October 2 – Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother – Almost There

10/2/70: Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother

It must be a mark of an extraordinary band to have created such a legendary collection of albums that noncompletists like myself actually make a point of trying to like the portions of their catalog that are almost universally disliked, or at least overlooked, including by the musicians themselves. Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, released 50 years ago today, is one example.

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, this was Pink Floyd’s fifth release, and the follow up to the sprawling, disjointed double LP Ummagumma. Nick Deriso, in an ultimateclassicrock.com review, summed up the album rather concisely: “Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother marks the final signpost for a period of broad and sometimes aimless experimentation following the departure of Syd Barrett.” One result was that it was also the final Floyd album produced by Norman Smith, as the band sought more control over their recording process. Nevertheless, it became the band’s first number one album in the U.K., presumably due to their status as an an underground live act. Despite the initial commercial success, contemporary print reviews were mixed, and neither Roger Waters nor David Gilmour look back upon the album favorably.

Pink Floyd stream live 1970 San Francisco set at 5pm this evening | Louder

Pink Floyd were coming into their own in terms of expecting more artistic freedom, and this is represented on the album’s jacket. The cover, designed by Hipgnosis (artist Storm Thorgerson drove out into the countryside and took a photo of the first cow he saw), is notable for being their first without their name or any photos of band members – a practice that they would continue throughout the 70’s. The band’s idea was to have a cover that didn’t reinforce their placement in any particular genre or sub-genre, such as “space rock.”

The Witchwood Records: RE-UP Pink Floyd - Leeds 1970

Recording presented difficulties due to restrictions placed on them at Abbey Road concerning new studio equipment, one result being that Mason and Waters had to play the entire 23 minute rhythm portion of the Atom Heart Mother suite – which consumes the entirety of side one – rather than create a loop. The suite, which I have yet to develop a taste for, is interesting for the fact that its orchestration, composed by Ron Geesin, takes the lead melody lines while the band provides the backing track – a reversal of the norm in pop/rock recording. As with Ummagumma, the second half of the album features tracks written by individual members Waters, Wright, and Gilmour before closing with the Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast suite. This latter track, with three different “segments,” is really just their roadie Alan Styles talking about and consuming his breakfast. Frankly, this is treading into John and Yoko territory.

Pink Floyd - Live At Paris Theatre, London - 1970 - Past Daily Backstage  Weekend - Past Daily: News, History, Music And An Enormous Sound Archive.

So where does this leave us? There are undoubtedly many fans who find every second of Atom Heart Mother to be among the greatest sounds ever put on vinyl, and more power to them. This is not a very accessible album to me, yet there are elements (even on side one) that I do enjoy which keep me returning from time to time to reevaluate. The easier solution, though, was to put the first three songs from side two on a playlist with some tracks from the first five albums (though I’ve grown to really like the entire Piper…, Saucerful…, and More albums). Their next release, Meddle, was the breakthrough. With Atom Heart Mother they were almost there.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Atom Heart Mother: I. Father’s Shout II. Breast Milky III. Mother Fore IV. Funky Dung V. Mind Your Throats Please VI. Remergence

Side Two:

  1. If
  2. Summer ’68
  3. Fat Old Sun
  4. Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast: I. Rise and Shine II. Sunny Side Up III. Morning Glory

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/pink-floyd-atom-heart-mother/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/atom-heart-mother-mw0000195290

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atom_Heart_Mother

January 3 – The Crazy Diamond Goes Solo

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

This is not an easy one to write about because it’s not an easy album to listen to.  The Madcap Laughs, released on this date fifty years ago, is a portrait of someone in the throes of mental illness and not just some eccentric artist.  John and Yoko were merely crazy self-promoters by comparison.  However, I can say that having gained much more of an appreciation of the early Pink Floyd albums, I now find the first couple of Barrett releases to be much more interesting and enjoyable.

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

Recording began in May 1968 after Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd due to his increasingly erratic behavior, with most of the work being done April – July 1969.  From inception to release nearly two years later, five producers participated on the project over the span of recording dates, including Barrett, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, former Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, and Malcolm Jones.  In addition to Barrett and Gilmour, other musicians on The Madcap Laughs include Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, and Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine, Jerry Shirley of Humble Pie, and Willie Wilson of Jokers Wild (Gilmour’s band prior to joining Pink Floyd)

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

The first round of recording with Jenner ended in July ’68 when Barrett departed and later ended up in a Cambridge psych ward.  He returned in early ’69 to work with Jones that spring at Abbey Road.  This was a more productive stage, but it too fizzled due to Syd’s unpredictable behavior.  Barrett didn’t communicate effectively with the session players who had no choice but to lag behind Syd’s playing with constant time and key changes.  By this time, Gilmour became interested in helping his friend in the studio.  He and Roger Waters took over in the booth in the summer of 1969 and hurriedly wrapped up recording, re-recording, and mixing.

