This psychedelic soul classic was written by two of the four Chambers brothers, Joe and Willie. Joe wrote most of the lyric after sitting in on a class at UCLA with Timothy Leary and taking LSD. Willie put the music together and contributed the line, "My soul has been psychedelicized."
This song spoke to the younger generation that was fighting for civil rights, social justice and an end to the Vietnam War. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but the constant repetition of the word "Time!" makes it clear that the song is a call to action.
The Chambers Brothers were from Mississippi and started out as a gospel act. They wrote this song after relocating to Los Angeles, where they rented a two story house. In a Songfacts interview with Willie Chambers
, he explained: "I was down in the dining room area with an acoustic guitar and I was playing that music over and over and over. I kind of got hooked on that line in that melody, but I didn't have any words. And Joe, at that same time, he was upstairs in his room writing the lyrics to 'Time Has Come Today.' He could hear what I was doing down there, and it interrupted his writing.
He came to the top of the stairs and said, 'What's that you're playing?'
I said, 'I don't know, this riff just came to me and I'm just playing it.'
He said, 'You got lyrics to that?'
'No, I don't have lyrics yet.'
'Man, I was just up there in my room writing and everything I'm writing, the music is going with what I'm writing. At the same time I'm writing it and you're down here playing it. Well, bring your guitar down.'
We had a basement in the house and we had a rehearsal studio down there. So, he and I went down in the basement and he started singing these lyrics. And man, the music and the lyrics were made for each other."
The original version was released in 1966 and ran just 2:37. It went nowhere, but they started playing extended versions of the song in their live shows, and when they recorded it on their 1967 album The Time Has Come, it ran 11:06. Many freeform FM radio stations played it from the album (DJs could grab a smoke break while it ran) and in 1968 it was once again released as a single, this time with a running time of 4:45. This is the version that was a hit, going to #11 in the US.
The Chambers Brothers started performing "Time Has Come Today" in 1965. The following year, they signed with Columbia Records, whose label boss Clive Davis surprised them by forbidding them to record it. Willie Chambers told the story in his Songfacts interview:
"After we signed with Columbia Records, there was a big party with all the food and booze and all this stuff. All the important people were there and we got to meet all of the head hogs and Clive was there. He was there for a couple of hours and he says, 'Well, I must be going, I have other appointments.' He immediately leans back in the door, 'Oh, by the way, that song 'Time Has Come Today' that you guys do, we won't be doing that. We won't do that kind of s--t on this label.'
That was it, and he walks away. I looked at my brothers, and we were looking at each other like, 'What the heck?' And our producer [David Rubinson], he was in tears now - he was crying. He says, 'I've waited my whole life to record this song, now he's going to tell us we can't record it. Why?'
A couple of days went by and our producer came by and said, 'I don't give a s--t what he says, we're going to record that song. When we get our recording date, you guys show up an hour early, we're going to go in the studio, we're going to turn on the tape, we're going to play it live, we're going to do it like a live performance. We're going to record it and whatever we get we're going to have to live with it. We can't play back, we can't overdub, we can't splice, we can't fix something if there's a mistake, we're just going to have to live with it.' He says, 'I'm probably going to lose my job, but that's how important it is to me to record this song.'
Later on, Joe and I went to Columbia Records to have a pow-wow with Mr. Davis to have him explain to us just why he thought we shouldn't record this song. We didn't have an appointment with him, we just showed up. We were six-feet-four tall, angry black guys. So, we walk in to the receptionist and we say, 'We need to speak to Mr. Davis.'
'Do you have an appointment?'
'No, we don't but we want to speak to him.'
We were persistent. So, she calls his office and says, 'The Chambers Brothers are here, and they say it's important, they need to talk to you.'
He says, 'Well, I'm very busy, I don't have time.'
I said, 'You're going to take time.'
So, we kind of forced our way into his office and we said to him, 'Why can't we record this song?' He says, 'It's not the kind of music that black guys produce or play.'
Clive says, 'You're four black guys, you're going to be sending up that stream into the world, 'Time Has Come Today.' It's too profound of a statement for four black guys to be saying to the world.'
That was his reason. He says, 'We'll get a white artist to record the song, it's not your kind of music.' My brother Joe says, 'What do you mean it's not our kind of music? We wrote this.'
So, after having that conversation with him, we were ready to do whatever the producer said. We were going to record it anyway.
When we got our moment, we went in the studio and did it in one take. 'Time Has Come Today' was done in one take. There was no listening back - we couldn't listen back. When we came to the end of it, we had no idea where it was going to go. Once we ended it, we shut down the machines and then we left the studio and came back at the time we were supposed to.
Clive Davis didn't find out about it until it had been mixed, prepped and released. When he found out, he fired everybody he could. He fired our producer, I think he fired the guy that opened the door for us. He fired everybody that got involved with recording that song."
In the line, "My soul has been psychedelicized," the word "soul" can refer to both soul music and to a person's life-force. "Psychedelicized," while not in the dictionary, was a popular saying around this time.
This song used many unusual production techniques to give it a rich, encompassing sound that made it stand out. There is plenty of echo and reverb along with various sound effects.
When the band started playing an extended version of the song live, they whacked a metal bumper guard from an old Plymouth car to simulate the ticking clock. They noticed Latin bands were using cowbells, but they weren't easy to find in Los Angeles. They finally found one in a store that specialized in Latin music. Lester Chambers played it.
Willie Chambers takes credit for dreaming up the extended version of this song. "I was in my room one evening just lying there, and all of this psychedelic music was trying to happen," he said. "But it didn't make any sense. It had no rhythm, it had no meaning. It was just a bunch of noise, and they called it psychedelic music.
I was lying there and that long extended version came into my head. I got excited. I jumped up, I ran to everybody and said, "I've got an idea. This is going to be our contribution to psychedelic music. When we get to that one chord right there we'll just stay there. We're going to scream. We're going to have a clock."
Numerous movies and TV shows have made use of this song, including The Doors, Girl, Interrupted and My Name Is Earl.
Steve Earle, Bo Bice and The Ramones are among the artists to cover this song.
The Chambers Brothers never achieved a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100. They came agonizingly close as this song stalled at #11 for five weeks without ever graduating to the top tier.