Led by a generation of young musicians who grew up in the wake of the psychedelic rock revolution of the 1960s, the 1980s saw a brief but highly influential resurgence of psychedelic aesthetics in rock music—but unlike the psych sound of the’ 60s, which reached mass popularity, the ‘80s resurgence was primarily limited to regional rock movements like Los Angeles’s “Paisley Underground” scene and bands like the Rain Parade, Green On Red, The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, and more.
“We were all born or were more or less young in the ‘60s, so we grew up with The Beatles on AM radio, The Stones, and everything,” says Dream Syndicate guitarist Steve Wynn. “I think it was easy for all of us to have nostalgia—if a 21-year-old could have nostalgia about that scene,” he says. However, it was Wynn’s discovery of Lenny Kaye’s classic 1972 compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968), that sparked his interest in psychedelia and served as an inspiration to many of his musical peers. “The thing that really fired me up was Nuggets, I was in a record store in 1977 and I found a two dollar cut-out copy of Nuggets and I went, ‘This looks kinda cool.’ It might be the most important record purchase that I’ve ever made in my life. It might be the one that’s shaped me more than anything I’ve ever listened to,” he says.
In addition to the Paisley Underground bands in L.A., bands like Plasticland (from Wisconsin), The Chesterfield Kings, and The Fuzztones (both from New York) made waves with their contemporary take on psych-rock and garage. In the UK, bands like Spacemen 3 and The Soft Boys also put their own innovative spin on the psychedelic sound. Here are eight landmark recordings of many of the great bands of this era.
The Rain Parade
Emergency Third Rail Power Trip
The Rain Parade is one of the most influential and celebrated bands to come out of the Paisley Underground scene. Their debut, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip is a standout of the ‘80s neo-psych movement, and it still sounds fresh nearly forty years later. Throughout the album, the band couch dark lyrics about depression and madness within uplifting melodies and sunshiney musical arrangements. Songs like “This Can’t Be Today” and “Saturday’s Asylum” explore this duality with some beautiful results.
The Bevis Frond
Guitarist and songwriter Nick Saloman was one of the most prolific creative minds of ‘80s psychedelia. The Bevis Frond started out in the ‘80s as a one man band project where Saloman released his own home-recorded psychedelic gems. 1988’s Triptych is one of Saloman’s early masterworks. The album opens with “Into The Cryptic Mist,” a hypnotic instrumental featuring a distorted guitar solo from Saloman. Showcasing Saloman’s imagination and range as a songwriter, Triptych swings from the sweet and catchy “Lights Are Changing” to the noisy punk “Nowhere Fast” and “Tangerine Infringement Break”—a nearly nineteen minute epic that ends in a wash of pulsating noise and static.
The Soft Boys
Compact Disc (CD)
Led by singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, The Soft Boys explored a heartfelt version of psychedelic utopianism that flew directly in the face of the cynicism of the 1980s. On their brilliant 1980 sophomore album Underwater Moonlight, Hitchcock’s lyrics touch on war and the destruction of the environment in addition to a surrealistic streak that adds character to the songs. The album opens with the cheeky punk anthem “I Wanna Destroy You” and from there Hitchcock and company run through a wealth of catchy, inventive songs like the anthemic “Queen Of Eyes” and the exuberant, sitar-driven jam “Positive Vibrations.”
The Three O’ Clock
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
The Three O’ Clock were central to L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, so much so that The Three O’ Clock’s bassist Michael Quercio coined the term. Their well-executed 1983 album Sixteen Tambourines is full of catchy riffs and infused with unabashed joyfulness. Inventive tracks like “Stupid Einstein,” “A Day In Erotica,” and “Tomorrow” immediately grab the ear. The Three O’ Clock carry on the traditions of the ‘60s by incorporating elegant string and brass parts into their ebullient, psychedelic sound.
The Complete Book Of Hours
Compact Disc (CD)
The Complete Book Of Hours is an expanded reissue of Seattle neo-psych outfit Green Pajamas’s 1986 album Book Of Hours. Album opener “Paula” is a brassy sing-along anthem that feels like The Beatles meet Motown filtered through an ‘80s lens. Somber ballads like “The Night Miss Sunby Died” and “The First Rains Of September” display the band’s versatility and the rich emotional depth of their songs while the trippy backward guitars of “Ten Thousand Words” are indicative of Green Pajamas’s sophisticated, experimental approach to pop.
Out Of Time
Stories We Can Tell
Out Of Time was an Italian quintet that were known for their distinctive brand of dreamy, psych-infused country rock. This reissue of their sole studio album is augmented with a handful of live recordings and raw, untitled jams. The album opens with “Take My Time” an upbeat tune with ringing guitars swirling around singer Giovanni Cravero’s vocals. “One More Chance” is one of the album’s clear standouts with its countrified feel and slick slide guitar. Full of beautifully written tunes, Stories We Can Tell is one of the great, unheralded gems of the ‘80s psychedelic era.