GOLD: 50 Years of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

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Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

Released August 5th, 1967 on EMI Columbia Records

RYM: #84

BestEverAlbums: #143

Earlier this year, in January, this blog celebrated the 40th anniversary of Animals, a tough, gnarled, and asocial sort of album that was as much an indication of Roger Waters’ eternal crankiness as anything else.  The band was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary that year, and it’s worth noting that the difference between Animals and the very first Pink Floyd album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, is staggering.  Piper is the most psychedelic of the psychedelic rock albums that defined the genre in 1966-1968, and it screams “a lot of LSD went into the making of this” at the top of it’s lungs.  The fact that it did is both a fascinating and terrifying story – perhaps the cautionary tale of acid rock and the 1960s.

Pink Floyd, the band – Roger Waters on bass, Nick Mason on drums, Richard Wright on keyboards, and Syd Barrett playing guitar and singing – had been going under various names since the Beatles were still playing German clubs hopped up on amphetamines.  Sometime around 1965 they settled on the name Pink Floyd Sound, which was a combination of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two blues musicians whose records were in Barrett’s regular rotation.  The name stuck, and seemed to spur the group to take things seriously; within a year they had paid gigs in the London club circuit, playing rhythm and blues for the hip audiences that made up the Swinging portion of Swinging London in the mid-Sixties.  One such gig, at the Marquee Club, caught the ear of Peter Jenner, who taught at the London School of Economics; Jenner took up their cause, invested in them, became their manager, and convinced them to shorten their name to the now-familiar Pink Floyd.  With increased gigs, and press coverage, the group began to experiment.  Their R&B repertoire was fleshed out with lengthy instrumental jams, noisy art-sound, and mixed-media presentations that complemented the psychedelic flavour they were hashing out.  Much of this stemmed from Barrett’s newfound love of LSD, and the visions that came out of his brain through the drug.

The band’s increased notoriety lead them inevitably to being signed with a record label, in this case EMI.  EMI was exceedingly wary about what kind of band they were signing to a contract, and so the terms that were offered were awful, compared to their contemporaries.  They received a very low advance, a terrible deal on royalties, and they had to pay for studio time.  The only really good part of the contract was that EMI allowed them to do whatever they wanted while they were in the studio – and “whatever they wanted” ended up being The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

The album is a perfect summation of where the band was at in 1966-1967.  The songs are built along thrumming, hard-edged rhythms that flick and whirl with sharp, off-kilter guitar lines, spacey noise pads, and Barrett’s whimsical, at times disturbing vocals.  “Lucifer Sam”, “Flaming”, and “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” (the latter the album’s lone Roger Waters song) are the most straightforward songs, taking the structure of most English psychedelic rock songs of the time and building off of the R&B stuff the band was playing in their earlier gigs.  “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive”, meanwhile, represented the extended jams that they’d gotten into when they decided that what they really wanted to do was soundtrack Barrett’s LSD visions.  “Matilda Mother” is creeping folk-rock; “The Gnome” rides a similar vibe but amps up the lysergic absurdity.  “Bike” finishes off the album in a comfortable fashion, like a nice pleasant come down from a somewhat terrifying acid trip.  It was, in terms of ideas and execution, far beyond what many bands at the time were attempting; it put other psychedelic acts to shame with it’s explosive exploration of the limits of rock ‘n’ roll.

Unfortunately, if acid was it’s main driving force, acid was also it’s ultimate destruction.  By the time The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn came out, Barrett’s heavy, daily LSD use was taking a grim toll.  Before 1967 Barrett was remembered as a friendly and exuberant person; as he continued to dose himself heavily with LSD, he became distanced, unfriendly, and detached from reality.  He would go through manic stages and then bottom out with periods that were basically catatonic states.  Rumours have abounded throughout the years that Barrett’s LSD use triggered a latent schizophrenic state in his brain, which would explain some of his subsequent behaviour.  That behaviour, in the wake of the release of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, would become increasingly erratic and bizarre.  He developed an infamous dead stare, and at times would be completely unaware of where he was.  Before a gig at the UFO Club, Waters found him in the dressing room, completely unresponsive.  With the help of Jenner, Barrett was lugged out on stage, where he stood motionless with his guitar hung around his neck.  Nor was this the only instance of that dead stare during performances.  While gigging in support of the album in America, Barrett spent a performance on The Pat Boone Show (where acts lip-synced to their singles) staring into the camera.  An interview with Dick Clark was spent staring at Clark and refusing to answer any questions the host would ask.  During one performance he refused to play “Interstellar Overdrive”, instead detuning each string on his guitar until it fell off; the audience thought it was all part of the act, but it was clear to the band and their management that Barrett’s mental state was completely unraveling and the American tour was cut short.

