Greatest Psychedelic Albums (1-10)

  • 1. The Byrds/The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968). With this album, the Byrds certainly put an exclamation point on their psychedelic trilogy, which began with Fifth Dimension and its centerpiece single “Eight Miles High,” and continued with Younger Than Yesterday. Brothers opens with “Artificial Energy,” a horn-driven ode to amphetamines, and closes with “Dolphin’s Smile” and “Space Odyssey,” songs that manage to reach a couple of farthest frontiers before the high wears off. Not strictly a psychedelic band even during this period, the Byrds in between these two poles explore pedal-steel-drenched Brill Building pop (!) with “Goin’ Back,” softly insistent protest with “Draft Morning,” a raga/backward guitar solo that segues into evocative, earthy pedal steel (!!) in “Change Is Now,” and a soothing nod to what was happening up the coast in the bay area/youth Mecca with “Tribal Gathering.” And amazingly, only one song on the album lasts more than three and a half minutes, meaning no meandering, self-indulgent experimentation, just brilliantly blended pop sensibilities and imaginative, challenging rock. No wonder that, after throwing down this gauntlet to more rigidly defined psychedelic bands, all the Byrds could do was to go off and invent country rock with Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
  • 2. Love/Forever Changes (1967). Love, the premier Los Angeles band (unless you consider the Byrds an “L.A.” band) in the year or two before the Doors inherited their mantle, was led by Arthur Lee, who along with Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone was one of the few African-Americans associated with psychedelia. Listening to the sense of isolation and cynicism that permeates the lyrics, I can’t help but feel that Lee believed his race kept him on the margins of a scene that prided itself on the shedding of social prejudices. “Alone Again Or” leads off the album, and as Lee acknowledges that “Tonight I’ll be alone again my dear” his status as an outsider is immediately felt. “The Red Telephone” finds Lee attempting to take the spotlight off of himself, as he presents himself “Sitting on a hillside/ Watching all the people die,” a chilling passivity that may be explained in the outro of the song; as the music begins to wind down, a stereotypically backwoods black voice intones, “All God’s chillun got to have their freedom”: the hypocrisy of the often upper-middle class white kids crowing about freedom and peace up in San Francisco is put on full display. Disillusionment continues in “Live and Let Live,” which finds Lee bitterly satirizing American attitudes about ownership and violence as he matter-of-factly explains “There’s a bluebird sitting on a branch/ I think I’ll take my pistol/ I have it in my hand/ Because he’s on my land.” This anger and alienation charges the album, as Lee comments on both hippies and the larger culture, and the sickening similarities often found between them; he observes from a distance, hurt that he can’t be a part of it, yet angry at himself that he would even want to be. However, what in the end makes Forever Changes so powerful is the complementary nature of the music to the lyrics. The music is never obscured, and the strings, horns, harmonicas and other instruments Lee uses to craft his sometimes baroque, always majestic music provide the emotional vulnerability and pain that he resists expressing in his words.
  • 3. Jefferson Airplane/Surrealistic Pillow (1967). Grace Slick joined the Airplane before this, their second album, and all she does is turn it into the San Francisco shot heard ‘round the world. Interestingly, “Somebody to Love,” one of the two big singles, is one of the lesser songs here, its tone more aggressive and its lyrical content more pedestrian than anything else on the album. Most of Pillow is delicate and understated; politics would come later, eschewed for now in favor of wistful emotion. The side one trilogy of “My Best Friend,” “Today,” perhaps the most haunting guitar line I’ve heard, and “Comin’ Back to Me,” five minutes of heartbreak and redemption set to a melody played on a recorder (really!), is so quietly compelling that I’m always forced to stop whatever I’m doing to listen. Side two continues this mood and culminates with the other big single, “White Rabbit,” a song that fits the context of the album much better than “Somebody.” The bolero beat stirs quietly after the acoustic instrumental “Embryonic Journey” winds down, and both the volume and tone become insistently more strident until Slick can no longer tolerate the lunatic fantasy she describes: “Feed your head! Feed your head!” she demands and then abruptly drops off. This is the album that gives the lie to the stereotype of the overly optimistic, naively sincere hippie; the undercurrent of knowing melancholy that runs through these songs is also present in much of the enduring psychedelia of the era.
