Psychedelia And Other Colours
Electric Shock: From The Gramophone To The iPhone – 125 Years Of Pop Music
Bodley Head, £25
WHAT a tease Rob Chapman’s book is. It lures you with the most sumptuous colours, the dust-jacket resembling the tie-dye dress on the beautiful girl in your chemistry class who wafted out of reach when the Summer of Love finally arrived in Scotland in the winter of 1972 (Hello, Geraldine Cruikshank!). Inside I am expecting – no, demanding – lots of luscious images of spaced-out dancing, technicolor raving and mass nudity. Then I open the book and it’s like the Bible. Two solemn screeds of type at every turn, relentless words, 656 pages and nae photies! It looks like a book to be read on a fast day or as we term them now a 5/2 diet day, so this is how I set about Chapman’s history of psychedelia.
This is a serious study, but don’t be put off. Open it at random, in either the British section or the American one, and I bet you’ll still be on the same page five hours later. Who were those bands and why haven’t you heard of them? Do they have Wikipedia pages? (No.) Have they been YouTubed? (Yes, but no performance footage, just shaky-hand images of the labels of their 7-inch flops.) What do they sound like? (Mostly fantastic.) I was vaguely aware of Blossom Toes but not their music, which is fantastic, although not as fantastic as that of Shy Limbs, one-dud-wonders whose Reputation I can’t stop playing. Are blossom toes connected to shy limbs and that way will we hear the word of the Lord, or the alternative LSD-popping Almighty? The Rev Chapman will keep us right.
Patriotically, I prefer the British section. Also, our psychedelic era didn’t end in Altamont and the Manson murders. For some of the combos, the era lasted barely a weekend. They’d been R&B sloggers getting nowhere until deciding they may as well try those paisley pattern cowls run up by the mum of the rhythm guitarist’s girlfriend and work in some lyrics about confectionery, toyshops and dreamy dormitory days at a posh school, even though the band had all been to state comprehensive with two expelled. Chapman doesn’t criticise the bandwagon-jumpers; he wants us to know that the Crocheted Doughnut Ring existed. But they all had to bow down at the winklepickers of the Fab Four.
Did every supposedly psychedelic band go as far as sprinkling LSD on their Rice Krispies? “It trickled into minds willing to be opened and tore apart some that weren’t,” says Chapman. Of the Beatles, John and George tried acid first. They thought the disco was on fire. They tried another club but ran screaming into the street, driving off at top speed (actually 15 mph). George’s wife, spotting goalposts, insisted everyone got out and played football. Back at George’s everyone went to bed except John who thought he was trapped in a submarine. He did some drawings, four faces saying: “We all agree with you.” Even though they’re the act we’ve known for all these years, this is quite gripping. As is the rest of the book.
Peter Doggett covers psychedelia and everything else in Electric Shock: From The Gramophone To The Iphone – 125 Years Of Pop Music. It’s another paving stone: 720 pages. As pop’s grip on the nation loosens, so the books just keep getting bigger and one day they’ll comprise a brilliant library, the theme of which will be: “Hey kids look what you missed, before you had instant access to every song and didn’t have to search or save for it; before your listening device was your phone; before Simon Cowell.”
The X Factor will never have a theme night called “Tremendously Obscure British Psych”, which is a tragedy.