Weird and Forgotten: The Top Ten Obscure 60’s Psych Records

When choosing records from the massive pile covered in dust, one has to consider what exactly they’re looking for. Do they want a standard three-minute passing love song, or something that tears away at their insides, making the ground come alive and breathe? Picking my top 10 psych records was a heavy task dwelled upon for several weeks using grave concern and dynamite precision. I am, after all, a music addict. And like any music addict, I’ve dug deep, scouring the stacks for the cloudy wax cuts that demand a little extra attention.

These aren’t your mother’s standard, run-o-the-mill records, or even your father’s damp-basement, smoke-filled meditations. These are the deep cuts, rare gems, unsavory, garage-ridden, echo-filled anthems to long-dead, flower-filled summers of love, loss and contagious pop with just enough grungy, punk overtones and careless ramblings to keep even the most tweaked-out of weary travelers contented by their shifting surroundings. Here lies a list of luscious psychedelic albums from an era oversaturated with moody, colorful, transcendentalists and dry-mouthed freethinkers, lost somewhere in the midst of their next epiphany.

10. The Electric Prunes – The Electric Prunes

Anyone familiar with the ephemeral Nuggets compilation, will likely recognize “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes. It’s a hit that kicks off both it and the Prunes’ self-titled debut. At first listen, one could lump this group in with the many other California-based hippies channeling their good vibes onto wax. However, its delicious pop hooks and relatively short playtime set this album apart from the loose jams that followed in the years to come. The Electric Prunes are inexplicably on edge, plucking away at their very core and occasionally keeping things low-key. The abrupt kick of “Get Me to the World on Time” is matched perfectly with the sultry flow of “Onie”. Double-check the black-light bulb. This is only the beginning.

9. Baby Grandmothers – Baby Grandmothers

The second of three self-titled albums on the list, Sweden’s Baby Grandmothers only released one single in 1968 before vanishing into the cavalcades of oblivion. Listening to “Somebody Keeps Calling My Name,” one can’t help but wonder where they dropped the ball. Full of dark riffs and ceremonious howls, Baby Grandmothers draw similarities to Krautrock greats Can. Unflinching from one lick to the next, thankfully a few fine folks got together and compiled the scratchy remains of their catalogue onto one compact disc. It stands firm as a crumb of what could easily be lost in-between the couch cushions. What happened to the last twenty minutes? Oh yeah, that’s right. Baby Grandmothers.

8. Sagittarius – Present Tense

The brain child of surf rock producer, Gary Usher, and songwriter, Curt Boettcher, Sagittarius was a studio concoction releasing two commercial failures before moving on to more concrete projects. Their sound is a lush hodgepodge of Beach Boys’ harmonies and baroque arrangements reminiscent of the Left Banke. This album equates to a summer breeze laced with low-grade acid and the sunniest of dispositions. It’s pleasant, not too deep, but sticks around long after the come down. Don’t quite get it? Wait until “My World Fell Down” kicks in and see if you can recall what year it really is.

7. Bubble Puppy – A Gathering of Promises

Back in the ‘60’s, it was all about the singles, man. San Antonio’s Bubble Puppy are best known for their 1968 hit “Hot Smoke and Sassafras,” a duel guitar romp through the broken picture frames of yesteryear. “If you're happy where you are/Then you need not look too far/If you've found your place at last/Then you need not use the looking glass”. For many, this quote likely sums up their sixties experiences. There’s one end of the mirror and the other. It’s just a shame that so many didn’t look much farther than their radio dial. A Gathering of Promises plays like Buffalo Springfield’s bastard stepchild, smooth, angst-ridden and continually defiant. Why bother turning down? It’s not loud enough yet.

6. The Pretty ThingsS. F. Sorrow

Recorded in Abby Road at the same time as Sgt. Pepper and Piper at the Gates of Dawn, this album contains all of the appeal of its more popular brothers (minus a Lennon and Barrett, of course). S.F. Sorrow is one of the first legitimate concept albums, pre-dating Tommy and many other debauched attempts in the years to come. The story is a trippy, morose daze too in-depth to hash out here. Needless to say, the proper listen in the right setting could turn most into a believer. Highlights include “She Says Good Morning” and “Baron Saturday”. Then again, it’s all meant to cohesively fit together, right?

5. Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes

Time for a head trip to the far deeper south. Brazilian psych practitioners Os Mutantes’ 1968 debut is a frantic retreat from the standard flower power of the era. Blending tropical beats, eager horn arrangements and distorted guitars, this record is sure to bring any square out of their designated corner. From the monumental opener, “Panis et circenses” to the vaguely familiar “A Minha Menina,” Os Mutantes borrow the best elements from their American and British counterparts, while adding more than enough of their culture into the mix. Don’t have a translator on hand? No worries. The twangy fuzz of “Baby” should balance you out.

4. Country Joe and the Fish – Electric Music for Mind and Body

San Francisco was the source for many doughy-eyed acts from the latter portion of the decade from Jefferson Airplane to Big Brother and the Holding Company. No surprise that County Joe and the Fish have songs about both band’s leading ladies (Grace and Janis, respectively). Their first album Electric Music for Mind and Body broke ground as being one of the first psychedelic albums ever. As if the title doesn’t say it all, the dense keyboards and classic grooves of “Flying High” paired with the upbeat velocity of “Happiness is a Porpoise Mouth” leaves very little breathing room. Picture The Doors minus the drunken tomfoolery and indecent exposures, and you’re almost there.

3. The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter

Yes, these Scottish lads were at Woodstock, although don’t appear on either of the seminal soundtracks. They’re probably better off; The Incredible String Band’s early studio albums standing as testaments to the dawn of a psych-folk hybrid. Their third contribution, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter is like an eerie walk through the woods before the storm, blending modest guitars with the likes of pied pipers and faerie creatures on a last ditch trek towards the source. “Mercy I Cry City” hits like thunder splitting an oak in two, and like magic, we have fire.

2. The Monks – Black Monk Time

Out of the garage and off to the war! The Monks were a ragtag band of American GIs stuck in Germany and on the cusp of a riot. Black Monk Time was their only release, its jagged bite unparalleled even by today’s standards. This record is punk at its roots from the infectious shouts on “Shut Up” down to the frothy bass on “I Hate You” and utter chaos of “Complication”. Underneath all the frills and keyboard reverb lies a dense concern for the rising tensions in Vietnam and realistically, everywhere else. 1966 was only the beginning, and if nothing else Black Monk Time can still ring true as one of the first shots fired.

1. Merrell Fankhauser and The H.M.S. Bounty – Things

And so we’ve come to the end of our journey. Things by Merrell Fankhauser and the H.M.S. Bounty is one of those rare, nearly forgotten nuggets lodged between so many others and yet delicately untouchable from first listen on. Released in 1968, these twelve short, yet vital pop songs draw comparisons to The Byrds with just a dash of Beefheart thrown in for flavor. “Things (Goin’ Round in My Mind)” opens the curtain before the rest gradually spins out of control. Harsh licks and deranged lyrical jabs follow with numbers like “Lost in the City” and “Drivin' Sideways (On a One Way Street)”. By the end, it’s common practice; the road, lows, highs and faces along the way, all remnants of a time and many separate places bonded together by the same groove. No worries, sitar is optional.

Christopher S. Bell lives and breathes in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and the forthcoming Fine Wives.

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