Treble’s Top 50 Psychedelic Albums

The Best Psychedelic Albums

best psychedelic albums Hawkwind30. Hawkwind – Space Ritual

(1973; United Artists)

When it comes to psychedelic music, one question worth asking is how it sounds on drugs. A second question: Does this have balls? In the case of Hawkwind, the band’s bass player was a guy named Ian Kilmister, aka Lemmy. That answers the second question. This is not hippie drug music, more like biker drug music, and Hawkwind influenced many of today’s heaviest stoner rock bands. That is not to say there is not a deeper cerebral context to this sprawling, live-recorded album. In fact, fantasy writer Michael Moorcock was a frequent collaborator with the band and lent his talents to the lyrics. The songs here also work off of a throbbing drone not unlike the dense pulse of today’s more narcotic metal offerings. This 1973 album sounds as if it were beamed down by aliens; it was that far ahead of its time. – Wil Lewellyn

best electronic albums of the 90s The Orb29. The Orb – The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

(1991; Big Life/Island)

It’s easy when thinking of psychedelia to fixate on pop and rock music, to let groups like the Beatles and XTC takeover the faculties. It’s important to remember that all the little tricks, the wiggling notes, the way drones seem to erase the body, the way that either oppressive rhythm or suspension in dead air seems to make time melt away, are all things electronic music have been focused on since its inception. The Orb may not sound like any traditional psych rock you’ve ever heard, but the electronic duo, who claim influence from spaces as varied as dub to Pink Floydian prog rock to house music, can’t be described as anything but. The modern psychedelia of witch house and vaporwave and glitch music and futurefunk didn’t arise ab nihilo, and Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is one of the common touchstones for all of them. Leave your body: enter space. – Langdon Hickman

best psychedelic albums Genesis28. Genesis – Foxtrot

(1972; Charisma)

More progressive than prone to drug-induced meandering, Foxtrot was a revelatory discovery when, in the summer of 1995, I dropped acid and went on a major Genesis binge. Although the band can delve into grandiose balladry, the songs on this career-high album are able to worm their way into your head. “Supper’s Ready” is an incredible journey that creates an Alice In Wonderland-like setting. Peter Gabriel’s voice is passionate in its narrative of another world. In fact, the 22-minute “Supper’s Ready” is almost half the album, and the final 15 minutes can make your mind explode. – Wil Lewellyn

songs about guitars Talking Heads27. Talking Heads – Fear of Music

(1979; Sire)

Talking Heads’ first two albums dipped into dystopian visions and non sequitur narratives, yet still managed to manufacture hits like “Psycho Killer” and “Take Me to the River.” Rebelling against this path toward hitmaker status, they jumped all the way down the rabbit hole on album number three. They portrayed their lives and lyrical subjects surrounded by urban dark magic like addiction and poverty (“Memories Can’t Wait,” “Life During Wartime”), doomed to freakish relationships (with paper, for instance) and an afterlife of little more than purgatory. Somehow, the hits still came. And as Hunter S. Thompson found his druggy muse in Las Vegas, album producer Brian Eno found his in Talking Heads’ New York, acting as a shadowy observer and interpreter of their vision, coating their sound in electronic effects and echoing ambience. – Adam Blyweiss

best psychedelic albums Frank Zappa26. Frank Zappa – Hot Rats

(1969; Bizarre)

Self described as “a movie for your ears” in the original liner notes, Frank Zappa’s second solo album after the breakup of the Mothers of Invention, Hot Rats, is uniquely strange, capturing Zappa at his purest and most inventive. And while the majority of Hot Rats is instrumental—with Captain Beefheart making the only vocal appearance on “Willie the Pimp”—it’s safely regarded as one of Zappa’s most absurd studio albums. Whether it’s the guitar-virtuoso craftsmanship of “Willie the Pimp,” the jazz-fusion masterwork on “Little Umbrellas,” or the throbbing bass and organ on “The Gumbo Variations,” Hot Rats emulates a composition style similar to that of a jazz album, with plenty of auditory room for its many highs and lows. Zappa takes on a blank canvas and leaves no room for white spaces—instead, he splatters and smears untraditional tempos and strange guitar effects all over Hot Rats, filling any nook and cranny with the strangest of sounds. And, although cliche, this truly is an album that deserves numerous spins, as even the slightest detail could be missed through your first, second, or third listen. Hot Rats is an album that presents itself with eccentric grandeur, an album painting Zappa out to be an all-around artist rather than just a musician. – Timothy Michalik

best psychedelic albums Nuggets25. Various Artists – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968

