Kissing the Sky
Being a random collection of hip tunes from high times.

The World

It was the late 1960's. JFK was old news, but RFK and MLK were new news. There was blood on the streets of Chicago (I lived there, I saw it), but there was also the summer of love. There were free drugs. I don't remember having to actually pay money for dope more than a couple of times in my life (though I was never a regular doer). It was just around. People offered you a toke or a trip and everything was cool. We knew the heavy shit could kill you and I saw plenty of serious crashes, but I managed to (narrowly) escape the Big Trip that might get you planted (or get the government involved, which was almost as bad).

The uniform of the day was hair. A hippie in a three-piece suit was still a hippie. We called ourselves freaks, but it wasn't really like we thought of ourselves as mutant pinheads or something. The alienation we felt was from the 50's society of our parents and from the government. Above all we learned to question authority and to fear the pigs.

The alienation was so widespread there was a brotherhood among freaks - the Alien Nation of America. We had the uniform, the language, the peace sign salute. Any number of signs that said "brother." We truly felt we were changing the world. We stopped a war; we ousted a president; we even tried to levitate the Pentagon with peace vibes. And we were certain that from here on out it was going to be different. Really different. It was the Age of Aquarius.

The ennui I see today in many expatriate hippies from that era stems from a feeling of loss and betrayal. It's unimaginable that we could have fallen so far from the heights we had gained. We feel disenfranchised in a society that is polarized between two equally bankrupt visions - the so-called right and the so-called left - both of which spend most of their time spouting meaningless platitudes about Values and Morals while they are blind to the real Work that needs to be done. We don't need no stinkin' values - we just need to stop killing each other because it gets in the way. Life, liberty and the pursuit of hippyness is where it's at. Peace, man.

-Dwight Newton

The Music

My musical taste developed late, considering I came from a seriously musical family. What caught my interest then and continues to this day is not just novelty, but creativity. A lot of music that came out of the 60's was really crap. But among the dross were the stellar giants who transcended the mundane gimmickry and created true art. The highest among these was, of course, Hendrix, who, like so many stars of that day burned hot and fast. But there were a bunch of others that I listened to that had a profound influence on how I think about art, reality, deity, purpose.

Yes, Eric Clapton made me weep for joy when he played with John Mayall's Blues Breakers. This was on the stereo at maximum volume the first time I got high. To this day I feel this was a religious experience. All my experimentation with psychedelics since then was done in a spirit of sacrament and reverence.

But it's not just the dope. The drugs opened the window and helped me see the awesome beauty of musical genius. That didn't go away when I was straight. It was (is) real.

Sure there is always great music happening. Today we have geniuses like Edgar Meyer (certified by the MacArthur Foundation), Bela Fleck, and I'm sure many others, but frankly I don't know who they are. I lost most of my interest in pop music in the disco drought of the 70's and never really went back.

Lots of folks have published similar lists and mine is not much different or better or worse. It is what it is - a personal statement of the stuff that made a difference to me. I most cases the albums featured on this page are ones I once owned. Hope you groove on them as nice as I have. Far out.

 

 

The Beatles: Revolver

Buy (1966) I first took notice of the Beatles when they released Rubber Soul. This was the first indication to me that these guys were actually musicians and great songwriters. Then came Revolver. This was so "in your face" that you couldn't help having an opinion about it, either good or bad, and many at the time thought it was too weird. My reaction was decidedly enthusiastic. Sgt. Pepper is often touted as the greatest of the Beatles records, but I would rate it number three, after Revolver and the White Album (which is not to say I wasn't completely wowed by Sgt. Pepper as well).

Love

Buy (1966) A west coast band with a cult following. I was completely obsessed with this band for about a year. I had all three of their albums and I knew every song by heart. Arthur Lee's vision and voice somehow struck a chord with me. The often quirky lyrics are classic 60's hip poetry. And the melodies varied from straight rock to liquid jazz. The third album, Forever Changes, is often held up as the apex of Love's corpus and it is really amazing, with lush orchestrations that were not typical of rock albums. But the first (self titled) album was also groundbreaking and, I think, purer.

