Stuck in the Psychedelic Era
- Thursdays, 12:00pm–2:00pm
show featuring music from roughly the years 1964-70. The
show is rooted in the music generated by self-contained
American bands of the late 1960s (and their British
inspirations), yet is constantly expanding beyond those
roots to create an eclectic blend of music unlike anything
else in modern radio.
scratches and all. The rest comes from Compact Disc
compilations and re-issues of original albums, all taken
from the Hermit’s personal collection.
late 1960s the style is clean and direct, with no jingles,
stingers or pre-recorded promos to clutter up the mix.
Commentary is centered on the music itself: artist
histories, contextual information, anecdotes, personal
memories and occasional forays into how the music of the
psychedelic era relates to today’s world.
Every week, Finger Lakes Public
Radio presents “Stuck in the Psychedelic Era,” a two-hour show about
music; specifically the recorded music that came about as a result of
the temporary democratization of the U.S. record industry in the mid to
late 60s. This democratization was due to a convergence of several
factors at exactly the right time.
The first wave of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid 1950s, itself
inspired by early 50s rhythm and blues, laid the groundwork for music as
a voice of youthful rebellion. The older generation of the time was at
first bemused and befuddled by this new music. As its popularity
increased, however, the older generation’s reaction to it changed to
fear and anger. Rock ‘n’ roll was seen in some circles as a threat to
the American way of life. Ultimately, the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll
was co-opted and compromised, becoming a multi-million dollar industry.
Many of the early stars of rock ‘n’ roll found themselves outside of
this industry, replaced by safer, made-to-order pop stars. Elvis
Presley, the undisputed King of early rock ‘n’ roll, found himself
drafted into military service, his career temporarily derailed at a
crucial time. Other big stars, such as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis,
found themselves having legal difficulties. Still others, such as
“Little Richard” Penniman, chose to leave rock ‘n’ roll altogether.
Meanwhile, a new grass-roots folk music movement was sweeping
the nation. Major folk music voices of the 1940s such as Pete Seeger and
Woodie Guthrie, having been silenced by the McCarthyism of the early
50s, began to make themselves heard once again by the end of the decade,
soon to be joined by a cadre of new talent that included Joan Baez,
Peter, Paul and Mary, and a young man calling himself Bob Dylan. At the
same time, a new phenomena was developing across the nation: regional
rock ‘n’ roll bands were springing up, playing local sock hops and
occasionally getting limited airplay on local radio stations alongside
the national hits. Although all of these new musical “scenes” were
direct descendants of 50s rock ‘n’ roll, each had its own unique take on
the music. Bands in the Chicago area had a solid blues influence, while
those in Detroit were more R&B oriented. The New York metro area
boasted several “Blue-Eyed Soul” bands and doo-wop, while bands in Texas
incorporated traditional Mexican arrangements and instrumentation.
The most successful regional music scenes, however, were up and
down the affluent West Coast. The Pacific Northwest region was home to
the loudest and brashest musical scene of all, producing, among others,
the song “Louie Louie1” in 1963. From further
down the coast, vocalists Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys were joined
by instrumental groups such as the Ventures and Dick Dale and the
Del-Tones to make Surf Music a national phenomenon in the early 60s.
Against this backdrop of a grass-roots folk scene and the
various regional rock ‘n’ roll scenes came the catalyst that would make
the democratization of the American music industry not only possible,
but inevitable: the British Invasion.
In the early 60s, the heart of the pop music industry in
America was New York City. Rock impresarios such as Don Kirschner, who
controlled the songwriting factory known as the Brill Building, and top
record producers such as Phil Specter with his “wall of sound,”
dominated the industry. A typical hit song would start out as a
composition by a Brill Building songwriter or team such as Neil Sedaka
or Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The song would then be turned over to a
producer like Specter, who would book studio time and line up
professional (but uncredited2) studio
musicians to record the instrumental tracks. Once those tracks were
recorded, the featured vocalist(s) would come in to record vocal tracks,
and then anonymous backup singers would be brought in to flesh out the
final recording. The final step in the process of manufacturing a hit
record would be to send the final take out to a record pressing plant3.
From there it was simply a matter of promotion and distribution, most
of which was ultimately controlled by the major record labels.