By 1968 Barrett’s tenure in the band was by-and-large over.  After some abortive attempts to write new material and rehearse (including the infamous “Have You Got It Yet?” incident, which you should look up because it’s honestly fucking hilarious and indicative of Barrett’s weird sense of humour), the band decided to move on and replace him at live shows with a friend of the band, David Gilmour.  There was an idea at first to keep going with Barrett writing the songs a la Brian Wilson, but Barrett’s catastrophic mental breakdown made it so even that was a dubious prospect.  He would release an interesting solo album (1970’s The Madcap Laughs) and Pink Floyd would of course go on to become jet-setting international superstars, but The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is the sole artifact of the melding of the two forces, and it remains the best document of the entire psychedelic scene in 1960’s England.  As the band grew, they jettisoned most of these tracks from their live shows, except for the long space fillers “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive”; regardless, these are all integral pieces of the Pink Floyd Experience, the sound of hip rock ‘n’ roll artists on the verge of something profound and new.

 

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Ruby: 40 Years of Animals

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Pink Floyd – Animals

Released January 23rd, 1977 on Columbia Records

BestEverAlbums:  #47

RYM:  #31

If Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s extremely successful followup to their legendary breakthrough album Dark Side Of The Moon, contained the first hints of Roger Waters’ growing disgust and misanthropy, Animals is the full-on document of it.  Animals is, to put it bluntly, bleak.  Waters divides the whole of British society into three categories, in an homage of sorts to Orwell’s Animal Farm:  the pigs that rule over society, the dogs that bully society, and the sheep that comprise the rest.  The three main suites are lengthy, nihilistic jams that eschew radio-ready hooks for slashing blues guitar, lumbering bass, and vocal lines that sound as though Waters is literally chewing off the words and spitting them out.  To say that 10-minute-plus slabs of dark, misanthropic guitar music was rather unfriendly to radio is an understatement.  There are two reasons for this change-up in the sound of the band:  first, as “Welcome To The Machine” and “Have A Cigar” on Wish You Were Here indicated, Waters and the band were growing sick of the record industry’s increasingly banal demands on the band; second, the underground punk rock movement that had grown throughout 1976 had set it’s sights on “dinosaur rock” prog movements, who were perceived as bourgeois and decadent.  The latter is not entirely the case – Johnny Rotten was actually a fan of a lot of prog acts, and his infamous “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt was a sort of joke – it was enough for the band to think that keeping their art separate from industry concerns was probably a good thing.

Animals has remained something of a black sheep in the catalog for many less hardcore Floyd fans, stuck as it is between the (relatively) radio-ready sound of Wish You Were Here and the generational majesty of The Wall.  The sound of the latter album has it’s roots in Animals, though, and the concept emerged from the In The Flesh tour the band undertook to promote Animals.  The tour was even more of a slog than recording the album had been, with many members of the band at odds with each other and the whole concept of being in Pink Floyd to begin with.  Keyboardist Richard Wright, feeling shut out by Roger Waters, feuded constantly with him, at one point flying back to England and threatening to quit entirely.  Promoters tried to cheat them out of portions of ticket sales; the inflatable pig they used as a stage prop kept getting filled with a continually more dangerous mix of gases; David Gilmour lapsed into a low point of his professional career after realizing that he’d reached the top with nowhere left to go.  Waters, for his part, began arriving alone to the venues and leaving before the rest of the band; as the tour went on he became increasingly more hostile to the audience.  This culminated in an incident at the last show of the tour in Montreal, where Waters spit on a group of fans who were irritating him in the front row.  Afterwards, he spoke about the utter alienation he felt from the people in the audience and how he would like to build a wall between him and them, “brick by brick.”

Liam Hayes – Slurrup

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Liam Hayes – Slurrup

Psychedelic rock is big business nowadays.  What with Tame Impala and Foxygen riding their obvious influences to indie success, and the rather more scorching garage rock movement wrecking small venues across the continent, it’s now an established path to the, er, “top”.  Liam Hayes has been putting out this sort of music since Nirvana was a white-hot, cutting-edge band; Slurrup is his fifth studio album since 1998 and it trades in the sort of stuff that all the kids seem to like – the Who, the Kinks, Psychedelic London.  The problem here, though, is that it’s all just a bit too pat.  He writes decent psych-rock nuggets in a manner that would have put him in the top ten in a battle of the bands in 1966.  So what?  Guided By Voices does the early Who better.  Ty Segall makes much more engaging garage numbers.  This is psychedelic rock by numbers, filling in all the requisite pieces without really taking it anywhere.  Oh, there’s the organ, there’s the plunking piano, here’s the soaring, pastoral vibe lifted straight from The Village Green Preservation Society.  Look, there’s the weird sound collage made out of people laughing, because no one’s ever heard fucking pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd before!  Slurrup is okay, and that’s it’s biggest stumbling block.  It’s all been done before, better, and recently to boot.

Flaming Lips to cover Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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The Flaming Lips Announce Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Tribute Album Release Date

After covering both Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon in 2010 and collaborating on a multi-band reimagining of prog touchstone In The Court Of The Crimson King on 2012’s Playing Hide And Seek With The Ghosts Of Dawn, The Flaming Lips have embarked on a full-album cover of what is often hyped as the “Greatest Album Of All Time”, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  To say that it should be interesting is probably underselling it a bit.

The album, With A Little Help From My Fwends, will be out October 28th on Warner Bros.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out their winning full-album covers before, check out the examples below.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M1fehewh3A]

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx7On1uyVpY]