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Music Reviews

Psychedelic Rock and the Stoner Culture

written by Francisco Gaspar

For many decades now Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and even The Beach Boys have been featured in most stoners’ musical collection. Exceptions exist everywhere, but why is it that most cannabis consumers are attracted to a very specific genre within rock?

Psychedelic rock is defined as a sub-genre within rock that tries to replicate and/or enhance the effects of psychedelic drugs like cannabis, LSD and psilocybin (mushrooms). This is done by trying to, musically, detach the listener from reality. With artificial soundscapes and the help of synthesizers, musicians create a parallel reality in which the listeners reside.

The economic boom of the 60’s also gave the studios more creative freedom and room to grow. With this came another sub-genre that should not go unmentioned when speaking of psychedelic rock. Embraced by The Beatles, progressive rock came as an influence to most psychedelic artists of the time. This second sub-genre blossomed when artists found more room to exploration in the studio rather than in live shows. Mastering the tracks for days without end, music was now tangible and artists could alter every single aspect of it post-recording. Many pop artists gave up their traditional methods in favour of progressive rock. With jazz and classical music inspirations, artists became more creative. The Beatles are an excellent example of this with their 1969 album, ‘Abbey Road’. A big jazz influence is seen on ‘I want you (She’s So Heavy)’ and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is played backwards on the guitar for the track ‘Because’.

Pink Floyd is also a good example of this progressive and psychedelic decade. The album Animals has just 5 tracks and two of them are only 1 minute long. The fact that they published this creation as an album and not an EP is a good example of the progressiveness of their music. With as many songs as fingers in one hand, the total playtime is of 41 minutes. 41 minutes in basically 3 songs. This unifies the whole album and labels it as more of an experience. It should be a crime to play a Pink Floyd album on random.

Most argue that these experience-like albums try to resemble an acid trip. Intentionally or not, that certainly is the interpretation the psychedelic culture takes from it.

I researched this topic to see if there is anything about the music itself that is so attractive to the psychedelic mind or if this is only a consequence of the musical culture associated to these genres.

Still today we associate the Grateful Dead with Lindsay Weir from ‘Freaks and Geeks’ or the track “Bullwinkle Part II” from the Centurions to that great Pulp Fiction scene where Vincent Vega drives while on heroin. Movies and series have always linked psychedelic music and the intake of drugs.

During the 1960’s, The Beatles Smoked weed for the first time with Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys started to experiment with LSD. This sparked music that either tried to relate people to past experiences with psychedelics or give them a similar feel to it through the music. With more advanced synthesizers and production edits, albums became more of an altogether experience rather than a collection of individual tracks.

These bands did not openly advertise their drug consumption but they were no secret either. John Lennon claims that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was a reference to a drawing his son made but Paul McCartney still stated in an interview with the Daily Mirror newspaper:

“‘Day Tripper,’ that’s one about acid. ‘Lucy In the Sky,’ that’s pretty obvious. There are others that make subtle hints about drugs, but it’s easy to overestimate the influence of drugs on The Beatles’ music. Just about everyone was doing drugs in one form or another, and we were no different, but the writing was too important for us to mess it up by getting off our heads all the time.”

Were these just musicians on drugs making music for people on drugs or is there anything about the music that actually attracts the psychedelic listener?

To someone who knows The Beatles’ music extremely well, they will notice that the albums ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’ in 1965/66 were the principal shift that these four British young men had in their musical influences. A same musical change is seen in The Beach Boys with their album ‘Pet Sounds’ in 1966. Both these bands influenced each other deeply and the shift of one could be explained by the shift of the other. But many people still try to explain this with psychedelics and the evidence sure seems to point that way. Pink Floyd came to release their first album in 1967 with clear acid influences from Syd Barret. Syd only lasted one album with the band before his LSD addiction started to hurt to the band and David Gilmour had to be hired to come in during the shows where Barret would simply lose himself in his head and stop playing.

Whether you want to admit it or not, LSD was huge during the 60’s. And whether you want to admit it or not, many psychedelic and progressive rock bands that are still very popular today where born in that decade.

LSD was criminalized in the states of California and Nevada in 1966. This made these two states the first to outlaw the manufacture, sale and possession of the drug.

The psychedelic culture climaxed in 1969 at Woodstock with performances from Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jefferson Airplane in the same day. With the recent laws on acid, the growing hippie culture and the constant demand for a more modern perspective on life from the young generation, made the music culture of that time so intense as to represent political and social opinions.

Society in general but especially the young ones long needed such a revolution and a change of perspective. People had lived in traditional households for far too long and now needed to feel the pleasure of sex and the freedom of acid. The religion with no god came almost as a cult that invaded young minds and resulted in a generation of adults who invented the computer and the internet. A revolution was being called for and whether that happened because of the music, the psychedelics or both combined with an encaged mind, we can now look back to that period as an important time in our history and one we cannot for sure call harmful. Society grew a lot from the psychedelic point of view and who know what we might learn in the future.

There is no way to scientifically prove that psychedelic and progressive music is more appealing to stoners. From what we found what we can conclude is that psychedelic music came to satisfy a musical need that arose in the 60’s. A track that can be interpreted as describing and LSD trip can probably also be heard as a description of life. Music is constructed from metaphors so that each individual can listen to a track and relate to it in his/her own way. That’s what so beautiful about music. And that’s what so beautiful about progressive and psychedelic rock. A music genre that can be listened to by everyone but if you’re high, you’ll understand it in a different way. It may not be a musical genre exclusively for stoners but psychedelic music sure was made with them in mind.

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