Let's be honest, when we think about Psychedelic Pop, we all think about The Beatles, The Beach Boys, maybe The Zombies, or even The Byrds, but in fact there is a lot more to discover. And that's exactly what we are about to do here. So, if you like colourful 60's music, from baroque to purely weird, here are 21 albums you should definitely listen to, in no particular order.
Let's dive in!
Grapefruit - Around Grapefruit (1968)
Band founded by Alexander Young, also known as George Alexander, brother of Angus and Malcolm Young, founders of AC / DC, as well as George Young. Initially hired under the Beatles' Apple label by Terry Doran, a friend of Brian Epstein, they earned the name Grapefruit thanks to John Lennon, who gave it to them inspired by a book by Yoko Ono. Lennon and McCartney took a special interest in the band, helping them record the singles Dear Delilah and Lullaby. The first single did well, but unfortunately the second one didn't make it to the label in time, as the Beatles were in India at the time, and consequently the label dumped the band. Only towards the end of 1968 they managed to release their first album, AROUND GRAPEFRUIT. Musically the album has quite a few excellent songs, not far from certain other American bands of the period, such as the Millennium, or from the typical "McCartian" pop of the time. Small traces remain of the contribution of the two Beatles: Yes is produced by McCartney, the brass arrangement of C'Mon Marianne is by Lennon, and both appear as producers of the instrumental track of Lullaby. The album was not very successful, but it's worth a listen or two.
Grapefruit - Around Grapefruit
Colours - Colours (1968)
A band from Oklahoma that released two albums, of which the first one fully immersed in psychedelic pop. Despite its derivative nature (you can hear inspirations taken from everywhere, especially Beatles), the album is highly enjoyable and is among the best of this genre. Helping You Out would have deserved much more luck, its cheerful melody is so contagious, as is the splendid ballad Where Is She, which seems to have come out of a 90s Brit pop album, without being so predictable. And what about the crazy Rather Be Me? A schizophrenic piece worthy of the Turtles. Or the oriental-sounding Brother Lou's Love Colony, enriched by a magnificent orchestral arrangement and bagpipes. One of the most solid and enjoyable albums on this list.
Federal Duck - Federal Duck (1968)
An obscure band from Pennsylvania who released a single, self-titled album in 1968.
The overall tone of the album is quite calm, often acoustic, at times folk, always melodic and with some more lively episodes such as Easy Virtue Blues and While You're Away. Bird breaks the rhythm, a song in total contrast with the rest of the album, much heavier, distorted, almost a sort of garage rock with brasses that suddenly turns to jazz. At times some short and unexpected bluegrass tracks appear to add variety to an album which, although it cannot be defined as a masterpiece, is certainly worthy of interest.
Montage - Montage (1969)
A band from New York that released a single, self-titled album in 1969. Recorded in 1968 with the participation of Mike Brown, former keyboardist and singer of Left Banke, in fact, Brown does not appear as an official member of Montage, despite having contributed a lot to the voice arrangements and having played keyboards.
The album is among the most original and complex of the genre, just listen to She's Alone, with an orchestral arrangement and a vocal melody that moves on unusual scales and dissonances, or Tinsel And Ivy, with a totally original and unpredictable melody in the chorus. All these complexities, however, are masterfully implemented in very enjoyable and never difficult songs. It is also worth mentioning Grand Pianist, one of the most successful songs of the album, which stylistically seems to anticipate certain tracks by the Alan Parsons Project by a decade.
MONTAGE is one of the most particular and interesting albums of those years.
Manfred Mann - Mighty Garvey! (1968)
Band founded in 1962 by the keyboardist of the same name and Mike Hugg, first with Paul Jones on vocals, then, from 1966, with Mike D'Albo. After a first phase in which the band the band distinguished itself for its jazz, blues tendencies and various covers that often entered the charts, around 1966 they moved into a psychedelic phase, which resulted in a couple of interesting albums and reached its peak with Mighty Garvey!. This is a fun and colorful collection of songs ranging from Happy Families' punchy rock and roll (reprised multiple times in different guises at various points on the album) to exquisitely baroque Every Day Another Hair Turns Gray. Country Dancing is a small pop masterpiece as there are few, full of energy and unexpected details. The album has no weaknesses, and every single song is nearly perfect, from Cubist Town to Ha! Ha! Said The Clown, up to Harry The One Band Man. An album among the best of the period, which however did not have the success it deserved at the time, and, like other illustrious examples, was widely and rightly re-evaluated later.
