I must admit, I was very late to the party. I first heard of the 13th Floor Elevators when Primal Scream covered Slip Inside This House on the epoch-defining Screamadelica. A couple of years later I first heard what they sounded like via the original Nuggets album. You’re Gonna Miss Me sounded like The Who’s Can’t Explain sung half in menace, half in mayhem by a singer clearly over the moon and under the influence (the more canny amongst you may well spot that reference). The Nuggets albums opened a whole new musical world to me and I’ve soaked up everything from them ever since. So, better late than never, a few short years ago I finally bought The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.
Roky I (2nd right)
Re. Ve. Lay. Shun! They say there’s two types of music; music you’ve heard and music you haven’t. Where had this band been all my life? What were they up to now? The answer to the first question was obvious – they had always been there, I just hadn’t been looking. What they were up to now was a bit harder to ascertain. Lead singer Roky Erickson had spent large chunks of his time in psychiatric institutions. The 13th Floor Elevators’ music wasn’t psychedelic for nothing y’know. Their name was inspired by the fact that most buildings rarely had a 13th floor – hotel floors typically went 11, 12, 14, 15 and so on. The 13th letter of the alphabet is ‘M’. As in ‘mescaline‘ or ‘marijuana‘. If you wanted to reach both the 13th floor and previously uncharted levels of consciousness, Roky reckoned you had to get high and to listen to his music. Being a champion of LSD, mescaline, marijuana etc etc had turned poor Roky into the lysergically-laced groovy uncle of Julian Cope and he was, quite frankly, off his tits.
Roky has since returned to some form of normality and some form of music. Now under the legal custody of his brother, he is being looked after and given the medical care that he needs. In 2007 he played at both Coachella and in London. In 2008 he appeared on Mogwai’s Batcat ep. This year he has released an album, True Love Cast Out All Evil, backed by fellow Texans Okkervil River. What I’ve heard of it is (disappointingly) a million miles away from the Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, but it’s better this than nothing at all, eh? Aye, I’m looking at you Lee Mavers. And you too Barrett, even if you are dead. You had plenty of time to do something, anything.
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Roky also releases albums online via his Roky Erickson CD Club. One of those albums has been that debut 13th Floor Elevators album recast in mono. In mono! Oh yeah! The Monodelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators comes at you like a train, relentless and unforgiving. It sounds fantastic. Here’s 3 tracks for you. If you’ve never heard the 13th Floor Elevators before, this is as good a place to start as any. Remember, it’s never too late.
Here‘s Primal Scream‘s Slip Inside This House. Though if you haven’t got it/heard it by now, I’m surprised you’re even reading this. Now compare with the original, from the Elevators’ Easter Everywhere album. I love Primal Scream’s version. Druggy, fuggy and right on the button. With the programmed bassline and rinky dink pianos it sounds contemporary and fresh, but I like that they’ve used the percussion to try and recreate the bonkers jug band blues of the original. Any comments?