Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Jul-Aug Contents 16 Rhythms
as early as 1966, Pink floyd were experimenting with
futuristic multi-media concert concepts introducing
psychedelic liquid light shows while developing an
unmistakably psychedelic sound, long suite-like
compositions that touched on hard rock, blues, country,
folk, electronic and classical music.
Both Syd Barrett and Roger Waters wrote in those early
days, Syd’s material fitting easier into the pop music
framework since he wrote short ‘songs’ with chart potential.
His knack for composing accessible pieces like ‘Arnold
Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’ – both hits – plus his intense
presence on stage and obvious pop star charisma seemed to
make him indispensable.
The band’s first album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
(1967) takes its name from a chapter in Kenneth Graham’s
children’s novel wind In The willows and consisted mostly
of free-floating sonic adventures with innovative blends of
lyrical fantasy and improvised, surreal sound effects.
Despite the success of debut single ‘Arnold Layne’, EMI,
unsure of exactly what kind of band they had signed, gave
Pink Floyd free reign to record whatever they liked.
Norman Smith, who’d engineered more than 100 Beatles’
recordings and was a central figure in Pink Floyd’s
negotiations with EMI, was to be their producer.
The contributions of engineer Pete Brown, who had
mentored Smith, were pivotal in ensuring that the album
had a unique sound. Conscious of Barrett’s quiet voice,
he placed him in an isolation booth to sing his parts,
sometimes double-tracking and adding layers of echo to the
vocals and some instruments.
The album also featured unusually heavy use of echo and
reverb to give the songs their own unique sound.
Having established themselves as the biggest, loudest,
weirdest band on the London underground scene, it
was appropriate that their debut album’s opening track,
‘Astronomy Domine’, was Pink Floyd’s first foray into space
The song opens with the voice of their manager at the
time, Peter Jenner, reading the names of planets through a
megaphone sounding like an astronaut over an intercom.
Barrett’s lyrics about space also refer to planets.
‘Lucifer Sam’, originally called ‘Percy The Rat Catcher’, was
written by Barrett about his Siamese cat and is referred to as
such in the first line: “Lucifer Sam, Siam Cat.”
Barrett’s electric guitar is fed through an echo machine.
Sung mostly by Richard Wright, ‘Matilda Mother’
represents a common, childlike theme that inhabit many of
Inspired by verses from Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales,
it tells the story of Matilda who cried wolf once too often:
“Matilda died when her house caught fire, every time she
shouted ‘fire’!’ They only answered ‘little liar’.”
Another Barrett song, ‘Flaming Star’ describes a childlike
game with images of unicorns, buttercups and eiderdowns.
‘Pow R Toc H’, one of the album’s two instrumental tracks
includes vocal effects and noises similar to those used in
The Beatles’ recording ‘Lovely Rita’. All four members of
Pink Floyd happened to be present at Abbey Road Studios
when The Beatles were recording ‘Lovely Rita’ for their Sgt.
Pepper’s album. The song’s title was partly inspired by the
army’s code for ‘TH’, representing Talbot House, a club
where officers and enlisted men were equals
The other instrumental, ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ (both were
group compositions), the album’s longest track at nearly ten
minutes, originated when Jenner was trying to hum a song
he’d heard on the radio but couldn’t remember the name of
what happened to be Love’s cover of ‘My Little Red Book’.
Barrett followed Jenner’s humming with his guitar and
used it as the basis for the principal melody of a song that
became a permanent part of their live set.
According to Roger Waters, the free-form section was
inspired by Frank Zappa’s ‘Hot Rats’ and The Byrds’ ‘Eight
Despite Smith’s efforts to bring the rest of the album’s
tracks from jam-long length to something more
manageable, he relented for ‘Interstellar Overdrive’.
‘Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk’, Waters’ debut
songwriting credit, is, lyrically, unlike anything else on the
album. Full of Biblical imagery, its title is a reference to
John the Apostle’s “John saith unto him, Rise, take up thy
bed, and walk.”
Barrett’s lyrics for ‘Chapter 24’ were inspired by text from
chapter 24 of the ancient Chinese tome I Ching.
His fascination with childlike themes continued with an
acoustic two-minute story, ‘The Gnome’. Inspired by a
Tolkien novel, a gnome, Grimbel Gromble, “wore a scarlet
tunic and a blue green hood, it looked real good.”
In his song ‘Bike’ he shows a girl, possibly his then
girlfriend Jenny Spires, his bike, a cloak, a homeless,
ageing mouse called Gerald and a clan of gingerbread men
because “she fits with his world.”
The arrangement includes a collage of clocks, gongs, bells,
a violin and other studio sounds (Beatles inspired?) that
give the impression of the turning gears of a bicycle.
The album’s remaining song, Barrett’s ‘The Scarecrow’,
contains a baroque, psychedelic folk instrumental section
featuring 12-string acoustic guitar and cello, similar to the
band’s early psychedelic pieces.
In light of Barrett’s imminent mental decline, his words
seemed prophetic, as though he was comparing his own
existence to that of the scarecrow: “his head did no thinking,
but now he’s resigned to his fate ‘cause life’s not unkind, he
Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
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