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Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn CD (album) cover

THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.89 | 1454 ratings

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Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 13.5/15P. the world, as seen from the perspective of a disillusioned and fragile genius. Syd Barrett guides the band the way to his thoughts where he lets the band do what they want to. Spacy, deeply rooted in blues with the occasional folk and jazz influences. Neither expect hippie psychedelia, nor expect space rock à la Hawkwind. This album is eccentric as hell, but propelled the music scene a few dozen steps forward.

When I went on the page of this album on the ProgArchives the first time I was quite astonished by the low rating that the Piper At The Gates Of Dawn album has received: circa 3.90/5 stars at the moment, while Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles gets nearly 4.20/5, the debut album of the Doors even a few cents more. As we have one of my favorite albums, too, I will essay in writing a bit more about the album, the circumstances and all the songs.

It might not be what we'd call prog, but in the original sense of the word it is even more than 'progressive'. The album is precocious, it is trippy, sometimes merciless and sometimes simply charming, it is magnificent all the way through, excellently produced and quite coherent. And as more than 40 years have already passed since the recording sessions of this album, the 'masterpiece'-factor manifests itself even more - many of the modern alternative rock bands (the Smashing Pumpkins or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for instance) have greatly been influenced by this album, ditto John Lennon of the Beatles who is said to have recorded the piece "What's The New Mary Jane?" under the influence of or with Syd Barrett in 1967/68.

Just like many other reviewers have already written this album is still far away from the music that Pink Floyd have made in the 70s, so do not expect an early Dark Side of the Moon - you might probably be disappointed.

In 1967, when the album was recorded, the Pink Floyd still included Roger Keith 'Syd' Barrett as the guitarist, singer, songwriter and leader of the group, a real artist with rather quirky lyrical and musical ideas. In his youth he was inspired by musicians of several genres - from blues and jazz to pop and rock music, and later by the bands of the UK underground, the pioneers of the psychedelic scene with whom the Floyds were later in line in those years. Hence, the listener 'merely' gets to hear some shorter psych-rock/pop-pieces with many influences, which makes the album very colourful and diverting - and that is not only because of the music, but also because of the lyrics and the outstanding production - and the impression that the whole album makes on me.

Of course, this impression is linked with the outfit of the album. In 2007, the original record has been re-released as kind of a deluxe edition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the record - with the kaleidoscope-view towards the Floyd as the album cover, and a booklet with plenty of pictures of the band, their lava lamp lightshows and drawings which suit perfectly to the surreal lyrics that are printed there. Furthermore, we have a small folder with Barrett's early collages (dating 1965) including poems, 'word songs', newspaper excerpts and paintings - a good addition as well. The 40th anniversary version comprehends the album in the stereo-mix (like on the 30th anniversary remaster), the slightly different mono-mix (that was to be heard on the original LP) and a CD including 'The First Three Singles' and a handful of alternative versions coming from the archives. Releasing the hidden gems of the 'Piper' sessions, for example the avantgarde-blues piece 'Experiment', the live tracks 'Stoned Alone' and 'Reaction in G' or the abandoned single 'Scream Thy Last Scream'/'Vegetable Man', would have been more interesting for the fans, but the choice of the third disc is enjoyable though, especially because it finally made the expensive 20-minutes-sampler The First Three Singles unnecessary for the 'normal' listener.

As far as I know, this set was limited; you should try to get one soon if there are some left. If not, there is still the 2CD-version which doesn't include the bonus disc with the outtakes and which is placed inside a regular jewel case.

The opener Astronomy Domine is written in a driving 6/8 beat and can probably be called the very first real space rock tune apart from the Byrds' early space experiments, linking a really spacey text about planets and their satellites with the right music. This great song starts off with an astronaut's chatter (in fact the treated voice of the band's producer Pete Jenner) and Rick Wright's Farfisa Compact Duo organ imitating morse sounds. Afterwards, guitarist Syd Barrett enters with a jangling lick, the drums smash and pump - and Wright and Barrett provide monotonous vocals which suit greatly. After some time of oriental-influenced improvisation on the organ and the guitar, the band does a crescendo and end up in the coda: blinding signs flap, flicker flicker flicker blam pow pow - sensible or random? I don't care, in any case the piece is simply outstanding, particularly since the guitar solos have this snotty blues sound which loads of indie rock guitarists have later attempted to recreate.