Blues Magoos

Buy (1966) Pretty much straight ahead 60's rock. Their big hit was We Ain't Got Nothin' Yet, but the mildly disturbing Love Seems Doomed is more interesting. They get into some American roots interpretation with a great rendition of Tobacco Road. Their follow-up to Psychedelic Lollipop was Electric Comic Book, with such gems as Life is just a Cher of Bowlies and Take My Love (and shove it up your heart). What's not to love?

Electric Prunes


Buy(1967) Classic California garage psychedelia. Their big hit was I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night. They had an odd diversion when they recorded David Axelrod's semi-successful Mass in F Major - a rock-based catholic mass.

The band has actually had more longevity than most people realize. Some of their early recordings have been resurrected and a new incarnation of the band is back performing and recording.

John Mayall's Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
Buy John Mayall Blues Breakers

Buy (1966) Clapton's vocal debut was on this album, which was on the stereo at full blast the first time I got high. It was a religious experience. Blues, yes, but what a guitar (see also Cream, below). Mayall's voice with Clapton's guitar just fit.

Velvet Underground
Buy Velvet Underground

Buy (1966) These guys were into some serious shit. I remember sitting up very late every night in 1966 Chicago pulling in AM radio stations like KDKA Pittsburgh and even WBZ Boston. In Boston the DJ was talking about Warhol's show the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, starring the Velvet Underground at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston. Lou Reed's junkie voice, John Cale's screaming electric viola and the sultry voice of the German chanteuse and Warhol superstar Nico (the late Christa Pffgen). I was 15 and I was blown away. I still have the vinyl Velvet album with the Warhol banana on the cover (still unpeeled). The song "Heroin" was disturbing enough to make me never want to try that stuff. But among all the screeching and edginess was some stunningly beautiful songwriting by Lou Reed.

Rolling Stones:
Satanic Majesties

Buy (1967) I was never a Rolling Stones fan. I got what they were doing, but they just weren't (aren't) my cup of tea. It's because Satanic Majesties was not the usual Stones fare that I liked it. Sure, I was a dumb kid and was sucked into buying the ultra-cool stereo-optic cover. Everyone says it was a poor imitation of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, but it was really more in the style of the psychedelic rock mainstream. Sgt. Pepper had a lot of classic psychedelic elements, but it was a concept album that was stylistically outside anything anyone else was doing. Satanic Majesties proved to be a  diversion for the Stones without a lasting impact on their music.

Cream

 Buy (1968) Clapton was never better than when he was jamming with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. The extended jams as heard on the traditional blues Spoonful on Wheels of Fire are classic documents of musical genius in action.

Iron Butterfly

 Buy (1968) The 17-minute jam on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is probably the only thing Iron Butterfly will be remembered for, but it stands as an icon of 60's trip music.

Hendrix

Buy (1968) The composer Hector Berlioz once said "Bach is Bach, as God is God." It is probably hyperbole to compare Hendrix to God (or to Bach, for that matter), but if the essence of God is creation, then there is certainly something godlike in the genius of this young comet. Hendrix's depth of understanding of his instrument (by which I mean not only the electric guitar, but also the effects of amplification and distortion) was vast.  How much of this was learned from LSD? Probably a lot, but the fact remains he had a poetic mind that responded to the essential nature of sound and being.

Jefferson Airplane

 Buy (1967) Jefferson Airplane was in many ways the quintessential California psychedelic band. White Rabbit became a freak anthem, but it was also an astoundingly cool song - probably the first rock band ever to do an original tango. I had pretty limited resources as a teen, so I didn't often buy a lot of albums by the same band. But I owned Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing at Baxter's, Volunteers, and Crown of Creation

I saw Jefferson Airplane when they played a free concert in Grant Park in Chicago in the spring of 1969 (sort of . . . I was there; they were there; I heard them; I got pictures). See pictures

These bands have in common a certain studied aesthetic based on 20th century innovators like John Cage, Karheinz Stockhausen, Charles Ives. They used electronic effects, especially tape manipulation (musique concrete) and elementary analog synthesis. They are inevitably highly educated and their approach to music was studied and intellectual, though often highly satirical and certainly not without pathos.

