From 1967 onwards, garage rock mutated when it came into contact with lysergic acid, the catalyst for the nascent psychedelic movement. The Beatles paid tribute to Sergeant Pepper and the Stones imagined themselves as priests of a satanic sect. On American soil, the guitars of the Byrds leant towards Hindu raga, while the Mothers of Invention let anarchy reign.
So why weren’t garage rock bands dying, drowned out by the wave of psychedelia flooding North America? With the psychedelic revolution, garage rocks bands went from playing at proms in order to pick up girls, to simply turning the proms into love-ins. The garage style embraced the Beatles’ transformations, with or without the flowery shirts. What was left were haphazard recordings in local studios and singles released on local labels.
The Electric Prunes, a band from Seattle, wrote one of the most impressive anthems of the hippie revolution, “Too Much To Dream Last Night”. Strawberry Alarm Clock reached number one with their hit “Incense & Peppermint” sung by Chris Munford, a sixteen year old friend of the band. The absurd lyrics ape a kind of psychotropic drugs trip, bubble gum style – ‘Good sense, innocence, cripplin’ mankind / dead kings, many things I can’t define / Occasions, persuasions clutter your mind / Incense and peppermints, the color of time…’ It’s as authentic as the Monkees, but the sixties were so good that even the bogus parodies were great.
Among the plethora of garage bands of the time, Music Emporium is one of the most unjustly underrated. Released in 1969 with only three hundred copies, their only album is a masterpiece of dark and brooding psychedelia. Composed by multi-instrumentalist Bill ‘Casey’ Cosby, the music is a dazzling mix of the organ masses of Johann Sebastian Bach and the dark romanticism of Nico. Then there’s the strange entrepreneur Kim Fowley playing a wild horny version of Iggy Pop on acid. Accompanied by Mars Bonfire, Steppenwolf’s first guitarist, he recorded a demented album aptly called Outrageous. And we can’t forget Rocky Erickson, leader of the Texan band 13th Floor Elevator, who was possessed of feverish vocals and danced dervish, electric dances, accompanied by the inimitable electrics of Tommy Hall. The singer would never recover from his acid trips, hallucinating images of aliens and two-headed dogs.
In the early 1980s, legendary compilations such as Back From The Grave and Pebbles helped a new generation rediscover the garage scene. The Cramps, Spacemen 3 and The Cynics went against the synthetic sounds of New Wave and took up this primitive and joyful energy with a lot of fuzz guitar and farfisas. Even today, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and The Black Angels exploit the same feelings. Ariel Pink even covered “Bright Lit Blue Skies”, an obscure Rising Storm track that would only be discovered by a wider audience forty years after it’s first release. If the garage aesthetic still persists, it is perhaps because it is less about musicology than about attitude – ultimate proof that teen spirit is anything but a passing fad.