13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators is the debut studio album by the 13th Floor Elevators. The album’s sound, featuring elements of psychedelia, garage rock, folk, and blues, is notable for its use of the electric jug, as featured on the band’s only hit, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, which reached number 55 on the Billboard Charts with “Tried to Hide” as a B-side. Another single from the album, “Reverberation (Doubt)”, reached number 129 on the Billboard’s Bubbling Under Chart.

The August 1966 back cover of the album uses the words “The Psychedelic Sounds of: The 13th Floor Elevators”, which is purported to be the first use of the word “psychedelic” in reference to the music within. Two other bands also used the word in titles of LPs released in November 1966: The Blues Magoos’ Psychedelic Lollipop, and The Deep’s Psychedelic Moods.

In 2005, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators was remastered and reissued in compact disc format by Charly Records, a British record label specializing in reissued material. It included bonus tracks of the band’s 1966 performance at the Avalon Ballroom, a music venue in the Polk Gulch neighborhood of San Francisco, and both sides of a single, “We Sell Soul” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, from Roky Erickson’s pre-13th Floor Elevators band, The Spades.

In 2009, the original mono version was released as part of the “Sign of the 3-Eyed Men” box set. The set also featured a new, alternate stereo version which retained the band’s original intended track listing, as well as false starts on some of the tracks (the International Artists label had altered the track listing without the band’s consent when the album was first released). Both versions on the box set featured different bonus tracks, some that were previously unreleased.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” Roky Erickson 2:24
2. “Roller Coaster” Erickson, Tommy Hall 5:00
3. “Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)” Erickson, Clementine Hall 3:50
4. “Reverberation” Erickson, T. Hall, Stacy Sutherland 2:46
5. “Don’t Fall Down” T. Hall, Erickson 3:00

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. “Fire Engine” T. Hall, Sutherland, Erickson 3:22
7. “Thru the Rhythm” T. Hall, Sutherland 3:05
8. “You Don’t Know” Powell St. John 2:38
9. “Kingdom of Heaven” St. John 3:05
10. “Monkey Island” St. John 2:38
11. “Tried to Hide” T. Hall, Sutherland 2:46

Review: Did the 13th Floor Elevators invent psychedelic rock? Aficionados will be debating that point for decades, but if Roky Erickson and his fellow travelers into inner space weren’t there first, they were certainly close to the front of the line, and there are few albums from the early stages of the psych movement that sound as distinctively trippy — and remain as pleasing — as the group’s groundbreaking debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. In 1966, psychedelia hadn’t been around long enough for its clichés to be set in stone, and Psychedelic Sounds thankfully avoids most of them; while the sensuous twists of the melodies and the charming psychobabble of the lyrics make it sound like these folks were indulging in something stronger than Pearl Beer, at this point the Elevators sounded like a smarter-than-average folk-rock band with a truly uncommon level of intensity. Roky Erickson’s vocals are strong and compelling throughout, whether he’s wailing like some lysergic James Brown or murmuring quietly, and Stacy Sutherland’s guitar leads — long on melodic invention without a lot of pointless heroics — are a real treat to hear. And nobody played electric jug quite like Tommy Hall…actually, nobody played it at all besides him, but his oddball noises gave the band a truly unique sonic texture. If you want to argue that psychedelia was as much a frame of mind as a musical style, it’s instructive to compare the recording of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by Erickson’s earlier band, the Spades, to the version on this album — the difference is more attitudinal than anything else, but it’s enough to make all the difference in the world. (The division is even clearer between the Spades’ “We Sell Soul” and the rewrite on Psychedelic Sounds, “Don’t Fall Down”). The 13th Floor Elevators were trailblazers in the psychedelic rock scene, and in time they’d pay a heavy price for exploring the outer edges of musical and psychological possibility, but along the way they left behind a few fine albums, and The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators remains a potent delight. — Mark Deming

Schill Score: 3.25/10

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