The group was infamous for frequent clashes with lawmakers who struggled to control America´s newly awakened youth. The Elevators were arrested, beaten, and harassed in almost every city they traveled to and quickly garnered a reputation as a band of outlaws in a police state. Their frequent run-ins with the law and increasingly volatile experimentation with mind altering substances goes some way to explaining why the band achieved limited commercial success. They were a band as wild, experimental and un-tame-able as their front-man´s, primal vocalist. Rock and roll music is littered with forgotten pioneers, this list defines some of those best moments from one of classic rock’s earliest psychedelic bands
# 10 – Reverberation
The song that launched a thousand psychedelic rock bands. “Reverberation,” was a gateway song for the particular, and peculiar, psychedelic sound. The song combines a whining, bending guitar lick with a driving, infectious, repetitive bass-line. Erickson´s vocal becomes increasingly detached as the song progresses, elevating to a deranged, screeching climax. The song´s content is deeply introspective. It deals with concepts of life, death and bad trips. The song suggests an experimental experiential philosophy as the sole remedy to the constant “backward elevation” of everyday life.
# 9 – Kingdom of Heaven
What distinguishes the Elevators from their contemporaries is the ability to establish a visceral, palpable location through music. A precursor to their later sound, “Kingdom of Heaven,” is a slow bluesy masterpiece, punctuated with a shimmering ethereal electric guitar arpeggio that lifts the song to a different plain. Erikson´s transient vocal bleeding effortlessly over a melodic, hypnotic, riff is a kind of spiritual awakening and came to define the band’s philosophy of experimentation with mind altering substances.
# 8 – Fire Engine
“Fire engine,” is the Elevators at their frenetic finest. The considered lyricism of Tommy Hall that characterized so much of the Elevator’s work here gives way to Roky´s distinctively direct style. The song´s blitz siren proves the perfect foil for Erikson´s aggressive guttural vocal. It shows the Elevators´ desire to experiment with sounds in even the most rigid of 4:4 song structures. A garage rock classic.
# 7 – Slip Inside This House
“Slip Inside This House,” is considered by many to be the Elevators´ finest work. It fuses all aspects of The 13th Floor Elevators´sound in one, eight minute, masterpiece. Tommy Hall branded the song as “our special purpose” and in many ways it was a platform to launch his philosophical ideology. An ideology that drew on Eastern Religious ideas, mysticism, Alfred Korzybski´s general semantics and the teachings of Gurdijeff. The complex, disparate ideology is mirrored in the song’s complex structure. Slip Inside This House is a surrealistic journey that keeps the listener engaged throughout.
# 6 – Bloody Hammer
Following the break-up of the Elevators, Roky Erickson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1968. The band’s experimentation with hallucinogens had taken its toll on one of the great songwriters of that generation. A series of bands and sporadic songs followed with limited success or appeal, but, in 1979 Roky recorded a series of new songs with producer Stu Cook, formerly of Creedence Clearwater revival. It was a return to form albeit unrecognizable from Roky´s earlier works. The only constant being, of course, that impassioned distinctive vocal. Bloody Hammer is a driven rock classic that showcases Roky´s superb singing talent. The gothic lyrical content would become a recurring theme of Erikson´s later song writing; a metaphor for the battle with his mental health.
# 5 – Stand for the Fire Demon
The song “Stand for the Fire Demon,” is an incantation repeated over and over above a haunting, gothic rock riff. As the song progresses the vocals grow increasingly frustrated, pushing out at the boundaries of the song itself. It demonstrates Erickson´s ability to cross genres effortlessly and his obsession with gothic transformation, demons and subversive religious incantations.
# 4 – Haunt
“Haunt,” was a standout track from Erikson´s 1986 album Don’t Slander Me. An upbeat rockabilly groove that tied Erickson to his earlier roots. Lyrically the song “She must be some kind of ghost, the way her loving haunts me so” is a step away from the heavier darker lyricism found on Stand for the Fire Demon and Bloody Hammer. Haunt is a gift for fans of Roky´s earlier sound, the simple structure allowing him to demonstrate the best of his vocal range.
# 3 – She Lives in a Time of Her Own
“She Lives in a Time of Her Own,” was released on the Easter Everywhere album. The song’ whirling electric jug, ethereal backing vocals, and reverb drenched four chord guitar progressions represented the true signature sound of the band. The catchy chorus melody demonstrated the Elevator’s remarkable ability to transform from strung out psychedelic epics to tight, simple garage rock floor fillers in an instant. What sets this song apart from other garage rock songs of the era is the middle eight. A strung out melodic, lyrical masterpiece than intertwines effortlessly with the song’s brilliant chorus.
# 2 – Levitation
You can hear Revolver-era Beatles in the song ” Levitation.” This great song was issued on the band’s sophomore record Easter Everywhere. The album was released just about a year after their debut album in 1966. It was unusual for a 1960’s band to take a year in between albums as most rock and roll record contracts required bands to release albums every six months. But the time taken between the band’s first two albums is simply a testament to the depth of the material that the band was releasing. Jangling seventh chords atop a kinetic cymbal heavy sixties drum rhythm. “Heading for the ceiling, I’m up off the floor, I’ve broken my horizon, outdistancing my door.” The song is about freedom and the smashing of boundaries. It is a euphoric pop masterpiece that transforms into a crunching riff-based rock classic in the chorus.
# 1 – You´re Gonna Miss Me
Our choice for the number one spot on our Top 10 13th Floor Elevators Songs list was easy. The classic song “You´re Gonna Miss Me,” was released on the band’s debut album entitled, “The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators .” The album was released on October 17, 1966. On the classic track You’re Gonna Miss Me,” Roky Erickson delivered a mix of snarling aggressive vocals and primal screams that continue to echo through the halls of classic rock history.
You can hear it in Robert Plant, The Black Lips, Jack White, and AC/DC. A perfect two and a half minutes of gritty guitars, unique electric jug playing, and wailing vocals. “You´re Gonna Miss Me,” is one of the jewels in the rock and roll crown. A perfect blend of riffs and universal lyrics about unrequited love, loss, anger, and ego.
Updated April 19, 2022
Top 10 Roky Erickson And The 13th Floor Elevators Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2017
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