The 1960s were a momentous time. Music, fashion and drugs converged to create a decade that would change the course of history. The amount of pioneers the ‘Swinging Sixties’ spawned is dizzying. Ranging from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Vidal Sassoon and Andy Warhol, there was no end to the inspirations it gave us. The past 50 years would not have been the same if it were not for that seminal decade.
A significant part of the ’60s was the countercultural movement or hippiedom. It informed the social mores of the young people challenging the old, established order. Via music, drugs, politics and fashion, alternative lifestyles really took off. If you were to take any of the aforementioned conditions out of the equation, it would have seriously detracted from the bigger picture, as all had equal parts to play in the casting off the shackles of the old world.
When one thinks of the ’60s and its newfound Bohemianism, a few components spring to mind. Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, the Manson Family and the Summer of Love all existed in the colourful yet flawed menagerie of “flower power”.
Although, two of the most impactful things were the Beatles and LSD. The Liverpudlian icons changed the face of music forever. Their impact on culture was so significant it needs no explanation. Then we come to LSD, the ubiquitous drug de jour. It permeated most significant aspects of creation during this highly prolific period. It acted as the lubricant which moved the Beat generation into hippiedom via Dr. Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey. If one notes the era’s psychedelic colour palette, groundbreaking sonic boom and even the murderous craze of the Manson Family, they all somewhat stemmed from LSD. Even John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, blamed the breakdown of their marriage on the little psychoactive tab.
The Beatles famously became users of LSD. Since 1965’s Rubber Soul, the band’s worked had become increasingly informed by LSD. The convergence of the Beatles and the drug gave us some of their best moments, including Revolver in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a year later.
Whilst, we are not advocating drug use, as many of the era’s casualties were attributed to excess, it does make us wonder how the Beatles got into taking such a transformative substance. After all, it greatly affected their careers. One would not be crazy in purporting that without LSD, the Beatles would not be remembered in the way they are today.
It also led to their individual spirituality, which culminated in George Harrison’s belief in God, and John Lennon meeting Yoko and renouncing his past violence and chauvinism. In a 1987 interview with the iconic but now defunct Creem magazine, the ex-Beatles guitar hero George Harrison recalled the time he and John Lennon first experienced lysergic acid diethylamide.
Casting his mind back, Harrison said: “Let me tell you what happened: I had a dentist who invited me and John and our ex-wives to dinner. He had this acid he’d got off the guy who ran Playboy in London. And the Playboy guy had gotten it off, you know, the people who had it in America. What’s his name, Tim Leary. And this guy had never had it himself, didn’t know anything about it, but he thought it was an aphrodisiac and he had this girlfriend with huge breasts. He invited us down there with our blonde wives and I think he thought he was gonna have a scene. And he put it in our coffee without telling us—he didn’t take any himself.”
The ‘Quiet One’ carried on: “We didn’t know we had it, and we’d made an arrangement earlier. After we had dinner we were gonna go to this nightclub to see some friends of ours who were playing in a band. And I was saying, ‘OK, let’s go, we’ve got to go’, and this guy kept saying, ‘No, don’t go, finish your coffee’. Then, 20 minutes later or something, I’m saying, ‘C’mon John, we’d better go now. We’re gonna miss the show’.”
Harrison then remembered that the unknown dentist finally revealed to his guests that they shouldn’t leave because he’d spiked them with LSD. Harrison said: “I’d heard about LSD, but it was before all the panic, everybody saying heaven and hell and all this stuff. So, fortunately, I didn’t care.”
Eventually, Harrison drove him, his wife, and the Lennon’s to the club where they had planned to be. They ordered a drink, and everything was fine until something “suddenly happened”. He remembered: “I just got this overwhelming feeling, I couldn’t put my finger on why it was happening. But it was just like I was so in love with everything. I just felt so great I wanted to hug everybody and tell ’em how much I loved them.”
Things would quickly change for the newly ordained psychedelic argonauts: “Suddenly the room started moving a bit and stuff like that, and the next thing I remember it was like World War III was happening.”
In what sounds like a drastic turn of emotions, Harrison added: “Bombs were dropping, all kinds of things, and I finally gathered my senses together and realized the club had closed. “
Harrison remembers leaving that club and then walking to another, the Ad Lib Club, with Lennon. He said that the fateful evening “went on forever.” In classic, relaxed George Harrison style, he concluded: “We’d heard of it, but we never knew what it was about and it was put in our coffee maliciously. So it really wasn’t us turning each other or the world or anything—we were the victims of silly people.”
After this significant experience, it left John and George with pressing questions, in particular: “Hey, how the heck are we gonna tell the others?” because “there’s no way back after that. It’s like you can never return to being who you were before, thankfully.”
The Beatles six-string maestros settled on what they saw as the only course of action: “We’ve got to get some more and give it to ’em.”
When the Beatles were next on tour, the pair managed to get their hands on some of the mind-bending chemical, but waited until they got to Los Angeles. Here, in the kingdom of the counterculture where LSD reigned supreme, they said: “OK lads (laughs), you’re gonna have to have this thing.”
For the Beatles, the rest was history. Without that pivotal moment, we wouldn’t have had some of our favourite albums of the past six decades. Additionally, during that Creem interview, Harrison mentioned subsequent trips with Jim McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds fame and also “what’s his name?—Peter Fonda—who suddenly showed up”.
Watch Harrison talk about the bizarre first LSD trip, below.