There came a point in the mid-‘60s when pop’s cutting edge was culminating in a great blur of flowers, sex, drugs, and haphazard Eastern mysticism. And rock music, more than anything, was right there, the vessel of a new pop counterculture. If you couldn’t avail yourself of a sitar you made your electric guitar sound like one. Eastern spirituality was evoked, kind of. And lyrics were, depending on your state of mind, mystical, provocative, or just incoherent.
The Yardbirds had “Heart Full of Soul,” the Rolling Stones had “Paint It Black.” The Kinks did it with “See My Friends” and the Beatles, too, did it with “Rain.” There wasn’t anything authentically Eastern – Indian, Arabic, or otherwise – about this new sound in the pop charts. Nor was that really the point. I believe that most pop musicians generally understood their limitations, and understood, too, that – odd exotic modes and chords and Pentatonic scales aside – heavy amplification and psychedelic Eastern-sounding guitar solos belonged together in some sort of profound, predetermined way. It was kismet, in other words, and if someone somewhere was flashing on the Taj Mahal and blue clouds of hashish smoke, then so much the better.
1. The Off-Set, Xanthia (Lisa) (Jubilee)
The Off-Set were a popular band in mid-‘60s Brooklyn, recording their debut 45 as the Jagged Edge before renaming themselves for their second record, the stunning “Xanthia (Lisa).”
A peerless psychedelic dirge that bears some similarity to the work of cross-town compatriots the Velvet Underground, “Xanthia (Lisa)” would be the Off-Set’s last 45. However briefly, though, the Off-Set flourished in the atmosphere of 1966 pop experimentalism. Vocalist Elliot Ingber breaks into something that sounds like Latin two thirds of the way into the song, and when it came time for a solo, there’s the sound of a steel Zippo lighter slid against guitar strings. The Byrds had their 12-string guitar freak-out “Eight Miles High,” so why not try the same with Zippo lighters, communiqués from “the night wind,” and a metric tonne of reverberation?
The Off-Set were Drew Georgopulos (rhythm guitar and vocals), Art Steinman (lead guitar and vocals), Kenny Bennett (drums), Elliot Ingber (lead vocals), and Harley Wishner (bass). Check out Mike Dugo’s great interview with lead guitarist Art Steinman here (with the story of this recording) , and Steinman’s personal history and official site for the band here. Both features were used in writing this post.
Xanthia is a genus of nocturnal moth.
2. 1st Century, Looking Down (Capitol)
The 1st Century’s exact origins remain unknown. If the involvement of Don Nix (former Mar-Keys saxophonist and future blues songwriter) is any indication, though, “Looking Down” was a Memphis production, the 1st Century themselves a one-off group of studio musicians.
“Looking Down,” their only recording, features lyrics straight from a lost epilogue to The Doors of Perception, and the hypnotic propulsion of an unidentified stringed instrument. Whether oud, bouzouki, or otherwise, the real miracle of “Looking Down” is that this instrument had even worked its way up the Mississippi and into some corner of a Memphis studio, when, in 1968, it could finally be put to proper use.
Authorship credit here goes to Ray Stinnett, former guitarist for Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (of “Wooly Bully” fame).
3. The Raves, Mother Nature (Smash)
In 1967, sometimes you needed your harmonies, organ, bass, and your guitars all to hang in the air and vibrate in sympathetic melisma with the East. In the process of doing so, the Raves generated this sublime psychedelic pop classic.
One of innumerable garage combos who released a few fine 45s in the 1960s and who’ve languished in obscurity since, the Raves’ blissful harmony sound is reminiscent of the era’s West Coast recordings. Their exact whereabouts a mystery, though, the involvement of A&R and production stalwarts Ron Haffkine and Jerry Ross on this 45, however, suggest that New York City was home to the brothers Jimenez.