KEXP Documentaries: Psychedelics – The Velvet Underground

Greetings, Michele Myers here. I produce KEXP Documentaries with the help of a team of unpaid geniuses (KEXP volunteers). Each week we bring you a musical subject in the time it takes to play just one song.

When we started working on this KEXP Documentaries series Psychedelics, we had to define psychedelic music for ourselves. After lots of debate, our team came up with the idea that psychedelic music is 1. music one makes or listens to while under the effects of a drug or 2. music that makes you feel like you’re tripping, even when you’re not. This definition included so many bands, about 200. But since our series are in 10 parts, we whittled it down to 10 groups: The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Sly and The Family Stone, Pink Floyd, The Orb, Spiritualized, The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective.

Each week we air an episode on KEXP — Thursday at 3pm and Saturday at 2pm. Last week we profiled The Velvet Underground.

The Velvet Underground came onto the New York scene while the hippie counterculture was blossoming in San Francisco. It’s said that The Velvets didn’t like any of the flower child music that was coming out of California, except for The Byrds.

While the California scene was inspired by a young generation’s experiments with LSD and marijuana, the New York scene was more about heroin and speedy drugs. And the music in New York in 1966 reflected this. The Velvet Underground’s songs were dark, and they bridged the gap between pop music (Lou Reed had been a professional songwriter for Pickwick Records before he joined the band) and experimental and classical sounds (John Cale was a classically trained musician who had a fascination with haunting drone noises). The band joined up with famous artist Andy Warhol to create a traveling multi-media experience “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”.

Listen to the documentary:

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KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers. Assistant producer is Kate Shantry. With help from John Felthous and Leah Pogwizd. You can hear all of our KEXP Documentaries series, including “Pop Goes Electronic” and “The New World” in the On Demand section of

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  1. Posted August 23, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Errrm WHY is it being said in the audio that the Velvet Underground music was psychedelic music? It is not psychedelic. narcots like heroin and stimulants like speed are NOT psychedelic so it makes no sense to call the music inspired by all that psychedelics, NOR the art and lifestyles.

  2. Shoe
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    “…During the so-called ‘Summer of Love’ , we stayed in NYC and recorded an orgasm of our own , White Light/White Heat .”
    – Holmes Sterling Morrison
    While I wouldn’t call them a *traditional* “Psychedelic” band , they certainly were psychedelic in the capacity of shaking-up collective sensibilities . No bright colours , no loud attire , no acid trip overtones ; just plain dirty street realities — a trip in its own right !

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