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Pink Floyd’s Legendary Debut, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ Turns 45

EMI/Capitol

Aug. 4, 1967, one of the most incredible debut albums was released by one of the most incredible bands in the history of rock and roll. The band? Pink Floyd. The album? ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ a psychedelic masterpiece if ever there was one.

Syd Barrett, the troubled genius behind the bulk of the songs on this milestone release, saw the world a bit differently than most. His music, lyrics and artwork, reflected that. His story is one of  tragic legend, but the music he left us continues to amaze four and a half decades on.

From the stunning lift off of ‘Astronomy Domine’ through the startling insanity of the final strains of ‘Bike,’ this is a ride like no other before it, and only imitated since. The collection was ecorded in the same studios, and at the same time, (early 1967), as the Beatles were putting final touches on a little slab called ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘ (oh if those Abbey Road studio walls could talk)! The album was produced by EMI engineer Norman Smith, who, though often puzzled by the band’s approach,was able to help shape the unique sound of the album. The interplay between Rick Wright and Barrett is stunning, while Roger Waters and Nick Mason put forth their own unique vision as the rhythm section.

‘Piper’ is made of up the spacey, the whimsical, the pop, the melancholy and the strange, all blended together perfectly in the hands of Messrs Barrett, Wright, Mason and Waters.  ‘Lucifer Sam’ is a pristine example of what has become known over the years ‘psych pop.’ Syd wrote the book on that genre with songs like ‘Arnold Lane,’ (the band’s first single) and the ever-so-stellar ‘See Emily Play,’ still one of the greatest singles ever made.

Elsewhere, experimentation and mayhem are brewing with the free form ‘Interstellar Overdrive,’ a staple of the band’s early club days where the intensity of the loud music and the light show would create a sensory overload.

We must remember that the Pink Floyd had no real parallel on these shores. The Grateful Dead were off on their own ‘trip,’ so to speak, as were the Velvet Underground and the 13th Floor Elevators, the only other stateside experimentalists approaching the Floyd’s terrain. ‘Flaming’ and ‘Matilda Mother’ radiate pure lysergic beauty, while the almost nursery rhyme elements of songs like ‘The Scarecrow’ and ‘The Gnome’ are as playful as can be. The childlike innocence of ‘Bike’ becomes a psychotic refrain of  laughter that turns out the light on the stellar little ditty.

The album was, and remains, a landmark of British psychedelia. It made the top ten in the UK, but failed to even graze Billboard Top 100. Obviously, the Floyd would later make up for any slow start stateside, becoming huge superstars in the following decade. Though Roger Waters would soon become driver of this vehicle called Pink Floyd, he only contributes one song here, the disjointedly wonderful ‘Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.’

The US release, on Capitol subsidiary Tower Records, was delayed until October of ’67. As was customary back then, the US label did a hatchet job on the track listing, adding ‘See Emily Play,’ but removing ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Bike.’ What were they thinking?! In the CD age, of course, all has been restored, reissued and remastered time and again. There is no shortage of ‘Piper’ and related Barrett material on the market. There is talk of an ‘Immersion’ edition of ‘Piper’ happening at some point, which will hopefully include the as-yet-unreleased Syd tracks ‘Scream Thy Last Scream’ and ‘Vegetable Man.’ Though not part of these sessions, they remain the final Barrett puzzle pieces never issued.

In the meantime, we suggest you tune in (to your music player of choice), turn on (well, if you don’t turn it on you won’t hear it), and drop out (of 2012 reality, at least temporarily) so you can wander into this other worldly place created by Roger Keith Barrett for us all to enjoy. One of a kind, and getting scarcer every day.

Listen to ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’

 

Next: Top 10 Debut Albums

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