One of the more notable trends in rock n’ roll was the influence of Indian music upon British Invasion bands of the mid-1960s. For me, this was a more-interesting fashion than, say, Convicted MURDERER Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound production, which when done by him or any copiers really just was the equivalent of putting young girls in a metal garbage can and recording them singing from 1000 feet away. I also could have totally done without nearly every piece of pop music having a disco beat in the late ‘70s (and yes, Kinks and Rolling Stones, you both succumbed to this frippery, shame on you both) and the Rrrriot Gurrl years which really just supplied me with more information about Courtney Love’s crotch than I ever ever ever ever ever EVER wanted to know. Like, EVER. Eastern music inspired some very, very good records from our hungry-for-new-sounds British pals, so let’s take a trip back to listen.

Let us now thank British Imperialism, briefly, for England’s little foray into India did not just bring pasty white folks to that land, but brought lots and lots of Indian folks to Britain. Indian culture became part of the background of everyday British life. The bowler-hatted businessman was just as likely to grab a takeaway curry with his tea as some news-wrapped fish-and-chips. The flavor and traditions of Britain were rapidly changing, and music of course was part of that. Legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar, via some avid Western avant-garde jazz and classical musicians/fans, began to record and perform in Europe and New York City by the late 1950s, and Indian tunings and drones were picked up on by a few folk musicians in the UK and US around the same time. But the Brit rockers were the first to take those sounds into the hit parade in 1965.

There has always been some debate as to which group was first in releasing an Indian-influenced record, and I guess it really depends upon how strict one wishes to be with the definition. The British pop scene of 1965 was incredibly competitive, with the top artists vying to come up with new and better for the insatiable public every two or three months or so. You could say that The Yardbirds got the win by a technicality. In February of 1965, the band entered the studio to record Graham Gouldman’s song “Heart Full of Soul.” Manager Giorgio Gomelsky hired a classically-trained sitar player to play the lead riff, but in the end the band felt his performance was not quite what they wanted. This outtake of the session remained unreleased until 1984:

Jeff Beck took over, and turned his guitar into a cool razory approximation of the sitar sound, and this version of “Heart Full Of Soul” became a worldwide hit, released in June, 1965:

Ray Davies of the Kinks was also thinking about this sound at the same time, after a quick stopover in India with the band. “See My Friends” was recorded in April of 1965 using the band’s regular guitars filtered through Dave Davies’ trademarked fuzzy amp sound, and was released at the end of July the same year.

Ray Davies: "When I wrote the song, I had the sea near Bombay in mind. We stayed at a hotel by the sea, and the fishermen come up at five in the morning and they were all chanting. And we went on the beach and we got chased by a mad dog — big as a donkey" (Cott, 1969)

Also in April of 1965, the Beatles were filming their movie “Help!” in London. The basic premise to the movie is that Ringo is being chased by members of a probably-Indian pseudo-religious cult to retrieve a sacrificial ring – all in good Beatle fun, of course. There is a scene in the movie where the Beatles duck into an Indian restaurant, where a group of traditional Indian musicians are playing for the diners. It is said that George Harrison’s famous interest in Indian music began here. He purchased his own sitar soon afterwards, and played it on the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” released in December, 1965.

And…of our big Brit bands, we have the Rolling Stones finally getting the sitar groove going with “Paint It Black” bringing the sound into 1966.

After that, “Raga Rock” was in full swing – everyone from the Turtles to the Cyrkle to BJ Thomas to Stevie Wonder, the Cowsills, the Monkees, the Lemon Pipers, the Move, well pretty much everybody. Ravi Shankar was feted at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival, the Beatles went to India and grooved with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Bangor, Wales until they got the news Brian Epstein had died and/or Ringo was fed up with a Hindu diet. By 1970 or so the Indian-pop trend was more or less over, but the influences are still felt throughout rock music today, adding a nice Eastern turn that still sounds fresh.

As my little gift to you, I give you the flip side of fresh, which is the most sour, hideous, and hilarious sitar playing ever recorded. Please to enjoy Rajput and the Sepoy’s cover of The Fifth Dimension’s “Up Up and Away.” HA HA HA HA HA HA!