(1972; Elektra)

Rock connoisseur Lenny Kaye’s compilation of garage punk and psychedelic rock was originally a two-record set overseen by Elektra Records czar Jac Holzman in 1972. Nuggets captured the manic surge of American rock as had been discharged after the Beatles, The Who and Bob Dylan broke it down. Tracks like the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” The 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” pushed generally healthy psyches to the brim, and the psychedelic themes of the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” and Nazz’s “Open My Eyes” fed into the frenzy. When Rhino Records reissued Nuggets with the equivalent of six LPs’ worth of additional material in 1998, it became the greatest various-artists box set ever released. Nuggets is an irreplaceable snapshot of rock and roll’s raving adolescence, full of bands who’d moved on from Elvis but couldn’t agree where to go next—so they hit every place they could on a full tank. – Paul Pearson

best psychedelic albums Electric Ladyland24. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

(1968; Reprise)

Words may never adequately do justice to just what a viscerally wild dude Jimi Hendrix was. Scores of biographies have documented his ribald personal and scorching professional lives. And Electric Ladyland, his double album with scandalous gatefold, was a special moment of time for a virtuoso guitarist at his unmoored best. Recorded as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix and compadres stirred a woozy sauce of guitars, distortion and trippy wonderment on “And the Gods Made Love,” which opened the recording. Electric Ladyland is renown for the Experience’s career-defining cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” with its manic riffs. However, the double album’s standouts are many, including “Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” “Gypsy Eyes” and the iconic “Crosstown Traffic.” Hendrix’s hazy vocals, Mitch Mitchell’s slurry of drums and the thick bass of Noel Redding would propel Electric Ladyland into a triumph for the era’s psychedelic rock troubadours, immortalizing them in the rock canon. – Ernesto Aguilar

Prince - Sign O the Times23. Prince – Sign ‘O’ The Times

(1987; Warner Bros.)

Prince was an absolute genius. You know this, I know this—hell, the world knows it. But no album better exemplifies the spontaneous wonder of his creativity than Sign ‘O’ The Times. Growling with gigantic hooks hidden behind pervasive, bright and equally moody beats, Sign was more of a dadaist collection in terms of composition. The stark individuality of every track on here felt like separate meditations, each a masterful (if not purposefully eclectic) experiment with an aural synergy that is uncompromising. However, there is a unifying front to this album. As diverse as the sounds are here, there is without a doubt a comprehensive psychedelic feels to the entire work. “Starfish and Coffee” especially exemplifies the tenets of psychedelia with its utter surrealism. Yet the double-album on the whole encompasses so much—its fuzzy guitars, jazz explosions, funky syncopation and peculiar arrangements are undeniably arresting in boldness and sheer weirdness. – Brian Roesler

dj-shadow22. DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…

(1996; Mo’Wax/ffrr)

A few touchstone artists brought elements of psychedelia to rap: De La Soul to be sure, but also P.M. Dawn, Cypress Hill, Erykah Badu, Digable Planets, D’Angelo. Yet there’s more to trippin’ than just lyrical ego trippin’. This devastating turntablist document didn’t just change how we perceive hip-hop, it changed how we use hip-hop to perceive. Hell, it changed how hip-hop perceives, period. It perfected the illusion—hallucination?—of a musical world constructed from other existing ones, a massive set of samples built into party rockers (“The Number Song”), genre experiments (“Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain”), and storytelling (“Stem/Long Stem”). And like the contemplative sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Josh Davis dropped sonic hints that the whole of Endtroducing… could be a dream, or a side effect of time-travel. – Adam Blyweiss

best psychedelic albums Boredoms21. Boredoms – Vision Creation Newsun

(1999; A.K.A.)

If psychedelic music is really just a polite name for drug music, then Vision Creation Newsun is the most psychedelic album of all time. It has to be impossible to create music this scattershot without being fucked up beyond belief. Boredoms are tribal drumming, vocal chants, birds chirping and static hallucination. Boredoms are LSD, acid, mushrooms, marijuana and coke. You see after spending enough time in the shapeshifting world of Vision Creation Newsun music and drugs fuse just like that. Boredoms don’t do drugs, they are drugs. – Wesley Whitacre

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View Comments (15)
  • Great list – and refreshingly broad for a list of this type. Kudos to the compilers (and I hope you’re all still talking to each other.)

