The Best Psych Prog Debut Albums


In some respects The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn represents the psych prog epicentre with Syd Barrett’s erratic, whimsical characters and lysergic visions merging with dazzling instrumental colours. Electric, eccentric and eclectic, the album vibrates with shamanistic rhythms and pastoral interludes while clearly pointing toward future Floyd adventures.

1967’s Days Of Future Passed, while not strictly speaking the Moody Blues’ debut, is nevertheless redolent of psych tropes, pioneering and popularising the symphonic concept album which so many groups who followed, would eagerly embrace.

Originally rooted in the blues and R&B boom of the mid-60s, The Nice’s 1967 outing, The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack defiantly pointed toward the heavier sounds of the emergent, proto prog underground, with the tape-manipulated, acid-drenched sonic workouts of Dawn and The Cry Of Eugene audaciously shot through a psychedelic prism.

Recorded during 1967, the original “summer of love”, Procol Harum is a product of the psych era but avoids most of the studio gimmickry associated with many releases of the period. Nevertheless, Keith Reid’s florid, trippy lyrics and Robin Trower’s fractured blues wailing throughout encapsulate the era’s sense of otherness.

After supporting Jimi Hendrix in 1968, Canterbury’s Soft Machine entered New York’s Record Plant, laying down what many critics still regard as their finest hour. The Soft Machine remains an energetic acerbic montage, eagerly blending rock, pop, and contemporary classical tropes with avant-garde abandon. They’d rarely sound this liberated again.

Recorded in the summer of 1968, Caravan’s self-titled debut pulsates with the mood of experimentation that was heavy in the air that summer. Cecil Runs, featuring thundering drums, seismic organ, and throbbing bass, encapsulates that essential psych spark though the epic, Where But For Caravan Would I?, signals their future direction.

Though they’d redefine the British folk movement with later releases, 1968’s Fairport Convention owes much to the psych sounds emanating from the US West Coast. Time Will Show The Wiser brims with Byrds and Beatles, while Judy Dyble’s peerless vocals on Chelsea Morning capture the whirling excitement of the times.

‘It’s all too beautiful,’ intones Peter Hammill on 1969’s The Aerosol Grey Machine. Containing some of the brooding cogitation of VdGG’s more mature work, the atypical whimsy of the title track and the pastoral sensibilities informing Afterwards and Running Back bear the vestigial traces of their earnest, psych folk origins, while the angst poured into Into A Game foreshadows the impending darkness.

Gong’s Magick Brother distills Daevid Allen’s utopian philosophies into a sequence of sprawling, folky extrapolations peppered with Gilli Smyth’s avant-vocal collages and occasional airbursts from Didier Malherbe. Recorded in 1969, it’s a poetic collision that embodies a wild, psychedelic mode of expression that Gong would later hone into something altogether more focused.

Hawkwind’s fledgling flight from 1970 is undoubtedly a hangover from the 60s. Hurry On Sundown’s buskers’ blues flowers discretely with a hint of sitar, while the Be Yourself takes the trance patterns of Floyd’s A Saucerful Of Secrets, loading them into their on-board navigation prior to their blast off in search of space.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.