One of the beautiful things about psychedelia is the way it seemed to permeate everything around it– nothing was immune. Kenny “sitting by the fire with a sweater and a finely trimmed beard” Rogers got bit by the psychedelic bug, Phil Collins and Billy Joel were also in psychedelic bands that spend more time on my turntable than “Piano Man” or “Sussudio” ever will. Hell, even the Four Seasons had a psychedelic album that was probably their best and most underrated set of songs they produced (with help from the original writer of “Dazed and Confused” – yeah fuck you Led Zeppelin, you didn’t write this song, Jake Holmes did!). Soul bands like the Temptations and the Four Tops started wearing headbands, bellbottoms and started singing about a trippy rundown house and motionless liquid. Hell, it looks like they even raided Jim Hendrix’s closet for attire for few of their album covers.
While the mainstream soul bands mostly missed the mark when trying to incorporate psychedelic elements (the clothes were the top priority, sound a close second), many lesser known or less appreciated soul and funk groups were able to blend the two like nobody’s business. They were not only able to retain the essence of both, but were also able to transcend both, and create something brand new.
For the record, I’m not a huge Parliament / Funkadelic fan. I enjoyed their first couple of albums but I usually hadn’t thought that they deserved the psychedelic tag that had been pinned upon them. That was until I listened to the song “Maggot Brain.” Supposedly George Clinton found the heavily decomposed body of his brother, and wrote this song. He then locked Eddie Hazel, the guitarist for Funkadelic, and told him to play his guitar as if his momma had just died. Needless to say, the composition and playing are super intense. Had Jimi Hendrix listened to this song, he would have been envious of the sheer amount of emotional and soul that is practically dripping from the speakers as this song plays. The pinnacle of soul psych guitar, this song, while not for the timid, is one of those songs that I come back to again and again and always notice something new. Some would call this song a downer, but if being able to feel someone’s pain and empathize with them is a downer, then it should be hard to be up.
Another soul psych monster in the closet is a band named Yellow Sunshine. While coming somewhat late to the game in 1974, Yellow Sunshine was still able to deliver the goods in ways that few could. Most of their self-titled debut is pretty straight up soul/ funk affair with the occasional distorted guitar or unexpected arrangement. However, they manage to reach for the upper stratosphere with the acid funk instrumental “Apollo 17” (talk about being well named). This song, with an understated rhythm section and dual guitars that seem to read each other’s minds, makes the listener feel like they are leaving the atmosphere and heading for the great unknown. As the song serenades you and leaves you magically floating, it occurs to you that in a perfect world, this song would never end.
Psychedelic music seems to be influenced by a little bit of everything and, in turn, it seems to be influential to those with an open mind and ear. Funkadelic and Yellow Sunshine weren’t trying to sound psychedelic to become more popular with the hippie crowd, they were doing it because they knew that the combination of soul and psych could bring their music to heights unattainable with just one of the two.
TXT: SHANE GEORGES