Psychedelic rock was the natural byproduct of psychedelic culture and the heavy use of hallucinogenic drugs in the 1960s. It was very progressive and experimental for the time, building on new techniques and sound to create an experience best served with your head in the clouds. Ultimately, it was a massively influential movement in the music world, and you can still see its fingerprints today.
In this article, we’ll look at 25 of the best psychedelic rock songs of all time.
1. Purple Haze – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
When it comes to psychedelic rock, I don’t know that we could have anybody in the top spot whose name isn’t Jimi Hendrix. And he’s going to be on here a few times. Purple Haze was the best song The Jimi Hendrix Experience produced, and that’s a fact that I doubt many people will try to argue with. For Hendrix, it was a love song, not a psychedelic experience, but many listeners feel that way about it, and it fits into the genre so well that I can’t say it isn’t psychedelic rock. You’ll also find this on most lists of the best guitar songs, and it’s been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
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2. Light My Fire – The Doors
The Doors had an epic but short-lived time together. Their debut album as a band spawned several different hits, but none were as perfect as Light My Fire. It immediately gave the band a massive hit single, spending three weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and a week on top of the Cash Box Top 100. In the years since its release, it’s become inseparable from psychedelic rock and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. In the end, it wound up as an anthem of the times and one of the most important and innovative songs of the decade.
3. Interstellar Overdrive – Pink Floyd
Just as we can’t make this list without talking about Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, we also can’t leave Pink Floyd out on this one. They ran through many different sounds, but their time in the psychedelic rock genre was special. Interstellar Overdrive is the best example of this, a 10-minute-long experience that saw the band go on their first foray into space rock.
4. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – The Beatles
The Beatles produced some pretty impressive psychedelic rock as well. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was their most famous entry, coming from their 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and being inspired by a drawing by John Lennon’s son. It was a number-one hit single, but in hindsight, it’s been recognized as one of the most important songs in the entire psychedelic rock genre.
5. Eight Miles High – The Byrds
I know getting high was pretty common in the 60s, but “eight miles high” is way out there. Eight Miles High by The Byrds was one of the songs that helped pioneer the psychedelic rock genre and became an instant hit with counterculture activists. Inspired by the group’s own drug use, it would eventually rise to number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 but was sadly the group’s final top-20 hit together.
6. Are You Experienced? – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Back to Jimi Hendrix. Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was an immediate success with fans and critics alike. It would go on to become one of the group’s best-known songs and has been preserved in the Library of Congress and on several lists of the best songs of all time. It would spend a total of 33 weeks on the charts in the UK and a whopping 106 weeks on the US charts.
7. Break On Through (To The Other Side) – The Doors
This song might not have been commercially successful then, but it remained a staple in concerts for the band for a reason. Whether they were breaking through a psychedelic barrier on drug trips or just writing a song about breaking through to massive success, I can’t say. Regardless, this was an amazing song that should have gotten more recognition when it was released.
8. Flower In The Sun – Big Brother & the Holding Company
A bonus track from the band’s studio outtakes, Flower In The Sun came out when Janis Joplin was still with the group. It was only on the re-release, which was a shame because it was an awesome song that deserved more. You can find it in several places, but the live version is on the Live at Winterland 68.
9. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Is it cheating if this one is more psychedelic soul than rock? I’m counting it anyway. Have You Ever Been by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a feature of the group’s third album Electric Ladyland. Inspired by the promiscuity of Hendrix, it was more of a soul song with a psychedelic angle to it but was still incredibly popular.
10. Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles
Strawberry Fields Forever came out when psychedelic rock was in its infancy. It helped the genre get going, but it was a departure from what pop fans had come to expect from the Beatles at the time. A highly influential song in the psychedelic genre, one of the songs that helped the Beatles become the legendary figures they are known as today, and a song that even helped pioneer the music video industry is more than deserving of a spot on this list.
11. White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Alice in Wonderland is a story (and film) that really could only have come from a mind on psychedelics. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane drew on the imagery of that story and the sequel of Through The Looking-Glass to produce its psychedelic experience. It became the group’s second big hit, but it was historic. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lists it among their 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and Rolling Stone lists it among its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
12. Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
Sunshine Of Your Love is Cream’s biggest and most popular hit song. It combined psychedelic elements with hard rock to do something truly new, inspired in part by a time Jack Bruce saw Jimi Hendrix in concert. Many publications have listed this one on their compilations of the best songs of all time, including Rolling Stone, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and VH1.
