Pink Floyd The Piper at The Gates of Dawn, 1967, EMI
Pow R. Toc H.
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
I listened to the UK release of this album, the tracklist is slightly different to the version that was released in the USA.
Pink Floyd have sold more than 250 million records across the globe. Their eighth album; “The Dark Side of the Moon” is the third best selling album of all time. They were Britain’s first psychedelic rock group and their first album, the only one made by the original lineup of Syd Barrett on guitar and vocals, Nick Mason on drums, Roger Waters on bass and Richard Wright on Keyboards has been described as not quite psychadela, but rather as space rock. I was excited to listen to “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.
Pink Floyd met as art students in London, each member of the group had been in a number of bands before they became part of the underground scene where they experimented with different instruments, sounds and lights. Outside this scene, they were not always accepted because promoters did not know how to classify their stage performances, however, they still managed to attract the attention of EMI who signed them in early 1967. They released two singles which both entered the top 20, although neither of these are featured on their first album.
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London between February and May of 1967 (at the same time as The Beatles were recording “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” there), “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” spent 19 weeks in the album chart and peaked at number 6.
The album cover was shot by Vic Singh through a prism lens and was designed to look like an LSD trip. The album has been reissued many times in many ways and been heaped in retrospective praise. Most of the songs were written by lead vocalist Syd Barrett and It is generally considered to be his finest work. By the time the album was recorded, Barrett was taking LSD regularly and this had a serious adverse effect on his mental health. His behaviour became so erratic that tours in both the USA and Europe had to be cut short. In December of 1967, David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd and the band briefly became a 5 piece but by April 1968, Syd Barrett was no longer part of the band.
I have to admit that I found the album hard to listen to. I realise that it was revolutionary at the time, but the psychedelic sound is not one of my favourites and I found it difficult to muster up the sense of wonder that I imagine people would have felt at hearing this kind of thing in the 1960s. I also think that listening to an album without the lighting that Pink Floyd’s live shows were famous for feels a bit like only reading half the story. I like “Lucifer Sam” because it sounds a lot like a Bond theme and “Matilda Mother” is good, it’s a child-like fantasy song which is fun but I wouldn’t really want to listen to it on repeat. “Pow R. Toc H.” is just noise to me, it’s overwhelmed by the sound effects., but it also sounds like someone is beatboxing on it - perhaps I listen to too much grime music, but honestly, I am sure I can hear beatboxing - can that even be real? Pink Floyd were obviously way more revolutionary than I realised!
“Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” is probably my favourite tack even though the lyrics are pretty morbid, I love the super fast guitars and the drumming is crazy good. “Interstellar Overdrive” is 9 minutes and 40 seconds that seems to be a free for all before it finally comes together with intensity at the end. Apparently this is the closest thing to what their live performance (where this track was usually around 17 minutes long) was like during this period and while it honestly doesn’t get me excited, I can see why this would have been impressive if you had never heard anything like it before.
There is definitely a sense that anything could happen and that they are just improvising for chunks of the album, giving you a taste of what they were like live, this is not the Pink Floyd I expected, it’s bizarre and inventive and interesting. Overall I like it more than “The Dark Side of the Moon” which I have to confess I am not a big fan of. They seem to have been enjoying themselves on this album at least, later Pink Floyd albums aren’t anywhere near as much fun as this.
I won’t dispute Pink Floyd’s legendary status. They influenced artists from David Bowie to U2 to Kraftwerk to Radiohead. In 2016 the Victoria and Albert Museum (one of the world’s foremost design museums) in London held a retrospective exhibition of Pink Floyd’s work which was extended due to its high ticket sales which shows just how much esteem they are still held in, but I am admitting defeat. Maybe I need to take more acid, but I just don’t think someone of my generation can truly “get” this album. I’ve seen and heard too much of what it paved the way for to find it interesting. I’m sure it was hugely exciting in 1967 and the fact that it doesn’t seem so now proves its importance to music. For me, this album is like a book by a classic author, I’m glad I can say I listened to it, but I’m not in a hurry to listen again.