Acid rock

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Acid rock is a loosely defined type of rock music [1] that evolved out of the mid-1960s garage punk [3] movement and helped launch the psychedelic subculture. The style is generally defined by heavy, distorted guitars, lyrics with drug references, and long improvised jams. Its distinctions from other genres can be tenuous, as much of the style overlaps with '60s punk, proto-metal, and early heavy, blues-based hard rock.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Garage rock is a raw and energetic style of rock and roll that flourished in the mid-1960s, most notably in the United States and Canada, and has experienced a series of subsequent revivals. The style is characterized by basic chord structures played on electric guitars and other instruments, sometimes distorted through a fuzzbox, as well as often unsophisticated and occasionally aggressive lyrics and delivery. Its name derives from the perception that groups were often made up of young amateurs who rehearsed in the family garage, although many were professional.

Psychedelia Art, music and subculture related to the psychedelic experience

Psychedelia refers to psychedelic art, psychedelic music and the subculture that originated in the psychedelic experience of the 1960s, by people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin. Psychedelic art and music typically recreate or reflect the experience of altered consciousness. Psychedelic art uses highly distorted, surreal visuals, bright colors and full spectrums and animation to evoke, convey, or enhance the psychedlic experience. Psychedelic music uses distorted electric guitar, Indian music elements such as the sitar, electronic effects, sound effects and reverberation, and elaborate studio effects, such as playing tapes backwards or panning the music from one side to another.


The term, which derives its name from lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), is sometimes used interchangeably with "psychedelic rock", but may refer more specifically to a more musically intense subgenre or sibling to the psychedelic rock style. Acid rock distinguishes itself from other psychedelic rock styles by having a harder, louder, or heavier sound, and developed mainly from the American West Coast. Such American groups did not focus on novelty recording effects or whimsy as much as subsequent British psychedelia, and instead emphasized the heavier qualities associated with both the positive and negative extremes of the psychedelic experience.

Lysergic acid diethylamide A hallucinogenic drug

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), also known as acid, is a hallucinogenic drug. Effects typically include altered thoughts, feelings, and awareness of one's surroundings. Many users see or hear things that do not exist. Dilated pupils, increased blood pressure, and increased body temperature are typical. Effects typically begin within half an hour and can last for up to 12 hours. It is used mainly as a recreational drug and for spiritual reasons.

Psychedelic rock Style of rock music

Psychedelic rock is a diverse style of rock music inspired, influenced, or representative of psychedelic culture, which is centred around perception-altering hallucinogenic drugs. The music is intended to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs, most notably LSD. Many psychedelic groups differ in style, and the label is often applied spuriously.

A psychedelic experience is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of psychedelic drugs. For example, the term acid trip refers to psychedelic experiences brought on by the use of LSD.

As the movement progressed into the late 1960s and 1970s, elements of acid rock split into two directions, with hard rock and heavy metal on one side and progressive rock on the other. In the 1990s, the stoner metal genre combined acid rock with other hard rock styles such as grunge, updating the heavy riffs and long jams found in acid rock and psychedelic-influenced metal.

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

Progressive rock Rock music subgenre that emphasizes complexity and form

Progressive rock is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid- to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favour of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening rather than dancing.

Grunge is a rock music genre and subculture that emerged during the mid-1980s in the Pacific Northwest U.S. state of Washington, particularly in Seattle and nearby towns. The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle's independent record label Sub Pop and the region's underground music scene. The owners of Sub Pop marketed Northwestern punk rock shrewdly and the media was encouraged to describe it as "grunge", which came to mean a punk and metal hybrid style of music. By the early 1990s its popularity had spread, with grunge bands appearing in California, then emerging in other parts of the United States and in Australia, building strong followings and signing major record deals.


"Acid rock" is loosely defined. [13] Rock journalist Nik Cohn called it a "fairly meaningless phrase that got applied to any group, no matter what its style". [2] It was originally used to describe the background music for acid trips in underground parties in the 1960s (e.g. the Merry Pranksters' "Acid Tests") [14] and as a catchall term for the more eclectic Haight-Ashbury bands in San Francisco. [4] The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia believed that acid rock is music you listen to while under the influence of acid, further stating that there is no real "psychedelic rock" and that it is Indian classical music and some Tibetan music "designed to expand consciousness". [15]

Nik Cohn British music critic

Nik Cohn, also written Nick Cohn, is a British writer.

