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Fifty Year Friday: June 1968 including Roland Kirk, Pink Floyd and more

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“When I die I want them to play the BLACK AND CRAZY BLUES, I want to be cremated, put in a bag of pot and I want beautiful people to smoke me and hope they got something out of it.”

― Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Recorded in November of 1967 and released on June 14, 1968,  The Inflated Tear is proof that jazz is as vital and important in the late 1960’s as at any time in its storied history.  “Black and Crazy Blues” opens a very personal, somewhat biographic album with a bluesy funeral dirge, a well crafted and perfectly performed composition that resonates with the type of quiet pride that carries the weary or downtrodden through defeat, suffering, sadness and darkness, whether that darkness is sightlessness, social ignorance or the absence of carefree joy.

This is followed by the light-hearted “A Laugh for Rory” with its playful, dancing flute-work — a sparkling, imaginative tribute to Roland Kirk’s young son, whose voice is heard at the start of the track.  The third track, “Many Blessings”, opens up with Kirk’s solo tenor, joined by a second sax, played simultaneously by Kirk, joined by Rahn Burton on piano, Steve Novosel on bass and Jimmy Hopps in the statement of a very Thelonious Monk-like theme followed by some amazing saxophone soloing and an exuberant piano solo with Kirk’s saxophone providing a strong closing for the work.

“Fingers In the Wind” showcases Kirk’s sensitivity and lyrical expressiveness.  Here we have Roland on flute delivering a work of intimacy, confidence, and clarity.

After hearing the first track, one would normally assume that this is the masterpiece of the album, but “Inflated Tear” is more personal and dives further into the depths of darkness, exploring anguish as well as moments of quiet despair and desolation. Kirk uses his instrumental talents to provide emotional range and impact, particularly in using two saxophones simultaneously to fully and accurately display anguish.

Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Song” is mostly in a style that recalls Mingus, and this is followed by the lively, jubilant “A Handful of Five” featuring Kirk on the “manzello”, a  modified B-flat soprano saxophone.

“Fly By Night”, is generally upbeat, perhaps indicative of the unconquerable spirit of independence exhibited by those with disabilities that soar through the sky in whatever conditions that are present as part of their circumstance. The last track, “Lovellevelliloqui”, impossible to type without referencing the album jacket, is a buoyant celebration of the power of love, and finishes the album nicely by providing the quest, the accomplishment, and the ultimate victory.

This album, a broad and honest representation of life, is worth not only our attention, but the attention of those generations that follow us.  We can inspect or scrutinize, or simply marvel at these works, just like we marvel at an Edward Hopper,  Andrew Newell Wyeth or Frederick Remington painting.  The music is modern, profound and easily accessible to anyone that appreciates how multi-faceted jazz also requires an alert and empathetic listener to explore both its surfaces and its depths.

Track listing [from Wikipedia ]

All tracks written by Roland Kirk, except where noted.

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “The Black and Crazy Blues” 6:07
2. “A Laugh for Rory” 2:54
3. “Many Blessings” 4:45
4. “Fingers in the Wind” 4:18
5. “The Inflated Tear” 4:58
6. Creole Love Call Duke Ellington 3:53
7. “A Handful of Fives” 2:42
8. “Fly by Night” 4:19
9. “Lovellevelliloqui” 4:17

Personnel

 

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Pink Floyd: Saucerful of Secrets

With Syd Barrett becoming more unstable, guitarist and friend David Gilmour was brought in with the original intent that Barrett would continue to write some music for the band — but with Barrett, around March of 1968 eventually agreeing to leave entirely.

Three tracks have Barrett playing or singing including his own composition, “Jugband Blues” and the Water’s composition “Set the Controls for the Heart of The Sun” in which we get to hear both Barrett and Gilmour on guitar.

Due to his erratic and unreliable behavior, there was little choice but to drop Barrett, the primary song writer for the group.  Roger Waters and Richard Wright, then provided the music for this second album with Mason and Waters working out the general musical outline for the an additional track required to add additional length to the album to provide the necessary minutes to fill out side 2. This would be titled , “A Saucerful of Secrets”, and would also become the title for the album.

