BY MANISHA WOHLFORD
Levels of familiarity with drug culture may vary widely among the general public of American society, but whether or not one has personal experience with drug usage, many recognize the role that drugs play in American popular culture, particularly within the music realm. Lysergic Acid Dyethylamide has many names -- Lucy, Acid, LSD -- but regardless of the terminology employed; the hallucinogenic drug has become notably intertwined with the music sphere. LSD belongs to a class of drugs called hallucinogens, mind-altering substances which cause people to experience hallucinations and dissociative effects. A deeper understanding of the development of acid and its effects on users helps illuminate its impact on the music of many artists. Albert Hofmann, a researcher with the Swiss chemical company Sandoz, developed LSD in 1938, and soon after became a symbol for counterculture of the 1960s (“LSD”). LSD ignites a sense of introspective existentialism that drove the cutting-edge sounds found in the popular music scenes of both the 1960s and the 2000s. LSD has served as a catalyst for some musicians, the effects of acid experienced by these artists inspired many admired sounds, as can be seen through individual songs and testimonials of The Beatles which influenced modern artists like A$AP Rocky.
The benefits from experimenting with psychedelics is evident with The Beatles. This English band invaded the American music scene in 1964. Members of the band credit experimentation with psychedelics for much of their later inspiration and success. The invasion of the wholesome boy band from Liverpool brought lighthearted pop rock tunes such as the chart topping “Eight Days a Week”. The Beatles experimentation with recreational drugs began three years before their "American Invasion” (Gilmore). The members of the band used stimulants simply for staying awake and fighting to stay relevant in the highly competitive music industry. The Beatles regarded their musical career with sedulous care and were willing to use any means in the pursuit of improving their sound. In 1964, the band members began to dabble with other drugs, such as marijuana, which was introduced to them by Bob Dylan (Gilmore). The Beatles did not intentionally experiment with LSD. Two of the members, George Harrison and John Lennon, ingested the drug unknowingly at a dinner party in 1965. The host, a dentist friend of theirs, slipped the drug into Harrison’s and Lennon’s after party coffee. Although frightened by the unexpected acid trip, the hallucinogenic qualities of LSD began to encapsulate their beings and the men were permanently moved by their experience. In a sense the Beatles did not find LSD, LSD found them.
After this experience, they were open with the idea of experimenting with more than just their life choices, but also their sound. According to George Harrison, all of the Beatles experimenting with psychedelics was necessary for the group to continue through the '60s.
"John and I had decided that Paul and Ringo had to have acid, because we couldn't relate to them any more. Not just on the one level - we couldn't relate to them on any level because acid had changed us so much. It was such a mammoth experience that it was unexplainable: it was something that had to be experienced because you could spend the rest of your life trying to explain what it made you feel and think." (Gilmore)
In the album that was released the following year, Revolver, the band’s usage of LSD is especially evident in the song "Eleanor Rigby ” where the change with their sound is clear.
When comparing the changes of the art on the Beatles for Sale album (1964) and Revolver (1966) there are no subtleties. When looking at the album art for Beatles for Sale; the four faces of Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon are looking right at you. The album art for Beatles for Sale is a color picture of the four band members outside, this is just a basic picture of the band. They are outside and wearing black coats showing how they are just like any other human that is not beyond wearing a coat in cold weather. This expresses how the band was about the simple sound of pop rock; the album art made them more commonplace.
The album art of Revolver is surreal and strange accompanied by the stark use of black and white. Revolver’s large, stylized illustrations of the each of the band member’s faces are accompanied by smaller real photographs from their tours. The stylized illustration of their faces showcase how LSD has aided in the transcending from their successful ,albeit, unimaginative past; the past that is represented by the real photographic pictures of them on the album art. Proof their creativity was expanded by the use of LSD.
The lyrical style changes between these two albums are evident in “Eight Days a Week” from Beatles for Sale and “Eleanor Rigby ” from Revolver. “Eight Days a Week” starts with an upbeat guitar riff. The song is unblurred with the straight forward lyrics:
Ooh I need your love babe
Guess you know it's true.
Hope you need my love babe,
Just like I need you.
Hold me, love me, hold me, love me.
Ain't got nothin' but love babe.
It is a song written about one’s adoration for their lover and there is not a lot of room for misinterpretation. The song relies heavily on repetition showcasing a lack of depth and highlighting simplicity.
The song “Eleanor Rigby” features a variety of string instruments ranging from violas to the cello and included a complete absence of the previously relied upon guitar that the band was well known for. The song’s hauntingly hypnotic harmonies, lead to feelings of a dream like state; which strongly mirror the mental state of an LSD trip. The opening stanza is :
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for
These lyrics introduces themes of loneliness and eventually death alone which were themes not seen previously or touched upon in their previous work -- the Beatles were no longer making light hearted love songs. “Eleanor Rigby” portrays more creativity and depth while dealing with a topic of that is the antithesis to “Eight Days a Week”. LSD opened them up to the realities of a more nuanced world through their gained introspective existentialism.
According to many accounts, during the time the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was in recording sessions, Lennon was using LSD so frequently he began experiencing symptoms of ego-death (Gilmore). Ego death is a side effect of prolonged exposure to LSD that results in the idea that one has lost the subjective self-identity (Nour). This effect was ever present, evident in the fact that Lennon felt he was disappearing within the band and himself, as well as, proclaiming he was Jesus Christ returned back to Earth (Gilmore). Although Lennon experienced the negative aspects of LSD it was the price he was willing to pay for the unimaginable success their music post drugs achieved. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band even contains their ultimate tribute to their love of LSD in the song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." The title of this song abbreviates to LSD; thus proving that they believed acid played a pivotal role in their success and creativity. The Beatles went from being a poppy boy-band to enlightened pioneers reinventing the popular music scene with drugs aiding the alteration of their sound.
The impact The Beatles made on the music industry resonates with musicians such as A$AP Rocky, a rapper that claims that psychedelic drugs play a role in his creativity (Macbain). His song “L$D” proclaims his admiration for LSD and in the lyrics explores the profound effects the drug. Not only does he share a love for the psychedelic drug but he also has a public admiration for The Beatles. In an interview with Evening Standard Magazine he said, “It is so inspirational to go against the grain. The Beatles were at the top of their game doing all that pop shit. And then they do some leftfield shit -- and it worked. Those guys are geniuses”(Macbain). He took this countering behavior and applied to his own philosophy on making music “ I’d be confused if I tried to fit in. I’m an innovator (Macbain).” A$AP Rocky further validates the influence The Beatles have on him by his use of the more modern sounds of synthesized instrumentation in “L$D” that mimics the hypnotic harmonies exhibited in the song “Eleanor Rigby”.
LSD has served as a catalyst for some musicians, the effects of acid experienced by these artists inspired many admired sounds, as can be seen through individual songs and testimonials of The Beatles which influenced modern artists like A$AP Rocky. LSD changed the way The Beatles perceived and interacted with their musical realm. The Beatles innovated their sound and the lyrical themes they used in their music by using LSD. Without this psychedelic would The Beatles have ended their career as a group of boys bopping around about their next love affair? Lacking the movements made by the Beatles permanently altering the music industry of their time, there would be no lasting effects causing changes into the modern era. LSD has accelerated the growth and development of many artists allowing them to reach towards their own achievements. This lasting impression is looked upon with the reverence as A$AP Rocky has learned from their philosophy and use of LSD as he has applied it to his life. LSD has informed these musicians’ world view. Without this psychedelic substance, the pivotal changes would not have occurred and modern music as we know it would be a significantly more shallow affair.