The Merry Pranksters were cohorts and followers of American author Ken Kesey in 1964.

Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood in San Francisco, California, United States

Haight-Ashbury is a district of San Francisco, California, named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. It is also called The Haight and The Upper Haight. The neighborhood is known for having been the birthplace of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s.

Psychedelia was sometimes referred to as "acid rock". The latter label was applied to a pounding, hard rock variant that evolved out of the mid-1960s garage-punk movement. ... When rock began turning back to softer, roots-oriented sounds in late 1968, acid-rock bands mutated into heavy metal acts.

—Frank Hoffman, Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound (2004) [3]

The term is regularly deployed interchangeably with "psychedelic rock". [8] According to Per Elias Drabløs, "acid rock is generally considered a subgenre of psychedelic rock", [6] while Steve and Alan Freeman state the two are synonymous, and that "what is usually referred to as acid rock is generally the more extreme end of that genre". [7] This would mean psychedelic rock that is heavier, louder, or harder. [16] [17] [5]

As a hard rock variant of psychedelia, acid rock evolved from the 1960s garage punk movement, with many of its bands eventually transforming into heavy metal acts. [3] [nb 1] Percussionist John Beck defines "acid rock" as synonymous with hard rock and heavy metal. [19] [nb 2] The term eventually encompassed heavy, blues-based hard rock bands. [4] Musicologist Steve Waksman wrote that "the distinction between acid rock, hard rock, and heavy metal can at some point never be more than tenuous". [21]

Origins and ideology

A group of Flower Power demonstrators, 1967 Vietnamdem.jpg
A group of Flower Power demonstrators, 1967

Many bands associated with acid rock aimed to create a youth movement based on love and peace, as an alternative to workaholic capitalist society. [22] David P. Szatmary states, "a legion of rock bands, playing what became known as 'acid rock,' stood in the vanguard of the movement for cultural change." [23] Szatmary also quotes from the San Francisco Oracle, an underground newspaper published between 1966 and 1968, to explain how rock music was perceived at that time and how the acid rock movement emerged: "Rock music is a regenerative and revolutionary art, offering us our first real hope for the future (indeed, for the present)." [23]

When played live at dance clubs, performances were accompanied by psychedelic-themed light shows [24] in order to replicate the visual effects of the acid experience. [25] According to Kevin T. McEneaney, the Grateful Dead "invented" acid rock in front of a crowd of concertgoers in San Jose, California on December 4, 1965, the date of the second Acid Test held by author Ken Kesey. Their stage performance involved the use of strobe lights to reproduce LSD's "surrealistic fragmenting" or "vivid isolating of caught moments". [25] The Acid Test experiments subsequently launched the psychedelic subculture. [26] Former Atlantic Records executive Phillip Rauls recalls: "I was in the music business at the time, and my very first recognition of acid rock ... was, of all people, the Beach Boys and the song 'Good Vibrations'. ... That [song's theremin] sent so many musicians back to the studio to create this music on acid." [27] [nb 3]

Jefferson Airplane, early 1966 Jefferson Airplane early 1966.jpg
Jefferson Airplane, early 1966

According to Laura Diane Kuhn, the heavier form of psychedelic rock known as acid rock developed from the late 1960s California music scene. [29] The Charlatans were among the first Bay Area acid rock bands, though Jefferson Airplane was the first Bay Area acid rock band to sign a major label and achieve mainstream success. [30] By July 1967, Time magazine wrote, "From jukeboxes and transistors across the nation pulses the turned-on sound of acid-rock groups: the Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Moby Grape". [31] In 1968, Life magazine referred to the Doors as the "kings of acid rock". [32] [nb 4]

