Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Enduring Legacy of LSD in Contemporary Music by Martin Sejas

Cover of "Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix ...Cover via Amazon

A reblogged article from Martin Sejas from Classic Songs

At first, it may seem strange to find me writing about the enduring legacy of LSD in contemporary music. This is probably because this is the first time I’ve mentioned the topic of LSD or drugs for that matter on this blog.

You may also be wondering what kind of point I’m trying to raise by writing such an article. Well, let’s say I was ‘inspired’ to write this article. What I mean is that after spending countless hours reading up on music history, which is evidently one of my passions, I’ve come to realize the large number of bands and songs that have been written under the influence of LSD. And the fact is that some of these songs are some of the greatest songs ever composed and have ended up defining a decade and a genre and have influenced countless musicians today.


One thing I would like to make clear before beginning this post, is that I do not support nor tolerate the use of drugs whatsoever. Unless you have a valid medical reason, you should not be using drugs. The reason why I’m saying this is because you may find me in some way “praising” LSD, and drugs in particular, which is not true and not my intention. What I will be praising is how LSD led to great songs being written that took music light years forward, which otherwise probably would not have been possible.

What Is LSD?

I think it’s appropriate to begin this post by exploring the history of the drug itself. LSD stands for “Lysergic acid diethylamide”. Try pronouncing that! It was developed by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman in 1938 but its psychedelic properties were only discovered in 1943 when Hoffman tested the drug on himself. He experienced “remarkable restlessness combined with a slight dizziness.” However, it was not unpleasant as he experienced an extremely stimulated imagination, a sort of dream-like state where he could see uninterrupted streams of “fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”

Is it then any wonder that musicians that sought to bring out their creative juices used LSD? If you are interested in learning more about the history, testing and research of LSD, Wikipedia has an extensive article on it.

When Music Met LSD

For almost 2 decades after its development, the use of LSD remained limited to the medical profession and in particular, the treatment of psychiatric disorders. However, by the mid-1960s, LSD had become a popular recreational drug among the youth of the day. One of the realms it left an indelible mark on was music. Popular music from the mid-1960s onwards was vastly different from the music in the early 1960s.

Musicians’ experiences with LSD led them to make more complex compositions with greater sound effects. It inspired musical innovation that took music forward at least a decade. You only have to compare a hit song from the early 60s with a hit from the mid 60s to see this astounding difference in complexity. Have a listen to these 2 US number 1 hits. The first one is “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares and was at the top of the charts in April 1962. Listen to it here:

This second one is “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys which was number 1 in December 1966:

You can easily tell the difference in complexity and sound. And that change occurred in just 4 years!

The Beach Boys were just one of the major pop groups that had to drastically change its sound due to the rise of LSD-influenced music, otherwise known as psychedelic rock in the mid-1960s. You can even compare the group’s earlier hits such as “Surfin’” with a later hit such as “Good Vibrations” to see this huge change. The group’s lead singer Brian Wilson was at the core of this sound change, which was not popular with the rest of the group, but which meant that the Beach Boys produced one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time, Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson was at his creative best when making this album, however, this was mainly due to his experimentation with drugs, especially LSD.

Another major pop group to use LSD was the Beatles. At their height of their fame, the group also embraced LSD as a recreational drug and their experiences, or “acid trips” as they are more commonly known, let to the production of the 2 of the greatest and most critically acclaimed albums of all time, Revolver and St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is also considered by many to be the best song of the psychedelic genre of the late 1960s. The level of musical experimentation and innovation demonstrated in these 2 albums have never been equaled since, and most probably never will be. The fact that these 2 albums were influenced by LSD experiences shows the undeniable and enduring legacy of LSD in contemporary music.

Other major pop groups of the era that were Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Cream. Below are a couple of their hit songs that were influenced by LSD and which continue to inspire today’s musicians.

Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”:

Jimi Hendrix – “Voodoo Child”:

The Doors – “People Are Strange”:

Cream – “White Room”:

Enduring Legacy

This is just a small sample of the artists and songs that were made under the influence of LSD in the 1960s. I don’t know about you but I find it amazing that so many great classic songs and albums were produced in this short period. It was also an extraordinary period of creativity and innovation, the likes of which, we will probably never see again. LSD allowed music to move light years ahead in such a short period of time and while the use of drugs is largely condemned in music (including myself), it’s hard to deny that its legacy remains and continues to shape and inspire contemporary music.

Martin Sejas:
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  1. LSD really is an amazing drug. American culture as we know it has been influence by this chemical in so many ways more than just music, but art, fashion, literature, and just the general attitude of a whole era. The drug was originally created because chemist Albert Hofmann truly felt that this would bring love and peace to our world, as well as a sense of individuality and acceptance. Although, the drug may come as a bloody nightmare to some who are unable to control themselves, for the rest it is complete euphoria. I guess I’m not trying to say go out and try LSD for yourself, but do not discriminate against this drug when it has truly brought us so much from its influences.

  2. FACT: If you do LSD 20 times or more, it's nearly 100% that you'll have brain damage and will suffer from mental problems for the rest of your life. My source? Dr. Drew Pinsky (famous "addiction medicine specialist" aka a dope expert).

    1. And your point?

      How does the point you make alter the point made by the article? I have published your response to the article to start a discussion.