Historically this is quite an interesting album.  For one, the last track when compared to the rest of the album provides us a reminder that Pink Floyd would have had a very different timeline if Syd Barrett had stayed with the group. Whether any treatment available at the time could have helped Barrett is not clear, but if he had been able to recover from the difficulties apparently brought on by psychotropic drugs like LSD and had stayed with the group, it is likely that Pink Floyd’s ensuing albums would have had a very different character.

The other important historical aspect is the progressive nature of this music and the first appearances of “space rock”, the otherworldly transformation of psychedelic rock, providing a more open, often gentler and slower paced genre of music that is the musical equivalent of stretching out space and time, and de-emphasizing matter and energy, achieving a transcendental or hypnotic type of listening experience.  “Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is a prime example of a shorter space-rock track, with the title track being a more expansive, longer example, architected beforehand to have an overall shape and character — and highly improvised, evolving from beginning to end as if a single statement.  This style of music will be influential in the direction and style of many European bands. particularly bands in Germany and some in France influencing groups as diverse as Tangerine Dream,  Amon Düül II, Hawkwind, Gong, Grobschnitt, Ash Ra Tempel, and Hoelderlin.  Ultimately, from the seventies well into the 21st century, we have numerous bands and individuals creating various manifestations of space rock and a Bay Area weekly radio program, “Hearts of Space”, started in 1973 that went national on public radio in 1983 with archived programs online at the Hearts of Space website.

Track listing

  1. Let There Be More Light
    05:37 (Waters)
  2. Remember a Day
    04:34 (Wright)
  3. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
    05:28 (Waters)
  4. Corporal Clegg
    04:12 (Waters)
  5. A Saucerful of Secrets
    11:57 (Mason/Waters/Wright/Gilmour)
  6. See-Saw
    04:37 (Wright)
  7. Jugband Blues
    03:00 (Barrett)

Personnel

Pink Floyd

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Max Roach: Members Don’t Get Weary

Recorded in late June of 1968, Members, Don’t Git Weary is an excellent post-bop jazz album, featuring one of the most interesting and effective jazz drummers of all time, Max Roach, along with Charles Tolliver on trumpet, Gary Bartz on alto sax, Stanley Cowell on piano and electric keyboards and electric bass pioneer, Jymie Merritt.

Besides the excellence of the music, particularly tracks 2, 3, and 6, I am amazed at similarities in the first three tracks and some of the modal-jazz passages used by the jazz-rock group Chicago in their 1969 and 1970 albums.  It leads me to speculate that one or more of Chicago horn players, if not Chicago’s main songwriters, had listened to the first side of this album repeatedly.

Though this album is mostly post-bop modal music, the title track, “Members, Don’t Git Weary”, is a blues based tune with Andy Bey on vocals providing a vehicle for free-jazz improvisation that makes for an interesting contrast to the rest of the album as does “Equipose” which shares some similarities with the modal music on John Coltrane’s Love Supreme album.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Stanley Cowell except as indicated

  1. “Abstrutions” – 3:40
  2. “Libra” (Gary Bartz) – 4:58
  3. “Effi” – 6:15
  4. “Equipoise” – 6:22
  5. “Members, Don’t Git Weary” (Max Roach) – 5:32
  6. “Absolutions” (Jymie Merritt) – 4:39
  • Recorded in New York on June 25 (tracks 2-4 & 6) and June 26 (tracks 1 & 5), 1968

Personnel 

 

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The Beach Boys: Friends

Released on June 24, 1968, Friends, is the Beach Boys 14th Studio Album.  Though generally good, it did not sell well in the states with sales around 18,000 units.  It did better on the UK charts peaking at number 13.

The two best tracks on the album are the first two tracks, with “Friends”, which was also released as a single, being a minor masterpiece.  Unfortunately, the promise of the first two tracks are not met by the remainder of the album with the weakest tracks on side two.

