San Francisco Psychedelic Rock

By | April 5, 2018

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CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - 2013/03/30: Haight-Ashbury is a district of San Francisco named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. It is also called The Haight. (Photo by John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The psychedelic rock style of rock music that became popular in the 1960’s was an era that was largely inspired by hallucinogens, or so-called “mind-expanding” drugs such as marijuana and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide; “acid”), and that reflected drug-induced states through the use of feedback, electronics, and intense volume.

Chances are you have heard of a beatnik. In case you haven’t, a beatnik is a stereotypical cultural term to describe individuals who bought into the literary movement in the 1950’s. There was an entire generation of beatniks. Typically, beatniks were known for their drug use and pseudointellectualism; meaning that no one really understood them! They were typically characterized as almost cartoonish, yet real-life people. They seemingly didn’t have a care in the world but were “deep” at the same time.

Beatniks were easily identified just by looking at them.

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The beatnik generation in America was growing by the 1960’s. They were a generation of poets, writers, jazz players and artists. Folk music was in full swing at the time and Johnny Mathis was making the pop music charts.

The 1960’s were years of experimentation, and psychedelic music featured psychedelic rock bands with new sounds.

After the Beatles landed in America, bands started cropping up everywhere in hopes of the San Francisco Bay Area’s answer to the new beat they brought across the big pond. Countless musicians were inspired to crank out their own version of loud “garage pop” bands. Quite a few of these bands were inspirations for the punk movement of the 1970’s and a new breed of “garage psychedelic pop” bands. Many of these psychedelic bands evolved into rock groups that carried the San Francisco sound to the rest of the country and Europe.

By the mid 60’s, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco had become somewhat of a mecca for the new hippie generation. Young people were seeking the meaning of life as well as the new-found freedom the counterculture had brought to light.

Rock music jam sessions were very popular during the growing “Beat Generation.”

The newly popular psychedelic experience was responsible for inspiring a lot of improvisational music that gave rock music an entirely new dimension for expression. Song lyrics wafted toward new subjects beyond typical norm, boy-meets-girl and fast-car themes. Lyrics were trending more along the lines of absurd descriptions of the inward journey of the mind, or the counterculture lifestyle.

The psychedelic experiences suggested more use of feedback and distortion, more sound effects, with a varied degree of orchestration. Some bands were committed to the lifestyle as well as to playing while stoned. All bands were challenged by this new mood of innovation.

Back in the day, San Francisco was a known as hotbed of experimental music. The jazz scene in the Fillmore district of San Francisco in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s is said to have been where experimental and improvisational music on the West Coast began.