The band was formed in 1966, centered around guitarist/vocalist Roky Erickson, guitarist Stacy Sutherland and electric jug player Tommy Hall (both of whom performed backing vocals), with a variety of drummers and bassists coming and going for the duration of their short career.
The band were fervently dedicated to the idea of psychedelia and expanding the boundaries of the mind, religiously advocating use of hallucinogenics in their lyrics and sleeve notes, and becoming one of the first bands to release an album with "psychedelic" in the title.note According to legend, Hall's jug was tuned by the amount of marijuana stored in it.
They released two albums in close succession, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators and Easter Everywhere. The first one yielded their only successful single and arguable Signature Song, "You're Gonna Miss Me". However, the band disintegrated after they got busted by the Texas authorities for possession of drugs - Stacy went to prison, while Roky misguidedly pleaded insanity and landed in a state hospital for the criminally insane until 1973, and struggled with mental issues for the rest of his life. Stacy was accidentally shot by his wife in 1978, while Tommy became a devout follower of Scientology in the same decade.
Erickson maintains a strong cult following and is considered an Austin icon on par with Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan despite not coming near either man's level of success. His solo career is highly influential in the Horror Rock genre, and counts members of bands like ZZ Top and R.E.M. as fans. Erickson died on May 31st, 2019.
- The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966)
- Easter Everywhere (1967)
- Live (1968) - actually an album of studio outtakes with overdubbed applause and crowd noise, put out by their record label for some quick cash
- Bull of the Woods (1969) - released after the band's collapse
Tropes used by the 13th Floor Elevators:
- Bedlam House: The hospital Roky landed in and got treated with electroshock therapy.
- Break-Up Song: "You're Gonna Miss Me".
- Careful with That Axe + Metal Scream: Roky gained fame largely because of his distinctive wild screaming. One of the vocalists he influenced was Janis Joplin.
- Cover Version:
- "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" by Bob Dylan, "Before You Accuse Me" by Bo Diddley, "I'm Gonna Love You Too" by Buddy Holly, "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" by Solomon Burke, and several songs by Singer-Songwriter Powell St. John, a friend of the band.
- On the other hand, there've been quite a few covers of their songs by Alternative Rock bands influenced by them. For example: "Reverberation (Doubt)" was covered by The Jesus and Mary Chain, "Slip Inside This House" was covered (or Covered Up?) by Primal Scream on their album Screamadelica, "Rollercoaster" got a Spacemen 3 version, Television used to play "Fire Engine" live, and so on.
- Design Student's Orgasm: The colorful covers of Psychedelic Sounds and Easter Everywhere.
- Drugs Are Good: The liner notes for The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators feature a text promoting the use of LSD and other psychedelics for mind expansion.
- Epic Rocking: The eight-minute "Slip Inside This House".
- Non-Appearing Title: "I Had to Tell You".
- Psychedelic Rock: Overlapping with Garage Rock.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: For a band who made their reputation for riff-driven freakouts like "You're Gonna Miss Me", lovely ballads like "Splash 1 (Now I'm Home)", "I Had to Tell You" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (among others) can come as a surprise.
- The Svengali: Tommy Hall very much acted as this to his bandmates. He evidently saw the band as a vehicle to cultivate a following as a psychedelic guru.
- Title-Only Chorus: "You're Gonna Miss Me", "Reverberation (Doubt)", "(I've Got) Levitation".
- Watch It Stoned: Their entire philosophy.
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Slip Inside This House" in particular.