My obsession with '60s psychedelic rock started around 1997, shortly after I joined college radio station KXLU 88.9 FM in Los Angeles. At the same time, I was also spinning rare groove and funk 45s at various small clubs, which led to an eventual meeting with a true superfreak. Digging on the heavy funk I was playing was a character who towered over everyone and looked straight-up like Peter Fonda in outrageous psychedelic garb. This was eons before this modern-day retro-rock revival, when a guy like this might get his ass beat walking down the street.
He also talked the talk-he was asking me about the "heavy tunes that were dynamite and outta sight" that were played that night. I was a bit taken aback by his freakiness, but also intrigued-thus began my relationship with Tartarex, the psychedelic guru from the OC that hipped me to the world of underground, mostly European, psychedelic rock. Every chance meeting with Rex resulted in me buying at least one of his mixtapes, with names like Dose of Orange Memories and Lady Sex and the Flowermen. Each handmade tape contained at least 25 songs, all recorded by bands that I had never heard of, complete with liner notes and photocopied group photos. He also made sure to include the year of release and country of origin, something missing from the rare groove mixtapes I was buying a few years earlier.
At first listen, most of the music-in particular the soaring four-part harmonies-sounded very Beatles-esque, but it grew on me. I immediately started my search, as any good beat digger would, for originals of some of these songs-I hadn't been so excited since finding old jazz and soul records that my favorite hip-hop producers got hip to years earlier. At the same time, I discovered that many hip-hop producers beat me to the punch; hearing the "Jingling Baby" break on a pretty square record by L.A. studio group The Grassroots was mind-bending as well as copping the Turtles record that got De La in heat with the RIAA (but not my hometown heroes Freestyle Fellowship, oddly enough).
What was even more of a mind fuck was the amount of shit that hadn't been sampled. When I found my first copy of the Silver Apples' first LP I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was like a remix of an old Beatles tune with the most banging drums. Checking out other bands-Can, July, Damnation of Adam Blessing-let me know that there were probably tons of acts that had a penchant for mixing their drums loud as hell with drummers that could hold down some pretty sick beats.
There are some psych records that truly stand out as solid albums musically and production-wise, and also draw the head bob out of even the most discriminating hip-hop kid. Here are the top five that I bring out to get the party started.
Nobody's Five Most Essential Psychedelic 45 Bangers
The Millennium: Prelude (Columbia)
The drummer and keyboard player of this band once belonged to garage legends The Music Machine, but traded in their black outfits and black gloves for the sparkling clean white suits of Curt Boettcher's Millennium. Their one last aggressive tune together is the intro to the band's soft psych classic album Begin. The most vibrant, catchy harpsichord melody is destroyed by the heaviest drums recorded on the West Coast.
Aphrodite's Child: Air (Polydor)
This song sounds like The Meters on acid. Along with the funky drumming and over-the-top organ playing, it has the catchiest wordless chorus à la The Meters' 'Look-Ka Py Py.' Then the psychedelics kick in as Vangelis sings 'Your mind is full of air!' through a Leslie organ and the entire song dissolves into phasing and feedback. And the drums! They're all over compressed and crash heavy with phasing and stuff.
The Time Machine: Turn Back the Time (Pathe)
Not the danciest of tunes, but an extremely drum-heavy number by a '60s French band that is sure to please. The sincerity of the lyrics, along with the violins and pan flute, give it a really sweet Euro-pop vibe that is complimented by huge banging drums that stay steady throughout the song. If that isn't enough to convince you, the b-side is the same song backwards with only pan flute and piano! I remember playing this much to Shadow's approval at the first Product Placement show in LA.
The African People: Neanderthal Man (Polydor)
Holy shit! A cover of 'Neanderthal Man' by an African psych band...or is it a French band pretending to be African? I don't know, but I found this one after eating two hash bon-bons in Amsterdam. When it came on in the headphones, the heavens opened up, and when the drum break happened I saw a man appear from the heavens with a bone in his nose. It's like Dilla played the drums for this band in 1971 somehow.
People: Glastonbury (Deram)
Not to be confused with the American band, this is a one-off single by a UK studio group. Things start off a bit slow and eerie with bell tolls and spooky vocals, but once the second verse comes in, the group's perfect harmonies cruise over a sparse piano and percussion groove that's supported by a very heavy 6/8 drum beat. You are treated to a sweet flute solo and an even sweeter drum solo towards the end of the song that leaves you with the kick drum buried deep in your chest.