Other bands credited with creating or laying the foundation for acid rock include garage rock bands such as the 13th Floor Elevators [34] and Count Five. [1] The blues rock group the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are also credited with spawning the harder acid rock sound, [35] and their 1966 instrumental "East-West", with its early use of the extended rock solo, has been described as laying "the roots of psychedelic acid rock" [36] and featuring "much of acid-rock's eventual DNA". [37] Author Steve Turner recognises the Beatles' success in conveying an LSD-inspired worldview on their 1966 album Revolver , especially with the track "Tomorrow Never Knows", as having "opened the doors" to acid rock. [38] [nb 5] The Beatles' June 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a major influence on American acid rock groups. [1]

Development and characteristics

Evolution from garage bands

Originating in the early 1960s, garage punk was a mainly-American movement that involved R&B-inspired garage bands powered by electric guitars and organs. [40] It was mainly the domain of untrained teenagers fixated on sonic effects, such as wah-wah and fuzz tone, and relied heavily on riffs. [41] The music later blurred into psychedelia. [40] American garage bands who began to play psychedelic rock retained the rawness and energy of garage rock, incorporating garage rock's heavy distortion, feedback, and layered sonic effects into their versions of psychedelic music, spawning "acid rock". [42] Bisport and Puterbaugh, defining acid rock as an intense or raw form of psychedelia, include "garagey" psychedelia under the label of "acid rock" due in part to its "energy and intimation of psychic overload". [18]

The earliest known use of the term "garage punk" appeared in Lenny Kaye's track-by-track liner notes for the 1972 anthology compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 , [43] which prominently featured both acid rock and garage rock. [44] Musicologist Simon Frith cites Nuggets as a showcase for the garage psychedelia of the 1960s and its transition between early 1960s garage rock and the more elaborate acid rock of the late 1960s. [45] This acid rock present in the Nuggets anthology has been described as an offshoot of 1960s punk rock. [46] At the time, the term "punk rock" referred to the garage rock of the 1960s, such as that present in the Nuggets compilation. [47] Bands such as Count Five, with their 1966 song "Psychotic Reaction", as well as other groups featured on Nuggets, would eventually epitomize the overlap between 1960s garage rock and psychedelic punk, or acid rock. [48] As one of the first successful acid rock songs, "Psychotic Reaction" also contained the characteristics that would come to define acid rock: the use of feedback and distortion replacing early rock music's more melodic electric guitars. [1]

Another group included on the Nuggets album, the 13th Floor Elevators, began as a straight garage rock band before becoming one of the original early acid rock bands and the innovators of psychedelic rock in general, with a sound consisting of distortion, often yelping vocals, and "occasionally demented" lyrics. [49] Their debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators , featuring the garage rock hit "You're Gonna Miss Me", was among the earliest psychedelic rock albums. [50] [49] By 1966, the New York City garage band the Blues Magoos were referring to their wailing blues rock as "psychedelic music", and their hard variant of psychedelic rock, with its roots in the garage movement, would be increasingly labeled "acid rock". [3]

Distinctions from other psychedelic rock

Jimi Hendrix performing in 1967 Jimi Hendrix 1967 uncropped.jpg
Jimi Hendrix performing in 1967

Acid rock often encompasses the more extreme side of the psychedelic rock genre, frequently containing a loud, improvised, and guitar-centered sound. [7] Alan Bisbort and Parke Puterbaugh write that acid rock "can best be described as psychedelia at its rawest and most intense ... Bad trips as well as good, riots as well as peace, pain as well as pleasure - the whole spectrum of reality, not just the idyllic bits, were captured by acid rock." [18] "Acid rock" has also been described as more heavily electric and containing more distortion ("fuzz") than typical psychedelic rock. [51] By the late 1960s, in addition to the deliberate use of distortion and feedback, acid rock was further characterized by long guitar solos and the frequent use of electronic organs. [1] Lyric references to drug use were also common, as exemplified in Jefferson Airplane's 1967 song "White Rabbit" and Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1967 song "Purple Haze". [1] Lyrical references to drugs such as LSD were often cryptic. [29]