Led by the Beatles, the British Invasion changed all this. In
part necessitated by the economic realities of the British music
industry, the British bands were much more self-contained; they wrote
their own songs, played their own instruments and sang their own lead
and backup vocals. The total production costs were far less than in the
U.S. and were often paid for by the band members themselves. Perhaps
more than any other factor, it was this economic model that led to the
democratization of the U.S. music industry in the late 1960s.
From a business standpoint, the essential reality of the
British Invasion was that it was now possible to sell more copies of a
relatively inexpensive British recording than a more expensive American
recording. As it was virtually impossible to significantly lower
production costs (due in part to existing union wage scales for studio
musicians), industry leaders found themselves at a loss as to how to
The answer to this dilemma would not come from the music
industry itself. Instead, it was the members of the folk music movement
and the various regional music scenes who found a way to beat the
British at their own game.
Folk music artists had always performed a repertoire that was a
combination of traditional songs and original compositions. There were
no professional writers of folk songs that were not themselves
performers. Although many folk singers would perform each other’s songs,
going outside the community for material was simply not part of the
At the same time, the regional music scenes were populated
mainly by selfcontained four or five member bands making a living by
covering the most popular songs of the day. Although songwriting was not
a priority for these “cover” bands, many of them came to realize that
having one or two original “signature” songs was a way to make them
stand out from the pack without alienating their core audience: the
young baby boomers who would turn out at the local teen clubs and high
school gymnasiums to dance to their favorite tunes.
Sensing vulnerability at the traditional power centers of the
music industry (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), smaller regional labels
and promoters began signing more and more local bands, creating more
regional hits. The more ambitious local promoters, along with national
record distributors sensing an opportunity, began to pick up these
regional hits for national circulation.
There were external factors playing a part in the
democratization of American popular music as well. As the first wave of
baby boomers graduated high school and entered college, they began to
develop a new political and social awareness, becoming intertwined with
the Civil Rights and Peace movements. The psychopharmacological
experiments of Dr. Timothy Leary and others, combined with the natural
rebelliousness of youth, resulted in an explosion in popularity of
mind-expanding drugs. First folk music, then regional rock, became the
voice of a new generation of young Americans. In 1965 Bob Dylan, to the
chagrin of many of his early fans, began experimenting with rock
instrumentation overlaid onto his own unique style of folk music. The
result was a whole new musical hybrid, Folk-Rock, which took root in the
L.A. club scene, giving birth to such bands as the Byrds, Buffalo
Springfield, and Love, all of which boasted multiple songwriters.
By early 1967, American pop music had reached its peak of
democratization. The British Invasion was still going strong, with newer
bands like the Who and Cream joining the Beatles, Rolling Stones and a
rapidly maturing Kinks. Several bands from psychedelic epicenter San
Francisco, including Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, were on
the verge of becoming a national phenomenon, as was a young guitarist
who had just relocated to England and formed a new band: The Jimi
Hendrix Experience. Rhythm and Blues, which had given birth to rock ‘n’
roll in the early 50s, had itself evolved into several regional sounds,
including Detroit’s “Motown Sound” which overlaid the traditional
R&B beat with a highly accessible form of melodic pop, and “Memphis
Soul,” with its decidedly Southern gospel flavor. The Beach Boys, the
top group of the surf era, were still going strong and had just released
the most expensive single ever produced, the classic Good Vibrations,
and were reportedly working on a new project called “Smile.” Frank
Zappa’s Mothers of Invention had released their first album Freak Out,
which incorporated an avant-garde element inspired by early 20th century
composer Edgard Varese. There were even hits coming from groups like
the Four Seasons, throwbacks to the pre-Beatle methods of producing
songs. And of course there were all those regional bands hitting the
national charts, if (in most cases) only for one song.
Perhaps the most significant byproduct of the democratization
of American Popular music was a sense of ownership shared by both artist
and audience that has not been equaled since. This sense of shared
ownership persisted into the early 70s for most people4, and still exists today among a fortunate few5.
And that is what getting Stuck in the Psychedelic Era with the
Hermit is really all about. I invite you to join me to share the music.
were six companies that owned record manufacturing plants: RCA Victor,
Decca and Columbia in New York, Mercury in Chicago, and Capitol and MGM
in Los Angeles. Virtually all vinyl records manufactured in the U.S.
came from those plants.