Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Released August, 1967

Album not available on spotify or grooveshark. Sorry about that!

1. Astronomy Domine – 0.00
2. Lucifer Sam – 4.12
3. Matilda Mother – 7.19
4. Flaming – 10.27
5. Pow R. Toc. H – 13.13
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk – 17.39
7. Interstellar Overdrive – 20.45
8. The Gnome – 30.25
9. Chapter 24 – 32.38
10. The Scarecrow – 36.20
11. Bike – 38.31

DISCLAIMER: I am a massive Pink Floyd fan. I love everything they’ve done. There’s a chance this review will get out of control gushy, and due to this bias, I probably won’t make mention of how this album is, musically anyway, an insane piece of DFN. We all know it is, let’s just try and get past it, ok?

Pink Floyd’s formation years read like a revolving door of band members, as we’ve seen so frequently through the 60s. The first incarnation was Sigma 6 in1965, a six man band that included Rick Wright and school friends Nick Mason and Roger Waters. (Just as an interesting side note, Nick Mason would go on to be the only member to stay with the band since it’s ’65 formation..) Mason and Waters moved in together, but Mason moved out and was replaced by Sigma 6 guitarist Rado ‘Bob’ Klose. After experimenting with band names, some very ridiculous, they settled on The Tea Set, because why not? In 1964, two that we don’t care about of the band left to form their own band (dumbasses) and we welcome Mr Roger Barrett to the story. Syd quickly became the band’s frontman, and they scored a residency at The Countdown Club in London. They were playing marathon sets, lasting over four hours, so to avoid song repetition they came to the “realisation that songs could be extended by lengthy solos” according to Mason. Klose quit the band (dumb) and Barrett took over on lead guitar. They became the Pink Floyd Sound in ’65 after they found another band called The Tea Set.

At a gig in ’66 the band was noticed by Peter Jenner and Andrew King, who decided to manage them, even with little knowledge of the music industry. They dropped the Sound part of the name and became a big part of the underground music scene. The famous Pink Floyd stage shows began here, experimenting with crazy coloured lighting and shapes. They developed a following at the famous, but short lived, UFO club in London, but quickly outgrew the small room. Floyd started attracting a lot of attention, and after recording two songs, they were picked up by EMI/Columbia in 1967. They did the TV circuit, gaining more momentum on shows like Top Of The Pops. By now, Barrett was heavily using LSD, and his behaviour was noticeably different. In August 1967, the band recorded their first studio album. “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” making it to number six on the British album charts.

Now, I’ve got word limits to play by, so I can’t cover all the songs I’d like, so enjoy my favourites.
Without a doubt my favourite track is ‘Bike’. It’s SO absurd. Lyrics about gingerbread men, mice and bikes. And the absurdity fits perfectly with the circus like keys that are playing, unlike the chorus, which apparently doesn’t fit with anything. Kind of unusually, the outro seems like it could run on straight into Time, that wouldn’t be released for another six years.

The opening track, ‘Astronomy Domine’ is, I think, the epitome of Barrett era Pink Floyd. It’s mental lyrics – Blinding signs flap flicker flicker flicker, Blam pow pow, stairway scare Dan Dare, who’s there? The unusual sound effects at the end, the man’s voice over a radio – morse code beeps and just plain bizarre noises at the end, and the unrefined and elongated guitar solo notes. It’s the only track from this album the band played live on the live concert recording “Pulse”.’ Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk’ should go down in history as one of the best song titles, even if it lacks literally everywhere else. How they make such a terrible song fun is beyond me. The instrumental is fair dinkum crazy. Guitar played frantically and without precision, a huge juxtaposition against the silky smooth skills of later Dave Gilmour work, and too much organ, and we know how much I love organ. I’m looking at you, The Doors.

“The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” is a mess. An ugly, beautiful mess. I can’t help but smile at the absurdity every time I hear it. And I always will.

