10 Favorite Psychedelic Albums
Ok I went past ten, but the hallmark of a great psychedelic album is excess. Not the instrumental be-dazzlement of harpsichords and horn sections that is the window dressing of "psychedelic™" music, but a fiercely rigorous and confused human spirit bursting out of your chest, summoned to action by the pulsing of the very earth and that unrelenting quest to be More Alive. Does this sound corny and overblown, why, yes it does. But so is the infectious spirit of psychedelic music. The goat-footed Pan pushes aside the Apollonian sense of Cool so he may kick down the walls and turn up the amps. There are a number of noteable basic texts in the library that al must hear, namely Love - Forever Changes, Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs, any 13th Floor Elevators collection and numerous others, (plus that requisite Pink Floyd stage you go through in college) but here I clean out my bowl to offer up the resin of my own musical journey:
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain
I am consistently shocked that more people don't know about this album. This is not the dancey George Clinton of "Flashlight" and backing track for every Snoop Dogg song (though Snoop has his own bust up in the Hall of Psychedelia), this is the wild feral Clinton, refracting the fallout of the summer of love's nova-like collapse through some very dark drug-hazed glass. It opens with my favorite psychedelic recitation ever:
Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
For y'all have done knocked her up
I have eaten the maggots from the mind of the universe
I was not offended, for I knew I had to rise above it all
Or drown in my own shit.
What I wouldn't give to experience a class of eager 4th graders reciting this in homeroom instead of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Boredoms - Vision Creation Newsun
I should retire this one form all future top ten lists, since it finds its way on every one, but this album is a journey to the center of your tribal mind, every synapse and sparkle in your cortex corresponding to a multitude of beats coming from all directions at once. Designed as a continuous song cycle, this marked the Boredoms move from belching surrealists to medicine men and women, putting all who enter their sphere in a voodoo trance.
Howard Roberts - Out of Sight (But in Mind)
One rather interesting musical bedfellow was the counterculture hippie abandon of psychedelics and the hi-fi Nixon-voter market of easy listening, where a number of these able players took the edict from the marketing department to try to rope in the enthusiastic youth market. There are numerous great examples that make up the acid end of the whole Lounge thing, but this is one of my favorites. His tricked out versions of "Spooky" and "Say a Little Prayer" will make any Ann-Margaret wannabe practically shimmy that fringed mini-dress right onto the bearskin rug.
Julian Cope - Jehovahkill
Man, was I happy when I discovered that a whole nother Julian Cope existed outside that "World Shut Your Mouth" song. Julian took upon a mission to become a self-aware drug casualty and plug the wires of wigginess into his pastoral English folk heart. What you have in his psyche albums is not twee Nick drake rehashes (though I am fond of those kinds of things too) but triumphant Viking horned Lord Byron proudly proclaiming his mad visions from the edge of a cliff.
Can - Tago Mago
Another favorite that makes it on every list. Tago Mago, like the Boredoms album mentions above (of which it is an obvious precursor) is a dispatch from another planet, Damo Suzuki's ranty ramblings snake though the Kosmik throb of a young Holger Csukay and crew. Personally I think this is a magic album, in that there is something beguiling still about it, now some thirty years after it was recorded.
Skip Spence - Oar
Skip Spence was, I believe, the drummer for an early Jefferson Airplane and singer for Moby Grape or some other huge band back in the hazy day, but what's important to me is that he went on a total nutter, disappeared from public sight only to emerge and make this ghost of an album. His haggard voice, layered in reverb sounds like it is coming from inside the vortex, and as the album goes on, the tracks become shorter and sparer, until it completely burns out. I don't know if this was for effect, or if it is in fact the sound of a man's candle burning out, but it is a truly compelling document.
Brian Jonestown Massacre - Strung Out In Heaven (pictured up above)
Let us speak kindly of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now they have become cult personalities because of the cult docu-hit DiG! (a film they enthusiastically devow), its hard to separate the stories from the songs, which is a shame. BJM has made some beautiful wild flowering music over the years, for me, culminating with their somewhat polished but undeniably sexy Strung Out in Heaven.
Sun Ra - Nubians of Plutonia
Sun Ra did much during his tenure on this particular planet to link up the world of jazz and the yen for cultural escape, his extrapolation of the anguish of the African Diasporas into a quest to escape the lame and limp bonds of the modern condition via the metaphor of space travel. His ouvre is a vast and daunting one to say the least, with very few misses among its number, but this one in particular always resonated with me - a drum thud from the inner spirit of restlessness. I used to have one track from this as my outgoing message on my machine, going on to long hoping that its space-age jungle funk would soothe my callers and realize they need to check up themselves more than they do me. And I was dodging creditors, but that's another story.
The Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy - Get On Jolly
This tranquil smoky hookah of a record was formed by the chance meeting of Will Oldham incanting the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore's "Gitanjali" which gave the album its title and brilliant Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner. This has been one of the more calming listens to me over the last couple years, until I happened on the live tour CD for it Get the Fuck on Jolly, which explodes its lotus in to an intensely mystical experience.
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
A review of this is the opening shot in Lester Bangs' required reading "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" anthology. I rushed out and got it (I never thought I would EVER rush out to get a freaking Van Morrison record) because of the intoxicating enthusiasm of the review, and I wanted to see if the dead poet of wannabe music critics was up to snuff. And he was. This album is a terrific meeting of soul and a scattered vanity of music, sounding as one of the tightest music-vocal integrations ever concocted. The magic gets even spookier when you come to find that Van actually recorded this at first alone with a guitar, and then turned it over to a crack music team to flesh it out. This album flutters like a butterfly in your head.
T. Rex - A Beard of Stars
I considered putting my current fave Devendra Banhart on this list, but why not go to the source of his pixie wellspring. This album was the last before Bolan embarked on the Glam era heralded by Electric Warrior that has yet to end. On Beard, we get the culmination of his strident Hobbit sojourns of his earlier albums, melding near nonsensical lyrics with the hookiest folk rock ever put down on record. The bongo beats, the temple bells and the longing of the guitar howl like a runt wolf in the woods. One of my favorite albums ever.
Flaming Lips - Hit to Death in the Future Head
I sing the Oklahoman electric! Wayne Coyne and his fellow Lips have done much to keep the spirit firmly affixed in the sky throughout their career, but this record, foster of no hits, is the one that strikes me as their most "out". The stinging fuzz of guitar and bottomless well thump of the bass over a magic carpet for the swirling words to call you forth like a wired Pied Piper, leading all good children into a multi-hued tomorrow.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com