At a time when many British psychedelic bands played whimsical or surrealistic psychedelic rock, many 1960s American rock bands, especially those from the West Coast, developed a rawer or harder version of psychedelic rock containing garage rock energy. [42] When contrasted with whimsical British psychedelia, this harder American West Coast variant of psychedelic rock has been referred to as acid rock. [53] [nb 6] American psychedelic rock and garage bands such as the 13th Floor Elevators epitomized the frenetic, darker and more psychotic sound of American acid rock, a sound characterized by droning guitar riffs, amplified feedback, and guitar distortion. [55] Hoffman writes that acid rock lacked the recording studio "gimmickry" that typified the more Beatles-influenced strain of psychedelic rock, though acid rock experimented in other ways with electrified guitar effects. [3]

Tonal distortion was also one of the defining characteristics of the San Francisco Sound. [56] The acid rock of the San Francisco Sound heavily incorporated musical improvisation, jamming, repetitive drum beats, experimental sound and tape effects, and intentional feedback. [24] San Francisco acid rock generally took a non-commercial approach to song-writing: it often involved almost free jazz-like, free-form hard rock improvisations alongside distorted guitars, and lyrics often were socially conscious, trippy, or anti-establishment. [57] Many of the musicians in the scene, including bands such as the Charlatans and the Quicksilver Messenger Service, became involved in Ken Kesey's LSD-driven psychedelic scene, known as the Merry Pranksters. [24]

Transition to hard rock and heavy metal

Heavy metal evolved from psychedelic music [58] and added psychedelic/acid rock to the basic structure of blues rock. [59] In the 1960s, the heavy, blues-influenced, psychedelic hard rock sound of bands such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Deep Purple, and Cream was classified as acid rock. [4] Other acid rock groups such as Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, and Vanilla Fudge served as examples of early heavy metal, or proto-metal, creating stripped-downed, loud, intense, and "fuzzy" acid rock or hard rock. [4] Bands such as Blue Cheer, Cream, and the hard rock group The Amboy Dukes have all been described as "leading practitioners" of the harder variant of psychedelic rock known as "acid rock". [3] Many acid rock bands would subsequently become heavy metal bands. [16]

The influence of acid rock was evident in the sound of heavy metal in the 1970s. [60] Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is sometimes described as an example of the transition between acid rock and heavy metal [60] or the turning point in which acid rock became "heavy metal". [62] "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" serves a notable example of 1960s and early 1970s acid rock or heavy psychedelia, and the band would continue to experiment with distorted, "fuzzy", heavy psychedelia into the 1970s. [63] Both Iron Butterfly's 1968 album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Blue Cheer's 1968 album Vincebus Eruptum have been described as influential in the transition of acid rock into heavy metal. [61] Heavy metal's acid rock origins can further be seen in the loud acid rock of groups such as Steppenwolf, who contributed their song "Born to Be Wild" to the soundtrack of the 1969 film Easy Rider , which itself glamorized the genre. [1] Ultimately, Steppenwolf and other acid rock groups such as Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Led Zeppelin paved the way for the electrified, bluesy sound of early heavy metal. [64]

Black Sabbath, 1970 Sabs.jpg
Black Sabbath, 1970

By the early 1970s, bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath combined the loud, raw distortion of acid rock with occult lyrics, further forming a basis for the genre now known as "heavy metal". [65] At a time when rock music began to turn back to roots-oriented soft rock, many acid rock groups instead evolved into heavy metal bands. [3] As its own movement, heavy metal music continued to perpetuate characteristics of acid rock bands into at least the 1980s, [56] and traces of psychedelic rock can be seen in the musical excesses of later metal bands. [3] In the 1990s, the stoner metal genre combined acid rock with other hard rock genres such as grunge, updating the heavy riffs and long jams found in the acid rock and psychedelic-influenced metal of bands such as Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Hawkwind, and Blue Öyster Cult. [12]

In addition to hard rock and heavy metal, acid rock also gave rise to the progressive rock movement. [66] In the 1970s, elements of psychedelic music split into two notable directions, evolving into the hard rock and heavy metal of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin on one side and into the progressive rock of bands such Pink Floyd and Yes on the other. [20] Bands such as Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer kept the psychedelic musical movement alive for some time, but eventually moved away from drug-themed music towards experiments in electronic music and the addition of classical music themes into rock music. [1]

