My Grapefruit Shandy
Bill Monroe: "Midnight On the Stormy Deep"

The First Two Pink Floyd Albums

There was an exchange here not too long ago about the way music made by and for young people may not speak in the same way if heard first when youth is getting pretty small in the rear-view mirror. That middle-aged-or-older person may like and/or appreciate it, but not take it to heart as might have been the case in youth.

That probably describes my view of the first two Pink Floyd albums. I didn't hear them when they were released in late 1967 and mid-1968, though I think they were reasonably popular among the people I knew. The first of the group's albums I heard was 1969's Ummagumma. I liked it, or at least parts of it, and have liked a good deal of their music since, though I wouldn't say I'm a zealous fan. Several years ago I picked up used CD copies of their first two albums and only recently gave them a good listen.

The Piper At the Gates of Dawn

This album is "psychedelic" in the sense that it makes use of sonic and lyrical devices meant to strike the listener as strange, off-kilter, mysterious, dreamy, maybe absurd and disorienting, and just plain weird. It's also psychedelic in the sense that the songwriter was very much into hallucinogens, about which more in a moment.

Much of that sort of thing from the same time sounds a bit silly now, maybe a lot silly. But this album doesn't sound any more dated than, for instance, a Beatles song like "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds." It's more musically accomplished and complex than I expected; it's whimsical, inventive, very tuneful, and very well-performed and produced.

The lyrics are mostly playful and nonsensical, or close to it. But I don't think it's only my imagination suggesting that there is some sort of unpleasant undercurrent there. Maybe it's a faint hint of menace. Or maybe it's just a slightly disoriented quality. 

Having written the preceding couple of sentences, I looked at the AllMusic reviews of the album. It's definitely not just me. A number of the user reviews (that is, ones not written by AMG) say things along these lines:

Most explicitly, the final track Bike, which not only closes the album on an unnerving note and is the scariest part of the record, it's also it's weirdest. And outside of Bike, there's also a certain at times uneasy undercurrent to this album that gives you the impression that amidst all the wonder and bliss it can come crashing down into insanity at any moment....

Here's a link to the lyrics of "Bike."  Seems harmless enough, doesn't it? And I can't say that the music is particularly eerie or menacing. But another AMG user says "Oh my, what a creepy song that is."  You can go over to YouTube and hear it for yourself

As everyone with any interest in this group at all knows, most of the songs were written by Syd Barrett, one of the original four members of the group.  I knew it, but had not realized the extent to which Piper is a Syd Barrett album. He is the writer, singer, and guitarist; the group could have been called Syd and the Saucers or something. He had a mental breakdown, drug-linked if not drug-caused, and left or was expelled from the group soon after this first album. And maybe that knowledge is the real reason that people sense that uneasy quality. His breakdown pretty well ended his musical career. It's a terribly sad story, even sadder to me now that I know what a talent he was. 

Would I have loved this album when I was nineteen? Probably. But then, as I discovered after listening to my copy (a used CD purchased some ten years ago), the original U.S. release, which I would have heard back then, is missing two significant tracks. In any case, today I find it more interesting as history than as art. 

A Saucerful of Secrets

I think many people who really liked Piper were disappointed in the group's next album. Barrett is almost gone, contributing as a writer only the album's final disturbing and disintegrating track, the very misleadingly titled "Jugband Blues":

It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm almost obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here

That one, too, you can hear on YouTube.

David Gilmour, who would soon become an essential part of the group, was on board at this point but was still more or less just Barrett's replacement on guitar. The whole flavor of the album is different, and it's much less unified. You can hear quite clearly the ways in which the band would develop in the future. What was light and whimsical (except maybe for that uneasy undertone) on Piper has become more straightforwardly heavy and dark. The sardonic and abrasive anti-war "Corporal Clegg," written by Roger Waters, wouldn't have been out of place on The Wall. The 12-minute title track is just plain scary, the kind of thing you'd play as a Halloween sound effect for trick-or-treaters (though it does lighten up in the last few minutes). I used to think "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" was frightening: the riff seems to me a bit sinister, and I assumed that the words, which I couldn't understand, were about some sort of astronautical suicide mission. (It's actually about watching a sunrise.) Two songs by Richard Wright provide brighter spots, being relatively conventional and quite pretty pop songs, with a dreamy quality that would continue to surface at times in the group's future work.