  • 4. The Byrds/Younger Than Yesterday (1967). “So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star?” ask the Byrds with a knowing smirk on the first song of their fourth album. Well, the Byrds already were stars and seemed ready to say “no thank you” to more of the same, so they put together an album so recklessly eccentric and bipolar in mood that you wonder if they knew what they were doing. I guess yes. “C.T.A.-102” is an exuberant assurance to any space aliens listening that Roger McGuinn doesn’t care “who’s been there first” as long as he gets there too—and hearing the aliens critique the Byrds’ music in their incomprehensible jabber of a language is cosmically illuminating. This “up” is followed soon after by the “down” of David Crosby’s Sinatra-ready torch song “Everybody’s Been Burned.” Chris Hillman, not to be outdone, weighs in with his finest writing effort on the paranoid yet compulsively singable “Have You Seen Her Face.” Thankfully, we also get a dreamy retreat from reality in the gorgeous “Renaissance Fair,” and a comforting look back to the band’s beginnings with a strong cover of Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” And well, what can be said about “Mind Gardens”? This atonal, free-verse ‘song’ that easily manages to be both the worst song released by the classic Byrds lineup and the most pretentious thing ever written by Crosby (no easy feat) is simply the flaw that brings into sharp relief the excellence of the rest of the album. The impressive collection of egotistical talents that was the Byrds would never again work this well together; Crosby would be gone halfway into the next album, and Hillman wouldn’t be far behind.
  • 5. The Doors/The Doors (1967). Los Angeles bands always seemed to have the darkest take on the psychedelic scene, in contrast to the San Francisco bands with their hopes for brotherhood and to the British bands who at times seemed lost in a world of whimsy. The darkest of the dark in L. A. was definitely The Doors, not just because they had a more profound recognition of the dangerous side of the superficially lighthearted world they saw around them but because they seemed to revel in that danger to an extent no other band would, or could for that matter. Their first album, The Doors, is still the best statement of their uniquely gleeful take on the chaos they observed, although there are moments on each of their other five albums that come close. “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” the opening song, sets the tone. Transcendence is here portrayed as an attempt to escape reality: “You try to run / Try to hide / Break on through to the other side.” Even love, the ultimate hope for many, is a lie, as Jim Morrison sings like a West Coast Virgil leading us through hell that for lovers, “Arms are chains / Eyes are lies.” The covers are amazingly appropriate for this world; “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” is a Kurt Weill song from that other time and place famously teetering on the brink of apocalypse, 1920s Berlin, and “Back Door Man” reaches back to the Blues, with its myths of midnight meetings at the crossroads and pacts with the devil. It is almost as though Morrison foresees Charles Manson, the humiliation of withdrawal from Vietnam, and a host of other events that soured the dreams of the mid-to-late Sixties. Even in the seedy diner described in “Soul Kitchen” as one of the few refuges for the weary, we see people withdrawing into their own words, “Speaking secret alphabets...Learn to forget.” Morrison might ask in “The Crystal Ship” for “another fleeting chance at bliss,” but his closing statement in “The End” extinguishes the album in a grotesque, nihilistic haze. The song may be a psycho-gothic drama that verges on overindulgence, but it is still chillingly effective. With its imagery of family murder and rape, lonely highways, writhing serpents, and forbidden sights in the abyss of an abandoned gold mine, “The End” leaves you gasping as you wonder why anyone would have stayed in California as the Sixties crashed to a close, much less move there in pursuit of something beautiful. Just imagine listening to this album as you drive down a desert highway at night...
