Friday, 16 April 2010

The 20 greatest psychedelic soul records

What’s your favourite musical genre? For me there are a number of contenders – I love the sheer excitement of a dirty drum n bass bassline. I find a good disco breakdown and build up again completely irresistible and just sometimes (especially on a Sunday morning) only a melancholy folk song will do...

Having said all of that, I’ve no hesitation when asked this question. Psychedelic soul (for that is my answer)evolved out of both the Motown artists quest for greater musical freedom and the psychedelia scene of the late 1960’s spearheaded by the Byrds and Dylan. The first protagonists were arguably Hendrix and then Sly and the Family Stone with the release of their landmark Dance to the Music in 1968. They somehow managed to capture the energy of guitar bands but maintain a soulful groove and this translated into massive sales as well as critical acclaim. Others soon followed – most notably Charles Stepney’s Rotary Connection from Chicago, Memphis’ Issac Hayes and the Norman Whitfield produced era Temptations and Undisputed Truth. The key years were probably 1969-75 by which time the psychedelic soul sound had evolved into the more fully realised and smoother produced disco movement. For some of us though it is those earlier records that capture something just a little more organic than disco but with the same infectious energy. Here’s 20 to seek out – a few classics, a few DJ favourites and just one or two oddities...if you don't agree with my selection (What, no Shuggie Otis?) then leave a comment below to let us know what you think...

20. Get ready – Rare Earth

A Temptations hit covered by a number of artists of the time, Get Ready carries the uplifting beat beloved of much psychedelic soul. Rare Earth were a white act signed to Motown and still play today. This track was a big favourite of Francis Grasso who many claim invented DJ mixing as it is recognised today. Another of their tracks Happy song was later remixed by Walter Gibbons and Francois Kevorkian.

19. Reflections - Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The trippy sounds of the time even reached Motown! This 1967 track started with the sound of a disorientated theremin and it is interspersed with various other sound effects. Even the lyrics were a departure from the likes of My Cherie Amour or Tracks of my Tears 'Through the mirror of my mind, time after time I see reflections of you and me' Diana sings. A great 60's pop single.

18. Dove – Cymande

Had to get some UK in there! Cymande really were/are a fantastic act perhaps most famous for their track BRA. This was one of their more gentle moments and like many of the tracks here has been sampled since (in this case by the Fugees). This has bongos and slide guitar to great emotional effect before a mellow climax of flute and soulful vocal – niiice.

17. A change is going to come – Baby Huey

There was a revival in Baby Huey a few years ago when his Living Legend album was reissued after various tracks were sampled by Ghostface Killah, Ice Cube and most notably Tribe Called Quest on Can I Kick it? This cover of the Sam Cooke classic takes the listener into the heart of the drugs experience with Huey talking about his own personal drug journey during the breakdown. Cooke’s original version of this song of course showed its continued relevance when selected by Barack Obama as his campaign theme song (although i'm not sure the president elect was actively endorsing the intensive use of hallucinogenics!).

16. Time has come today – Chambers brothers

Another one from the dawn of the psychedelic/soul fusion. Coming out in 1966 this 11 minute sprawling epic almost hit the American top 10 which says much about the experimental nature of the times. The Chambers Brothers were a folk band from Mississippi and split in 1972.

15. Red Moon – Fugi

There is some ambiguity as to whether Ellington ‘ Fugi’ Johnson and Black Merda (see number 9) were actually the same act but is actually more likely that they recorded together. Either way, this track is a wonderful fusion of soul and the emerging rock sounds of the day.

14. He’s a superstar – Roy Ayers

Ayer’s homage to Jesus is one of the very best tracks from his catalogue. The female backing vocals lift this onto a spiritual plain. I saw Roy Ayers play the jazz cafe a few years ago and at one point he jumped into the crowd right next to He’s a Superstar I didn’t happen of course but I felt better for letting him know that he should revisit it one day!

13. Tomcat – Muddy Waters

A number of established acts dabbled with psychedelia including Muddy Waters. This featured on the Electric Mud album which came about at the suggestion of Marshall Chess who wanted to re-invigorate the bluesman’s faltering career. The album dived in the states but was better regarded in the UK (Waters himself later disowned the recording). This particular track was re-discovered by DJ David Holmes on one of his many funk compilations.

12. Everyday people - Sly and the Family Stone

Sly's plea for racial tolerance was the band's first number one single in 1968 and did much to secure them a spot at the rock dominated Woodstock. The Stand album from which Everyday People was taken was a landmark release of the genre and included Don't call me nigger whitey as well as the title track. Different strokes for different folks indeed...

