Hear Underground 12, the Earliest Known Case of Musicians Recording While Under the Influence of LSD (1966)
Music and LSD: after “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Sgt. Pepper, we knew what an acid trip should sound like. Other folks needed to know more. Somewhere in Los Angeles in 1966 a group of musicians were dosing and recording while tripping.
The resulting recording–credited to “Underground 12” and considered the earliest known case of musicians recording while under the influence of LSD–was only available, as the legend goes, by mail order–you can see a copy of it here on discogs, a plain red label with only an address: 12457 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, CA. A little bit of Google snooping revealed this to be an office for Huntington Park First Savings and Loan in 1966, but assuming there was another office there, an issue of Billboard from that year also mentions an artist manager called Bob Reed at the same address. (Bob, we’re on to you!).
There’s nothing particularly groovy about this music. There’s no sitars, no fuzz pedals, no incense, no peppermints. There is, however, a lot of echo and delay, a lot of sped up tape (which in parts sounds a bit like Zappa’s “King Kong”), plenty of atonal laughing, and welp, that’s about it for side one.
Side two is a bit better, with an actual piano played at normal speed, and an electric guitar soloing against it. This sounds a bit proggy, about five years ahead of its time. But then the producer (Bob Reed, is that you again?) starts speeding up the tape again.
Con job or bad trip? Did these musicians know what they were in for? Did they really dose, or was studio trickery seen as a good enough placebo? Did the LSD produce some pretty ordinary studio jamming and the LP is a salvage job? So many mysteries, so little time.
Lysergia, a Swedish label that re-releases rare grooves such as this has also put out The Psychedelic Experience: The Ultimate Journey Through Late 60s Psychedelia, Acid Burns and Druggy Grooves by Patrick Lundborg, a Swedish writer whose subject was LSD, and rereleased the only album by Madrigal, a Morristown, New Jersey twosome which has a 13-minute track called “Stoned Freakout.”
However if the above sampler thrills you and you would like to own an original copy of this dubious classic by the Underground 12, it will set you back $666. The seller, obviously, knows what’s up.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.