  • 6. The Zombies/Odyssey and Oracle (1968). This album contains some of the most sublime melodies and arrangements found during the psychedelic era, amazing because it is a period known for the exceptional quality of the songs. The opening one-two punch of “Care of Cell 44,” driven by a jauntily played piano that fades into the background as the singer tells his now-imprisoned love how much he misses her, and “A Rose for Emily,” also dominated by piano, albeit in a more subdued manner, makes it difficult to resist skipping back to the beginning to hear both again; however, the listener who fends off this impulse is more than rewarded. “Maybe After He’s Gone” breaks into a desperately hopeful chorus, and “Brief Candles” follows the same pattern: the melancholy of the verses leads into a paradoxically glorious chorus that only reinforces the sadness. Sentimental without being sappy, “Friends of Mine” finds the band listing off the names of many of the couples they know after they sing “It feels so good to know two people/ So in love.” How this song manages to be thrilling instead of cloying I don’t know; it just is. The album closes with “Time of the Season,” one of the most assured and memorable singles of the era. A certain sinister spirit pervades this apparent seduction of an inexperienced young girl by a man with a psychosexual spiel, yet just try to keep from singing along with him as he suggests, “Let me try/ With pleasured hands/ To take you in the sun to/ Promised lands.” All these references to sunshine-drenched afternoons, summer days, and seasons add up to a fleeting innocence and glimpse of happiness that both band and listener know can never last, and in fact is slipping away even as the album ends.
  • 7. Spirit/Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970). Icon for blended families everywhere, guitarist Randy California and his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy, led Spirit into psychedelia at its most exuberant, pointedly ignoring that the rest of the scene and sound had fallen on hard times a couple of years removed from the salad days of 1967-68; no, listening to Sardonicus, their fourth album, it was possible to believe that the counterculture was easily winning hearts and minds out in the hinterlands. Unique among ecological statements, “Nature’s Way” is both optimistic and toe-tapping as California assures us that although nature has been wronged, she fully expects to receive us back. In “Animal Zoo,” California laments the state of the “air I breath and the water I drink” after the sounds of urban gridlock (horns, idling engines) open the song, and he ultimately feels driven back to the “animal zoo” (?), while apparently nothing says love like backward rhythm guitar on “Love Has Found a Way.” None of these sentiments are self-righteously intoned but sung with humor and likeability. Along with the occasional horn section punctuating the choruses, Cassidy’s powerful drumming—no drum solos, nothing flashy—and California’s riffs and skillful playing keep an infectious sense of energy going, even during the ballads. If there’s one psychedelic album where you can imagine everyone in the band smiling the entire time they’re playing and recording, this is it. Guaranteed to jolt you out of whatever funk you’re in.
  • 8. Family/Music in a Doll's House (1968). Music in a Doll’s House may be the most overlooked great album of the Psychedelic era. In some ways, Family seems to have feet in both the British scene, which they came from, and the San Francisco scene, combining as they did the delicate, wistful folk rock of Moby Grape or Jefferson Airplane with the more adventurous arrangements and influences of The Beatles. Solid song structure and pleasing melodies are enhanced by the strong drumming and intelligently used cellos, saxes, and harmonicas; these instruments are prominent on many of the songs but the band never overindulges in using them simply to sound strange or experimental, instead using them to strengthen choruses, bridges, and outros. The sound is perhaps related to the decidedly rock-leaning folk rock of The Faces, but with a broader palette of instruments and arrangements to draw from. But without a doubt, as compelling as the music is, it is the unique voice of lead singer Roger Chapman that is the focal point of Family’s sound. Reminiscent of a lower, earthier Robert Plant, Chapman’s full vocals are set apart by his noticeable vibrato(!). As odd as that may sound, it in no way overwhelms or distracts; his voice is not operatic or bombastic, but controlled and warm. As for the songs, they run the gamut while still being of a piece. “Voyage” couples eastern-sounding strings with lyrics about metaphysical searches, while the more aggressive “The Chase” foregrounds the British side of their songwriting with an extended metaphor of foxes and hounds, ending with Chapman confronting his love: “do I see blood in your eyes, dear?” Even on this amazingly consistent collection, two songs