by Tony Sclafani
What is it about the psychedelic music of the 1960s that continues to intrigue new generations of people?
Maybe itâ€™s because psychedelic music was a genre where almost anything went, and all possibilities seemed endless. Artists under the spell of psychedelia seemed blissfully unaware of commercial conventions, and were the first rockers to make full use of extra-long songs, nonsensical lyrics, massive distortion and sound effects.
Another reason for psychedelic musicâ€™s appeal is that it allows you to â€œtravel with your mind,â€ as the Seeds put it on their psych-rock opus â€œFuture.â€ During the psychedelic era, artists created their own little worlds for listeners to explore. Formula love lyrics gave way to songs about everything from jolly little dwarves to 30-year-olds who still played with toys.
Psychedelic music essentially offers a vision of a make-believe world that often seems a heck of a lot more fun than the real one. In the Psychedelic World, cyclists whiz by on white bicycles at midnight, you can hear the grass grow and the skies change from orange to marmalade (some women even have marmalade hair!).
No other music delved into the fantastic like psychedelia, and the genre couldn’t be less timely. The trend in lyrics today (especially in the country and rap genres) is to reflect goings on in the real world, not to create an idiosyncratic fantasyland. How can todayâ€™s teens get any escape from the often-harsh real world if even their music fails to provide that? True, there are video games, but their dog-eat-dog ethos is reflective of real-world strife. If you were looking for escape circa 1967, all you had to do was turn on the black light, stare at your day-glo posters and groove to the sounds of Clear Light or The Blues Magoos. Voila! A new world. Like, why go out at all?
Laugh at psychedelic music if you will. But itâ€™s instructive to remember that when artists of any post-1960s era have looked to make big statements and take their careers to a new level, itâ€™s psychedelia they usually tap into, for instance Princeâ€™s â€œAround the World in a Day,â€ Robert Frippâ€™s â€œExposureâ€ and Madonnaâ€™s â€œLike a Prayerâ€ and “Beautiful Stranger” (directly referencing Love’s “She Comes in Colors”).
Psychedelic music is crawling all over the media landscape again these days, since this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love and the Monterey International Pop Festival. And while itâ€™s hard sometimes to know exactly where to start to get into this music (Blossomtoes? Ultimate Spinach?), there is a 24/7 source for psychedelic sounds, thanks to Internet radio.
The Technicolor Web of Sound (www.techwebsound.com) is an online station that serves up a non-stop selection of songs of vintage psychedelic origin. The station, which is powered by Shoutcast streaming technology, is run by Wisconsin native and music buff Paul Moews. Moews, whose name is pronounced as â€œmaze,â€ was doing Internet radio back before most people even knew what it was.
â€œI started the station around 2000,â€ says Moews by cell phone while commuting to his job as an electrical engineer. â€œwith one or two listeners max on a dial-up modem. I was excited when Iâ€™d get over three people listening at a time. Now Iâ€™ve got hundreds on there.â€
Moewsâ€™ site stands out not just because of his micro-niche focus, but because his station has a Web site that provides details on the artists he plays (most Shoutcast Internet stations donâ€™t have Web sites, much less intricately-designed ones). There are no disc jockeys, except when the station broadcasts a programmed show called â€œThe Pop Shoppe,â€ put together by Oregon disc jockey Gregarious. What Moews has done is created a lengthy playlist that intersperses obscure tracks with vintage radio commercials.
â€œThe playlist has been manually designed,â€ Moews explains. â€œThereâ€™s no randomness to it. Itâ€™s such a long playlist that when even I listen a lot of the time I still wonâ€™t remember what song is coming up next. One of the keys to its success, I think, is the transitions between the songs, and having the ads in there. If you were to do a random playlist, the ads wouldnâ€™t work at all — you wouldnâ€™t have good transitions. With the ads, you need to have three or four in a row to mimic an original or authentic FM station
What can you expect to hear on The Technicolor Web of Sound? Hereâ€™s a sampling of the Web siteâ€™s â€œmost recent tracks playedâ€ list as of June 19, 10:30 a.m.: Johnâ€™s Childrenâ€™s â€œDesdemona,â€ Pink Floydâ€™s â€œArnold Layne,â€ Bearâ€™s â€œSo Loose and So Slow,â€ Stone Countryâ€™s â€œLife Stands Daring Me,â€ Ill Windâ€™s â€œPeople of The Night,â€ Steppenwolfâ€™s â€œThe Ostrich,â€ The Charlatansâ€™ â€œ32-20,â€ Cosmic Brotherhoodâ€™s â€œSunshine World,â€ Painted Facesâ€™ â€œBlack Hearted Susan,â€ Neon Pearlâ€™s â€œForeverâ€ and a Jefferson Airplane Levis Ad done by Spencer Dryden.