The Third Rail - Id Music (1967)
Trio originally from New York formed by Arthur Resnick (former pop composer, having written, among others, Good Lovin for the Rascals), his wife Kris and Joey Levine. In their very short career (they did only one concert in Cincinnati), they released an interesting album driven by the moderate success of the single Run Run Run,. The style of the band is immediately clear, showing off a sunshine pop with beautiful vocal harmonies and more experimental drifts. The songs are all well made, from the martial The Ballad Of General Humpty to the exquisite string quartet arrangement which then evolves into sick psychedelia in Swingers, to the garage tendencies of Boppa Do Down Down. There is a lot of variety in an album that cannot be overlooked by fans of this genre, even if it is virtually unknown.
Nirvana - The Story Of Simon Simopath (1967)
A band born around the mid-60s from the meeting of the Irish musician Patrick Campbell-Lyons with the Greek composer Alex Spyropoulos. Their first album, by the way the first release of the newborn Island label, is probably one of the first concept albums in the history of pop music. It tells the story of Simon Simopath, a boy who dreamed of having wings from an early age. As a child he was mocked at school, and as an adult he ends up working in an office, in front of a computer; a sad life that causes him a nervous breakdown. Unable to find solace in a health institution, he builds a rocket and flies into space, meets a centaur who becomes his friend, and at the Pentecost Hotel he meets a little goddess named Magdalena. The two fall in love and finally get married.
The album lasts only twenty-five minutes, but offers a perfect sequence of pop songs among the best of the time in terms of composition and arrangements. Already the opening of Wings Of Love speaks clearly, with its magnificent orchestral interventions, and then reaches pop perfection in songs such as Satellite Jockey and, above all, Pentecost Hotel. A small masterpiece whose value goes beyond the innovation it brought.
Nirvana - The Story Of Simon Simopath
The Peppermint Trolley Company - The Peppermint Trolley Company (1968)
Californian band founded in 1966 and which, after several line-up changes and the release of a handful of singles, released their only album at the beginning of 1968. It can be inserted more or less in the sunshine pop trend, the album also contains what was probably the band's biggest hit, the ballad Baby You Come Rollin 'Cross My Mind, but each song is memorable and exquisitely arranged, often with baroque sounds. Put Your Burden Down is particularly contagious, while Reflections (On a Universal Theme) is a beautiful and harmonious baroque song and Beatiful Sun touches more experimental territories with its drum solo with some bewildered choirs added. The album will be re-released in 2009 with the title BEAUTIFUL SUN, with the addition of alternative mixes and singles.
The Rascals - Once Upon A Dream (1968)
New Jersey band founded in 1965 and first known as The Young Rascals. After a first successful phase (with songs such as Good Lovin ' and Groovin') with a repertoire with a strong r & b component and three excellent albums, in 1968 the band changed its name to The Rascals and released an interesting album that marked an important change of direction. Despite the disappointment of fans fond of their established sound, ONCE UPON A DREAM is undoubtedly a very interesting experiment totally immersed in those times. With more complexity and orchestral arrangements, narrated interludes, sounds, noises and many beautiful melodies, the album is full of surprises. From the deafening marching band winds of I'm Gonna Love You, to the exquisitely “old style” My Hawaii, the Beatlesian-inspired psychedelia is tinged with blue eyed soul and r & b in a bold but totally successful way. The inspiration from Sgt. Pepper can be seen from the structure of the album, with an introduction and an ending to encapsule everything, and the classic and inevitable Indian-inspired song in the middle (Sattva), but everything takes on more personal tones, and for this ONCE UPON A DREAM is an unfairly underestimated album, essential to understand that period.