List of artists


  1. Exemplary acts of "garagey" psychedelia include Blues Magoos, the Electric Prunes, and the Music Machine, all of which may fall under the label of acid rock. [18]
  2. Hard rock and heavy metal have been described by writer Steve Valdez as evolving from psychedelic rock. [20]
  3. Rauls believed that, at the time, "acid rock" was used to refer to "progressive rock". [27] Writer Vernon Joyson observed flirtations with acid rock in the Beach Boys' albums Pet Sounds (1966) and the unfinished Smile . [28]
  4. Joyson notes that the Doors' acid rock music was markedly different from their San Francisco contemporaries; that the Doors "took the acid experience less literally". [33]
  5. Rolling Stone attributes the development of the Los Angeles and San Francisco music scenes, including subsequent releases by the Beach Boys, Love and the Grateful Dead, to the influence of Revolver, particularly the song "She Said She Said". [39]
  6. British psychedelia was often more arty in its experimentation, and it tended to stick within pop song structures. [54] Along with its whimsical and surrealist tendencies, British psychedelic rock was generally not as minimalist and not as aggressive as its American counterpart, often featuring longer song arrangements and incorporating Eastern instruments such as sitars. [55]

Related Research Articles

Hard rock is a loosely defined subgenre of rock music that began in the mid-1960s, with the garage, psychedelic and blues rock movements. It is typified by a heavy use of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, and often accompanied with keyboards.

<i>Vincebus Eruptum</i> 1968 studio album by Blue Cheer

Vincebus Eruptum is the debut album of American rock band Blue Cheer. Released on January 16, 1968, the album features a heavy-thunderous blues sound, which would later be known as heavy metal. It also contains elements of acid rock, experimental rock, blues rock, stoner rock, and garage rock.

American rock

American rock has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music, and also drew on folk music, jazz, blues, and classical music. American rock music was further influenced by the British Invasion of the American pop charts from 1964 and resulted in the development of garage rock.

Neo-psychedelia is a diverse genre of psychedelic music that originated in the 1970s as an outgrowth of the British post-punk scene, also called acid punk. Its practitioners drew from the unusual sounds of 1960s psychedelia, either updating or copying the approaches from that era. After post-punk, neo-psychedelia flourished into a more widespread and international movement of artists who applied the spirit of psychedelic rock to new sounds and techniques. Neo-psychedelia may also include forays into psychedelic pop, jangly guitar rock, heavily distorted free-form jams, or recording experiments. A wave of British alternative rock in the early 1990s spawned the subgenres dream pop and shoegazing.

Psychotic Reaction single by Count Five

"Psychotic Reaction" is a song by the American garage rock band Count Five, released in June 1966 on their debut studio album of the same name. It peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was among the first successful acid rock songs, containing the characteristics that would come to define acid rock: the use of feedback and distortion replacing early rock music's more melodic electric guitars. In Canada, the song reached No. 3 on October 31, 1966.

Psychedelic music is a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.

Psychedelic pop is pop music that contains musical characteristics associated with psychedelic music. This includes "trippy" effects such as fuzz guitars, tape manipulation, sitars, backwards recording, and Beach Boys-style harmonies. Blended with pop, they create melodic songs with tight song structures. It reached its peak during the late 1960s, and declined rapidly in the early 1970s.

Garage punk is a rock music fusion genre combining the influences of garage rock, punk rock, and other forms, that took shape in the indie rock underground between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bands drew heavily from stripped-down 1970s punk rock and Detroit proto-punk, and incorporated numerous other styles into their approach, such as power pop, 1960s girl groups and garage rock, hardcore punk, early blues and R&B, and surf rock.

Popular music of the United States in the 1960s became innately tied up into causes, opposing certain ideas, influenced by the sexual revolution, feminism, Black Power and environmentalism. This trend took place in a tumultuous period of massive public unrest in the United States which consisted of the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Civil Rights Movement.


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