Would I have liked this one? Not so very much, I think, on the whole. But I might have loved Richard Wright's "See-saw." 

 

Comments

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I was never a Floyd fan, although I liked the odd song here and there. But I found this very interesting in light of reading this recent retrospective look at their album 'Meddle' This is probably the P.F. record I'm most familiar with, as when I was in college I dated an "older" woman (six years apart) who was a great fan of that record. She played it often, knew all the lyrics, and lent it to me to listen to.

I think that the slightly sinister quality of some of P.F.'s music is probably what put me off them. At that time (1980) I was much more of a fan of Yes and Genesis, whose music wasn't as dark, and I'd already started to be captivated by post-punk and new wave.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/pink-floyd-meddle/

That's a good review, though I disagree that Saucerful of Secrets "mostly follows in the style of Piper." Seems definitely like a departure to me.

I like Meddle a lot, although I haven't heard it for many years. All I can specifically remember of "Echoes" is That Note--the "underwater piano" as someone called it. But Meddle is probably my overall favorite of their albums, except that I think the first side of Dark Side of the Moon is an absolute masterpiece. It's a good one to hear on LP, because to me the second side opener, "Money," completely disrupts the mood. I don't care much at all for The Wall, though it would probably be fun to hear on a really good sound system, just for the sonics, sound effects, and so forth.

I don't think I've ever listened to DSOTM all the way through. I'll have to do that. I was never a fan of "Money," and didn't even know which album it was from till now. I never cared for The Wall either, although I did like a few of the songs (but not "Another Brick in the...").

It's been a long time since I heard Dark Side, too, so it's possible I wouldn't think as highly of it now. Have to give it a try. I rather liked "Another Brick..." Good guitar solo, iirc.

The ones I liked from The Wall were "Hey You," "Run Like Hell," and "Comfortably Numb." The FM rock station here in town used to play them all pretty regularly.

Back in the 1990s I made the mistake of playing the first side of Dark Side for my twelve-year old daughter. Coming from a fairly "protected" home school environment, she was in no way prepared for it. It freaked her out.

I find it haunting and beautiful, if very dark.

Second side, meh.

"Haunting and beautiful"--yes, good description. Now I want to hear it again. I don't actually have it, so I guess it will have to be streaming.

Ok, I just listened to it (first side), and my memory is not exaggerating: it's really something. About as good as anything ever done in the rock-pop line. The lyrics of "Time" come to my mind quite often, really. Though I never heard the album that often, that one song has been on the radio a lot.

I've seen PF classified as progressive rock, but I don't think that really fits. Not sure what category would, though.

You guys might find this interesting. This track by U.K. Christian rocker Alwyn Wall is from 1977. It's debt to "Time" will be immediately obvious. What I didn't know until recently is that the lead guitarist here, Norman Barratt, was originally part of UK prog band Gravy Train. For some reason I had it in my head that Gravy Train was a blues band, and that Barratt was a blues player, but I'm now pretty sure that I had him confused with someone else. Wikipedia says that Barratt had become a Christian in 1969(!) and thus the Gravy Train records, which I've not heard, are all "Christian" to some degree.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxmM6t34Jbw

(for some reason the sound comes out of one side only)

And here's another song from the same album that ends with a guitar solo that I've always really liked. Barratt was the real deal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFkl70bbg5E

Hmm, I'm not getting the "Time" connection. Very good guitar on both those tracks.

Gravy Train has an AllMusic entry, which notes that their first album included a "Tribute to Syd."

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/gravy-train-mn0000739944

The "Time" connection -- similar beat and "feel," similar interplay between guitar and keyboard, etc.