Track Listing and Personnel

 

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Aretha Franklin: Aretha Now

Released on June 14, 1968, less than five months after the highly successful Lady Soul album, Aretha Now is an impressive showcase of Aretha’s amazing vocal artistry, peaking at number 1 on the R&B album charts, number 3 on the pop charts and number 9 on the jazz charts.

Every track on this album from “Think” to “”I Can’t See Myself Leaving You” is another opportunity to be wowed and entranced by Aretha’s amazing singing.  Particularly interesting, from an arrangement and interpretive perspective, is the rendition of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Say a Little Prayer”, a 1967 hit sung by Dionne Warwick.  Though the original message of the song was about the singer’s concern for her loved one serving in the Vietnam War, this interpretation on Aretha Now reaches past the original message of “offering a prayer”  for someone, to praying (to get) someone, hinted at from the beginning with the Aretha singing “I’ll say a little prayer” and the backup singers following her with “for you” separating the two parts out to highlight this alternative meaning. In the closing, Aretha makes this alternative meaning quite clear with her passionate entreaty in the delivery of the last line: “To live without you would only mean heartbreak for me.”  Whichever of the two ways one takes the meaning, this is emotional affective intepretation, and possibly closer to how Burt Barcharach would have liked to have heard the song having purportedly indicated that the Dionne Warwick version felt a bit rushed.

Track Listing and Personnel

 

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Spooky Tooth: It’s All About

Whereas Aretha Franklin takes a previously successful song and makes an every more impressive version. Spooky Tooth  falls into the trap on their pretty good debut album, It’s All About, of taking a  previously perfectly rendered hit, Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” and falling short of that level of excellence. Janis Ian had starting conceptualizing this song around 1964 at age 13, finishing it and recording it at age 14, in 1965. About a partially taboo topic for the mid sixties, racial prejudice and its suppression of romantic choice,  it was banned by numerous radio stations, slowing is climb up the national charts, limiting it to achieving only the 14th spot, sadly short of what the song deserved.

Spooky Tooth’s inclusion of this song is clearly a tribute to their understanding of the solid musical craftsmanship of the work, and the gothic, organ-dominated rendition of this certainly is interesting.  Just as The Stories had reversed the genders in “Brother Louie”, Spooky Tooth, reverses the gender to match the gender of the singer, thus inadvertently weakening the message which was not completely separable from the gender-related double standard connected to the topic.

Still one should praise the intent and musical appreciation of this English Band for taking on this American classic song and the generally high level of musicianship and creativity on the first track and the album itself.  The two vocalists, Mike Harrison and Gary Wright, are also providing keyboards, with Harrison sometimes on harpsichord, and Wright providing solid foundation and sometimes psychedelic organ passages.  Music ranges from psychedelic to hard rock with elements of acid rock and heavy metal with overall quality ranging from mundane and predictable to fascinating and interesting.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. Society’s Child” 4:30 (Janis Ian)
  2. “Love Really Changed Me” 3:33 (Grosvenor, Miller, Wright)
  3. “Here I Lived So Well” 5:06 (Wright, Grosvenor, Harrison, Miller)
  4. Too Much of Nothing” 3:57 (Bob Dylan)
  5. “Sunshine Help Me” 3:02 (Wright)
  6. “It’s All About a Roundabout” 2:43 (Miller, Wright)
  7. Tobacco Road” 5:33 (J.D. Loudermilk)
  8. “It Hurts You So” 3:03 (Miller, Wright)
  9. “Forget It, I Got It” 3:26 (Miller, Wright)
  10. “Bubbles” 2:49 (Grosvenor, Wright)

“Too Much of Nothing” was replaced by a cover version of The Band’s “The Weight” on the American release.

