The 10 best psychedelic rock songs that defined the 1960s

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In the hazy, kaleidoscopic era of the 1960s, the psychedelic rock genre captured the zeitgeist, sculpting the ethos of a generation. Its music, often dubbed the ‘acid rock,’ was the quintessential soundtrack to a cultural revolution that sought to expand consciousness and realign societal norms.

Here, we revisit the top 10 iconic tunes that were the essence of the era, ranking them not only for their chart-topping prowess, but also for their indelible influence on the very fabric of modern music.

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“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane (1967)

“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane (1967) is a song emblematic of the psychedelic era, known for its hypnotic melody and compelling lyrics. Grace Slick’s powerful, almost haunting vocals guide the listener through a narrative inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

But beneath the trippy surface, “White Rabbit” grapples with profound questions – chasing fleeting pleasures, defying social norms, and yearning for a world of love and peace.

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“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles (1967)

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.” Whether it really was about Lennon’s son’s drawing or an acronym for a trip (LSD), ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was a gateway to the Beatles’ experimentation with psychedelic soundscapes, immortalizing them among the genre’s luminaries.

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ALSO SEE: The legendary Fab Four: How the Beatles changed music forever in the 1960s

“Light My Fire” by The Doors (1967)

Jim Morrison’s smoldering charisma fused with Ray Manzarek’s incendiary organ riffs to birth ‘Light My Fire.’ Its sensuous lyrics and extended keyboard solos were a matchstick, igniting the Doors’ path to legendary status in the annals of rock history.

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ALSO SEE: The Doors in concert: What Jim Morrison & the band were like live in the 60s & 70s

“Eight Miles High” by The Byrds (1966)

The ethereal waves of Rickenbacker guitars and atmospheric vocals sent listeners into a dizzying flight of fancy with ‘Eight Miles High.’ Roger McGuinn’s 12-string guitar unfurls like a psychedelic ribbon, David Crosby’s ethereal vocals float through a haze of distortion, and the lyrics weave cryptic riddles about consciousness and reality.

Often touted as the first genuine psychedelic rock song, The Byrds’ chart-topper remains a feather in the cap of 60s counterculture.

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“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream (1967)

“Sunshine of Your Love” is an iconic track that brilliantly captures the essence of psychedelic rock during its heyday. The interplay between Eric Clapton’s masterful guitar work, Ginger Baker’s dynamic drumming, and Jack Bruce’s powerful bass lines creates a rich, immersive sound that defined the power trio’s musical style.

The song’s blend of blues influence with the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s resonated deeply with audiences, making it not only a chart-topper, but also a timeless classic in rock history.

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“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix (1967)

“Purple Haze all around / Don’t know if I’m coming up or down.” Hendrix’s otherworldly guitar pyrotechnics and primal scream introduced the masses to both the artist and the sheer sonic capabilities of the electric guitar. ‘Purple Haze’ not only cemented Hendrix as a guitar visionary, but also as a prophet of the psychedelic movement.

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ALSO SEE: The Jimi Hendrix Experience: First person accounts of what those concerts were like

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“Interstellar Overdrive” by Pink Floyd (1967)

Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ was an epic odyssey into the sonic cosmos, teetering on the brink of avant-garde. The composition is characterized by its unstructured, improvisational style, creating a feeling of drifting through a cosmic journey.

Often hailed as a groundbreaking piece in the world of psychedelic rock, this instrumental track stands out for its daring departure from conventional musical forms, instead embracing a form of controlled chaos.

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“Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane (1967)

“Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane is a standout track that captures the quintessential sound and sentiment of the late 1960s counterculture movement and catapults the California band into the stratosphere.

Grace Slick’s powerful vocals, combined with the song’s driving beat and electrifying guitar work, created an anthem that speaks to the universal search for connection and understanding.

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“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly (1968)

Iron Butterfly strikes a thunderous melody in the 17-minute opus ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,’ perhaps the epitome of psychedelic grandeur. It showcases a metamorphic array of emotions and textures, serving as both a marathon showcase and a sighpost of rock’s evolving soul.

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“Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock (1967)

“Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock lit the charts with an iridescent glow, symbolizing the poppier end of the psychedelic spectrum.

This track, with its whimsical title and kaleidoscopic melodies, encapsulated the spirit of 1967. On top of the swirling organ and fuzzed-out guitars, the song urged listeners to “Turn on, tune in, turn your eyes around.”

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These psychedelic rock anthems defined an era — but still play today

Far from fading into sonic nostalgia, it’s clear that the anthems of the 1960s continue to exert a powerful magnetism on contemporary music and culture.

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As we thread through the memories of these timeless tracks, we celebrate not only their success, but the entire spirit they encapsulated — that of an anarchic, vibrant era that ceaselessly sought to push the boundaries of artistic innovation and perception.

NOW SEE THIS: Woodstock: What people said the famous music festival was REALLY like (1969)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Where is “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” by The Electric Prunes? The Dude would be very disappointed in you. The person who drew up this list must be a Gen Z-er working off of Wikipedia or who asked Siri what the Top Ten were..
    Some of us were actually there

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