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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 | 1438 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
5 stars While most people associate the band with the 1970's epic Roger Waters rants, that is by no means how they began. For that matter, their beginning was hardly much less significant or amazing than the 'classic' albums. Early Pink Floyd was led, of course, by the oh-so-infamous Syd Barrett. Syd had three characteristics which ensured that he would have a viciously loyal cult following to this day, and it's hard to imagine Pink Floyd without having ever had him around to loosen things up. First, he was a phenomenal songwriter, both in terms of melodies and lyrics, and I will never step back from arguing that. On the one hand, he came up with all sorts of little childish ditties about mice without houses, the joys of playing hide and seek, creepy cats, what it's like to be read a bedtime story and other playful things. And although his voice wasn't exactly phenomenal, there was an overwhelmingly innocent and little-boyish quality behind it that made his songs even more enjoyable. That he liked childish stories and concepts shouldn't be too surprising, though; just look at the album's name, which is taken from a chapter title in "Wind in the Willows." But that wasn't all he was good at, no no. His second specialty was dark, 'cosmic' space/drug rockers, and he had just as much talent in creating those as he did in making his simpler songs. Of course, these numbers usually freaked out the concert-going fans who had come to hear the cute childish ditties, but hey, they should've known better.

His second significant attribute was that he was a heavy duty LSD addict. It wasn't entirely his own fault (legend has it that his friends dowsed his coffee with the stuff repeatedly without his knowledge or consent until he was completely hooked), but he was one nevertheless. Now, acid can certainly aid in the creation of art which is marvelous and beyond comprehension, but alas, too much of it and your mind starts to go. Such was the case with Syd on this album. Very, very soon after Piper was released, the band had to let him go because he was 80% gone mentally, and this was hurting the group and their stage act considerably. Nevertheless, the fragile state of Syd's mind during this album's sessions mostly works to the album's advantage; "mad" geniuses almost always produce their best work right before they completely collapse, fall off a cliff, etc, and Syd was a mad genius through and through. His mind and his creativity were absolutely working overtime in these sessions, and they pretty much broke down when this was over. Still, as sad as this might be, it's better to have 5 albums worth of genius crammed into 1 than to have them spread out, I think.

Finally, Syd was one of the true masters of feedback creation, up there with Townshend, Hendrix, you name it. He'd slap his guitar like nobody's business, but he'd also use all sorts of outside objects to help him out. Slide rules up and down the fret board, dumping ball bearings across the strings and crazy stuff like that was his specialty. Look, there's nothing quite like listening to a drugged-up lunatic genius messing around with feedback and different ways to make it, and whether you enjoy this or not, it's hard to deny that this album is, at least on some level, an absolutely fascinating listen because of that aspect.

This album is a 40 minute document of everything which made Syd cool, essentially backed by the rhythm section of what would become the world famous Pink Floyd. The dark cosmic rockers are creepier and more disorienting than you could imagine. "Astronomy Domine," one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs ever, has some odd, odd lyrics about his mind travelling in space during one of his trips, with a weirdly mixed voice in the background making announcements about launch times and orbits, and a cool set of downward cascading riffs throughout with Syd just going nuts all over the place. As for the 9:41 instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive," it's incredibly dated, probably more so than anything on here, but I still can't help but feel wowed by it. I adore the whole thing, from the terrific main riff to all the improvised (but still held together with a feeling of control) bits in the middle, to that brief stretch where Syd's guitar becomes one of the trippiest things I know of, to the weird stereo panning at the end that makes everything spin around and around my head. This track is as important to describing both Pink Floyd's history and the music scene of 1967 as anything else, I think.

Aside from the trippy instrumental "Pow R Toc H," which a lot of people dismiss as a dumb drug joke but that I have always enjoyed (I like the main themes, and the vocal freakout at the end is a hoot), the rest of the Syd tracks fall into the childish ditties category. These are not, however, your everyday childish ditties; it's not as if his two styles were completely disjoint from each other. "Lucifer Sam" is a somewhat psycho take on surf music, with a marvelous main riff and a parnoid vocal melody singing about a cat that just won't go away no matter where you go. "Matilda Mother" is the aforementioned bedtime story song, with vocals split between Rick and Syd, and it does a terrific job of capturing the idea that many bedtime stories, as sweet and innocent as they might seem to adults, can have a feeling of darkness and creepiness in the mind of a child that hears them. "Scarecrow" and "The Gnome" are relative throwaways, but I've never gotten tired of their melodies and their silly lyrics. "Flaming" does a nice job of making hide-and-seek sound fun, the much- maligned "Chapter 24" (where Syd took the opening lines of chapter 24 of the I'Ching and put them to music) has wonderful harmonies in the "sunset, sunrise" part near the end, and the closing "Bike" shows how a guy whose mind isn't quite all there attempts to hit on somebody he likes (before the album ends with another vocal freakout).

Oh, I almost forgot; this album has the first song Roger Waters ever wrote, entitled "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk," and it's really, really awful, but that's not in a bad way! This song is so dated that it becomes hilarious and fun beyond belief. Basically, Roger shouts out some really stupid lyrics before the 'melody' gives way to some really, really cool sounding jamming, with both Syd and Rick stretching themselves as much as anywhere else on the album (without going into the kind of trippiness that dominates "Interstellar Overdrive"). Yeah, it probably took Roger about 3 seconds to come up with this song, and those 3 seconds were probably not spent actually thinking about music, but I never skip it.

Buy this album tomorrow. Many, many critics have said almost this exact same thing, and I'm probably just a lemming for following them, but this album is an aural documentary of not only what it's like to be on acid, but also what it's like inside a mind that's about to completely collapse. Somehow, the knowledge of the history surrounding this album brings it all home for me, and what was previously a great album becomes a true classic. Regardless of how many drugs the rest of the group used throughout their history, and supposedly they were used a lot (though some have claimed this is just rumor), Pink Floyd never again made an album which even approached being this trippy.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |

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