Mark Wirtz - A Teenage Opera (1996)
An opera by producer Mark Wirtz, albeit largely in collaboration with singer Keith West, it is another of the great lost albums in pop music history. Already in '66 Wirtz had a vague idea of composing a work consisting of a series of sound sketches designed to describe characters who lived in an imaginary village, all told by a boy to a girl. The meeting with West in 1967 gave a boost to all of this, and the first, famous single Grocer Jack (Excerpts from A Teenage Opera) was released in late July 1967. The wording in brackets indicated that this song was part of something bigger, which would be released later and which would have, at least in the initial intentions, also a counterpart in the form of an animated film. Other singles came out, including Sam, but they didn't have the same luck. This, together with West's gradual disinterest, which was then focused on his band Tomorrow, also produced by Wirtz, led to him leaving the project. Some of the opera tracks ended up on the Tomorrow album, including Colonel Brown and Auntie Mary's Dress Shop, but the actual album remained locked in the drawer. We will have to wait until 1996 to be able to listen to the entire Teenage Opera, or at least what's available, published by Wirtz himself in a CD edition of about an hour and ten minutes including each piece recorded for the opera. There is therefore space for both the aforementioned songs released as a single, those later made by Tomorrow (Steve Howe himself is present in various pieces), some recorded first by Tomorrow and then re-recorded by Writz (Shy Boy and Hallucinations, here titled Mr. Rainbow ), and many instrumental pieces, all characterized by complex orchestral arrangements, children's choirs, and much more, in an almost Spectorian wall of sound. A colorful, varied and fun album, fully immersed in the times, despite its posthumous release.
Mark Wirtz - A Teenage Opera
The Critters - Touch N'Go With The Critters (1967)
Band from New Jersey born in 1964 from the meeting between the singer-songwriter Don Ciccone and the Vibratones, who decided to collaborate under the new name of The Critters. After releasing the Younger Girl album in 1966, Ciccone left the band. Without him the band went on for a couple more albums, the first of which is probably one of their best. With the help of external composers such as the duo Gordon & Bonner, (writers, among others, of Happy Together by the Turtles), the album unleashes a series of songs one more beautiful than the other, moving more decisively towards Sunshine Pop. Touch n 'Go is as memorable as it is harmonically unpredictable, while the heartwarming Reason To Believe features an epic wind arrangement. There are no weak moments here, from the euphoric It's Love to the typically hopping A Moment Of Being With You. Despite the lineup change TOUCH N 'GO WITH THE CRITTERS is a great follow-up to the already remarkable debut. A must listen for anyone who loves pop.
The Troll - Animated Music (1968)
A Chicago band that, after a handful of singles between 1966 and 1967, released their first and only album in 1968. Considered as one of the rarest and most interesting works of that era, ANIMATED MUSIC is a perfect conglomerate of baroque pop and psychedelia.
The distorted and sonorically devastating beginning of Satin City News soon gives way to the orchestral and melodic Mr. Abernathy, to then arrive at the complete vaudeville of the crazy Professor Pott's Pornographic Projector or the baroque and theatrical Have You Seen The Queen. The whole album is as varied and ambitious as the best works of those years, and one wonders why it wasn't given more consideration at the time.
A beautiful cover artwork completes a work that deserves to be rediscovered.
The Smoke - The Smoke (1968)
Not to be confused with the English band of the same name, the American Smoke is mainly a studio project by the very young producer Michael Lloyd, already busy with the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and October Country. The album is an obvious tribute to his idols The Beatles and The Beach Boys, with various stylistic references to both. There is a lot of color, a lot of melody and varied arrangements between psychedelic and baroque. All the tracks are memorable, from the magnificent opening of Cowboys & Indians (perhaps a reference to Heroes And Villains by the Beach Boys), to the complex closing of Odyssey, which in less than four minutes shows a remarkable complexity without being difficult to listen to. Some songs, like October Country and Cowboys And Indians, were already recorded for the October Country project, and are being re-proposed here in a new guise. An album highly recommended to anyone, which despite the lack of success at the time proves to be among the best albums of that period.
The Yellow Balloon - The Yellow Balloon (1967)
Only album by this Los Angeles band born from the mind of composer Gary Zekley and with actor Don Grady among others. The song that gives the title to the album and the band, Yellow Balloon, had already been proposed to Dean Torrence for his album under the name of Jan & Dean (SAVE FOR A RAINY DAY), but Zekley was not totally satisfied with the result, and then decided to distribute the song to various labels. Ken Handler of Canterbury Records was thrilled, and agreed to record it by calling some musicians. When the single came out it was in direct competition with the version of Jan & Dean, which, however, damaged by various contractual problems, remained far behind in the charts. The Yellow Balloon version reached number 25, with Noollab Wolley as side B, which is the same song but backwards. They then decided to make an album, also of the same name. The songs contained within it draw heavily from the best of sunshine pop, with beautiful vocal harmonies not far from the Beach Boys of the '63 -'65 era. A beautiful light and sunny album that unfortunately did not reach the anticipated success of the single, and which therefore brought the "band" to the dissolution and the album to an undeserved oblivion.
