The 13th Floor Elevators - The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The 13th Floor Elevators - The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

by Rob Taylor Rating:10 Release Date:1966-10-17
The 13th Floor Elevators -  The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
The 13th Floor Elevators - The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

Never has an album release been so vexed. The 13th Floor Elevators returned from San Francisco in 1966 after their expectations of commercial success were dashed by the prevailing 'summer of love' folk inclinations. Their record company, International Artists were desperate to cash in on the success of single ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’. Essentially blackmailed back into the studio with threats that second-rate early recordings would be released in its stead, the band recorded the debut album, The Psychedelic World of the 13th Floor Elevators in one session in Dallas, Texas. Not only did the band have a ‘preferred’ mono mix for the album, but they in fact sequenced the songs as the archetypal psychedelic experience. Famously consumed by an abundance of high-grade LSD that was legal until the late 60s, the band considered themselves the progenitors of psychedelic rock.  The debut album was intended to be book-ended by tracks “You Don’t Know’, representing the beginnings of self awareness, and the zenith of experience, 'The Kingdom of Heaven'. The penultimate step of the journey was to reach a higher plane (‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ and 'Splash 1').

The record company had other ideas and kicked the album off with the hit ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ for marketing purposes. The running order dictated by International Artists is the one you’ll find on the album in all its varied releases. Only on the wonderful box set Sign of the 3 Eyed Men released in 2009 by Charly Records will you find the album in newly mixed stereo, and in the playing order conceived by the band.

There are ways of listening to The 13th Floor Elevators, and ways not to listen to them. The re-polished mono mix on the box set is beautifully clear and crisp (you can hear the bass and drums properly), as against, for instance, the really muddy stereo offering on the 2011 Albums Collection, that I believe to be the standard CD offering. Personally I would never direct the uninitiated to the standard stereo cut. As the box set is almost impossible to purchase, I would heartily recommend the fantastic compilation 7th Heaven:Music of the Spheres The Complete Singles Collection which sensibly produces the mono mixes used on the box, and is available cheaply. The band’s well organised and vociferous fan club is in possession of even better source material apparently. I found a Web compilation called The Essential 13th Floor Elevators, which was sourced from some old Roky fan club releases and other audiophile sources, and (yeah I know it sounds like a wank but it’s not) these lossless FLAC files represent the best sounding band recordings I own.

On the YouTube video below, some heroic punter has reproduced such a recording.

Anyway, back to the album. Undoubtedly culturally anchored by other music which loosely defined the psychedelic era (Byrds, Kinks, The Stones and Texas’s own superabundant psych underground) the Elevators took the genre into wilder territories with a feral zeal born of creative brilliance, almost railroaded by excessive drug use. At the time of the debut though, the band pioneered a new ‘punk’ sound, abrasive and yet catchy and immediately accessible. The precursor to the lo-fi aesthetic of two decades later. Tommy Hall’s electric jug is a unique invention and a trademark of the sound, and Sutherland’s acid blues is as sweet as it is untamed and free. Listening to Sutherland, you immediately recognise the influence on the likes of Tim Presley of White Fence, and Anton Newcombe.

Songs such as ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’, ‘Reverberation’, ‘Slip Inside this House’ and ‘Fire Engine’ have of course influenced many other artists since, from the likes of Primal Scream and Echo and the Bunnymen, to The Black Angels and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Erickson’s primal screaming may even be the inspiration for Bobby Gillespie’s band name, but I’m speculating. I haven’t read that anywhere. There’s a wonderful tribute compilation called Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye showcasing artists such as Julian Cope, R.E.M, Jesus and Mary Chain, Thin White Rope and Primal Scream, covering Elevators songs.

For anyone with even a passing interest in the evolution of psychedelic rock, it all starts here in 1966.

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