Image result for roger waters 1969

Interestingly, it’s the Jones produced tracks as opposed to those overseen by Gilmour and Waters that are arguably stronger – a term I use loosely.  Exceptions for me include songs Octopus, Golden Hair (with some lyrics taken from James Joyce), and Dark Globe, the latter described by AllMusic’s Stewart Mason as “horrifying” and “a first person portrait of schizophrenia that’s seemingly the most self-aware song this normally whimsical songwriter ever created.”  Beginning with She Took a Long Cold Look, the final few tracks aren’t as listenable to me, with Barrett seemingly sounding more incoherent as the album winds down.  But the final track, Late Night, is a clear reminder of Syd’s isolation, and as such serves as a reminder of the album’s purpose, suggests reviewer Ric Albano.  For the album cover, Barrett painted his bedroom floor orange and purple.  He was helped by his new acquaintance Evelyn Rose, the nude woman on the back of the sleeve.

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

The elements that make an album one listener’s disaster – disjointed and out of tune playing, stream of consciousness lyrics, as well as unintelligible mumbling – are part of the charm for others, and there is plenty of charm for me on this recording.  I enjoy most of it in fact.  I like Barrett’s vocals and most of the production on the record.  But I can’t listen to it without the reminder of what was unfolding for him at the time.  Let it Be documented the disintegration of a band, but The Madcap Laughs documented the disintegration of a human being.  It was really happening.  The only other albums I can think of off the top of my head where the questionable mental state of the artist was on full display to this extent are Skip Spence’s Oar and Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers.  Perhaps Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica from the previous year as well.  For me there’s no question as to Syd Barrett’s talent and possible genius.  He simply didn’t make it.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. Terrapin
  2. No Good Trying
  3. Love You
  4. No Man’s Land
  5. Dark Globe
  6. Here I Go

Side B:

  1. Octopus
  2. Golden Hair
  3. Long Gone
  4. She Took a Long Cold Look
  5. Feel
  6. If It’s in You
  7. Late Night

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Madcap_Laughs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syd_Barrett

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-madcap-laughs-mw0000193903

The Madcap Laughsby Syd Barrett

 

June 29 – Pink Floyd in Transition

Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets

Often when describing an album (or book, painting, etc.) as representative of a transitional stage for the artist, it’s a polite way of excusing the work for being a perhaps less-than-stellar offering with glimpses of good things to come.  Then there are transition albums like Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets, released this day in 1968.  While the band was certainly moving toward bigger and better things both artistically and commercially in the years beyond 1968, this album is another example of how something very good and interesting can emerge during times of uncertainty.  The question mark I’m referring to?  The ushering out of band co-founder, chief songwriter and friend, Syd Barrett, and the shifting of artistic direction with the emergence of Roger Waters as a primary writer along with the addition of David Gilmour to the band – all during the recording of this album.

Pink-Floyd-1968-resize.jpg
That oh-so-brief moment in time when the Pink Floyd lineup included both Syd Barrett and David Gilmour.

I used to overlook this release as simply part of an overall spacey and experimental but kind of boring run of post-Piper at the Gates of Dawn/pre-Dark Side of the Moon albums.  Finally and thankfully I woke up to Meddle, Obscured by Clouds, and More.  (You can throw in the first three songs on side two of Atom Heart Mother as well.)  Fantastic albums all.  But what about Saucerful?

Recording began at EMI Studios in August of the previous year, and due to Syd’s erratic behavior and general unreliability on stage and off, his friend David Gilmour was brought into the fold in December ’67 as a safety net guitarist for the times Syd would just wander aimlessly around the stage with a blank stare on his face.  The group performed as a quintet for a couple of weeks during January of 1968 before they decided to simply not pick up Syd on the way to a gig one day, and that was that.  They wrapped up recording in early May as a quartet with an altered lineup and vision.

Pink-Floyd-1968-resized
And then there were four, again.

Ironically, even though Syd only plays on three songs on the record and only sings on the one he wrote, the haunting Jugband Blues, it took gaining an appreciation for Barrett’s two post Floyd solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, for me to revisit Saucerful.  Well, that and hearing Nick Mason say during a radio interview that this is his favorite Floyd album.  And I’m glad I was able to reconsider it with fresh ears, because it’s good.  I’ll just have to plead ignorance up to the point of my awakening.  It’s still spacey, but hey, so am I from time to time.  To time.  Now, I’ve got a gold star sticker and a candy bar for the person who can convince me that I shouldn’t dismiss Ummagumma

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Let There Be More Light
  2. Remember a Day
  3. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
  4. Corporal Clegg

Side Two:

  1. A Saucerful of Secrets
  2. See-Saw
  3. Jugband Blues
It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I’m most obliged to you for making it clear
That I’m not here
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I’m grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I’m wondering who could be writing this song
I don’t care if the sun don’t shine
And I don’t care if nothing is mine
And I don’t care if I’m nervous with you
I’ll do my loving in the winter
And the sea isn’t green
And I love the queen
And what exactly is a dream?
And what exactly is a joke?
-Syd Barrett, Jugband Blues
-Stephen