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The days were dark, yet hopeful, in the modern Renaissance age of the 60s. It was a time of cultural and political change, a metamorphosis from the rigid values of the Old World to ones of empathy, compassion, self-expression and individuality.
From shady establishments, such as the San Francisco Matrix club, to places of rigid academia, a world-changing force was bearing its fangs. Some of the most acclaimed, most revered artists bloomed in this time period – Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Syd Barrett, even Hunter S. Thompson who notes it, “was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.” And he couldn’t have been more right.
Such a soulful expression born from a generation of misfits hasn’t materialised since, at least as of yet.
There is no denying that the 60s and 70s were fuelled by the discovery and dissemination of powerful drugs – LSD-25, Psilocybin mushrooms, Mescaline and marijuana ruled these times.
The psychedelic experience was king – the status quo, the cutting edge, and art reflected exactly that. Mind-altering experiences were in the air– whether VHF or radio and records, tapes, wax cylinders if you may…
Psych–Rock is a genre of music that aims to mimic the psychedelic experience: based on Rock-and-Roll, it incorporates unique rhythms, audio distortion, atmospheric sounds and eastern scales to achieve a mind-bending experience.
A great number of acclaimed bands produced music in this genre – Big Brother and The Holding company, The Doors, The Beatles just to name a few. But, as with every genre, there were gems made by bands that were doomed to be forgotten.
The life of a rock star was just as tantalising then as it is now – perhaps even more so. But not every group was chasing fame. For some, the act of creation, artistry and creativity was most important.
Sweet Smoke was a psychedelic jazz-rock band formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1967. The band later moved to Europe, living and performing in Germany, the Netherlands and France until 1974. Nothing lasts forever… that year marked the end of their reign, but not their legacy.
Just a Poke, their debut album released in 1970, is a progressive jazz-fusion masterpiece full of ethereal flute melodies, gentle and clear percussion rhythms topped with psychedelic lyrics showing the group’s specialist understanding of spirituality and interest in eastern religion.
Just like the aforementioned specialist pursuits exhibited by Sweet Smoke, some bands had different goals: musical mastery, but not success.
After All were a proto-progressive rock/heavy psych-rock band formed in Tallahassee, Florida in 1969. The hastily put-together band made up of members of a veteran quartet, produced their one and only album in a few days after a producer offered them studio time for free.
The heavy Acid-Drenched feel of the album resembles the Doors, according to some, but it was merely a mix of the eras newest styles. The album is extremely atmospheric, incredibly well-produced and full of hypnotising organ riffs and mind-bending lyrics, written by Linda Hargrove, a local poet hired by the band.
However, despite it’s mastery, after the production process was complete, all of the members of the band returned to their respective careers never to release an album again.
Some stories are more tragic, as ‘no one in this world escapes suffering’, at least according to Nietzsche, one of the world’s greatest philosophers. In his words, ‘art is closely related to suffering’, and the Texas psychedelic/progressive band Christopher is a prime subject.
After several name changes due to a contract with a music label, the band were ready to produce their first album. However, production was cut short when Doug Tull, the band’s drummer, attempted suicide due to a debilitating drug problem.
The project was finished with session musicians, and the result is a beautiful, flawed and haunting album full of obscure ideas. Ironically, the band’s name was inspired by Saint Christopher, the Patron saint of travellers and, most importantly, a martyr.
Every facet of art has its masterpieces, but there is merit to be found in the work of unsuccessful creators. All of the albums I’ve mentioned in this article have a common quality of having an extremely relaxing effect on the listener.
Unfortunately, ever since their release, getting hold of a copy can be extremely difficult and expensive. The hobby of crate-digging has become quite popular due to the mainstream attention vinyl records have been getting, as they become an intrinsic part of the music industry zeitgeist.
However, there’s an alternative since we live in the digital age: obscure and interesting music of any genre can be found online, and I’d be surprised if any of you couldn’t find a hidden gem.