The Influence of Drugs throughout Music in the 1960s: The Psychedelic Era

The 1960s was a decade of social revolution full of historical movements, new technology, and popular culture.  It was also considered the Psychedelic Era because of the commonly initiated drug influence.  Psychedelic tendencies altered the artwork, films, and music of this time period.  Music in particular was very popular to this scene and many legendary artists and bands were established in the Sixties.  Although countless musicians consistently used or experimented with different drugs and this usage affected the popularity of their music, it is questionable whether it was perceived in a good way or a bad way.  Most artists used drugs such as cannabis, LSD, and magic mushrooms to open up creative pathways for writing and some even used them while performing.  Not only were the musicians trying drugs, but many of their fans were using while listening to their music to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of hallucinogenic drugs.

One of the most influential, commercially successful, and critically acclaimed bands of the decade was The Beatles.  Their music career has been intricately linked with drugs, from their early pre-fame days on Benzedrine, to the psychedelic era of LSD, and onto harder drugs as the 1960s ended.  First, they were introduced to pills in 1961 to keep them awake through lengthy shows, but that was just the beginning. In 1964, Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to cannabis which had a significant effect on their music, making it more mellow and contemplative.  They also had the tendency of being high on set and during performances which caused them to forget their lines.  Within the next few years, they converted their drug addiction to LSD which had a profound effect on their songwriting and recording.  Many believed that the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was, “…hailed as serious art for its “concept” and its range of styles and sounds, a lexicon of pop and electronic noises” (Wenner).  Others questioned whether the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was named after their countless trips on the drug, but the Beatles denied this.

It was also understood that the members went through a cocaine and heroin phase that found its way into their music as well.

Another ‘60s band that’s music was influenced by drugs was Pink Floyd; however, the real source of their drug problem came from founding member, Syd Barrett. Syd Barrett developed schizophrenia because of his substantial use of LSD.  “He was the most famous “acid casualty” of his generation, and the writer of much of the original material of the group, from which he had been ejected because of his drug-induced eccentricities” (Syd Barrett).  His drug abuse was so out of control that he sometimes forgot to show up to gigs and eventually became a liability to the band.  He was known to shovel drugs by the handful, including an entire bottle of sleeping pills before taking stage.  After gradually going crazy, Barrett was kicked out of the band.

The Grateful Dead for the unique style of musical improvisation in 1965.  Drugs including cannabis, heroin, LSD, and cocaine played a big role in the group’s appeal. It was said that lead vocalist Jerry Garcia loved heroin more than the music and openly promoted drugs in many of his interviews. Concerts were heavily infused with drugs as part of the live-concert experience.

The band plays an instrumental song called “Space” at every concert that was, “created for people who are high on drugs and stems from the early days of LSD use” (Plunkett). Because the Grateful Dead was an organization that condoned drug use, they attracted thousands of fans who wanted to get stoned at these gatherings. Not only were the band members using drugs, sound engineer Owsley Stanley was a legendary LSD chemist that provided the group with the drug while they performed gigs.  The band continued to perform until the 1990’s and soon after, Jerry Garcia died of a heroin overdose.

Although very influential to this time period, these popular psychedelic bands do not even begin to describe the counterculture of Sixties music. The question of whether drugs affected the popularity of music is undoubtedly true; however, this could be both a good and bad perception.  Without the use of hallucinogenic drugs by musicians, this style of music would not have existed. The 1960’s psychedelic era induced changes in both the sound and lyrical content of music, which consequently shaped the future of rock music. Though drugs and the music industry will always be connected, the relationship between the two will most likely never be this prominent again.



Plunkett, Chris. “The Downside of Pop Culture / The Dead’s Free Ride on Drug Use.” SFGate.

San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Jan. 2004. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.


“Syd Barrett: The Crazy Diamond.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media,

July 2006. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <>.

Wenner, Jann S. “The Beatles.” Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2001. Web. 29 Apr.

2013. <>.


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