Song number two is Lucifer Sam, one of the definitely darker songs on this disc, the text dealing with a Siam cat named Lucifer Sam and his probable proprietor, Jennifer Gentle - I don't know if I got it right, but I hope so. On this one, the music seems to be influenced by early hard rock music (like the Kinks), but there is plenty that makes 'Lucifer Sam' rather independent: something rattles and howls like an open window all the way through, and in the middle, Roger Waters plays a bowed bass guitar solo, an innovative technique which creates a really big effect just with very few tones. As well, I am always astonished by Mason's frantic drum playing, he really does smash everything to bits here. Somehow, the song with its smashing, rocking guitar power chords, the playfulness and this I don't care if anyone likes my music-attitude could be one of the precursors of alternative rock, at least the song has been covered by many alternative bands. Do check out the merciless cover by The Moviees (sic!) on Youtube!

The following Matilda Mother is closer to a psych/pop track, with a nice introduction on the bass guitar, distant plucking guitar notes and the Hammond organ. Syd Barrett and Rick Wright again share the lead vocal duties, whilst Syd sings the part of the child and Rick the part of the mother who tells the child (Syd) a fairytale. I like especially this nice chord progression and the improvisation part that is one of Pink Floyd's characteristic one chord jams with melodies on Phrygian scales. After a more up-beat stanza sung by Barrett, the song fades out into a waltz section with wordless vocals. A good pop song which contains many ideas that are linked very well so that the song seems neither predictable nor convoluted. The alternative version (eureka, this time at last one that really sounds different!) on the bonus CD includes different lyrics and yet another stanza, a 'fire brigade' stanza after the improvisation part, but ultimately makes a slightly overladen impression. In exchange, the vocal line in the beginning is reduced to one plain voice (singing the nice melody G-Gflat-Gsharp) instead of the polyphone arrangement on the album version. That sounds odd, but quite nice and gives the listener a chance to understand the band's arrangement of this track better.

The folky ballad Flaming is obviously the track profiting most of the mono mix: the vocals have been put through a flanger, and the freestyle centre section with the sounds of this wooden percussion instrument with the scratching sounds is now strange and blurred enough. The song itself shows Barrett's songwriting talent; dreamy lyrics, laid-back acoustic guitar strumming and Syd's charismatic, youthful voice singing a nice melody are certainly a neat mélange. The fact that this was one of the few sung Syd songs that were taken over in the Floyd's 1968 setlist reveals that the guys were also quite content about this one, and John Peel evidently liked those strange ethereal sounds, too, as he told the listeners when Pink Floyd played the piece at Top Gear 1967 (unfortunately, those BBC sessions have never been issued legally nowadays).

Pow R. Toc H. is Wright's and Mason's vehicle for their skills in jazz music on the piano, respectively the drums (especially the toms) - a jolly acoustic piece with a sedately leaping rhythm. Roger Waters and Syd Barrett provide animal-imitating vocalizations in the first half, then the instrumental stops being acoustic when Syd Barrett's electric guitar throws in a dramatic interlude with the slow vibrato of Wright's famous Compact Duo organ, which leads the track into more atmospheric regions. A very strange piece, which is very entertaining anyway.

The last one on the first LP side is Roger Waters' only piece on this LP, given the weird title Take Up thy Stethoscope and Walk. Some drum sounds start this fast-paced exploitment which soon rocks off like hardly anything in this time does. At first there is a Krautrockish stanza that always consists of Roger shouting Doctor doctor and is followed by short sentences rhyming on I'm in bed. Already in 1968 Waters had, fortunately, developed his typical style of songwriting (does anyone know his 1968 composition Incarnation of A Flower Child?), but as an energetic psychedelic rock jam it's perfectly good. Then, Rick Wright tracks one of his best and briskliest played rock solos, lots of blues and jazz licks everywhere - nice to listen to for me as a Farfisa fan. After another stanza the piece ends after 3 minutes; it must have been nice to see what PF have made from such pieces live.