Listened to side one of DSOTM last night on Spotify and I was familiar with almost all of it. I just didn't know that those tracks made up one side of an album. It's very good for what it is, but it's not really my cup of tea.

Ok, listening to them back to back with guitar in hand, I get it now. But gosh...it strikes me as the difference between talent and genius.

David Gilmour is not generally counted among the guitar heroes, but man, his solo in "Time" is just magical. And I think he's under-rated as a vocalist. Those little...I'm not sure exactly how to describe it--ornamentation, maybe? Little slides or bends? Anyway the thing he does, for instance, at the word "death" in "one day closer to death" is really powerful.

Oh, yeah there's no real comparison otherwise. I just remember hearing 'Time' for the first time and thinking, "Aha, so that's where Alwyn Wall got 'Hall of Mirrors'." Although I'd have to say that Barratt was at least in Gilmour's neighborhood talent-wise. I watched a few of his live tracks on Youtube (there aren't many) and I think there's some merit to the notion that one commenter posted -- "the best guitarist you've never heard of." In Barratt's case it's undoubtedly because he limited himself almost entirely to the UK Christian music scene after Gravy Train folded.

I agree about Gilmour himself being underrated. I think it mostly has to do with his not being a fast "shredder" like a lot of those guitar hero types are, but his solos are just so tasteful and melodic. Rick Beato on Youtube has his solo on "Comfortably Numb" as being one of the Top 20 of all time.

Barratt's story sounds a lot like Phil Keaggy's. AllMusic gives the first Gravy Train album a very positive review:

https://www.allmusic.com/album/gravy-train-mw0000467906

We mentioned PF's "Another Brick..." above. I always liked the guitar solo in that.

Been on vacation so have been reading this thread but not had a chance to respond. Pink Floyd was so unbelievably big when I was a kid that I sometimes feel like I have left them behind. I never listened to the first two albums, or Ummagumma for that matter, but I think I have the rest of the catalog on CD. I'm probably more of a fan of The Wall than anything else, but that first side of DSOTM is really great, though I don't mind "Money", or the second side either. There is a Naomi Watts connection to Dark Side (she is one of my favorite actresses) - I think her father worked on the album, and maybe even she might be one of the children voices you hear? Or are there even child voices? I'm going by memory instead of looking on Wikipedia or elsewhere to support my claim. I also like Wish You Were Here and Animals quite a bit. Oh, and Meddle is great too. I'm a little less excited by the band once Roger Waters left, although Division Bell isn't too bad. When I was in high school it seemed like they were always doing some big stadium tour; I never cared enough to attend, but their music is certainly unique.

'The band's road manager Peter Watts (father of actress Naomi Watts)[49] contributed the repeated laughter during "Brain Damage" and "Speak to Me". His second wife, Patricia "Puddie" Watts (now Patricia Gleason), was responsible for the line about the "geezer" who was "cruisin' for a bruisin'" used in the segue between "Money" and "Us and Them", and the words "I never said I was frightened of dying" heard halfway through "The Great Gig in the Sky".'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Side_of_the_Moon#Voices

I've never even heard Animals, and probably one or two others. I wouldn't put PF on a list of My Most Favorite Bands Ever. But the stuff of theirs that I like, I *really* like.

I learned to play that Time solo upon a time.

You're a better guitarist than I am, if you figured it out for yourself. I ran across a tab of it the other day and would be able to learn it from that, but not without it.

I didn't say I learned to play it well.

I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but since you guys like P.F. you might like this album by The Ascent of Everest, Is Not Defeated, which came out last year. I bought it on a whim, as it came out on the Hammock label and I liked the one song that was offered as a preview. It's not exactly "prog rock" but there's a little bit of that there. Also some post-rock and shoegaze influence.

Sounds promising.

Here are two tracks that I like a lot:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvV2JA3Tg8s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIgnhTZ-TeI

I like that second one especially.

Yes, me too. One of my favorite new tracks of the past year or so.

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