounds and, although this a bit of a cliché to say, they were "ahead of their time." They were completely unique and not a pastiche of pre-existing '60s psychedelic musical conventions—despite having only a small amount of recognition. The album Seeing Stars is a withdrawn heavily organ-laden piece. It is a dimly lit star compared to their previously unreleased compilation album of recorded, yet unreleased, songs entitled 1968/69. However, it would be remiss of me to suggest that Seeing Stars is anything short of sublime. The titular track is a great melancholic achievement. Its haunting vocals are sung over minor key organ progressions that permeate the album. However, comparatively, the 1968/69 album features more than a few fragments of magnificence. Despite being compiled of unreleased material, songs like "Break the Spell" are serenity in bloom. The song evades any trite, overly floral tones that can all too often be commonplace in 1960s music. The opening track of 1968/69, "We Aim to Please," is also a shade of perfection and an ideal offset to the more eccentric sounding bands on this list.
Despite their intriguing sound, the band failed to maintain itself. Crippling line-up changes and a lack of commercial attention ultimately led to their demise.
Even though it was the golden age of psychedelia, July's first 1968 self-titled album sold very few records. However, it has retrospectively amassed cult success (or, at least, increased recognition in recent years). July are still a largely overlooked component of 1960s psychedelia. Unfortunately, lead vocalist Tom Newman regards their first album disdainfully. Fusing the right amount of psychedelic eccentricity, piercing garage-rock, and a finally garnished devotion to artistry within their approach to songwriting and arrangement as an ensemble, the band released one album and two singles in the 1960s. The song "The Way," from their self-titled album, captures the peak of their innovation. The song starts as an amalgam of eastern inspired sounds and western psychedelia, then ends in a melodic aura. Heavily effected guitars and loose reverberating bass are accompanied by atmospheric bongos that all erupt together and border on musical transcendence. July is nothing shy of a masterpiece and, shamefully, it is overlooked. The spectral eccentricity on "My Clown" and the wavy garage-rock of "Dandelion Seeds" demonstrate their reluctance to adhere to conventional song structures. They create beautiful originality on "Move on Sweet Flower," amongst others. These songs are all evidence of July's spectacular sound.
Due to creative differences with July's record company, and a lack of commercial interest, July disbanded in 1969. Fortunately, they reformed in 2009, releasing another album, Resurrection, in 2013.