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Music Review: Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (40th Anniversary Edition/2 Disc Version)

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Back in the days before Pink Floyd became known primarily for such pristinely recorded marvels of studio craft as Dark Side Of The Moon, they were more like this rag-tag psychedelic band.

Actually, let me correct myself on that. Pink Floyd were actually more like THE psychedelic band — as in the preeminent band on the planet whose music was tailor-made for listening to, while tripping on your favorite hallucinogen of choice.

During the brief period that Syd Barrett fronted Pink Floyd, there was simply no band that did psychedelic, mind-expanding music quite like the Floyd did. Not the Airplane. Not the Dead. Nobody.

Back in those days, Pink Floyd concerts were more like happenings — where people would gather in London clubs to tune in, and well quite frankly, turn on and drop acid. And it was here that Pink Floyd first earned their reputation as pioneers of the interchangeable genres of psychedelic, and what was then called "space-rock."

As much as Pink Floyd would later be celebrated for the studio sheen of masterpieces like Dark Side and The Wall, in those days their music — with Barrett at the creative helm — was as raw, unpredictable, and experimental as it got. There was no telling just where a Pink Floyd concert would take you back then.

As to where it took rock music in general, well you can trace everything from the prog-rock of bands like Yes and early Genesis directly back to Floyd. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the cultish space rockers like Hawkwind, who eventually spawned the likes of Lemmy and Motorhead.

As to where it took Syd himself? Unfortunately, Barrett's contribution landed him a place in history as the poster child for the term "acid casualty."

Like I said, most unfortunate. Especially given Syd Barrett's place in history as a largely unrecognized innovator.

This week, EMI issued the 40th anniversary edition of Pink Floyd's landmark album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn in two deluxe versions. So let me get the one I didn't get out of the way first. The 3 CD edition — in addition to including the stereo and mono versions of the album I actually did get — includes a bonus disc with rarities, and all of Pink Floyd's original singles from 1967.

For purists and hardcore fans, this is probably the one you are going to want.

The two-disc version on the other hand, simply has the original album in the stereo and mono mixes.

Listening to this album again — so many years later — is quite frankly a little weird. While Floyd purists may prefer the original mono mix, I actually quite prefer the enhanced stereo version. For one thing, I've grown very used to the live, post Barrett version of "Astronomy Domine" from Ummagumma.

Which despite what hardcore Floyd fans will tell you, I've always felt was a great live album. What's cool about the studio version here, is hearing the piped in radio broadcasts at the beginning of the track. The stereo effect here is in fact quite mesmerizing.

Listening to this disc earlier today driving back home from a trip to Oregon, I also quite enjoyed hearing "Interstellar Overdrive." This track took me back to the very first time I ever heard Pink Floyd, as a thirteen year old wannabe hippie without a care in the world other than lying back on my bed, and expanding my consciousness to what was then the previously unchartered musical vistas these psychedelic warlords were taking us to.

But here is the other thing. Syd Barrett had this truly amazing pop sensibility,that balanced out his otherwise weird excursions into both outer and inner space.

Listen to a track like Bike for example.

Now I gotta ask you. Is there anything more perfectly sixties British pop sounding than that?

With this release, I have embraced my inner Floyd.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • JC Mosquito

    I bought Piper in the dying days of vinyl – perhaps too late. My psychedelia always leaned towards the Quicksilver Messenger Service, or Country Joe & the Fish when they played the long droning songs.

    If I’m picking a Floyd album to listen to, it’s usually Animals – or better yet, David Gilmour’s first solo album.

    I dunno, Glen – I guess my tastes have always run more American over the long haul. What amazed me though is how Syd retired, and for the most part, stayed retired. Maybe there weren’t enough sharks yet in the business who fed off anyone who used to have a name.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Skeet. I’ve gotta tell you though — I think the main reason Barrett stayed retired is that he wasn’t exactly functional. I realize that hasn’t stopped the music biz from trotting out drug casualties in the past. But my understanding is that Barrett pretty much lived the rest of his days in a borderline vegatative state. If I’m wrong on this, please correct me.

    But wasn’t Syd’s brain essentially fried to a crisp?

    -Glen

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    What I like about the Barrett-era Floyd is that Syd was one of the few British singers who actually sounded British on record, especially in that era.

    In addition to his voice, his lyric imagery, in “Bike,” for instance, only underscores his inherent British sensibilities.

    -Donald

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Donald. It’s really almost like listening to two completely different bands when you compare Barrett’s Pink Floyd to what they became once David Gilmour took his spot on guitar, and Roger Waters took over the creative helm isn’t it?

    They lost quite a bit of their pop sensibilties, but they clearly outgrew that on the road to becoming pretty much the blueprint for studio excellence in the seventies.

    They just don’t make records like that anymore, do they?

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    Somebody (hint hint) should do an article on “70’s records that were recorded so well they’re still the standard for recorded excellence.”

    I’d nominate Dark Side of the Moon, and the first Boston album. Say what you will about either Floyd or Dr. Scholz & Co., but man, those albums still sound fine cranked up on a good stereo system.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Good idea Skeet. And one the Rockologist may just have to consider looking into. I’ll definitely pass the word onto him.

    -Glen

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the Advance.net websites and Boston.com.