Moewsâ€™ music choices sometimes fall beyond the boundaries of psychedelia, which waters down the stationâ€™s appeal (for example, why is Led Zeppelin played at all?). But for the most part, most of what he plays is unheard anywhere else, especially on terrestrial radio stations. Even Satellite Radio is starting to shy away from potentially uncommercial formulas. Moews says heâ€™s able to earn enough money to keep the station running free from any commercial considerations. If thereâ€™s anyone Moews takes his musical cues from, itâ€™s his listeners.
â€œI gradually ended up getting a fan base that started sending me more and more music,â€ Moews notes. â€œMy audience actually exposed me to a good percentage of what I play now. Plus, bands contacted me as well. Iâ€™ve received CDs from various bands, and not just obscure ones, some of the mid-level bands. And thatâ€™s exposed me to some music I probably would not have been exposed to if I didnâ€™t have the station.â€
Moews says he gets listeners as young as 16 who e-mail him and say â€œI love your station!â€ Moews himself also missed the first flowering of psychedelia, having been born in 1968.
â€œI wasnâ€™t there, but I still like the music,â€ he says. â€œIâ€™ve liked that type of music since I was in grade school — I heard it from a buddy that lived a couple of doors down from me who had a lot of older brothers (with psychedelic albums).â€
As for the issue of the proposed royalty rate hike for Internet radio stations (set to take place July 15, 2007), Moews says heâ€™s â€œriding it out to see what happens.â€ As countless news outlets have reported, there is still a chance Congress could step in and prevent the US Copyright Royalty Board from making Internet radio stations have to pay more in royalty fees (including retroactive fees) to the collection entity SoundExchange.
â€œItâ€™s a shame that when internet radio stations â€¦ introduce thousands of people to music they have never heard before and actually generate more record sales, that the Record Industry still wants to charge us even more for our efforts,â€ Moews writes via e-mail when asked about the royalty situation. â€œIt almost seems that theyâ€™re trying to suppress certain types of music.â€
The Technicolor Web of Sound also helped spawn another radio station thatâ€™s probably its only competitor in terms of Web radio programming.
That station is called Beyond the Beat Generation (www.beyondthebeatgeneration.com) and it plays an array of 1960s garage bands so obscure they makes Moewsâ€™ playlist look like the Billboard top ten. It also has an exhaustive Web site with artist interviews, photos and even videos.
â€œI helped (Hans Kesteloo) set up that station,â€ Moews says. â€œHeâ€™s from Germany and heâ€™s an avid collector. In fact he turned me onto some stuff.â€
Like the Technicolor Web of Sound, Beyond the Beat Generationâ€™s site has a rotating â€œsong historyâ€ listing. On the Technicolor site, you can click on the name of the artist in the song history and get a biography. On the Beat Generation site, the song history listing tells you the label, serial number and release year for each record and also tells the hometown of the artist. And you thought you were obsessive about records.
Hereâ€™s a segment of the Beyond the Beat Generationâ€™s playlist as of June 20, 2:37 p.m.: Jarvo Rungaâ€™s â€œLong Walk Home,â€ Phyllis Brownâ€™s â€œDead,â€ The Syndicate of Soundâ€™s â€œGet Outta My Life,â€ The K Oticsâ€™ â€œDouble Shot,â€ The Dawn 5â€™s â€œA Necessary Evil,â€ The Yardleysâ€™ â€œYour Loveâ€ and Moving Sidewalksâ€™ â€œStay Away.â€
If you donâ€™t want to be relegated to listening to all this music on your computer speakers, you can send the audio signal to your stereo via a $20 device called the DynexÂ®-Portable Wireless FM Transmitter (which you can order online at Best Buy). For serious music fans, all of the above technology has pretty much made commercial radio stations irrelevant.
You can also take the MP3 streams from both these stations, dump them into your Winamp player, toggle between them, and never hear a familiar 1960s song for hours on end. Itâ€™s, like, a total alternate reality, man.