Directly in the beginning of side 'B' of the LP there is the absolute stand-out track of this album, the 10-minute-psychedelic improvisation Interstellar Overdrive, a work that has often been performed live by the Pink Floyd on to the early 70s - and I think it has been played on nearly every 1967/1968 concert, too. The song begins with this outstanding heavy metal riff, with fat Farfisa organ accompaniment on the mono version. Nick Mason plays a good, breezy rhythm (already using the hanging cymbals the way he will do it with the later Floyd, too), and the string section (Roger Waters on bass guitar and Syd Barrett on guitar) knock around on the pick-ups and muted strings of their instruments. Afterwards, the band experiments with the Binson Echorec tape echo machine, leading organ and guitar sounds into giant echo loops, with the rhythm section playing around on this musical carpet. At circa 5:30, Barrett makes use of his bottleneck, and just before getting into total cacophony, the organ plays some tones and begins a short dream travel with soft guitar sounds and cymbals. From another creepy melody the main theme cristallizes itself out of this sound collage and ends the piece again. Not only an outstanding and captivating piece of music, but also one of the first longtracks, and one of the first pieces of electronic music with soundscapes. There are two alternative versions of the piece on the bonus CD, one of them just a quite boring edited unoverdubbed version of Take 2 for a French EP with minor differences to the album version, the other the really nice Take 6 which sounds quite like what the band made of the track live - especially with the follow-up guitarist David Gilmour 1968-1970. One of the most interesting versions is however the 17 minutes long UFO club recording from Jan 1967; it can be heard/watched on the London '66/'67 CD/DVD along with the other jam Nick's Boogie.

Strange wood block sounds segue into The Gnome, another acoustic ballad which is however closer to the country genre than to folk. The text deals with gnomes (yes!) and seems to be one of the pieces where the influence of the book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame can be found, in the form of this childhood's harmony and beauty. There are no keyboards and no drums on this piece; Rick Wright plays the vibraphone instead and Nick Mason just does some percussion, for example the cymbals and some wood blocks. Roger Waters plays well here, too, playing a kittenish, but mean bass accompaniment. Nice, although it's probably one of the less interesting songs on Piper - far away from bad anyway.

Chapter 24 is another of the psychedelic songs with audible influences of Indian ragas: hypnotic vocals and monotonous organ sounds remind the listener of those popular Indian harmoniums that the Tibetian monks use to play; the bell that sounds at some places in the song, also alludes to that. There are no drums on Chapter 24 likewise, just gongs/cymbals/bells, organs, the vocals and the bass (playing some Paul McCartney-ish rock licks from time to time, which is rather amusing); a piano is also faintly to be heard. The lyrics are influenced by the old Chinese text I Ching which Barrett read in those days; it's about circulations, numbers and esotericism - whatever. It's damn authentic and beautifully conceived.

Scarecrow is another of these folk/country pieces, which is very interesting because sometimes it sounds like there is not only the tricky, knocking percussion rhythm, but also something sounding like multitracked flicking. I don't know, but the rhythm sounds interesting in any case. The organ is imitating a shalm, and supplemental there is just Syd Barrett's clean electric guitar (quite an edgy riff!) and the vocals singing about a black and green scarecrow that everyone knows (probably an autobiographical song?). In the ending, an acoustic guitar and the bowed bass guitar come along and give the piece a neat folklore touch, complete with drones and all that. It was the only song from the Piper album that was put on one of the three singles to this album (the B-side of the charting See Emily Play single).

Bike is the mad ending to this colourful album, with jolly and (on the first view) childish lyrics in the first part. Especially the last stanza in fact says much about Barrett himself, even though it is unfortunately never possible to really understand what he wants to tell exactly. At the half, Barrett invites the girl which fits in with [his] world of whom we talks in the refrains to come in to the other room where there are clockworks which he wants to make work. And in fact, the last 90 seconds are the sounds of a clock, a violin, oscillators and other sundries whose sounds Barrett mixed with tape machines - after Zappa's Son of the Monster Magnet one of the earliest musique concrète pieces on a pop/rock LP - one year before John Lennon released Revolution 9 on the Beatles' White Album!

