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Organic Intelligence XXVII: A Psych Rock Christmas
JR Moores , December 21st, 2023 12:10

In this month's antidote to the algorithm cosmic Santa JR Moores rides his riffin' reindeer around the globe to bring you a selection of seasonal psychedelic rock treats

Have yourself a psychedelic Christmas time! There's no denying that Christmas is one of the most psychedelic moments in the calendar. Santa Claus himself is the spitting image of Jerry Garcia. The hippie values of peace and love float through the cinnamon-fogged air. And I don't know about you but I like to consume so much mulled wine the resulting hallucinations make Dumbo's pink elephant parade look like afternoon tea with Fiona Bruce.

As well as the rank consumerism, overeating of poultry meat, sleazy mistletoe-based flirtation follies, pigs cooked in further pieces of pig, and Channel 5's collection of completely batshit low-budget American films featuring chiselled ghosts with immaculate teeth teaching someone from a soap opera the true meaning of family, there is also the Christmas music to enjoy.

It's easy to fall into old habits, however. Repeating the well-worn debate about the hashtagproblematic language heard in 'Fairytale Of New York'. Mansplaining to a casual listener the tragic true origin of East 17's 'Stay'. Playing the YouTube video of 'Wonderful Christmastime' where all the lyrics have been changed to "the moon is right" so many times that your loved ones offer to ritually disembowel you with a cookie cutter.

So let's freshen up the turntable, yeah? Here are five Christmassy numbers from the psych-rock vaults that ought to help you cease fighting over who gets the final soggy sprout and make you feel all fuzzily festive and trippily cheery.

Flaming Lips – 'Christmas At The Zoo'

Their concerts are full of confetti and balloons while Wayne Coyne aspires to write something as universally embraced as 'Happy Birthday'. Do The Flaming Lips have a Christmas song? Is the Pope Catholic? Do bears pass solid in the forest? Does Wayne Coyne talk too much between the songs at any given 'Lips concert? His band have several of them, in fact. 2003's 'A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So)' is a more sober and sincere affair but it's hard to beat this earlier entry into the canon on which Coyne decides to liberate some animals only to find himself humbled. They don't want Wayne's help! Some prefer to remain within their cages. Others would be happier freeing themselves. Much do-gooding occurs over Christmas. It's best not to arrogantly convince ourselves that we are some kind of saviour. Leave that to Jesus! (Or not.)

Hitodama – 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'

There are lots of marvellous things about 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)', originally sung by Darlene Love. Like many a yuletide classic, its lyrics are a terrifically sad meditation on abandonment and loneliness. The backing vocals are ingeniously simple: the word "CHRISTMAS!" belted out repeatedly. And of course, there's a cracking rendition by the queen of the season herself, Ms. Mariah Carey. If you've heard her version a little too often already this year, then check out the droning ten-minute cover by Hitodama which sounds like someone's accidentally put it on at half-speed while the stereo equipment begins to disintegrate. I like to listen to this when my belt is bursting from a fourth helping of roast potatoes, the sherry's gone to my head and I start to pass out in the armchair leaving others to worry about the washing up.

Boris – 'Last Christmas'

There are countless covers of Wham!'s 'Last Christmas' including one by Taylor Swift on which the country crossover sensation treats the melancholic material in a manner that's way too cheerfully pleased with herself. There's also a pumping mid-90s disco take by Whigfield and if that's not aurally masochistic enough for you, check out the abominable one by Crazy Frog. Miley Cyrus' version is heavier than most, naturally. To have the envelope really pushed into the righteous realm we must turn to Japanese amplifier blowers Boris. The sweetly sung vocals find their foil in the guitar distortion's appropriate imitation of an absolute blizzard. If they did a whole concept album in this obliterating shoegaze vein they could call it My Bloody Christmastime. 

Rotary Connection – ‘Last Call For Peace’

Psychedelic Christmas music is nothing new. As long as there has been acid rock, there's been someone high enough to suggest playing songs about snow on electric guitars. There are plenty of vintage cuts to choose from, although 'Don't Believe In Christmas' by The Sonics is kind of the opposite of what's required. Rotary Connection's Peace album was released in 1968, as The Vietnam War continued to claim the lives of thousands. While some of its numbers have a mellower and more reflective feel, 'Last Call For Peace' is one of the rockier highlights, full of funk and soul and plenty of fuzz. "One day a year / That's free from hate"? It's not good enough, people!

He 5 – 'Jingle Bell'

The South Korean psychedelic surf band He 5 were another group with a Christmas-themed album up their dapper sleeves. The whole of 1969's straightforwardly titled Merry Christmas merits repeated spins and it's hard not to gasp in wonder at the audacity of their take on 'Jingle Bells'. The source material is essentially used only the bookend the track, which lasts for over 12 minutes, most of it showing greater debt to the rather less seasonal 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' by Iron Butterfly. There's also a clattering drum solo and a bit where they segue into 'Paint It Black', for some reason or other, before getting back to the business of pretending to perform the titular carol. Madcap genius.