Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Freak Scene

The term "psychedelic" was coined by LSD researcher Humphry Osmond in a letter to Aldous Huxley in the mid-50s. They were searching for a word to describe the effects of mind-altering chemicals like LSD and mescaline. Bear these origins in mind when considering the concept of psychedelic music. The first media use of the word in connection with rock music occurred in February 1966 in an Austin newspaper article on the 13th Floor Elevators, who also had it on their business cards. So, let's recap: Osmond, Huxley, Donovan, 13th Floor Elevators, Fugs, The Deep, all before the term became mainstream vernacular. Beyond the word itself, in 1961, early L.A. surf band The Gamblers release the A-side 45 "Moon Dawg," b/w "LSD-25," a song far from the psychedelic, nonetheless; the name randomly given the track by an L.A. D.J. (You decide it it counts.) Alan Watts released the This Is IT LP in 1962, a combination of spoken word and chant, at one point culminating in "Loveyouloveyouloveyou," which fades in a swirl of echo-y sound effects. John Densmore's 1st band, The Psychedelic Rangers, formed early in 1965, around the same time as the recording of "Sunshine Superman," while Virginia City, Nevada's The Charlatans were the first band to perform under the influence of LSD. As can be noted, the complexity of the scene and the simultaneity is often hard to pinpoint. Maybe squeeze Kim Fowley's "The Trip" 45 between Donovan and the 13th Floor Elevators. Maybe add "Norwegian Wood;" by mid 1965, there was a cacophony of psychedelia.

Psychedelic Psoul, the lone contribution by The Freak Scene, was a fascinating mid-60s curio, made up of songs interspersed with spoken word vignettes that address the hot-button issues of the time – Vietnam, civil rights, the plight of hippies. The topical spoken word vignettes haven't aged well, but several of the tracks have lasting appeal. "A Million Grains of Sand," "Rose of Smiling Faces" and "My Rainbow Life" exemplify the Indian influence that dominated the Summer of Love, with its mystical lyrics and swirling strings. 

The Freak Scene was the creation of Rusty Evans, a folksinger who got his start recording rockabilly for Brunswick Records. Evans was responsible for several albums by pseudo-bands, Monkees-style, that were, in actuality, Evans and a group of studio musicians.  The Freak Scene was the second of Evans' psych-pop groups, following on the heels of The Deep, and featuring many of the same musicians who played on the The Deep's The Psychedelic Mood.

By far the best offering on Psychedelic Psoul is "The Subway Ride Through Inner Space," which somehow manages to mash-up the stream-of-conscious lyrical quality of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and George Harrison's sitar-heavy Beatles tracks, all atop looping, hypnotic rhythms. No one will deny the impact of Pink Floyd or The Beatles with regard to psychedelia, but tone it down to an L.A. tract home neighborhood with teens smoking pot behind the garage, and you've got The Freak Scene.