On disc 2 we have the stereo mix about which I had already talked; I originally owned this stereo mix, but I never really liked the album in that form. The mono mix really opened my eyes about the quality of the Floyd debut album - and I can really recommend this re-issue to all those, who think that Piper is boring after hearing the stereo version - and to those who already like it and want to experience new facets.

On the bonus CD there are still some pieces left, in the beginning the first single Arnold Layne(b/w Candy and A Currant Bun), quite a nice single and the first vinyl that the Floyd have published. The a-side is a nice psych/pop-song which soon reached the Top 20; the topic of tranvestitism (Arnold Layne had a strange hobby/collecting clothes - moonshine washing-line etc.) created a minor uproar, but probably this was one of the reasons for the success. But it is a great song, again with the trademark organ solo and nice plucked guitar sounds. 2006, the piece was played by David Gilmour live on his On An Island tour with David Bowie as the lead singer, which he also released as a single. The b-side is an acid rock piece with distorted and treated guitar sounds, somehow sexistic lyrics and a good 60s Kinks rock sound. Not very essential, just a totally stoned track, but with a nice organ solo.

The next single is the charting See Emily Play(b/w Scarecrow), which landed in the Top 10 and was a big success for the Pink Floyd. Though, Barrett didn't want the piece to be used as a single because he desperately wanted to stay uncommercial. I think that the piece is very uncommercial, but Barrett seems to have become so mad at this decision so that his character changed during those sessions. This rumour sounds strange, but David Gilmour suggested that when he was invited to the recording sessions as a guest in 1967. The character change may also have had other reasons, as Barrett took a lot of LSD then so that he wasn't able/willing to play full concerts anymore in early 1968. In any case, See Emily Play is a good pop tune with very odd passages at some moments and the characteristic delayed piano sounds in the stanzas. The instrumental part in the middle includes this time - apart from the obligatory organ solo the sounds of Syd using a metal zippo as a bottleneck on his electric guitar, just the way he used it in the 17-minutes-UFO club recording of Interstellar Overdrive.

The last of the three singles is Apples & Oranges(b/w Paint Box) which failed to chart, but which is probably the most interesting one. The a-side is a great piece by Syd, between strangeness (in the quirky stanzas with the distorted guitar and the fast vocal lines) and beauty (the Hammond organ soundscapes in the I love she parts and in the refrains). The added stereo version doesn't give much to me, but is probably historically interesting for some. The b-side is (along with Remember A Day) keyboarder Rick Wright's first composition for the Pink Floyd, a nice piano-laden pop piece sounding a bit like the Beatles - and also like parts of Wright's famous piece Summer '68 - a nice composition that is unfortunately much too less known. The lyrics depict feeling desorientated in the crowds (Sitting in a club with so many fools). As a child I always paid close attention to them because the rhyme was lacking at some places, now I focus on the interesting topic. There is also Wright's beloved major seventh jazz chord which is frequently used on this one.

My personal rating for this one is rather obvious, a 5/5-star-rating because the album is not only really influential and independent, but also highly enjoyable and captivating. Lovers of psychedelic rock and the Farfisa organ will surely like it, but those who just know other Floyd masterpieces should know that there are some major differences between that one and later Floyd albums, so listen to it at first. The big success of this album is that, even though it features early psychedelic rock, it doesn't sound dated or embarassing, which most definitely is due to the fact that all of these tunes represent Syd Barrett's psyche authentically. This 3CD-pack is also great: it sounds outstanding, it has a nice booklet and looks good, too and it is highly recommendable, to those who either love the original album and to those didn't really 'catch' it - the mono mix sounds far better and you should check it - and the bonus tracks are nice, too, although the abandoned Scream Thy Last Scream and all that stuff could have been finally released officially.

Einsetumadur | 5/5 |

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