The Fun And Games - Elephant Candy (1968)
Houston band discovered and produced by Gary Zekley, the latter already an integral part in Yellow Balloon, which released only one album in 1968. Understandably, given Zekley's contribution also in the composition of some songs, the result is not far from Yellow Balloon; therefore ample space for vocal harmonies, sunny and hopping songs, and a general light-heartedness and colored euphoria. The Grooviest Girl In The World is the single extracted, which entered the Billboard hot 100 in early 1969.
The rest of the album continues on similar tracks, from Sadie's baroque harpsichord to a garage rock version of the Beach Boys on the title track. The band disbanded shortly after the release of ELEPHANT CANDY, but their only work remains a must for fans of sunshine pop.
Chad & Jeremy - The Ark (1968)
After the commercial failure of the wonderful OF CABBAGES AND KINGS, Chad & Jeremy attempted to continue along the path of psychedelia, achieving even more disappointing results in the charts. Usher made Columbia invest huge sums of money to make this album, leading to his firing. And if the previous album was greeted with tepid indifference, THE ARK even caused some bit of resentment that continues today; for example, it is enough to mention AllMusic that liquidates the album with a phrase such as “they thought they were making art”.
However, if you leave aside certain snobbish tendencies, THE ARK turns out to be an excellent collection of songs that leaves behind the experimentation of the Progress Suite of the previous album and indulges in genuinely melodic and excellently arranged songs. From the oriental tones of Sunstroke to the sunny The Emancipation of Mr. X and Imagination, up to the undisputed peak of the album, the multiform Painted Dayglow Smile, manifesto not only of this phase of the duo but of the entire psychedelic baroque pop genre. Every single song in THE ARK is worth listening to, as a testimony of the best talents of Chad & Jeremy, as well as the always excellent and varied production of Gary Usher. The curious cover of You Need Feet closes a small masterpiece unfortunately "killed" by the dissolution of the duo just after having made a handful of songs for the soundtrack of THREE IN THE ATTIC, mainly caused by economic debts due to THE ARK and by the now worn relationship with Columbia.
The Blackwood Apology - House of Leather (1968)
One of the most interesting and obscure albums of this era, born from the mind of the then 23 year old Dale Menten. After finally landing a contract with Fontana for his band, he focused on creating a concept album set in a brothel with a gun ammunition factory in the basement, during the American Civil War. Stylistically the album combines psychedelic rock and pop very well, often resorting to short musical fragments linked together, with sometimes schizophrenic but certainly interesting and successful results. The album sold fairly well at the time, which convinced Menten to get in touch with playwright Frederick Gaines to make a theatrical performance. The show premiered at the Cricket Theater in Minnesota in March 1969, an approximately 90-seat theater, and 50 shows were performed there. The band, with a slightly revised lineup, performed live during the shows, and also won two Connie Awards. This prompted Menten to try to take the show to Broadway, investing a lot of money on the project. Unfortunately, however, there were several problems during the production, from the replacement of the actors with New York performers, to tensions between the musicians that led to other changes in the lineup. The result was a harshly criticized performance that closed after just one evening, putting an end to the project, including an already planned soundtrack with the Capitol, which never saw the light.
Alan Bown - Outward Bown First Album (1968)
Alan Bown was a trumpet player, he joined his first band, The Embers, in 1963, playing jazz and r & b music. After also being part of the John Berry Seven, in 1965 he formed the Alan Bown Set, with which he recorded three unsuccessful singles, until the formation, in 1967, of The Alan Bown!, a more psychedelic band. The first album was released in 1968, preceded by a series of moderately successful singles. The album contains a thrilling cover of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower, in an arrangement that is said to have heavily inspired Jimi Hendrix's later, and far more famous, version. The rest, on the other hand, takes a lot from the typical baroque psychedelic pop sounds of the time, with extensive use of strings and, above all, brasses. They range from pop gems like Toyland to spectacular vocal performances by singer Jess Roden as in Magic Hankerchief, which are reminiscent of certain things from Aphrodite's Child at times. The album is fairly solid, and oscillates between orchestrated pop and some more rock-driven sounds, which will take more space in the next 1969 album, THE ALAN BOWN.