13. My White Bicycle – Tomorrow
My White Bicycle was much more an underground hit than anything that owned the charts. Inspired by a bike-sharing program in Amsterdam and the white bicycles that anyone could use at any time, it would eventually become an anthem of the psychedelic genre. Interestingly, it was recorded at Abbey Road while the Beatles recorded Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
14. Dark Star – Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead are one of the most iconic psychedelic bands out there, but Dark Star helped them make a name for themselves. An early hit for the band, it would go on to help them define their sound in the genre and was often used by the group to launch into extended jam sessions in live venues. That made the concerts an experience that was unique each time you saw them live, but it also landed them a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest guitar songs of all time.
15. I Can See For Miles – The Who
Psychedelics give you some sort of insight, expanding your consciousness in an experience that goes beyond your usual understanding. You could say it lets you see farther, which was basically the point of I Can See For Miles by The Who. It’s also one of the most celebrated songs in history, finding a place on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Pitchfork’s 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s, and NME’s 100 Greatest Singles of All Time.
16. Broken Arrow – Buffalo Springfield
If psychedelic music is meant to be an experience, Broken Arrow by Buffalo Springfield is more qualified than most. Written by Neil Young and recorded by Buffalo Springfield, the song is both psychedelic and confessional folk rock. It’s broken into three distinct parts, all drawing on different inspirations that make it one of the best songs in history and one of the most surreal songs to listen to that you’re going to find anywhere.
17. Roller Coaster – The 13th Floor Elevators
Coming from The 13th Floor Elevators’ debut album, Roller Coaster is the perfect description of a psychedelic experience. It speaks to the effects of LSD and other hallucinogens, producing a trip with its ups and downs (as you probably expect). It was a way for the band to promote the experience to those who had not experienced it yet, and it did a darn good job of doing so.
18. Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
From one psychedelic experience to another, Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf found more success commercially than our last song. A psychedelic rock song that both describes a trip and resonated with non-users eventually found a lot of radio airplay and became a song that still frequently shows up on classic rock stations today.
19. That’s It For The Other One – Grateful Dead
That’s It For The Other One is a wild, four-part ride through the Grateful Dead’s universe. While it was never performed live by the band in full, the different sections were. Combining studio recordings and live performances gave the song an added layer that only enhanced the experience.
20. The Red Telephone – Love
The Red Telephone by Love goes through almost every topic, musing on things such as race, death, the meaning of life, and imprisonment. A mix of psychedelic rock and pop, the song relied on folk chords to create an ominous experience that will keep you on your toes.
21. Who Do You Love – Quicksilver Messenger Service
The experience is more important than the actual song for a lot of psychedelic rock, and this song is only part of the one Quicksilver Messenger Service wanted you to hear. In this song, the narrator continually asks who a woman named Arlene loves, getting more desperate each time. It’s part of a series of songs that go through all the possible questions: where, when, and how she loves.
22. Venus In Furs – The Velvet Underground
Venus In Furs by The Velvet Underground is based on a novel of the same name. Overtly sexual, the song’s narrator is a man who is so in love with a woman that he’s totally fine with how she treats him, no matter how cruelly. Whether this was an early BDSM/domination song, I don’t know, but it is a convincing example of the themes from the novel.
23. Omaha – Moby Grape
You probably won’t find a song by Moby Grape that was a bigger hit than Omaha. It doesn’t have complicated lyrics, mainly just asking the audience to listen to the music and have a good time. It’s a celebration more than a story, full of simplistic positivity and happiness.
24. Beacon From Mars – Kaleidoscope
This song, more than almost any other, captures the feelings that come when someone falls out of love with you. Eerie, creepy, and emotional, this heart-wrenching song builds and builds to the point of a heartbreaking explosion.
25. See Emily Play – Pink Floyd
For our last entry, we return to Pink Floyd’s trippy version of rock music. To some, this may be a better song than anything else on this list. See Emily Play played on both sides of the psychedelic spectrum, the light and dark, from eerie to cheery. It was a magnificent compilation of the band’s drug use and was made for psychedelic festivals.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.