The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

5 September 2012. Filed under category Music - General.

A few weeks ago I was listening to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.  Perhaps amazingly this was the only CD I owned from the 60s.  Somewhere I do have a bunch of Jimi Hendrix albums on cassette and updated at least “Are You Experienced?” and “Electric Ladyland” (my favourite of Jimi’s albums) directly to MP3s a few years ago….but I don’t have any CDs.

I proceeded to get nostalgic for an age I was never a part of.  The actual sound quality of the album is great and it set quite a few standards at the time.  “Sgt. Pepper’s” was released in 1967.

An interesting idea brewed…. influenced by a comment I made somewhere else about the excitement of discovering Black Sabbath in the late 80s, well into its career, where I had the chance to go back and discover the early albums.  That fourteen year old boy could take his cash – hard earned from mowing lawns at the weekend – and buy a cassette tape every week.  Basically every band I discovered around that time already had a back catalog of numerous albums to discover.

So the idea/experiment was along the lines of “could I discover new/old music of a band with a lengthy back catalogue and still enjoy it with fresh ears?”

My musical tastes evolve slowly.  I like new music (almost always metal) and new bands but I rarely find a band with an established back catalogue or, if I do, I concentrate on the new material as I assume it is the most well-refined of their sound.

But what band would I choose to discover?

For some reason Pink Floyd popped immediately into my head.  This was certainly a band I knew well, but I got interested in them when they were already in the third phase of existence – the David Gilmour-lead band.  Of course I had “The Wall” and even “Dark Side of the Moon” on cassette years ago but never went back much further or filled in the gaps.  I remembered reading about the inception of the band, lead by Syd Barrett and yet I had never heard a single song from that early stage.

With the basis for my experiment decided, I had to find out what Pink Floyd’s first album was.  From there I could discover them chronologically from the beginning.  Ironic that the latest re-mastered CD releases from EMI are called “Discovery Editions” and come in a mini-LP format I find quite cute.  I placed an order on Amazon for the earliest album.

In 1967 Pink Floyd released “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  By far most of the compositions are written by Syd Barrett who was the primary vocalist and guitarist for the band.  The three other members were: Roger Waters – bass; Richard Wright – keyboards; Nick Mason – drums.

The above information was available to me before hitting “play” but I had no idea what it would sound like.

They called it “psychedelic” or “space-rock” at the time and that still seems pretty accurate.  I was struck that the sound clarity right from the first guitar notes was very rich and I could hear parallels in the opening track with The Beatles but it was just a bit darker.  I liked it….which was lucky otherwise my experiment might have ended right there!

How does a 45 year old album stand up today?  Quite well it would seem.  Older generations will scoff “of course it does!” but I am trying to be objective here.

The subject matter of the songs seems very innocent which is another thing I appreciate and, in fact, the song I was most eager to hear “The Gnome” falls into that category.  I knew the lyrics by heart, without ever having heard the original version because it was covered on “Neil’s Heavy Concept Album” circa 1984 which was one of the “most listened to” albums I had as a kid.

The cover version turns out to be remarkably close to the original and it even injects a little more melody into the vocal performance.  However, Barrett’s voice is slightly more appropriate because Nigel Planer was, after all, playing a comedy character with the voice of hippy “Neil” from The Young Ones.

All of the proper songs on the album are very good and do capture something you are unlikely to hear in music today.  Perhaps it was the pioneering spirit.  Whatever it is everyone should seek out their own version of that.  A little nostalgia is ok….just don’t get overtaken by it.

I say “proper songs” because there are two instrumental pieces that are a bit too self-indulgent. “Interstellar Overdrive” particularly sounds like a jam that any half decent band could put together, without being exceptional, and I think it interrupts the flow of the album.

Maybe I will learn to “get” the psychedelic vibe; for the moment the album can be considered flawed but a very worthwhile experience.

I already mentioned that I was aware of, but never heard, the Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd and I had assumed that it spanned at least a few albums, given the reverential tones that accompany any discussion of the man.  I was wrong.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the only complete album of Syd Barrett-lead material.  David Gilmour joined in December 1967 and Barrett was later ousted from the band part way through recording of the follow up: “A Saucerful of Secrets” which will be the next stop on the Pink Floyd adventure for me.

To those ignorant of such things, Syd Barrett’s brain was completely fried from taking too much LSD and Gilmour was brought in to help hold the show together while the band hoped Barrett would get on top of his problems.  It turned out not to be the case as he was mentally too far gone.  It was not a case of a Hendrix/Joplin/Morrison-like early grave.  Barrett only died in 2006 at the age of 60.

Reading about this subject one gets a genuine feeling of despair from the other band members.  They all loved Syd, including his replacement David Gilmour (who later helped produce a solo album), and were heartbroken that he was unable to continue with Pink Floyd.

I may learn more when I delve deeper into “A Saucerful of Secrets”.  Stay tuned as the journey continues…..



P.S. Note to self.  I am cheating a bit with Pink Floyd because I did already know, extremely well, some albums of the band; just not the early ones and many from the 70s.  For the record I did have:  Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, The Wall, The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse of Reason…..but there is a whole lot more to the evolution of this band.

Perhaps I should embark on something entirely new.  Candidates are The Doors (I know nothing other than the most famous songs) and Motorhead (same story – except that is a band still riding high)…..


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