The Millennium - Begin (1968)
Millenium was a band founded by producers Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen after the release of Eternity's Children's debut album, at the same time that Boettcher was also engaged with Sagittarius, and included members of other bands such as The Ballroom (former band by Boettcher, among other authors of six songs later included in this album) and The Music Machine. The only album by this band, BEGIN, is the second ever, after Simon & Garfunkel's BOOKEND, to be made with sixteen-track technology, and is considered the album with the highest production costs to date, mainly due to Boettcher's rather complex production methods. Inside there are compositions by all the members involved, ranging from typically Californian sunshine pop to more experimental bitss, such as the baroque Prelude (with a devastating drum part that seems recorded yesterday, so much so that many hear elements of the more recent hip-hop beats) or the more psychedelic and experimental Karmic Dream Sequence # 1. Even the most "simple" songs like To Claudia On Thursday or the magnificent There Is Nothing More To Say show a pop writing among the best of the time, not far from the debut album of Sagittarius, but even more focused. Despite the praise from critics both at the time and, especially, after its rediscovery in recent times (even according to Pitchfork we are facing the best pop album released in Los Angeles after the work of the Beach Boys), BEGIN did not achieve the hoped-for success, bringing Millennium to a premature end, just after recording two tracks for an unfinished second album (both featured on CD reissues).
The Love Generation - Montage (1968)
Band founded in 1967 by brothers John and Tom Bahler, two session man singers for Imperial, part of the Ron Hicklin Singers. With the addition of other musicians, Love Generation was basically a studio project, and never played live. With a substantially sunshine pop sound and extensive use of vocal harmonies, the songs of this band are light and always enjoyable.
After the release of two albums most of the band members left, perhaps as a result of the lack of concerts, and left the two Bahler brothers alone to carry on the name for a final album. MONTAGE continues the path traced by the previous one, continuing to push towards a more ambitious symphonic sound. The album flows beautifully, starting with the magnificently ridiculous grandeur of Montage From How Sweet It Is (I Knew That You Knew). The pop gem Let The Good Times In will be re-recorded by the Bahlers for the sitcom The Partridge Family the following year, and used in the pilot episode; then both will sing in the first soundtrack album, again in that year. For some reason there are some re-recordings of songs from the previous album, such as Consciousness Expansion and You, with relatively few differences, but that doesn't affect the overall quality of MONTAGE, which remains and immensely enjoyable album.
The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band: Volume 3: A Child's Guide to Good And Evil (1968)
Band founded in 1965 in Los Angeles, from the meeting of Bob Markley, already a television star since the late 1950s, and the members of the Laughing Wind band: producer Michael Lloyd and the brothers Shaun and Danny Harris. Lloyd was already active as a surf music producer since the early 1960s, while Markley, attracted by the audience that bands like the Yardbirds managed to attract (especially young girls, his obsession, as will also be seen in many of his lyrics), promised to Laughing Wind to get them a contract thanks to his connections, in exchange for his inclusion in the band. Seduced by Markley's acquaintances and large financial resources the band accepted, and soon changed their name to The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.
After Vol. 1 and Part One Lloyd left, leaving Markley and the Harris brothers alone to make the excellent Vol. 2 (Breaking Through), which was followed by the leaving of Danny Harris too. Despite this, at this point the band probably reaches its artistic peak, with a work that constantly oscillates between the innocent and the macabre, as well illustrated by the title. With a trend perhaps just a bit less experimental than its predecessors and a greater presence of actual songs, often embellished with the usual, but new for the band, sitar, this album is considered by many to be a "lost classic" of psychedelia. As The World Rises And Falls is probably one of the best songs ever released by this band, followed closely by the bizarre psychedelic blues of Watch Yourself and Eighteen Is Over The Hill. A weird but beautiful album by an equally weird band, strongly recommended.