In Search of Hippie Music
Psst…were you a hippy in the nineteen-sixties and seventies? Er, okay, you don’t want to answer that question, right? Or, perhaps you were too young or not even around those days. So here’s another. Did you ever like hippie music? You know what I mean, music from the psychedelic sixties, tunes that reek of incense, patchouli and, of course, other unmentionable substances.
Music, that is, from the “turn on, tune in, drop out” generation. That phrase, coined by counterculture guru Timothy Leary, became a catchall descriptor for the hippie generation.
Leary himself claimed that the phrase came to him in the shower one day in the mid-sixties after Marshall McLuhan had suggested to him that he come up with a snappy way to promote the ‘benefits’ of LSD.
Now, it’s not known whether the medium was indeed the message in the sense of whether Leary was tripping in the shower in that McLuhan moment when he thought of that brilliant phrase but there is no doubt that those six words became a mantra du jour for hippies across the world.
Hippies have been a much-maligned lot, not the least because of the movement’s pretty widespread adoption of drugs as a way of life, but one thing is for sure, some of the best popular music was born during those decades.
Genres like folk rock, for example, which attempted to marry folk styles with rock music. Among the earliest folk rockers in the US were the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash and even Bob Dylan who fused country and folk styles with rock.
In Britain, folk rock musicians blended elements from traditional genres, like Celtic and Old English music, with rock. Fairport Convention, a British band, who began in 1967 and are still around despite countless line-up changes, fused electric sounds to old English folk styles.
Lindisfarne, another British band of the late sixties, were another example of folk rockers. Besides folk rock, another example of hippie-ish music was psychedelic rock, which emerged in the same decade in both the US and Britain.
Among the earliest psych rockers were the 13th Floor Elevators, a band from Texas that barely existed for four years. Drug abuse is reported to have caused their early demise in 1969 (the year Woodstock brought hippie music to the mainstream) but the 13th Floor Elevators have been acknowledged by many musicians of that time to be a huge influence on many bands.
Even today, the long-gone band have a cult of fans and, incidentally, one such is the actor Johnny Depp. From those early years, psychedelic rock grew into a behemoth of a music movement.
Some consider San Francisco to be its epicenter from where big and better-known bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane emerged. Although the Dead were the most enduring of such bands, playing and touring relentlessly with thousands of ‘tuned-in, turned-on and dropped-out’ followers in tow, some of the nearly forgotten bands of that era produced great music too.
The Quicksilver Messenger Service (at one time, the Dead’s arch rivals), Moby Grape, The Great Society (Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane began her career with them), Fifty Foot Hose, Shiva’s Headband and the Electric Prunes are some of them.
Likewise, Britain’s Pink Floyd may be the first name that comes to mind when you think of psychedelia-infused music and the Beatles’ Revolver is cited by some as the early mainstream debut of the psychedelic sound (later full blown in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) but the genre was taking root before that among small bands in small clubs that had a few loyal fans.
Till British DJs like John Peel began giving them exposure, first on a pirate radio channel and then on the mainstream BBC. Scotland’s Incredible String Band and East London’s The Small Faces (whose Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is considered one of rock’s first concept albums) were among the pioneers in British psychedelic rock. These and many other bands of that era produced music that is very, very good but the problem is how do you get to discover them nearly forty years later? I discovered a podcast that helps you do that.
The Hippy’s Graveyard is a two-hour radio programme aired weekly by an independent non-profit FM channel run on donations at a small college in California. The programme is streamed on the Internet besides making its podcasts available anywhere in the world. The DJ, simply described as Uncle Al, digs deep into the past and comes up with tracks from bands that may have been unknown to you till now but are sure to satisfy your yearning for music of the hippie era.
To subscribe free, just go to the website and you’ll be assured of a weekly dose of hippie stuff. The music, I mean.
Listen to some ‘virtual’ tracks: