Many of my best friends are Pink Floyd fans. I have spent more time in my life listening to Dark Side of The Moon than I ever actually cared to.
I hate Pink Floyd.
Okay, hate is the wrong word. I do strongly dislike Pink Floyd. Aside from the cheeky “Money” and the lovely “Wish You Were Here”, I find them pretentious, whingeing boors. But that’s the prog rock Pink Floyd, where David Gilmour and Roger Waters went crazy with the noodling and the themes.
There is a Pink Floyd I love. This Pink Floyd is the Pink Floyd of “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”. This Pink Floyd is Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, the crazy psychedelic band with hauntingly beautiful melodies and a genius front man who tragically went mental.
The Pink Floyd that produced Piper At the Gates of Dawn.
Named after a chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic The Wind in the Willows, the albums is a mind trip mixed with whimsy, child like and psychedelic all at once. Part of this was Syd, the brilliant yet troubled lad who wrote the majority of their songs. Even on early, non album tracks like “See Emily Play” ( one of my top 100 songs of all time), there is referrals to games and playtime, a childlike existence that I assume Syd missed a bit. “See Emily Play” appears on the American version of the album, but was a single only release in the U.K. It remains my absolute favourite Pink Floyd song, the hints at what could have been if Syd hadn’t gone mad and David Gilmour had stayed far, far away.
But there remains a truly amazing, mind-blowing record even without the lovely “Emily”. The (U.K.) opener “Astronomy Domine”, spaced out music with an odd chord progression, nonsensical lyrics that name check heavenly bodies, and to top it off, vaguely Trekish noises punctuated with whoos and screams. The band confused and annoyed some, as the following video clip shows ( don’t bother to comment, the consensus is that Hans Keller is a major prick).
“Interstellar Overdrive” falls into the space rock side of the bands output, a rambling, loopy, trippy song filled with Duane Eddy inspired guitar riffs and a melodically repetitive bass. Gentle and warm despite it’s space prog rock origins, it’s an epic work of patience and delicate guitar work. Syd was brilliant, no question.
In between the journey to Mars and back, there is a song about Syd’s cat (“Lucifer Sam”), gnomes (“The Gnome”, a precursor to many a Zeppelin song), the out pf place “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” ( a Waters song, and indicative of where the band would go without Syd), sad moments of recognition and resignation (“The Scarecrow”), and the inspiration of Hilaire Belloc (“Matilda Mother”, which Syd rewrote when the Belloc estate denied him the use of the words he wanted). Sometimes the songs sound like nursery rhymes ( “Apples and Oranges”, “Bike”), sometimes they sound like bizarre new age lectures ( “Chapter 24”). It’s a wonderful album, but when one looks at it in the Pink Floyd discography, this is the one that is completely out-of-place. I think it’s the least pretentious musically, least cohesive lyrically, and is ultimately the saddest thing you can listen to.
Syd could have made Pink Floyd a different kind of great. Instead, we end up with The Division Bell.
PS- I think Syd was not only a better songwriter than either Waters and Gilmour, but also a better guitarist than Gilmour.
Please, be kind with the hate mail.