Author’s Note: Hello everyone! So I have decided to restart a project I attempted to do a few years ago, and that is to listen to every Pink Floyd album in chronological order every week. Later on in that process, I decided that I would write a review of each album that would also come out every week. Now I’ve already listened to The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful Of Secrets and More so I have some catching up to do. Nonetheless, I hope you find the diary of this journey enjoyable and I hope that these readings inspire you to take on a similar musical journey.
So without wasting any more time, let’s start with their first, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn!
So let’s set the stage a little bit. In February 1965, four college dropouts named Syd Barrett (lead guitar, lead vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals), Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion) formed a band called Pink Floyd (it was named after two obscure blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council). Starting out as a blues cover band, they soon became the face of the London underground music scene before becoming a pop band with two hit singles: “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” (definitely listen to those if you haven’t already). In February of 1967, they were offered a recording contract by EMI and promptly went into Abbey Road Studios to record their first album.
What came out that August goes down as the strangest psychedelic album…no scratch that…the strangest album ever made.
If you look back at some of the great psychedelic albums that came out that year (Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, Disraeli Gears, Are You Experienced?, Surrealistic Pillow), this album doesn’t quite sound like any of those. Its title seems benign and naive (it was taken from a chapter in the children’s classic The Wind In The Willows), but this album is an assault on all of your senses. It’s as if Pink Floyd were the piper and they are opening up the gates to a new dawn of psychedelia and music. None of the previously mentioned albums were afraid to get weird but they all had commercial aims and did adhere to a coherent if intricate structure. Piper is an album that revels in being strange and isn’t afraid to go into sometimes unsettling places.
It seems that Piper’s goal is to be otherworldly and it achieves that quality in two ways; the album is divided into instrumental freak outs and whimsical fairy tale esque songs. The best example of the former is the first track, “Astronomy Domine.” While not a pure instrumental (there’s some great poetic lyrics and beautiful harmonies by Barrett and Wright), Barrett’s slide guitar takes you to space like no other song during the psychedelic movement did.
The best example of the latter is “The Gnome”, an acoustic folk song where Barrett sings about a little gnome called Grimble Gromble; it’s fun, lighthearted, and comical. There were many attempts during that era to do a psychedelic fairy tale song (“Phenomenal Cat” by The Kinks and some songs by Donovan), but none of them got close to the pure childish delight that is “The Gnome.”
However, possibly the strongest song on the album is one that combines the cosmic, the childlike and even the rock n’ roll. “Lucifer Sam” rivals “Astronomy Domine” for being the best song on the album and despite its menacing riff, lyrically it’s a song about Barrett’s Siamese Cat, Sam. A strong runner up to “The Gnome” is “Bike”. It‘s a mischievous song with a combination of an elementary but charming “melody”, childlike vocals and lyrics by Barrett (“I’ve got a mouse and he hasn’t got a house/I don’t know why I’m call him Gerald) and experimental sounds that consists of noises that sound like ducks quacking.
The only main flaw of the album is that there seems to be lesser versions of the great songs on here. “The Scarecrow” is essentially the same thing as “The Gnome” and not as strong and playful. “Interstellar Overdrive” may have a great riff and boast the most experimental improvisation the Floyd ever recorded, but “Lucifer Sam” simply has a better riff and “Astronomy Domine” is just better structured. That being said, there’s really not a bad song on this album and even the weaker songs (“Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, “Pow R. Toc H.” and “Chapter 24”) have their charms.
Having said that, this is not an easy album to get into. You’re not going to be able to put this on in the background. You can dance and groove along to Disraeli Gears and The Doors; good luck doing either of those things to Piper. It will probably take a few listens to get into this because the last term I would use to describe this album (outside “The Gnome” or “The Scarecrow”) is easy listening. Once you get into it though, you will find it a shame that Pink Floyd never did anything this innovative ever again.
Track List (ranked Strongest To Weakest)
- Astronomy Domine
- Lucifer Sam
- The Gnome
- Matilda Mother
- The Scarecrow
- Interstellar Overdrive
- Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk
- Pow R. Toc H.
- Chapter 24