11. Superstar – Society of Seven

This one is an unlikely winner and has been championed by Mr Thing amongst others. Recorded by a Hawaiian hotel band (who still record til this day)this is a departure from their usual covers of standards of the day and is a fantastic example of the uptempo energy of soul music from this era. Expect to pay about £30 for the album its on (Simply Ourselves).

10. Chicago, Damn – Bobbi Humphry

One of the more mellow tracks on the list. This shows how the template of soul was taken into more extended forms via jazz. Humphry was the first female instrumentalist to record for Blue Note and as fine a flautist as you are likely to hear. The whole of her debut Blacks and Blues album that this comes from is superb.

9. For You – Black Merda

For you I could do anything...I do my best to make you feel like a queen – a simple message of unrequited love. This track has a real gospel feel and comes from the Detroit band’s album Long Burn the Fire on Janus, a subsidiary of Chess records. Black Merda considered themselves the first black rock band and enjoyed a short lived career but reformed in 2005 after diggers picked up on their records.

8. If there’s a hell below – Curtis Mayfield

With Chess and Cadet in town, Chicago was a major contributor to the psychedelic soul scene. As well as the acts listed here (Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton) there were the Chi-lites and the Independents to name but two. Undoubtedly one of the most important artists though was Curtis Mayfield (formerly of the Impressions). There’s a hell below touches on another key theme of the era – racial harmony – these days its unlikely a song could reference Niggers, Jews, Whiteys and then go on to talk about how they’re all going to end up in hell anyway but then the 1970s were a very different time!

7. Undisputed truth – Smiling faces sometimes

An act put together by Norman Whitfield to enable him to master the sound that would become psychedelic soul. The band had a lengthy recording career from which there are many highlights but this was their only hit. Lyrically the song reflected the drug induced paranioa of the times (Smiling faces sometimes..they don't tell the truth). The song was also recorded by other psych soul acts the Temptations and Rare Earth.

6. Black Gold of the Sun – Rotary Connection

A Stepney production and another stone cold classic. Notably covered by NuYorcan Soul who introduced it to a whole new generation. Stepney’s orchestration, Sidney Barnes’ wonderful deep voice and Minnie Riperton’s unbelievable high octave range combine to devastating effect.

5. Morning Glory/Life and Death Pt 1/White Rose – Chairmen of the Board

Like the Parliament track below, was originally released on Lamont Dozier’s post Motown Inviticus label. A movement rather than a song it builds round a heavy bass groove and is largely instrumental. Heavy but melodic.

4. Come in out of the rain – Parliament

People don’t really think of George Clinton as psychedelic soul – rather the architect of P funk. This 1972 track however clearly toys with psych soul themes of civil rights and Vietnam and features a great vocal performance. A big favourite of Norman Jay amongst others.

3. Ike’s Mood – Issac Hayes

Heavily sampled – most notably by Massive Attack on Blue Lines, Issac Hayes arguably gave birth to orchesteral Soul with his landmark Hot Buttered Soul album. This came later on To Be Continued and is perhaps the ultimate realisation of the Hayes vision. The piano break is unbelievably tender and the strings combine to send real shivers up the spine – the sense of space in the whole track clearly had an influence on the Bristol artists some two decades later. Magnificent.

2. Law of the Land – The Temptations

Another stone cold classic and played by everyone from Nicky Siano at the Gallery(who used to mix it with James Brown’s Give it Up) to David Mancuso at the Loft. This has an unbelievably funky groove underpinned by a driving beat. Motown writer Norman Whitfield (himself the writer of I Heard it Through the Grapevine) brought the modern sound to the already established Temptations and produced what is arguably their best work – Cloud Nine, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and this personal favourite

1. Les Fleurs – Minnie Ripperton

Like heaven on ecstasy – the juxtaposition of Minnie’s voice with Charles Stepney’s orchestration makes for an irresistible end of nighter and is one of the all time classic club records. Recorded on Minnie’s debut LP Come Into My Garden the track is an ode to the physical joy of love. Stepney gives Minnie free reign in the chorus before letting rip on the instrumentation in the style of the rush from the Beatle’s Day in the Life – a perfect melding of human and instrument. The song I walked down the Aisle to...


  1. Nice selection - thanks for that.
    I've managed to dig out most of the ones I didn't have already and am just thinking about adding a few of my own to the list .... I'll keep you posted.

  2. Do it - i'm sure there are plenty i've missed!

  3. I love this track :
    The dutch rhythm steel and show band - down by the river (edit of neil young)

  4. I continuously continue coming to your website once more simply in case you have posted new contents.psychedelic

  5. Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.