Man, did this album do anyone else’s head in or was it just me? You definitely don’t need to be an acid junkie to experience a trip, just listen to “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and see where that takes you. Pink Floyd’s debut album wavers somewhere between psychedelia and folk rock, and  you can really hear the other artists of that time who were having an effect on Barrett’s writing style – The Beatles, The Kinks, The Byrds, Love – all the psychedelic stuff! A lot of the songs on “The Piper  at the Gates of Dawn” are themed around mundane items like cats, bicycles and scarecrows, but the songs themselves are far from simple.  Organs, harpsichords, musical interludes and unicorns abound, and the lyrics are nonsensical (at least they are to me). This is DFN at its best (or worst, more to the point) and I found it difficult to relate to the strange themes, erratic musical patterns and crazy structure of the songs. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is a far cry from “Dark Side of the Moon”, let me tell you. But it’s great to compare the two just to see the development of Pink Floyd’s style over the years, and after the departure of a pickled Syd Barrett. I’m probably going to get called a blasphemer for this, but “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” did nothing for me and listening to it was just hard work. Too noisy, way too experimental, and just messy. Sorry Dad!

If you’re not familiar with the Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd, you’re in for a shock. No pretty David Gilmour guitar solos here; he wasn’t even in the band yet! No songs about putting up a wall to protect your psyche from Roger Waters either. In fact, the only song on this album solely written by Waters, ‘Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk’, is easily the weakest. This is where it all started, and indeed, the DFN is strong with this one. Almost entirely penned by Barrett, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is divided into almost-childlike songs of whimsy (‘The Gnome’, ‘Scarecrow’), atmospheric psychedelia (‘Astronomy Domine’) and challenging instrumental pieces, namely ‘Pow R. Toc H.’ and ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. The latter starts with a fairly catchy riff played repeatedly for about a minute before descending into a genre-defining melange of noisy improvisations, revealing Waters’ penchant for playing octave notes on his bass in the process. If you want a real spin out, listen to this with headphones on. The final minute’s rapid panning between the left and right speaker will threaten your equilibrium. Nudging the ten minute mark, this track is probably the album’s acid test, pardon the pun. Other highlights for me include ‘Flaming’ and ‘Lucifer Sam’, which features an intro reminiscent of a 1960’s spy film chase. For the goofy grin it gives me, I can’t go past ‘Bike’ as my favourite, with its lyrics coming off like a warped nursery rhyme. Barrett’s mental breakdown, triggered by excessive LSD use, saw him replaced by Gilmour in 1968. His downfall and retreat from the music industry is one of its saddest tales. While not for all tastes, this album is where Barrett’s star shone brightest before it burnt out.

The significance of “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” in the Pink Floyd catalogue is that it features Mr Syd Barret, who is responsible for writing the majority of the songs and providing the vocals. The thing with Barret is he was a tad crazy and by the time this album was released he had trouble keeping it together to perform. By the release of their next album just one year later, “A Saucer Full of Secrets”, Barret was no longer able to perform live and only appears briefly on the album. It would be the last album he would work on with Pink Floyd. Despite his mental issues Barret was a much loved member of Pink Floyd and very influential on the course of Psychedelic Rock. Coming into this week I knew that “Pipers” had quite a legacy attached to it. It’s not the worst album I’ve heard over the course of this year (hello Frank Sinatra and “September of my Years”) but it is a far stretch from the brilliance of Pink Floyd post Syd Barret. Musically it’s actually quite good, other than a few weird freak outs. But the lyrics… ack the lyrics! The whole thing reminded me a lot of prog rock luminaries King Crimson. Like “In the Court of the Crimson King”, the first song is brilliant and then it all fall apart for me. I can understand why early Pink Floyd stuff is seen as influential. They were doing weird shit… which often is the catalyst for brilliance to emerge. I get why people go crazy for this sort of music, it’s just not my cup of tea. I just can’t imagine this album being released now and actually been seen as a masterpiece. If that means I am a philistine then so be it.

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