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Any compilation trying to do justice to psychedelic rock is going to have a hard time getting it right. In fact it might not even be possible to 'get it right' since psychedelic rock as a musical genre or movement is hard to define and what constitutes a psychedelic song lies more in the eyes of the beholder than in the intention of the artist.
Broadly speaking the high point of Psychedelic movement was 1967 and could be said to have lasted from 1965 to 1969. It developed out of the earlier British Blues Rock and gradually morphed into progressive rock of the 1970's. The Pscychedelic 'movement' encompassed many different styles and types of bands who were all loosely brought together by a common inspirations or influences inspired in psychedelic culture, which attempted to explore the mind altering effects of mind-altering psychedelic drugs in music, visual art and literature. The music often used new recording techniques was often steeped in vestiges of eastern and oriental culture using traditional eastern instruments like the sitar.
The most well known and commercially successful exponents of the genre in the UK were bands like Pink Floyd, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and of course the Beatles. However these names are shunned in this compilation which attempts to gather together some of the lesser known artist associated with British Psychedelia. That is not to say we don't have some big artist included: Donovan, The Hollies, The Yardbirs are all present.
As a genre although lasting almost 5 years and comprising many bands psychedelia is not a huge genre and invariably in any compilation some track will also make an appearance. One such track is 'Sunshine Superman' which more than any other song seems to encompass the attributes of a psychedelic song. Donovan originally the British Dylan of the early 60's folk movement had like developed his music into other areas. This was one of Donovan's biggest hits and is a very catchy bright summer sing along a good lead-in to the stranger offerings of the album.
Many songs of the genre used common imagery to bring out an ethereal and mystical quality to the music therefore when you listen to psychedelic music you often hear about sunshine, bicycles, rainbows, stars, wind and kites! A perfect example of this is the second song on the album and a true classic or the period Kites by the fantastically named Simon Dupree & the Big Sound. Simon Dupree never existed and while the band did have a 'big sound' their adventures into Psychedelia could be said to be a bit of an accident. Originally formed as a R&B group by brothers Derek, Ray and Phil Shulman although achieving moderate success mostly on the live circuit their recording company decide to move the band into a different direction and get them to join the Psychedelic boom of 1967. Although the band were unhappy this change of direction led to 'Kites', which was their biggest hit and now considered a classic.
The song has an essentially ethereal quality to it and includes wind sound effects in the background. Just to add a bit more eccentricity to it we also get a woman speaking some Chinese at the end. Because of it quirkiness its clever production 'Kites' unlike many other songs of this period and genre sounds quite distinctive and has timeless quality to its sound. Like many bands of the era Simon Dupree and the Big Sound could not follow up their success and later became the Progressive Rock group Gentle Giant. The third song on the album is also another classic but one that shows you how loosely the term Psychedelia can be applied.
'The Days of Pearly Spencer' is perhaps the best known song and only hit of Northern Irish folk singer song writer David McWilliams. When you start listening to the song you find it hard to say why this should be considered part of this compilation. It's the story of a homeless man McWilliams met in Ballymena but then we get to the chorus, which sounds as if it is being sung through a megaphone or down the telephone and suddenly the song takes on a stranger quirky quality again a common feature of Psychedelia. The song became popular on pirate radio Caroline and McWilliams fame in Psychedlia was assured even though he didn't profit financially from his hit.
The compilation keeps up its quality and it's common motifs with songs like 'Mr.Rainbow', 'I Can Touch A rainbow' and the quirky 'Lady on a Bicycle' and 'My White Bicycle'...what is it with bikes and mind altering substances...or maybe it refers to how LSD was discovered...but that's another story. 'My White Bicycle' in particular by Tomorrow one of the most underrated of 60's bands really show off the quirky and often whimsical version of psychedelia that was very particular to Britain at the time.
Rather more unusual picks include track five 'Excerpt from a Teenage Opera' also commonly known as 'Grocer Jack' which tells the story of Jack the grocer and his life in a fantasy village. The track is accompanied by a children's chorus and recorded in the then very new true stereo. The song was a huge hit in the summer of 1967 'The Summer of Love', which cemented its status as a Psychedelic standard. It's an odd song sounding more out of a musical (which of course it is) rather than a radio friendly single.
Another two tracks worth a mention are by two of the biggest British 60's bands, 'Goodnight Sweet Josephine' and odd recording by The Yardbirds, which is a eulogy about Josephine a Clapham prostitute and 'King Midas In Reverse' by The Hollies which was an early single from their 1967 'Butterfly' album and was one of their early attempts to buy into psychedelia.
Going from the sublime to the ridiculous which is always a good thing to do in Psychedelic rock we find the legendary 'Were are Moles' by the Moles..." We are the Moles and we stay in our holes". This track was cloaked in mystery when it first came out, the band The Moles were said to be a front for The Beatles having a bit of a laugh. Ringo was supposed to have been the vocalist on this record and since it was recorded at Abbey Studios, George Martin the legendary Beatles producer was supposed to be behind the deception. With its striking electric guitar and use of sound effects and new recording techniques the rumours were plausible even more so when the track was recorded at around the same time that The Beatles were recording Hey Jude at Abbey Road. Well the truth is that there was deception going on in that The Moles didn't really exist as group but it wasn't the Beatles but Simon Dupree and the Big Sound.