stand out, “Mellowing Grey” and “Me My Friend.” “Mellowing Grey” is one of the folkier songs, one that would not be out of place on Surrealistic Pillow. Backed by a simply plucked guitar and a cello that wordlessly plays the chorus–no drums–Chapman sings of hope, symbolized by the “misty morning’s day” and “velvet shades of dawn,” succeeded by disappointment, now evening, the “mellowing grey” of the title; it is lovely and melancholy. “Me My Friend,” on the other hand, is more energetic, as it opens with phased drums and horns that return with each forcefully-sung chorus; it shares the traveling theme of “Voyage,” as Chapman sings of the “many lands” he has ranged. That is the central paradox of the album: even with a title as confining as Music in a Doll’s House, the themes and sound are so expansive as to make the dollhouse seem as quaint as the songs and thoughts of an older era.
  • 9. Jefferson Airplane/Volunteers (1969). Released at the end of 1969, in many ways this album closes out both the cohesive “San Francisco scene” and the Airplane as an artistic force. The most overtly political album by the band, the self-righteousness is fortunately tempered by a resignation and bitterness. In the opener, “We Can Be Together,” Grace Slick acknowledges that they “are all outlaws in the eyes of America,” and from here on out much of the focus turns to pastoral themes, strange for a band so strongly identified with that most sophisticated of cities, San Fran. A utopian tone underlies the traditional gospel song “Good Shepherd” as Jesus is implored to “feed your sheep.” “Wooden Ships” presents an odd escapist fantasy about living in peace in the wilderness, feeding off berries and turning away from civilization. Slick gets caustically ecological in “Eskimo Blue Day” (apparently, humanity “doesn’t mean shit to a tree”), Jerry Garcia joins in on “The Farm,” and the Soviet national anthem makes a cameo with the instrumental “Meadowlands” before Jefferson Airplane makes one last stand with the closing cut “Volunteers”; “We’re the volunteers of America,” they sneer, with a militancy that immediately sounds the warning: all this talk about the country side is a regrouping, not a retreat. And oh yeah, the music doesn’t get left behind, punchy and alternately driving and restrained as the occasion requires. Moral: politics goes down much better with six great musicians.
  • 10. The Who/The Who Sell Out (1967). The Who Sell Out opens with “Armenia City in the Sky,” one of those flights of fancy the psychedelic era was so known for; it seems a tribute to the heights many artists and young people attempted to reach, whether through pure imagination, love, drugs, or some combination of all. However, the surreal imagery of the world presided over by this city, “the sky is glass, the sea is brown,” belongs to an idealistic realm the characters in the rest of the album’s songs strive for but can never quite reach. The parodic commercials interspersed between the songs are often laugh-out-loud funny, but also serve as a constant grounding contrast to the attempts at transcendence or belonging depicted in songs such as “Tattoo,” a humorous yet serious account of a boy trying to make the transition to adulthood; “what makes a man a man?” he wonders before deciding maybe a tattoo is the answer, a choice he has decidedly mixed feelings about once it’s too late to go back. The segue from a PSA suggesting “go to the church of your choice” to the sweetly sung opening line “Our love was...,” from the song of the same name, backed by chiming guitars that are only slightly more forceful than those on a Byrds’ album, places an older road to happiness next to the newer generation’s choice. Sadly, the love sung about is in the past tense. The rightful centerpiece of the album is “I Can See for Miles,” an angry denouncement of a strayed lover. Musically the song matches the lyrics’ rage through Keith Moon’s powerful drumming and Pete Townshend’s manic guitar as the chorus climaxes. The mystical potential for utopia depicted in “Armenia” is now turned to more mundane matters as a type of special sight is credited with allowing the narrator to detect the infidelity. The next song, “I Can’t Reach You,” further distances us from the unattainable dream of the city in the sky with a much sadder tone; transcendence is within the grasp but crumbles away–“I caught a glimpse of your unguarded untouched heart / but my mind tore us apart.” Don’t let me mislead you into thinking this is an album of moping ballads though; The Who’s trademark powerful sound is front and center here, but it is nuanced thoughtfully by the sensitivity expected especially from the pen of Townshend and the voice of Roger Daltry.
Author Comments: 

