As I worked on putting together a course on the Beatles over the past month and change, I had an unexpected flashback (and no, not that type of flashback). In listening to the “medley” at the end of Abbey Road, I remembered my first exposure to that music. New Haven’s WPLR has, typically of this era, gone increasingly corporate, systematically dropping their alternative and local programming. BUT, I will always remember (and maintain some degree of loyalty for) programs like “Psychedelic Sunday.” This program, hosted by Mike Lapitino (still, amazingly, serving charmingly as a DJ for the station), was on every Sunday morning from 9am to noon.
For most of my teen years, I would set the alarm on Sunday mornings and lie in bed listening to the entire show.
Of course, this was the pre-internet era, so seeking out a great tune was a more elusive art. There were great songs I heard on the show that I’d hope to hear again, but I didn’t know who performed them or what the titles were, so I couldn’t even request them (much less instantly download them). As such, there was a particular intensity to the listening experience. The following list is of songs that I discovered on this program. I left out songs that I would have heard anyway. These are only songs that were otherwise missing from “normal” playlists, in many cases songs I knew little about for years. I also excluded songs by the Grateful Dead, because I was sufficiently into them that it would be dishonest to imply that I discovered any of their music this way. With that, let’s take a trip through the “PLR-chives.”
1) “Omaha,” Moby Grape – the band was doomed by bad luck and bad marketing, but this is one of the catchiest psychedelic rock tunes ever, enhanced by great vocal harmonies, killer guitar and a great beat.
2) “With You There to Help Me,” Jethro Tull – this is one of their moodier early tunes, very folksy at first, with the energy ebbing and flowing over time.
3) “Fresh Air,” Quicksilver Messenger Service – innocent me, I had no idea what “have another hit” meant, though they are technically suggesting having a hit of fresh air, California sunshine, love and so on. Not Pulitzer-worthy with the lyrics, perhaps, but very catchy. Great solos too, by guitarist John Cipollina and guest pianist Nicky Hopkins.
4) “Nature’s Way,” Spirit – I had literally never heard of this band before, and this song really haunted me (in a good way). Much moodier than their bigger hit, “I Got a Line On You.”
5) “See My Way,” Blodwyn Pig – not only had I never heard of this band before but I probably never would have since, either, if not for being won over by this super-catchy song (which I subsequently discovered to be the only one of their songs I actually like). The group was a spin-off from Jethro Tull, formed by Mick Abrams, the guitarist on Tull’s first album. They even went so far as to have a Roland Kirk styled flutist who also played multiple saxophones simultaneously.
6) “I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song On the Radio,” Monty Python – this short comedic song was the intro music for the show, and I would make sure to set my alarm for 8:59 so I wouldn’t miss it.
7) “Embryonic Journey,” Jefferson Airplane – technically this is a Jorma Kaukonen solo tune, and it’s beautiful. I’m an even bigger fan of his Hot Tuna tune “Water Song,” but I don’t remember if I ever heard it on “Psychedelic Sunday.”
8) “Shanty,” Jonathan Edwards – again, I had no clue what the “good buzz” was to which he was referring, but this was a really appealing jug band sort of tune.
9) “Empty Pages,” Traffic – Steve Winwood is at his best here (playing most of the instruments) and his electric piano solo is great and impacted me quite a bit (sleuths among you can probably find a couple of my stock licks in there). This is actually the only tune on the list where I actually figured out the song’s identity AND got the album before I moved on from listening to the show.
10) “I’m So Glad,” Cream – This one (the folk roots of which I only discovered many years later) is all fun, but it’s got a killer groove too, and great Jack Bruce vocals.