Personnel

Spooky Tooth

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Arthur Brown: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Released in June 1968, Arthur Brown’s first album,  and the first and final album of the band named after him, “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” is one of a kind.  The first side, somewhat symphonic and conceptual in nature is pretty impressive.  Quite unconventional and Zappa-like in moments, this first side includes their one hit, “Fire”, which got heavy air play in Southern California peaking at number 2 nationally.   The second side is also of interest.  David Bowie fans need to listen to “Rest Cure” where Arthur Brown vocals anticipate David Bowie’s post Ziggy vocals. The  album is provided with overdubbed orchestration by producer Kit Lambert, which effectively raises the level of activity and intensity without sounding artificial or contrived.

The original intent of Brown’s ambitious first album was to make the entire album a rock-opera — a rock album themed around entering into and the resulting horrors of Hell.  Interestingly, enough, Kit Lambert, who would later produce the Who’s Tommy, preferred something more commercial and Brown and Lambert came to compromise limiting this mini-rock opera to one side.

Kit Lambert had plenty of experience with opera, and classical music, being the son of composer Constant Lambert.    Though Constant Lambert never composed an opera,  he did write themed ballets and the social circle which Constant, Constant’s friend, and Kit’s godfather, William Walton, and Constant’s brothers, sculptor Maurice Lambert and painter George Lambert were part of exposed Kit to a wide array of music and culture.  Kit’s father died at an early age (brought about partly from alcohol abuse) when Kit was only 16.  Kit then pursued a more adventurous life, studying film at Trinity College in Oxford and at the University Paris, then serving as an officer in the British Army, and then joining an expedition to locate the source of Brazil’s Iriri River in which one member was killed by one of the Panará tribes.

Kit is known largely for his and Chris Stamp’s involvement with the Who. The two were setting to make a documentary about a single band, and ultimately Kit became interested in a group called The High Numbers.  Kit and Chris took over management and changed the name of the group to “The Who.” Kit encouraged Townshend’s songwriting, and was responsible for some of the group’s onstage tricks.  Kit produced and engineered the Who’s albums up to Tommy (coming back for Quadrophenia), being partly responsible for the progressive nature of The Who, which is definitely missing in the post-Quadrophenia albums.

It is ironic, then, that Kit Lambert, with his background in classical music and the arts, and who was involved in the writing of the first draft of the Who’s Tommy, discouraged Arthur Brown from making a full album rock-opera and encouraged him to make something more commercial.  And also ironic, then, is that this album doesn’t sound very commercial at all.  And further ironical is that such a non-commercial album not only did so well commercially, but also produced a number two singles hit. Oh, wait, never mind, this was 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

  1. “Prelude/Nightmare” (Arthur Brown) – 3:28
  2. “Fanfare/Fire Poem” (Brown, Vincent Crane) – 1:51
  3. Fire” (Brown, Crane, Mike Finesilver, Peter Ker)[6] – 2:54
  4. “Come and Buy” (Brown, Crane) – 5:40
  5. “Time” (Brown) – 3:07
  6. “Confusion” (Crane) – 2:08

Side two

  1. I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) – 3:41
  2. “Spontaneous Apple Creation” (Brown, Crane) – 2:54
  3. “Rest Cure” (Brown, Crane) – 2:44
  4. I’ve Got Money” (James Brown) – 3:09
  5. “Child of My Kingdom” (Brown, Crane) – 7:01 (Original North American releases of the album contained a 6:25 edit of this track, but incorrectly list its length as 5:05; the UK mono edition contains a 6:04 edit)

Personnel

  • Arthur Brown – vocals
  • Vincent Crane – keyboards, vibes, musical arrangements and orchestration
  • Nick Greenwood (billed as “Sean Nicholas”) – bass guitar
  • Drachen Theaker – drums
  • John Marshall – drums (on “I Put a Spell on You” and “Child of My Kingdom”)[1]
Additional personnel
  • Pete Townshend – associate producer
  • Kit Lambert – producer
  • David King – cover design
  • David Montgomery – photography
  • Ed Strait – compilation producer

Os Mutantes and Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival

If you are still reading at this point, and there is no concrete reason to think you are, I need to also mention Brazil’s Os Mutantes and the June 15 recording of the Bill Evans Trio at Montreux, Switzerland.

