The 1960s and 1970s were periods of significant cultural and musical upheaval, and while psychedelics heavily influenced rock and pop scenes, their interaction with country music was more nuanced and birthed a genre best described as psychedelic country music. The countercultural movement, with its experimentation with drugs like LSD and psilocybin, began to seep into various music genres, leading to the birth of “cosmic” or “psychedelic” country. Artists began blending traditional country sounds with psychedelic rock’s expansive, boundary-pushing elements. This fusion was evident in the works of artists like Gram Parsons, The Long Ryders, and even The Byrds – and continues to have influence today.
Psychedelic music as a genre was pivotal in challenging the norms of songwriting, instrumentation, and production. It introduced innovative techniques, like reverse tape effects, extended jam sessions, and non-Western instruments, which added layers of depth and experimentation to the music. Within the country realm, this meant a departure from the genre’s traditionally straightforward narratives and structures. The influence of psychedelia led to more abstract lyrics and experimental sounds, creating a subgenre that appealed to a broader audience, bridging the gap between rock and country fans.
Fast forward to today, the legacy of psychedelic country remains influential. Modern artists like Sturgill Simpson have incorporated psychedelic elements into their music, showcasing the genre’s lasting impact. Simpson’s “Turtles All the Way Down,” is a testament to the enduring allure of blending country’s storytelling with psychedelia’s expansive soundscapes. While the overt psychedelic era might have been a product of the ’60s and ’70s, its influence continues to ripple through contemporary country music, proving its timeless appeal.
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The Long Ryders – Make It Real
The Long Ryders, known for their pioneering blend of country, rock, and folk, have always had a knack for capturing the essence of American roots music while infusing it with contemporary energy. Their track Make It Real from the album Psychedelic Country Soul, released via Omnivore & Cherry Red Records, is a testament to this unique blend. The album title itself, Psychedelic Country Soul, suggests a fusion of traditional country sounds with the more expansive and experimental vibes of psychedelic music, and Make It Real stands as a shining example of this synthesis.
Make It Real is a journey in itself, with its layered instrumentation, evocative lyrics, and a soundscape that transports listeners to a different realm. The song’s title and lyrical content hint at the desire for authenticity and genuine experience, a theme often explored in psychedelic music. The track’s arrangement, with its swirling guitars, echoing vocals, and atmospheric production, is reminiscent of the psychedelic era, drawing listeners into a trance-like state. The song seems to beckon listeners to transcend the mundane and reach for something more profound, echoing the very essence of what psychedelics often promise.
What makes Make It Real particularly about psychedelics isn’t just its sonic qualities but its thematic depth. Psychedelics are often associated with a quest for deeper understanding, a desire to peel back the layers of reality, and to experience something more “real” than everyday life. The Long Ryders tap into this sentiment, urging listeners to not just dream or imagine but to Make It Real. The song, in essence, captures the spirit of exploration and the yearning for authenticity, making it a standout track in an album that beautifully marries country soul with psychedelic influences.
The Byrds – Eight Miles High
The Byrds, while primarily known for their folk-rock sound, did venture into psychedelic territory during the mid-to-late 1960s, influenced by the burgeoning psychedelic scene of the time.
One of the most psychedelic songs by The Byrds is Eight Miles High. Released in 1966, the song is often cited as one of the first psychedelic rock songs. Its lyrics, co-written by Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby, are somewhat abstract and are said to describe the band’s experiences and feelings during their 1965 tour of England. The song’s title and some of its lyrics have been interpreted by many as drug references, though the band has given various explanations over the years.
Musically, Eight Miles High is characterized by its jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar played by McGuinn, which was influenced by Indian raga music and John Coltrane’s jazz. The song’s structure, with its modal melody and extended guitar solos, was quite innovative for its time and helped cement its status as a psychedelic classic.
Tim Wilson – Acid Country
Tim Wilson’s Acid Country is a humorous take on blending psychedelic culture with traditional country values. Tim Wilson, known for his comedic songs and sketches, often touched on cultural and societal themes, and Acid Country is no exception.