I posted most of these a couple of years ago and finally completed it recently. Nothing like efficiency, is there? Anyway, the new reviews are the ones for #5, The Doors, #8, Music in a Doll's House, and #10, The Who Sell Out.

The title of this list was "The Twenty-Five Greatest Psychedelic Albums," but because of the length of the first ten reviews, I hopefully will get to work soon on a second list of "Greatest Psychedelic Albums (11-20)." I hope that won't take another two years.

I've limited the psychedelic era to roughly the years 1966-1970. I realize that this strict time period could be expanded if some early prog-rock (which evolved out of psychedelia) and neo-psych albums being released even up to today were included, but this is the period I love the most, and it certainly makes the list more manageable.

Any comments, questions, or disagreements over my rankings are certainly welcome.

Great list! I cheer your triumphant return!

Have you ever noticed that those wacky British critics always love The Notorious Byrd Brothers while the Americans lean towards the first album or Younger Than Yesterday? And no, I have little idea why that is.

The "Feed Your Sheep" from Volunteers strikes me as a fun echo of Pillow's command to "feed your head."

Have you heard the Airplane's live Monterey album? I haven't, but I've heard good things.

Anyhow, welcome back! I love the list!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Yeah, for a long time Younger Than Yesterday was my favorite, but at some point over the last year or so, I realized I always reach for The Notorious Byrd Brothers first when I want to listen to the Byrds. I guess those kooky Brits may be on to something;)

Yeah, I didn't think about the echo in the two "feed" lines, but it's certainly there. I really think Jefferson Airplane is underrated; for some reason, many people seem to think of them as merely relics of the sixties, while other great late-sixties bands that grew up in the psychedelic scene are rightly celebrated.

Johnny Waco

Wow, what a wonderful way to start the day! Not only to see that you're back, but with a great list to boot! I've been lamenting your disappearance for quite some time. :-) I believe last time you were here we had successfully traded movie recommendations, A Fish Called Wanda for The Verdict. You'll have to let me know if and when you're game for round two. Welcome back!

Thanks Jim! I actually check in on listology fairly frequently, even if I didn't post anything...I definitely would be up for trading another movie. Your first choice wasn't too shabby;)

Johnny Waco

Cool! Have you seen Panic with William H. Macy?

No, I'm not sure I have even heard of it. I like William Macy, so I'd certainly be interested. Could you tell me more about it?

Johnny Waco

William H. Macy plays a hit man who was taught the business by his father, played by Donald Sutherland. Macy is in therapy and wants out. I'm trying to build a cult following. :-) Here's a good Listology discussion with a couple links.

Great list AND commentary. Were your parents hippies? LOL. I look forward to reading more.

Thanks for the comments! Funnily enough, I grew up in a pretty religious household where rock 'n' roll was OUT! Finally when I entered high school, the oldies radio stations were allowed, presumably because the songs were innocent and meaningless. Of course, neither was true, and I slowly started picking up on the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, etc. And well, here I am today. Although the more albums I hear, the more I find out about that I haven't heard...when will this cycle end?

Johnny Waco

I got around early for work this morning, so while I waited on waking my wife up (she has to drive me in), I flipped on the telly and lo and behold, A&E was airing Easy Rider with a terrific print (Wow, I didn't know this film was in color!), so how can I not stop by your terrific list today?

I was a little surprised to find The Notorious Byrd Brothers at the top here, but certainly not disappointed. It is a delight, and one of the strongest albums in the Byrds' history, which, of course, makes it one of the stronger American rock albums ever. Your descriptions of the songs were incredibly evocative; I could almost hear the tunes playing behind me as I read your luscious lines. Your observation about the short running time of the songs is very apt, as it probably goes a long distance in explaining the lean power of the album, a strength not usually associated with psychedelic music.

Ah, Forever Changes. Recently watching Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, I bathed in the opening strains of Alone Again Or and wondered, at that point, how anybody could doubt Anderson was going places. You see more darkness in the album than I usually do, but I think you are the clear-eyed one; the music may be lovely, but the lyrics are often not quite so effortlessly light. Somebody should make a Arthur Lee story; his life is at least as intriguing as more celebrated rock icons, and Forever Changes kills almost every rock album ever made. Interesting that you managed to quote nearly every one of my favorite lines from the album. Also interesting that you typed so many lyrics without mentioning the infamous snot / crystal phrases that manage to worm into nearly every review I read for this album.

I am not a huge Jefferson Airplane fan, and yet, I *am* a big fan of Surrealistic Pillow. Your argument for its unique status standing in opposition of the simplistic modern views of psychedlica is strong and convincing; it *is* knowing and yet apolitical. It is rather a unique beast, which is, naturally, one of its greatest strengths. Another is the album's incredible dynamics - loud soft abrasive comforting bass treble - the album seems to embody so many opposing nodes, and is very rich for it.

Nice assessment of Mind Gardens. I'm not sure anybody has pegged it (however unintentional) roll on the album's lineup quiet so dead-on. I also love your portrait of conflicting egos harshly grinding together and, for a brief second, showering enough sparks to burst out with brilliance shortly before puttering out.

I really need to get a copy of Odyssey and Oracle. I know the Zombies mostly by songs and chunks of albums, but your description makes me feel the need to know this work as a whole.

