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Music

Who were the first band to use the term "psychedelic" rock?

@SamWKemp

The term “psychedelic” is tossed around willy nilly. Originally, it connoted a particular set of aesthetic parameters, but today, it’s as though anything that sounds slightly trippy is immediately swept under the umbrella of psychedelia. The genre was born in the mid-1960s and was used to describe a style of music both influenced by and designed to induce the feeling of a hallucinogenic experience. Blending elements of blues, folk, and rock, ’60s psych bands embraced new technology, utilising the modern recording studio as an instrument.

The classic psych groups of the ’60s also explored new instrumentation and effects to craft previously unheard textures. This is what attracted many – including George Harrison – to Indian instruments such as the sitar and the tambura, along with the first analogue synthesisers like the Mellotron. By the end of the 1960s, psychedelia was everywhere and had come to form the soundtrack of an entire cultural movement.

But who were the first group to use the term psychedelic? As you would expect, nailing down the first psych group is an elusive task. Some of the more far-fetched claims assert that the first psych record comes from Joe Meek and The Tornadoes, whose 1962 instrumental ‘Telestar’ is a sci-fi influenced piece of pop songcraft that makes heavy use of the clavioline, an early forerunner to the synthesiser. Then, there’s the stonking, reverb-drenched 1964 single ‘Any Way You Want It’ by The Dave Clarke Five, which would sound like any other piece of early ’60s pop if it wasn’t for the brief moments where the group’s joint vocals are left to bounce around the room.

Neither of these groups would have thought of themselves as being a ‘psychedelic’ group. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1966 that the term would see its first proper usage. That year, The 13th Floor Elevators, an acid rock band formed in Austin, Texas, became the first band to write the word on their business cards. Led by singer and guitarist Roky Erickson, the group even named their 1966 debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.

The band were more than worthy of the term. The artwork on the cover of The Psychedelic Sounds is emblematic of the period’s aesthetic, featuring a cyclopic eye surrounded by swirling red and green patterns. ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’, the first track from that astonishing LP, sees Erickson evoke the shrill wail of Janis Joplin while jangling guitar lines scurry in the background. That’s to say nothing of the eastern-inspired scales and melodic patterns, otherworldly effects, and introspective lyrics that pepper the rest of the record. You can check out the era-defining album below.

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