Emerging from the haze of the 1960s came a genre of rock unlike any other. Here, eight psychedelic rock songs and the stories behind their creation.
The rapid rise in popularity of psychedelic rock in the 1960s and early 1970s had a lot to do with the drug culture—but it didn’t mean the genre was devoid of creativity and deeper meaning.
The classic songs that arose from this hallucinogenic era involved experiments in everything from unconventional guitar riffs to tape splicing. The result was a genre of music unlike any other.
Here, 8 psychedelic rock songs and the “far out” stories behind their creation.
Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” (1967)
As it turns out, the lead vocals on Strawberry Alarm Clock’s biggest hit didn’t come from any of the band members.
Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” (1974)
Grateful Dead’s relationship with LSD went far beyond most psychedelic bands of the time.
Augustus Owsley, a Berkley drop-out who ran a lucrative LSD empire, bankrolled the band and supplied members with an endless supply of acid.
Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” (1968)
This classic was born out of a recorded soundcheck and the mispronunciation of the lyric “in the garden of Eden” by inebriated singer Doug Ingle.
From the initial 12-minute recording, the band continued to build on the track.
Pink Floyd’s “Money” (1973)
Band members Roger Waters and Nick Mason created the sound of jangling coins in the intro of “Money.”
“I had drilled holes in old pennies and then threaded them on to strings,” Nick Mason recalls in his autobiography Inside Out. “They gave one sound on the loop of seven. Roger had recorded coins swirling around in the mixing bowl [his wife] Judy used for her pottery. Each sound was measured out on the tape with a ruler before being cut to the same length and then carefully spliced together.”
The Doors’ “The End” (1967)
During a live performance, singer Jim Morrison would often go off script, improvising entire portions of a song. For him, it was the best way to test out new material.
“There’s nothing more fun than to play music to an audience. You can improvise at rehearsals, but it’s kind of a dead atmosphere. There’s no audience feedback,” Morrison told Rolling Stone. “There’s no tension, really, because in a club with a small audience you’re free to do anything. You still feel an obligation to be good, so you can’t get completely loose; there are people watching. So there is this beautiful tension. There’s freedom and at the same time an obligation to play well.”
The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966)
On “Tomorrow Never Knows,” John Lennon wanted his voice to sound like “the Dalai Lama chanting from a hilltop”—and he was willing to go to extraordinary measures to achieve that quality.
“He suggested we suspend him from a rope in the middle of the studio ceiling, put a mike in the middle of the floor, give him a push and he sing as he went around and around,” audio engineer Geoff Emerick told Rolling Stone.
Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” (1967)
Vocalist Grace Slick wrote “White Rabbit” a year prior to its release while playing on a piano with missing keys following an acid trip during which she listened to Miles Davis’s album Sketches Of Spain for 24 hours straight.
While the song was criticized for encouraging drug use among youth, Slick maintained that it was more of a commentary on the latent drug imagery in children’s books.
Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (1967)
Jimi Hendrix first played the riff of “Purple Haze” while warming up backstage for a show in London. Upon hearing the riff, his manager, Chas Chandler, who had made a habit of listening to Hendrix experiment with his guitar, stopped him immediately and told him to write the rest of it.
While many had assumed the lyrics referenced an LSD hallucination, Jimi told his biographer that they had come from a dream he had after reading Philip José’s novel Night of Light: Day of Dreams.
There’s also been some debate over the line, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”