Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth serve as the genre's luminaries, but the past three decades also produced revelatory acts that never garnered much mainstream recognition. Turn on, tune in and take a hit from these hitless wonders.
What's the Buzz? Fronted by the majestically named, stridently voiced Sky Saxon, the Seeds painted the blues paisley. "March of the Flower Children" might have inspired Spinal Tap's similarly titled hippie ode, and Saxon's moniker likely influenced the compelling contemporary instrumental act Saxon Shore, if not the denim-and-leather-clad British power-metal act Saxon.
Gateway Drug: Future, 1967
Bad Trip: The Seeds' straight-faced A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues quits psychedelic rock cold turkey, with sobering results.
What's the Buzz? Reviewers often liken Hawkwind to modern stoner-metal acts such as Dead Meadow without adding the essential clarification "featuring Lemmy from Motorhead." In addition to generating the genre's best-ever song title ("Psychedelic Warlords [Disappear in Smoke]") and providing the first forum for Lemmy Kilmister's asthmatic death-wheeze, Hawkwind staged epic duels between distorted guitar and an unusually assertive mellotron.
Gateway Drug: Hall of the Mountain Grill, 1974
Bad Trip: In the mid-'70s, Hawkwind's "resident poet," Robert Calvert, often commandeered its concerts, devoting substantial time to pieces that mixed hippie sloganeering with sci-fi imagery ("Co-Pilots of Spaceship Earth").
Band: Electric Prunes
What's the Buzz? Like the Doors, the Electric Prunes formed in Los Angeles in 1965 and veered between enchanting psychedelic nuggets and off-putting pretentious tripe. The group's best work combines psychedelic rock and proto-punk energy.
Gateway Drug: I Had Too Much to Dream, 1967
Bad Trip: Composer David Axelrod guided the group through Mass in F Minor, which combines Catholic mass with catholic instrumental influences. Opening track "Kyrie Elieson" appeared in Easy Rider, but this project splintered the group, with Axelrod dismissing several members and installing replacements.
Band: Cosmic Jokers
What's the Buzz? A psychedelic supergroup that included members of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream, Cosmic Jokers avoided the bloated bombast of future amalgams such as Asia, perhaps because its players had no idea they made up an actual band. Label head Rolf Ulrich Kaiser dosed the Jokers, recorded the resulting jam sessions and covertly released five albums from the sessions without their consent. Several Jokers have disowned the dishonestly distributed albums, but these guitar- and mellotron-rich recordings contain some of the most mind-melting 20-minute tracks of the era.
Gateway Drug: Cosmic Jokers, 1974
Bad Trip: Kaiser's chicanery led to royalties-related lawsuits and the disbanding of his Kosmische Musik label in 1976.
Band: Simply Saucer
What's the Buzz? Simply Saucer dissolved in the late '70s, leaving behind only word-of-mouth testimonials and slightly damaged ears. Fan Bruce Mowat tracked down enough material for a posthumous release, and the salvaged scraps suggest that this Canadian group might have had more commercial potential than its peers. Edgar Breau's pop sensibilities and terse vocals kept his savage guitar solos from spiraling into the stratosphere.
Gateway Drug: Cyborgs Revisited, 1989
Bad Trip: Mowat exhumed everything from aborted studio sessions to rehearsals, meaning there's no material left to mine.
Band: The Bevis Frond
What's the Buzz? British multi-instrumentalist Nick Saloman might be the psychedelic-noise movement's most important one-man band. Working with collaborators such as Hawkwind's Adrian Shaw, Saloman buttresses his kaleidoscopic guitar tones with screeching saxophones, strings and a rumbling rhythm section. He's also a sharp lyricist with a caustic streak that brings to mind countryman Elvis Costello.
Gateway Drug: New River Head, 1991
Bad Trip: None to speak of. Despite releasing almost an album a year during his ongoing 21-year run, including 2005's London Stone, Saloman hasn't faltered. The only downside to digesting this discography is that it might prompt friends to revive their tragically unfunny Beavis and Butthead impersonations.
Band: Godspeed You Black Emperor
What's the Buzz? Taking psychedelic rock's orchestral crescendos to extremes, Canada's Godspeed You Black Emperor lulls listeners before unleashing an air-raid alarm. Its placid plains and majestic peaks turn this nine-piece instrumental ensemble's songs into topographic studies. GYBE shares members with Silver Mount Zion and a label with Do Make Say Think, both of which perform intriguing variations on its signature sound.
Gateway Drug: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, 2000
Bad Trip: 1998's F#A# contains spoken monologues, making it a poor choice for listeners who use voice-free drone records to free their imaginations. Lift Your Skinny Fists convinced other talented noise bands (most notably Explosions in the Sky) that album titles must range from eight to 25 words.
Band: Acid Mothers Temple
What's the Buzz? Japan generates bizarrely sadistic game shows, alien-tentacle-intensive animated porn and androids for all occasions, and its underground music scene is equally extreme. The most flower-powered of these outfits is Acid Mothers Temple, whose 2004 Electric Heavyland references Kawabata Makoto's reputation as the "Japanese Jimi Hendrix."
Gateway Drug: Absolutely Freak Out, 2001
Bad Trip: 2000's Troubadours from Another Heavenly World trades the group's usual high-volume psychedelic pyrotechnics for somnolent trance.