In Acid Country, Wilson paints a picture of a traditional country town that gets introduced to the world of psychedelics. The song is filled with humorous anecdotes and scenarios, such as Grandma getting tattoos and Grandpa at a rave. The juxtaposition of the conservative, old-school country lifestyle with the wild, unpredictable nature of the psychedelic experience makes for a hilarious narrative.
The song is a playful commentary on the changing times and the blending of cultures. While it’s comedic in nature, it also touches on the broader theme of generational shifts and the unexpected ways in which different worlds can collide. Acid Country is a testament to Tim Wilson’s ability to take relevant cultural themes and turn them into comedic gold.
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Wanda Jackson – Funnel of Love
Wanda Jackson, often hailed as the “Queen of Rockabilly,” is known for her pioneering contributions to rock and roll and country music. Funnel of Love is one of her standout tracks, showcasing her distinctive vocal style and blending rockabilly with other genres.
Released in 1961, Funnel of Love is characterized by its swirling, almost hypnotic instrumentation, which is reminiscent of a whirlpool or, as the title suggests, a funnel. The song’s lyrics describe the inescapable pull of love, likening it to being caught in a vortex from which there’s no escape. Jackson’s powerful and sultry vocals give life to this metaphor, making the listener feel the intensity and inevitability of the attraction she describes.
While Funnel of Love isn’t overtly psychedelic, it became a popular song for the psychedelically inclined later in the 1960s due to its mesmerizing rhythm and evocative lyrics, giving it a timeless quality. The track remains one of Wanda Jackson’s most beloved songs, highlighting her ability to capture complex emotions with her unique voice and musical style.
The Skygreen Leopards – Disciples of California
The Skygreen Leopards are an indie folk/psychedelic pop duo consisting of Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn. Their music is characterized by its lo-fi production, whimsical lyrics, and a sound that draws from 1960s folk and psychedelic pop.
Disciples of California, a track from their 2006 album of the same name, is a prime example of their signature style. Like much of the album, the song is imbued with sun-soaked, nostalgic vibes that evoke images of the Golden State during the 1960s and 1970s. The lyrics touch on themes of freedom, youth, and the allure of California as a promised land of sorts, especially during the counterculture era.
Musically, Disciples of California features jangly guitars, harmonious vocals, and a laid-back rhythm that’s reminiscent of classic West Coast pop. The Skygreen Leopards’ ability to channel the spirit of a bygone era while adding their unique touch makes Disciples of California a delightful listen for those who appreciate a blend of modern indie with vintage psychedelic and folk influences.
Sturgill Simpson – Turtles All The Way Down
Sturgill Simpson’s Turtles All the Way Down is a standout track from his 2014 Metamodern Sounds in Country Music album. The song, both in its lyrical content and its sonic landscape, represents a departure from traditional country themes, blending introspective and existential musings with the classic country sound.
Lyrically, Turtles All the Way Down delves into Simpson’s personal experiences with drugs, spirituality, and the quest for understanding of the universe. The title references an anecdote in cosmology and philosophy, suggesting that the world sits on the back of a turtle, which stands on another turtle, and so on, in an infinite regression. This metaphor explores the mysteries of existence and the nature of reality. Throughout the song, Simpson name-checks various substances like marijuana, LSD, and DMT, discussing their effects and their inability to provide ultimate answers to his existential questions.
Musically, while the track retains a country foundation with Simpson’s deep voice and the twang of guitars, there’s an ethereal quality to it, hinting at the psychedelic influences that permeate the entire album. Turtles All the Way Down and Metamodern Sounds in Country Music showcase Sturgill Simpson’s ability to push the boundaries of country music, blending traditional sounds with modern themes and explorations. The song is a testament to Simpson’s unique place in the contemporary country landscape, where he bridges the gap between classic country traditions and forward-thinking musical experimentation.
Psychedelic music, whether country, rock, folk, or new styles like EDM, has roots in music from the heyday of psychedelics. Artists like those mentioned here, and many others, crafted songs that weren’t just about psychedelics, but freedom, the American dream, and a desire to explore the unknown. That legacy continues into more modern times as artists use psychedelic elements to capture their listeners’ imaginations. Like psychedelics, music will always open the heart, mind, and stir the human spirit.
This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.