Work beckons, so I'll write more later. Your study of this misunderstood genre is very penetrating, discovering and highlighting the often vivid contrasts between the more recognized optimistic strains of the music with the lesser noticed darkness creeping in from the edges and at times rising up from the center of the scene. Viewing this music several decades away, too many miss that delicate balance within the brighter, larger, and easier to spot elements of the art. Your list and descriptions are telescopes, bringing out the subtle and making this style of music loom all the larger.

Great job! I can't wait for the rest...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Hey lbangs,

Thanks for the comments! This is the kind of post all listologists live for;) I know this is a music list, but I love your reference to Easy Rider: I haven't included the soundtrack here, but both the soundtrack and the movie itself really represent a lot of what is so compelling about this era. Like the music, the movie has a lot of complexity that many people who have never seen the film deny it.

Like I said in an earlier post, Notorious Byrd Brothers has slowly become my favorite Byrds album. Amazingly, no big singles came off this album, but it is certainly stronger than Fifth Dimension, which contains perhaps the best Byrds single, "Eight Miles High."

I also agree about Arthur Lee's life story. I saw recently that he has just gotten out of prison. It is interesting that of the three African-Americans I mentioned as being involved in psychedelia, none has had a smooth ride after an initial burst of creativity; of course Hendrix is dead, but Stone has been mired in drug problems for decades it seems, and Lee has been imprisoned more than once I believe. Did all three have trouble coping with a music scene so overwhelmingly white? A fascinating question.

Thanks agin for the compliments. They should give me a definite motivation to get this list completed.

Johnny Waco

What about something by the 13th Floor Elevators, say, Manicure Your Mind?

You know, I haven't heard Manicure Your Mind, but Psychedelic Sounds will definitely be included by the time I get finished here.

Johnny Waco

I love the album by Spirit! Certainly underrated in my book.

Yeah, I was surprised how much I loved it when I first heard it, considering that I knew so little about it compared to a lot of the other bands/albums here. Thanks for the response!

Johnny Waco

Another visit to this list, and another hour or so lost in reading. Terrific. I love how you address the chaos on the Doors' album; Light My Fire, to these ears, works so well because it does a trick Neil Young often pulls off. It descends into madness and then throws back the curtain to show that there always was a crazy structure lurking behind the murk all along.

I really think you could write a book on The Byrds. Your observations are so apt, and your expression so original, I am sure the volume would quickly join my bookshelf of favorite music books. I run across only a handful of critiques each year I can honestly call enlightening, and your takes on the Byrds' albums certainly count.

I need to nab that Family album...

I guess I am off to this list's sequel! Thanks!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks for the exceedingly kind words! Now that you mention it, Neil Young does have some interesting similarities to The Doors. Besides the flirtation with chaos, Young seems to have an understanding of the darkness that underlies the rock scene, a darkness The Doors refer to specifically in the Psychedelic period. I think of everything from Tonight's the Night to Rust Never Sleeps, and it's as if Young sees something clearly that everyone around him doesn't, lost as they are in the moment. The difference, I think, is that Morrisson revels in that darkness while Young seems to be simultaneously attracted and repulsed/angered by it.

And thanks for what you said about what I wrote on The Byrds. All I can say is, I guess it comes through when you truly love what you are writing about;)

Johnny Waco

Excellent comments comparing and contrasting The Doors with Neil Young. You are right, of course; Young seems to disdain the seductive darkness, while Jim seems to find it the perfect playing field.

I'm serious about your Byrds comments. They are incredibly insightful, and I loved reading (and re-reading) them.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Excellent reviews all around! This is one of the best lists on the sites, IMHO, and I love this line from the Spirit review.

"If there’s one psychedelic album where you can imagine everyone in the band smiling the entire time they’re playing and recording, this is it."

I'm off to part two.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thank you, as always, for the praise. Anything by Spirit is guaranteed to make me feel great--just a very joyful band, even though they do address more serious topics.

Johnny Waco

It is too bad you don't have a vinyl set-up, since Sundazed has been unearthing a motherlode of unreleased rarities from the Byrds, but only as vinyl-only releases...

Keep up the great work!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Ahh, I regret that too, although it may be a couple of years before I can rectify that. (But I do have a worldband radio--go number stations!)

