The 1960s were a time of significant cultural change, both within America and overseas. As the Vietnam war waged on, a counterculture quickly developed in the United States. This collective mindset was characterized by the dismissal of ‘50s norms, and a general rejection of the government’s status quo.
There was no better indication of such grand social change than the development of psychedelic rock. This new genre of music clearly reflected counterculture with its unconventional presentation, from incohesive song structures to instrumentals inspired by international cultures.
In fact, many are surprised to discover that Indian music was one of the most prevalent musical influences during the ‘60s. In this article, we’ll be covering how it helped to shape psychedelic rock in more unexpected ways than one
Introduction to Western Pop Music
As with any new genre, India’s influence on psychedelic rock didn’t happen overnight. Instead, it started with a slow and steady introduction through sounds American audiences were already listening to. Amongst the first to include Indian sounds into their music were The Beatles with “Norwegian Woods,” The Yardbirds with “For Your Love,” and The Rolling Stones with “She’s A Rainbow.”
Such a track was usually created by mixing Indian sounds into the song. Instruments most commonly used were the table, mridangam, and veena. These melodies had a strong Indian influence, which, when combined with Western rock and pop, created hypnotizing rhythms and sounds that planted the seeds for an upcoming psychedelic revolution.
A Production Staple
As psychedelic rock grew in popularity with each new release, businesses and music labels alike were keeping an eye on this blossoming genre. The time bomb exploded once Danelectro, an American instrument manufacturer, introduced the first electric sitar, which saw release in the ’60s.
The electric sitar was a combination of the classic Indian musical instrument and the American electric guitar, which made it far easier for Western musicians to incorporate India’s influence into their music. Famous players like Steve Howe of Yes and Maná were amongst the first to use it, which only made the wave of psychedelic rock increase in force.
It’s no question that Western acts played a large part in bringing Indian influence into America. Still, there’s no broader indicator of such popularity than when Indian artists themselves began to tour the United States. Ravi Shankar was one of the biggest names to tour the US in the ’60s, and played stages as large as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. Additionally, Shankar even taught American musicians like George Harrison how to play Indian instruments, further cementing their worldwide influence.
The psychedelic rock phenomenon of the 1960s was one that was primarily inspired by the counterculture of its time. Yet, many are surprised to learn that there was so much more behind it: mainly, the undeniable influence of Indian music. From inspiring the creation of entirely new musical instruments to propelling the worldwide success of American bands, it’s truly remarkable how a culture so far away from us was able to shape the music of past—and the future.