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From this first track, of Os Mutantes’s self-title debut album “Panis Et Cirenses” (Latin for “Bread and Circuses” and meant to indicate a means of superficial or easily-provided appeasement), one is caught up in this very accessible Brazilian pop. Tangentially connected to the Tropicália movement and also Gil Gilberto as evidenced by the music that opens each side of the album, Os Mutantes releases their first album in June 1968,  filling it full of joy and celebration.  Enriched with special effects, as in the rain-forest-meets-Carnaval “Adeus Maria Fulô”, this album is certainly progressive in the general sense of that word and with its best quality tracks — as with “O Relógio” — this is a fun and enjoyable album that vibrantly bubbles with the musical elements of 1968 pop, rock and Brazilian music.

 

Track Listing [from progarchives.com]

1. Panis Et Circenses (3:40)
2. A Minha Menina (4:45)
3. O Relógio (3:32)
4. Adeus Maria Fulô (3:06)
5. Baby (3:02)
6. Senhor F (2:36)
7. Bat Macumba (3:10)
8. Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour (3:40)
9. Trem Fantasma (3:19)
10. Tempo No Tempo (1:49)
11. Ave, Gengis Khan (3:51)

Total time 36:30

Personnel [from Wikipedia]

Os Mutantes
Special guests
  • Dirceu: drums
  • Jorge Ben: vocals and acoustic guitar (in “A Minha Menina”)
  • Dr. César Baptista: vocals (in “Ave, Gengis Khan”)
  • Clarisse Leitepiano in “Senhor F”
  • Cláudio Baptista: electronics
  • Gilberto Gilpercussion (in “Bat Macumba”)

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We are very fortunate that someone at the Montreux Jazz Festival recorded this performance of the Bill Evans Trio —  the only recording that I am aware of Bill Evans with Eddie Gómez and Jack DeJohnette.

I sometimes lose interest in obligatory bass solos, but not with any of Gómez’s solo or ensemble bass work.  I love that “Embraceable You” is used as a platform for over six minutes of mesmerizing bass work.  I also am impressed at how well Jack DeJohnette’s partners with both Gómez and Evans throughout the live performance, with “Nardis”  being an impressive display of how well these three musicians work together.

Most of all, I love listening to Bill Evans and he is in top form here. We get two beautiful, expressive solo piano ballads (“Quiet Now” and “I Loves You, Porgy”) as well as two original Evans compositions.   Time enough spent blogging — or in your case, if you made it this far, reading — time now to listen to this and other music again!

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Spoken Introduction” – 0:57
  2. “One for Helen” (Bill Evans) – 4:22
  3. A Sleepin’ Bee” (Harold ArlenTruman Capote) – 6:05
  4. “Mother of Earl” (Earl Zindars) – 5:14
  5. “Nardis” (Miles Davis) – 8:23
  6. “Quiet Now” (Denny Zeitlin) – 6:26 (Not on original LP, but included on CD)
  7. I Loves You, Porgy” (George GershwinIra GershwinDuBose Heyward) – 6:00
  8. “The Touch of Your Lips” (Ray Noble) – 4:45
  9. Embraceable You” (G. Gershwin, I. Gershwin) – 6:45
  10. Some Day My Prince Will Come” (Frank ChurchillLarry Morey) – 6:08
  11. “Walkin’ Up” (Evans) – 3:34

Personnel

 

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Fifty Year Friday: Arthur Rubinstein “Chopin: The Nocturnes, Pink Floyd “Pipers at the Gates of Dawn”

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It’s not very difficult to make the case for Chopin being the greatest composer for the piano of the last 190 years.  I chose 190 years, since Beethoven was around until 1827, and its irrelevant, and even irreverent, to compare Beethoven and Chopin. One can even make a good case for Chopin being the greatest Western composer of the last 190 years despite weaknesses and/or apparent lack of interest in mastering orchestration and writing pieces for full orchestras that go beyond providing general accompaniment for the piano.

