Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn Track-by-Track Review


Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett’s group. He came up with the name (from two bluesmen) after they went through half a dozen even stranger names. He wrote 90% or more of the music on this album. His solo output doesn’t sound anything like this, which is a testament to the influence of the other members as well as Barrett’s own fragile mental state after he left the band. This is the only album not to feature Gilmour. He was a close friend of Syd and joined a five-piece version of the group just before Syd left. Featuring a very dated and ‘of its time’ album cover, the music here is vintage British psych at its finest. Unlike US psych, British psych had a childlike innocence about it. This album is also the beginning of space rock.

Floyd released two psych-pop singles before this album came out. In general, this album is less poppy and more psych-y than those two singles. Piper was recorded at Abbey Road studios literally down the hall from where The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper. The two bands met each other and McCartney supposedly said (paraphrasing here): “They’re gonna steal our thunder!” The Floyd used the ‘classical’ setting in their studio, instead of the ‘pop’ setting. Not because they thought they were making classical music, but rather because the ‘classical’ setting offered more options soundwise. Recorded in mono first and later mixed in stereo. Stereo was still fairly new and it wasn’t until 1969 that studio people got it ‘right’ without sounding gimmicky. Generally speaking, albums recorded before 1969 sound better in their mono versions.

“Astronomy Domine” is a now classic intro to a now classic album. Featuring the band’s manager Peter Jenner reading the houses of the Zodiac (groovy, man) and some Morse code I think. This track must have seemed very futuristic in 1967. Syd wrote “Lucifer Sam” about his cat. Centred around a guitar line that sounds like a cross between a blues lick and the theme to a ’60s spy film. “Matilda Mother” is one of the highlights of the album and shows that Rick was one of the lead vocalists at the time. Apparently there is a section edited out of the song. Great organ solo with trippy mouth noises from either Syd or Waters. “Pow R Toc H” is an instrumental with vocal sounds. Both jazzy and trippy at the same time. Certainly one of the most proto-proggy tracks on the album.

“Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” is the only song solely written by Waters. One of the more rockin’ tunes, almost has a Who-meets-Animals sound to it. Waters and Mason were much more energenic here than on later albums. “Interstellar Overdrive” is the band’s first classic instrumental. It would be even freakier and longer in concert. You can almost hear the birth of Krautrock here. Syd came up with the main riff after hearing Jenner hum the Love song “My Little Red Book.” The band members recorded their parts twice so you are literally hearing two Pink Floyds at once. This is most noticeable in the buildup to the reprise of the main riff. In the stereo version after the riff comes back you hear all the instruments go back and forth.

“Scarecrow” has Rick playing the black keys on his organ to create an almost monophonic synth type of sound. Interesting percussion sounds but the song itself is basically a folk ditty. “Bike” is classic 1960s British psych-pop, but it is more complex than it seems. The time signature keeps changing while the effects at the end are beyond trippy. As great as this album is, it still does not show how creative these guys could be in a live setting. Syd’s guitar playing in particular was more ‘out there’ than what you hear on Piper. By the end of 1967 the band was already dismissing the whole psychedelic scene, saying it was just another bandwagon people were jumping on. They were ready for the next thing…even if no one knew what the next thing was going to be.

What happend to Syd (real name Roger)? Well, he seemed to be fine until they toured the US for the first time. Then people starting noticing that he was acting kinda strange. Although not a diagnosed schizophrenic, Barrett had some mental issues (they say there is a thin line between genius and insanity). He lived with some shady characters that would do things like put LSD in his drinks without him knowing it. Even worse than the acid perhaps was his use of Mandrax onstage. After Piper was released the band recorded some songs that till this day have never been officially released. He stopped playing with the band in January 1968 (both live and in the studio) just after Gilmour joined. His departure was not officially announced until April of that year.

Although Piper has not aged the greatest, it was an influence on later space rock and Krautrock. There are some that even today praise Barrett but think little of the group he founded. He appears on about half of the next album and sitting in the vaults of Abbey Road is a version of “Let There Be More Light” that features both Barrett and Gilmour. Floyd would go on to become more experimental before becoming a household name; Syd would go on to make some of his own unique guitar-and-vocal based music before getting bored with making music at all. Both Floyd and Barrett would never make an album like this again.

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