    Anyhow, I’d like to add an album that should, IMO, be here: The Rain Parade, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, Enigma Records, 1983.

    The Rain Parade were a band prominent in LA’s Paisley Underground scene in the early 80s. It featured both of the Roebuck brothers, David and Steve, as well as Matt Piucci, Will Glenn, and Eddie Kalwa. Dave Roebuck would go on to form Mazzy Star with Hope Sandoval, while the rest of the musicians interchanged in various bands and studio sessions.

    Emergency Third Rail Power Trip is true psychedelia throughout with nary a weak song or deviation from form.

    • I’m so glad you commented. I too certainly noticed Rain Parade’s glaring absence.. _Emergency Third Rail Power Trip_ & _Explosions In The Glass Palace” two-fer CD is pretty damn essential imo. Anyway, good on ya, mate!

  • This is possibly the worst Best Psychedelic Albums List I’ve ever seen on the internet. Are you kidding me? Kid A, Foxtrot, Fragile, Fear of Music, & Animals? All of those albums I named are not Psych. Maybe you should listen to more Psychedelic music because you clearly don’t have much of an idea of what it really is. Just because something has an experimental edge doesn’t make it Psychedelic. By that logic, you could call The Gorillaz Psychedelic. Psych has more of a surreal edge, both musically, and usually lyrically as well. You should retitle this list, Best Psychedelic albums for Hipsters, and Anthony Fantno fanboys.

  • to say jimi started psychedelica ignores prior works by groups like jefferson airplane and 13th floor elevator, both significant predates hendrix

    • Totally agreed! Also, these people seem to not have a clear understanding of what Psychedelic music really is. Since they put Animals, Foxtrot, Fragile, The Fear of Music, and Kid A on here. Because those albums are not Psychedelic whatsoever.

        • I agree with this sentiment. My buddy and I used to have a little radio show that focused solely on psychedelic music, and our picks were all over the place. Red Crayola–>Philip Jeck–>Alva Noto–>Pretty Things–>Porter Ricks would be a typical lineup. Like you said, the fun was considering each album and designating (or not) it “psychedelic.” You can make a case for a lot of albums, and it’s not just about reverb or flanging.

  • So glad to see Funkadelic get the love it deserves. I feel like they are overlooked a lot. Too many of these lists leave out Maggot Brain!

  • 13th floor elevators at #35? And no Easter Everywhere? You understand that these are major oversights on a list of the best psychedelic music. They should be top 5.

  • Even the most knowledgeable and sophisticated selection is fraught with false historicity and misleads, but with all due respect for the effort this is more a list of psychedelic influenced music, not the the core of the genre it was intended to represent (which would obviously include 13th Floor Elevators, Pink Floyd. The Beatles). Another glaring omission, though a latecomer with the ‘progressive’ label: Nektar: A Tab In The Ocean (1972). Special mention to the hit & miss Electric Prunes (I Had Too much to Dream 1966), The Amboy Dukes (Migration 1969), The Chocolate Watchband (No Way Out- Dark Side of the Mushroom 1967). Though the influence of the original Psychedelic Movement that came out of drug inspired garage bands of the mid to late 60’s extends far beyond, particularly the resurgent tributes in the 80’s, it’s just a progressive imitation to me that lacks the ‘cutting edge’ of yesteryear. Let the foundation of the genre move on into synth and stop trying to re-imagine what was already done better in the past. It’s mind bending not tickling. Hypnotic not just good vibrations. It takes you somewhere else with or without drugs.

  • Just stumbled across this list, top work. Suppose there’s a difference between capital-P “Psych” as a genre and “pyschedelic music”. Very bold choice sticking Maggot Brain at number one – solidly top ten for me – and Revolver is wildly overrated in general, but if you can’t have a bit of a moan at this kind if lists then what’s the point? Would have BoC much higher up, the Alice Coltrane is sublime as well, very good shout indeed. Always found Joy Division to be in the “psychedelic music” world as well, something about the intense locked in thing, very Can-like. No Funhouse is a big miss as well. Put this list up there with the Spin 100 guitarists one which I think caused some actual seizures and was all the better for it.

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