One can also make a good case for Arthur Rubinstein being the greatest Chopin performer of the Twentieth Century.  In 1967, RCA released a 2 LP set of Rubinstein playing all the Chopin Nocturnes.  All of these were recorded in 1965, except for Opus 55, No. 2 which was recorded in 1967. (Interesting, that is the only track that has notable distortion or harshness. For all the other nocturnes, the recording sound is quite good and provides an intimate, warm listening experience.)

What makes Rubinstein such a welcome interpreter of Chopin is that he doesn’t overemphasize the emotional nature of the music.  Some performers go a bit to far in slowing down, speeding up, playing too loudly here, playing too softly there — trying to eke out as much emotion as possible.  “Rubato” is the performing technique of slightly changing the notated rhythmic duration of notes, thus deviating from notes strictly aligning with their written place within the pulse of the rhythm.  When done right the overall pace is not violated so that if a given note is made shorter, another note or other notes are then made longer so the one doesn’t lose the overall beat of the music. When overdone, rubato, along with accelerando (speeding up),   rallentando (slowing down) and tenuto (holding on to notes for additional time) becomes a violation of the original spirit of the music, effectively remaking it into something akin to over-dramatic acting. Many performers, particularly in the first seventy years of the twentieth century, took extreme liberty with the music, stamping it with their own mark or as a means of pulling out inherent meaning in the music they felt was implied but not notated.

Rubinstein, who takes a relatively sober approach with Chopin, has so much control over which notes within chords or concurrent groups of notes get emphasized (and the general loudness or softness of each and every note he plays) that he can get a full range of emotions within even a strict tempo.  His tempo, of course, is far from strict or mechanical, but he never allows it to escape into regions of extreme excess. Instead of taking unacceptable liberty with the tempo or individual note values, he makes the music sing and sparkle, providing a window into the inherent expression and delicate craft of each of these nocturnes: each one providing their own world of night-like expressiveness with subtle emotional twists and turns sometimes exploring sadness, loss, longing, darkness, tenderness, patience, determination, reflection, wistfulness, sympathy, sensitivity, sentimentality, loneliness, isolation, discovery, thoughtfulness, triumph, confusion or other emotions and aspects of the human psyche.

This recording is currently available as a 2 CD set, remastered and either in 16-bit or 24-bit (SACD) versions.  Value-conscious consumers will be wise to opt for “The Chopin Collection” box set which is an 11 CD set with all these nocturnes, and all the mazurkas, waltzes, preludes, other solo piano music (minus the etudes), and as a bonus, the piano concertos — this entire set currently selling at under $24.  Those with a larger budget and more available listening time may choose to get the much more expensive 142 CD “Arthur Rubinstein Complete Album Collection” set (with 2 DVDs and a 164 page booklet.)

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Tracklist [from discorgs.org]

A1 Opus 9, No. 1 In B-flat Minor
A2 Opus 9, No. 2 In E-flat
A3 Opus 9, No. 3 In B
A4 Opus 15, No. 1 In F
A5 Opus 15, No. 2 In F-sharp
B1 Opus 15, No. 3 In G Minor
B2 Opus 27, No. 1 In C-sharp Minor
B3 Opus 27, No. 2 In D-flat
B4 Opus 32, No. 1 In B
B5 Opus 32, No. 2 In A-flat
C1 Opus 37, No. 1 In G Minor
C2 Opus 37, No. 2 In G
C3 Opus 48, No. 1 In C Minor
C4 Opus 48, No. 2 In F-sharp Minor
D1 Opus 55, No. 1 In F Minor
D2 Opus 55, No. 2 In E-flat
D3 Opus 62, No. 1 In B
D4 Opus 62, No. 2 In E
D5 Opus 72, Op. 72, No. 1 In E Minor

Credits

 