Unfortunately when the identity of the real band was disclosed by ex Pink Floyd front man Syd Barrett of all people, interest and sales of the single waned, but it still remains an essential addition to any retrospective of the Psychedelic period.
Having just mentioned him we come again to Syd Barrett, the flawed genius behind many of the Pink Floyd's best early work. He was a key part of the Psychedelic movement and lived the lifestyle to the full which meant that his musical output became increasingly patchy. However he did record some important songs in this period and 'Octopus' is a reminder of why he is still a highly rated influence on 60's music. In contrast to many of the other tracks on the album Octopus is a simple production, just Syd and acoustic guitar, but as always Syd's lyrics paint a multilayer and eccentric pictures which require no more embellishment.
Although The Beatles weren't behind The Moles they still make it on the album in the form of the track 'Hey Bulldog' by The Gods one of my favourite tracks on this compilation. The song was a rather obscure Lennon and McCartney composition taken from Yellow Submarine and made in to a minor hit by The Gods a band who themselves would accrue some musical pedigree in the future. At various times The Gods included among their number two future Uriah Heep members keyboardist and singer Ken Hensley and drummer Lee Kerslake as well as Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones) and Greg Lake later of Prog Rock monsters ELP.
The record ends well the last 3 track being real crackers. First up we get 'Mr Armageddon' by Locomotive who under various line ups were part of the Brummie 60's rock scene along with other notable bands like the Moody Blues, the Move and the Idle Race. Starting off a ska band with Norman Haines as their main songwriter they were part of the Blue beat label that specialised in Jamaican influenced music in the late 60's but instead of making the more natural progression from ska to reggae they took a rather more usual turn to Psychedelia. Mr Armageddon probably their best track is characteristic of their sound, much orchestrated and rather epic in nature. It's a great track and a good example of the more idiosyncratic British Psychedelia as opposed to the more blues/rock based US version. The band didn't last long after this but their sound was more indicative of what was to come a few years later in progressive rock.
The penultimate track is 'In the Land of the Few' by Love Sculpture, the track and the band are not recognisably psychedelic. The band would I am sure have been quite been forgotten despite being very good and producing some good songs including 'Land of the Few', they remind me a little of The Who and the quality of the musicianship on this track and in their music in general is notable. A more prominent place in rock history than their success would warrant is ensure by the fact that their lead guitarist was none other than Dave Edmunds that went on to have a lot of success in the 70's with his own band and various collaborations with Nick Lowe.
The final track is by Barclay James Harvest who went on to have success as a Prog rock band, their biggest song being Mockingbird. Once again it's an odd choice for this compilation being more of a highly orchestrated blues rock ballad owing a lot to the late Beatles sound but nonetheless is a good track and rounds the compilation off well.
1 Sunshine Superman - Donovan 4:33
2 Kites -Simon Dupree & the Big Sound 3:44
3 The Days of Pearly Spencer -David McWilliams 2:33
4 Mr. Rainbow- Steve Flynn 2:32
5 Excerpt from a Teenage Opera - Keith West 4:42
6 King Midas in Reverse - The Hollies 3:07
7 Lady on a Bicycle - Kippington Lodge 3:01
8 So Much - McGough & McGear 3:58
9 I Can Touch a Rainbow -The Lemon Tree 2:23
10 Goodnight Sweet Josephine- The Yardbirds 2:41
11 The Skeleton and the Roundabout -The Idle Race 2:21
12 My White Bicycle- Tomorrow 3:16
13 My Clown- July 3:23
14 We Are the Moles- The Moles 4:33
15 Octopus - Syd Barrett 3:46
16 10,000 Words in a Cardboard Box- Aquarian Age 3:26
17 Hey Bulldog- The Gods 3:14
18 Mr Armageddon - Locomotive 4:36
19 In the Land of the Few - Love Sculpture 3:56
20 Pools of Blue- Barclay James Harvest 3:07
This collection of song isn't all that bad, there are some obvious choices for a Psychedelic compilation to include and also some more obscure offerings. However not all the track are truly representative of the genre and that is what lets the record down a little in the end. Having said this the quality of the choices is good and it does give a representative slice of swinging mid sixties 60's rock to listeners if nothing else. Worth checking out and for some it will introduced them to bands that they might wish to find out more about.
'The Original Psychedelic Album' can be bought from Amazon UK for £19.99 including shipping at the time of writing this review.
Worth a listen...
© Mauri 2013
1. Sunshine Superman - Donovan / 2. Kites - Dupree, Simon & The Big Sound / 3. Days Of Pearly Spencer - McWilliams, David / 4. Mr Rainbow - West, Keith / 5. Excerpt From A Teenage Opera - West, Keith / 6. King Midas In Reverse - Hollies / 7. Lady On A Bicycle - Kippington Lodge / 8. So Much - McGough & McGear / 9. I Can Touch A Rainbow - Lemon Tree / 10. Goodnight Sweet Josephine - Yardbirds / 11. Skeleton And The Roundabout - Idle Race / 12. My White Bicycle - Tomorrow / 13. My Clown - July / 14. We Are The Moles - Moles /15. Octopus - Barrett, Syd /16. 10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box - Aquarian Age /17. Hey Bulldog - Gods / 18. Mr Armageddon - Locomotive / 19. In The Land Of The Few - Love Sculpture / 20. Pools Of Blue - Barclay James Harvest