Apr 132009

I may soon find that my premise was not worth bringing to the Halls of Rock for possible scintillating discussion, but that’s the way it goes around here. Driving in this morning I was listening to a collection of obscure ’60s psych recordings that came with the recent edition of Mojo with a Who Sell-Out article and Nick Lowe interview. While enjoying the songs for what they were, I got to thinking about whether any “psychedelic” lyrics ever made an impression on me if they didn’t come from a band that had first established its lyrical cred through more traditional lyrics.

For instance, as a teenager I had no beefs with George Harrison‘s “The more one travels/The less one really knows” from The Beatles’ B-side “The Inner Light,” to show you how forgiving I could be. Same goes for a much better song, The Byrds‘ “Eight Miles High.” Cool music, cool enough sentiments. To this day I dig the lyrics of these songs. I’d already liked my share of songs and lyrics by these artists, so perhaps, based on some form of the Sincerity Fallacy, it sounded like progress when they moved into psychedelic territory.

On the other hand a song like “Journey to the Center of Your Mind,” cool as it is musically, never carried any weight with me musically. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t have any prior respect for the lyrical content of The Amboy Dukes, but I’m more than willing to consider that to be the case. If “Strawberry Fields Forever” was the first single by The Beatles would I have brushed off the lyrics as nonsense plucked from the Psych Pshoppe? I’m equally willing to admit that I may not know how it is that I assess psychedelic lyrics from any source.

One band that trafficked in psychedelic lyrics from the starting gate, when they were “nobodies,” so to speak, and that hold up as well as any psych lyrics, in my mind, was Pink Floyd. Because I was not already a fan of later-day Floyd when I first heard the early stuff, I cannot say that they built up credibility after the fact. Those Syd Barrett lyrics actually sound original and inspired to me more often than not.

What are your experiences with psychedelic lyrics from artists who did not previously establish credibility as more conventional lyricists?


  6 Responses to “Turn Me On, Nobody”

  1. BigSteve

    Is Ted wearing eye makeup in that clip? Heavy.

  2. 1st, I call dibs on naming my band “Psych Pshoppe”

    I agree, the bands that started with trippy-dippy lyrics were bad 1st time writers who used Flower Power as a crutch to release their bad poetry as songs.

    The ones that had a backgroud pre 1966 of writing songs at least MOSTLY threw out the total shit songs

    The Rolling Stones worst lyrics were their Satanic Majesty era, but before that they had great lyrics (just saying it goes both ways)

    Mid 1960’s drugs made artistic young people think they were brilliant. Of course only a handful were, the rest dressed right and got record deals with no musical / lyrical experience

  3. alexmagic

    The general premise is probably true: people are more likely to give an artist they know more slack than someone coming in cold with less-grounded lyrics.

    But I do think delivery plays a big part in whether you can really sell more abstract, psych-leaning lyrics. More directly, I think songs that have a heavier feel, both musically and vocally, have a better chance of making a strong first impression with those kinds of lyrics.

    To take Strawberry Fields for example, the sound sets the mood, particularly the slower, phased-out parts, which give the lyrics some musical context to build upon. Put that against, say, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. While you have to allow that, sure, SFF is the better song on multiple levels, there’s still something about the presentation of the song and the sound of Lennon’s voice that sets the stage better than is done for the at least somewhat similar material on Lucy In The Sky.

    To look at less of a ringer, “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” should be DOA based on the title alone, but I think the heavier sound gives it just enough of a menacing vibe that allows the listener, or at least this listener, to give the song a shot.

    Conversely, I think “Journey To The Center of Your Mind” has a lot going for it musically, but it’s big flaw is how the vocals draw attention to the silly title. The overdramatic “Come along if you CAAAARE/Come along if you DAAAARE” stuff cuts the legs out from under the cool fuzz and guitar parts.

  4. trolleyvox

    1968 had much better hair than 2009.

  5. hrrundivbakshi

    Re: today’s Big Choice Poll —

    I vote for the year 3008 — you need to see me with my hairdo from the *next* millenium!

  6. Mr. Moderator

    You know, I’m revisiting this Amboy Dukes clip one more time before it moves off The Main Stage, and that drummer’s got some good moves!

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