In order to understand the musical form called psychedelic rock, it's important to make the connection between popular culture and the creative expression it inspires. Rock and roll music produced during the 1950s and early 1960s largely reflected a generation yearning to break free of convention but unable to take the final leap. Most popular songs featured standard instrumentation and vocal stylings and were engineered to fit the radio industry's unspoken four minutes or less rule. Even the early hits by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were subject to the restrictions of popular songwriting. Only a few pioneers, such as Bob Dylan, managed to produce music which accurately reflected the changing values of a growing counterculture.
In 1964, several bands in the New York underground music scene began to play what they called psychedelic rock. The term psychedelic was an homage to the hallucinogenic drugs which were only recently entering the public consciousness. Powerful drugs such as LSD, mescaline, peyote and mushrooms were being combined with marijuana and alcohol as a means to disconnect from reality.
While under the influence of these substances, musicians and artists felt as if they had entered a higher sphere of awareness. Psychedelic rock musicians felt free to break out of the pop music mode and perform longer pieces based on free-form jazz and blues models. Lyrics were no longer required to make linear sense - they could reflect an altered reality of the drug experience.
Many music historians point to the Bay Area of Northern California as the birthplace of commercial psychedelic rock. The alternative lifestyle offered by the hippie culture encouraged mainstream musicians to experiment with both the chemical and musical possibilities of the psychedelic movement. Groups such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and the Doors all found a level of success through psychedelic rock music.
Individual artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin also became inextricably linked with the psychedelic culture. In Great Britain, artists such as Donovan and Pink Floyd were also using elements of psychedelia, but it would be the Beatles who once again defined a genre of music. Their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is considered one of the best-crafted psychedelic rock albums of all time.
The psychedelic rock era eventually collapsed under its own excesses. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of many of its icons - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Other psychedelic rock bands either fell out of favor with the public or disbanded their original line-ups.
Some bands with roots in psychedelic rock, such as Pink Floyd and Yes, would eventually expand into the progressive rock sound of the 1970s. As the drug culture turned more towards hardcore drugs like cocaine and heroin, the whimsical visuals and freeform jams of the psychedelic rock years became anachronistic. Some modern bands, such as Phish and the Flaming Lips, have incorporated many of the trappings of the psychedelic rock phenomenon into their elaborate stage shows and extensive tours.