You mentioned on one of your posts that you had slightly different ideas of what constituted Psychedelic music; I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on that because I wrestled with the genre question at times. For instance, I still don't know if I should consider some of the early Sly and the Family Stone albums; I still may at some point.

Johnny Waco

I'll have to ponder this a bit. I am not sure how different our ideas of the genre are. I simply noticed a few albums you posted and caught myself surprised to see them included in the list. I think the truth may just be my tendancy to think of a given album as something other than psychedelic, even when I recognize the genre is a huge influence. Revolver pops to mind.

Which makes me think, I noticed that the unfairly-bashed, frankly quite good critic Rob Sheffield argues that Revolver's reputation began to ascend when its original English configuration was finally released in the US on CD. It is an interesting thought, and I do think that played a role, but I doubt it tells the whole story. I wonder if the change in listener habits was even more vital to the album's boost. People gravitate more towards greatest hits compilations than to conceptual albums nowadays, and with that shift, an album such as Revovler which nearly plays as a collection of singles seem to be getting more attention, while more conceptual albums such as Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Road seem to have slipped a bit in critical esteem.

Do you think I have a point, do you favor Rob's explanation, do you think we are both right (as I do), or do you have another idea? It is always possible that Revolver really is the best Beatles' album, and the critics were slow to see that fact. I still haven't. :)

And now I'm rambling... and I still haven't answered your question.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

First off, let me address Sheffield and Revolver. (by the way, I like his writing as well) I'm not really aware of how the original U.S. version played, so I'm not going to offer an opinion on that, but what you say about albums that play like singles collections gaining a bigger hearing is certainly something to ponder. Isn't Revolver often considered by present critics to be The Beatles' best album? And it used to be Sgt. Peppers? If that is the case, which I think it is, than I agree with you, don't know about Sheffield, but would also offer this: perhaps the influence issue is also at play here; if Sgt. Peppers is the pinnacle of The Beatles as a Psych band, then Revolver is where it all started, and it led to not only Sgt. Peppers, but indirectly to so many of the other genre- and ground-breaking albums of the late sixties (Psych or not). I agree with what you would say, that influence should not be a factor, but it probably is in many cases.

A parallel may also be drawn between Pet Sounds and Revolver, two albums that have ascended in reputation. Both are expertly crafted pop-rock albums that incorporate innovations, but don't go as far "out there" as many albums that followed; perhaps they are both seen as the perfect balance of ambition and discipline?

Johnny Waco (whose next post will address which albums made the cut for consideration)

Thanks for the thoughts. I do think Revolver is consider by most critics as The Beatles' best album, and yes, I think you may be right about the album's influence, which is usually at least a factor an album's critical esteem, for better or for worse.

I'm not sure about the Beach Boys comparison, though. I think if this thinking held true, either Today! or Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) might be praised as the band's best. As far as I know, Pet Sounds has been at the top of the Beach Boys heap for quite some time now. It has been placing higher in many 'Greatest' polls, but that may be partially due to the rise (especially in England, or at least more popular there) of much music more obviously influence by the disc. I think it is almost certainly the European critics who have been behind the rise.

In fact, it seems that as the years go by, some of the Beach Boy's later, more experimental albums are actually growing more acclaimed.

But I may not be fully understanding the gist of your comparison, and I guess that really wasn't your main point anyway (which probably just goes to show how little sleep I've had lately). I think you are right about influence, which I believe now raises our number of possible influences on the rise of Revolver to four.


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I won't blame your lack of sleep, but rather my lack of precision; I didn't mean Pet Sounds among The Beach Boys albums, but among all albums period; we see it sometimes ranked the greatest album ever, and I wonder if part of that is that balance between perfect popcraft and ambitious vision. I do see what you're saying about the music it has influenced in England too, though.

As far as the albums I've considered for inclusion here, I have definitely taken a "wide-net" approach. I couldn't justify leaving out an album like Revolver, which contains elements of experimentation that would be so important to both their later albums and other psychedelic albums, when an album like Surrealistic Pillow, which is widely considered part of the "canon" of psych, sounds more like an album of finely crafted folk-rock than what we popularly think of as psych. I considered everything from the actual music, to lyrical vision, to a certain intangible spirit in deciding what to include. So I certainly admit that some might not agree with all of my inclusions.

Johnny Waco