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Better Music Through Chemistry

Page from an Obituaries site:

An accidental hero, Hofmann initially "discovered'' the drug formally known as lysergic acid diethylamide-25 way back in 1938, while he was studying medicinal uses of a fungus for Sandoz pharmaceuticals. A few years later, in 1943, he got a dose of the real deal when a small amount seeped into his finger during a lab experiment.

"What I was thinking appeared in colors and pictures,'' he later recalled for a TV network show honoring his 100th birthday. Three days after the first experience and intrigued enough to try a larger dose, Hofmann biked home from work and ended up with the world's first bad acid trip.

"Everything I saw was distorted as in a warped mirror,'' he said. "I was filled with an overwhelming fear that I would go crazy. I was transported to a different world, a different time.''

Nothing daunted, Hofmann went on to defend staunchly the people's right to a psychedelic experience. His death will no doubt spark another round of debate over the merits and demerits of consciousness-expanding drugs. I could have lived without being unwittingly dosed by a well-meaning psychedelic advocate, but the impact of LSD on the popular culture of our time was incalculable.

Although reefer madness had long been a staple of the jazz world, the mind-blowing qualities of Hofmann’s discovery changed a society already committed to better living through chemistry.

Everyone from Dylan and the Beatles to Hillary Clinton, in her famous Wellesley commencement speech of 1969, was influenced by the utopian vision of love and change that the era -- and the drug -- inspired.

"We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands,'' said Clinton at the time. "But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We're searching for a more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living.''

Well, she certainly got the latter. And we got a style of music that embodies that time as fully as peace signs, sand candles and hippie headbands.

Herewith, a short guide to some of the greatest - and most infamous - LSD-inspired pop music of all time. The scene may have moved on to American Idol, but somewhere Albert Hofmann is tripping out to the wild sounds he helped inspire.

1. Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit''
2. Grateful Dead, "Uncle John's Band''
3. The Beatles, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds''
4. The Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows''
5. Jimi Hendrix, "The Star-Spangled Banner''
6. The Rolling Stones, "Sing This All Together''

You can view descriptions and the other songs who made the list here.