The United States of America

Buy (1968) USA was a peculiar west coast experimental band with roots the in academic avant garde: Stockhausen, Cage, Ives and so on.  They were possibly the first band to use simple electronic synthesis, in the form of a ring modulator. But they also used established techniques of tape manipulation and musique concrete. Also used were a variety of odd instruments for a rock band at that time, including calliope, violin and harpsichord. (See also Time/Think Dog!) Styles vary from psychedelic noise to jug-band to the beautifully melodic, sometimes all at once.

The story on USA was that their leader, Joseph Byrd, was a radical communist who created the band to see if he could subvert the music industry establishment. He succeeded in this by somehow getting a recording contract with Columbia Records. But the creativity that appeared on their self-titled LP turned out to be more innovative than subversive.

Time/Think Dog!

Buy (1967) This is possibly the best band of the psychedelic 60's you've never heard of. They did record, but never actually released an album. I happen to know about them because one of the founders was my brother Lynn.

I won't go into the story of the band that was once known as Time and later became Think Dog! Their history and music is thoroughly chronicled in a fascinating account by Lynn on his website. Their music is remarkably akin to USA, with similar influences, but evolved independently on the east coast. Thanks to my brother's obsessive nature, the original tapes somehow survived poor storage conditions for three decades and were transferred to CD. They are now being made available on limited edition audiophile vinyl by Psychedelic-Music.com, a German company that specializes in music of this era. The earlier recording, Before there was Time, is currently available and the second recording, Dog Days, by Think Dog!, will be released soon.

Zappa/Mothers

 Buy (1966) Zappa once said "Let's be realistic about this, the guitar can be the single most blasphemous device on the face of the earth. That's why I like it .... The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar: now that's my idea of a good time." Zappa delighted in the artistic offense. Eat this. Get over it. Kiss my ass. Shousurtitz. But it wasn't merely offensive; it was also high art. He was astoundingly productive and creative unbelievably complex music that only the best musicians could play. Like a Taj Mahal made of smelly cheese, perhaps . . .

Crosby Stills Nash & Young

 Buy (1969) Davis Crosby had been a member of the Byrds, Stephen Stills was in Buffalo Springfied, Graham Nash had been in the Hollies. Stills and Crosby were buddies and were introduced to Graham Nash as Mama Cass Elliot's house in L.A.

The Byrds
 

Buy (1965) The Byrds took a Dylan protest song (at least Dylan sang it like it was a protest song) with lyrics from Ecclesiastes and turned it into a close-harmony hit. The trademark twang of the Rickenbaker electric 12-string is what made it rock.

The Mamas & the Papas

Buy (1966) These guys were unbelievably popular for their short career. Their tight happy harmonies were the essence of California flower power and the sound stands up well after all these years. 

Incredible String Band

 Buy (1968)

Pearls Before Swine

 Buy (1967)

Donovan

 Buy (1967)

Steeleye Span

 Buy (1970)

Pentangle

 Buy (1968)

Fairport Convention

 Buy (1969)

Miles
 

Buy (1969)

Jaco Pastorius
 

Buy (1976)

Coltrane
 

Buy (1964) A Love Supreme

Chick Corea

 Buy (1972)

Weather Report

 Buy (1971)

Mahavishnu John McLaughlin

Buy (1971) with keyboardist Jan Hammer, violinist Jerry Goodman,

Jean-Luc Ponty

 Buy (1976) Ponty's legendary recording  Imaginary Voyage had a 20 minute suite (title track) and also what is probably his  best known tune,  New Country.

This page is created by Dwight Newton/ORISCUS, 2005.

Last updated: 03/20/2005