In my junior year of high school, with summer not too far off, one of my favorite people of all time, who I will just refer to with the initial “P”, and I were discussing music in the back of trig class and P. mentioned how good Pink Floyd was.  The year was 1972 and I was probably talking about King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, or ELP when P. started expressing his approval of Pink Floyd.  I was interested and accepted his offer to lend me three of his albums, Ummagumma (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970) and A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), finding many things I liked, but also finding several detours from what I considered the general flow of music.  P. also, perhaps at a later point in time, lent me the first album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967).  I was more pleased with that album then the others, and puzzled that this was the first album as it seemed the strongest to me, which was not the usual pattern that I saw for most groups where the first album was the weakest, the second better and the third or fourth finally being the break-out album.  This first album, though sounding dated to my early 1970’s sensitivities, seemed stronger and more consistent than the other three I had previously heard.  I am not sure if I had noticed that one musician, “Syd Barett”, was the composer of most of the music for the first album but was absent on the others.  I think its possible I did realize this and was probably why I didn’t pay much attention to any new releases by Pink Floyd until I saw the movie “Pink Floyd at Pompeii” , at our local art-house theater, The Wilshire theater.  This film captures Pink Floyd performing several selections of their music in an empty Pompeii amphitheater, the music completely enveloping and engaging. After seeing this, I was sold on Pink Floyd, and had I seen this a couple of years earlier, I would have listened much more intently to those albums my trigonometry classmate had lent me.

Looking back now with thousands of additional hours of listening to lots of different music, I can better appreciate this album much more than I ever could have at age sixteen. It doesn’t matter whether this is labeled art-rock, space-rock, psychedelic rock or something else: it is bold, original and relevant for 1967 and is still fun to listen to today.

The album borrows its title from a title of the seventh chapter of  Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows  a cool title, indeed, but also a chapter that contains an interesting reference for a musical group that started out primarily as a psychedelic dance band:

“(Rat:) ‘…And hark to the wind playing in the reeds!’

`It’s like music–far away music,’ said the Mole nodding drowsily.

`So I was thinking,’ murmured the Rat, dreamful and languid. `Dance-music — the lilting sort that runs on without a stop — but with words in it, too — it passes into words and out of them again — I catch them at intervals — then it is dance-music once more, and then nothing but the reeds’ soft thin whispering.'”

And we have dance music with words and far-away lilting non-stop psychedelia-based tunes with their first two singles, written by Syd Barret, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” and their less dance-able, more exploratory, third single, “Apples and Oranges” also written by Syd Barrett.

And this album is filled with easily accessible dreamy, languid, melodic gems: these all written by Syd Barrett.  The UK version (import version for us Americans) is different from a somewhat messed-up U.S. version (the version I will reference below is the superior UK version.)

“Astronomy Domine” is a masterpiece of space rock – vast, unfolding, hints of the infinite and timeless, paced with a relentless, cosmic inevitability, modal and chromatic.

“Lucifer Sam”, about a Siamese cat, is more whimsical but still edged with an embrace of psychedelia and a chromatic passage reminiscent of the James Bond theme.

“Matilda Mother” opens slow-paced, relaxed, and dreamy, shifting to a more rhythmic passage and then back to the dreamy opening before its short Indian-like instrumental — providing but short contrast to the returning dreamy theme and a brief instrumental coda.

While other groups at this time are starting to augment their music with strings, woodwinds, and exotic instruments, Pink Floyd achieves equally impressive results with a traditional line-up of vocals, guitar, bass, organ/piano and drums.  Syd Barrett’s guitar, though not textbook virtuosic, is expressive, flexible and effective.  Vocals include wind effects and bird calls, “oohs” and “aaahs”.  The organ provides drones and other relatively simple effects.  “Flaming” and the more free-form “Pow R. Toc H.” shows off the ability of the band to create very different soundscapes, the former showcasing guitar and organ, the latter, nicely showcasing piano, bass drums, guitar, simple vocal effects, and organ in various moods and attitudes with an almost jazz-like piano and drum interlude providing welcome contrast.

Roger Waters provides a very sixties contribution in the opening of “Take up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” which then dissolves into a group jam.

We get back to great music on side two with the opening of “Interstellar Overdrive”, though it does soon meander, losing focus — but better uncompromising and adventurous, than bland and commonplace: perhaps the band assumes the listener will have some assistance with illicit substances.  Pretentious, often a term overused as an invective against progressive rock much more than psychedelic rock, is a term I am loathe to use — but I will concede that the ending is a bit over the top.

We get back to Barrett mini-masterpieces for the last four tracks.  The music is unassuming, natural and foundationally simple.  “Gnome” is pure pop, but with a Barrett twist.  “Chapter 24” is spacey and reflective with lyrics apparently based on the 24th chapter of I Ching “The Return” (or “Turning Point”) as translated below by Richard Wilhelm:

“Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. This is the meaning of heaven and earth. All movements are accomplished in six stages, and the seventh brings return. Thus the winter solstice, with which the decline of the year begins, comes in the seventh month after the summer solstice; so too sunrise comes in the seventh double hour after sunset. Therefore seven is the number of the young light, and it arises when six, the number of the great darkness, is increased by one. In this way the state of rest gives place to movement”

Compare this to the Barrett lyrics:

“A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return.
The seven is the number of the young light.
It forms when darkness is increased by one.
Change returns success,
Going and coming without error.
Action brings good fortune:
Sunset.

“The time is with the month of winter solstice
When the change is due to come.
Thunder in the other course of heaven;
Things cannot be destroyed once and for all.
Change returns success,
Going and coming without error.
Action brings good fortune:
Sunset, sunrise.

“Scarecrow” opens up with some nifty percussive syncopation upon which the melody is overlaid, giving us a short song that’s simple and complex simultaneously.

“Bike” magnificently ends this album with more hazy, dreaming psychedelia based on simple melody and chords effectively arranged and presented.  This is a perfect conclusion to a very different album than anything else in 1967 popular music.

After listening to this album, and looking at the song credits, one might very well conclude that Syd Barrett was the key member of Pink Floyd and without them they would either struggle as a band or be very different and probably not nearly as good. Without getting into the tragedy of Barrett’s behavioral disorders, likely an after-effect of repeated LSD usage, which is covered by numerous resources on the web including Wikipedia and several WordPress blogs (most of which are generally much better written than this one), the band soon dropped an unreliable and unpredictable Syd Barrett from their line-up.  Barrett continued to struggle from the aftermath of chemically-caused neurological damage, subsequently recording two solo albums in 1969, and then more or less becoming a recluse until his death in 2006 at the age of 60. From such a promising first album ensues an heart-sickening tragedy; just another instance of a unconventional, creative genius taken away from us in the turbulent, unpredictable, ever-changing 1960s.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

UK release

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. Astronomy Domine Syd Barrett Syd Barrett and Richard Wright 4:12
2. Lucifer Sam Barrett Barrett 3:07
3. Matilda Mother Barrett Barrett and Wright 3:08
4. Flaming Barrett Barrett 2:46
5. Pow R. Toc H. instrumental 4:26
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk Waters Roger Waters 3:05
Total length: 20:44
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. Interstellar Overdrive
  • Barrett
  • Waters
  • Wright
  • Mason
instrumental 9:41
2. The Gnome Barrett Barrett 2:13
3. Chapter 24 Barrett Barrett 3:42
4. The Scarecrow Barrett Barrett 2:11
5. Bike Barrett Barrett 3:21
Total length: 21:08

US release

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. See Emily Play Barrett Barrett 2:53
2. “Pow R. Toc H.”
  • Barrett
  • Waters
  • Wright
  • Mason
instrumental 4:26
3. “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” Waters Waters 3:05
4. “Lucifer Sam” Barrett Barrett 3:07
5. “Matilda Mother” Barrett Barrett and Wright 3:08
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. “The Scarecrow” Barrett Barrett 2:11
2. “The Gnome” Barrett Barrett 2:13
3. “Chapter 24” Barrett Barrett 3:42
4. “Interstellar Overdrive”
  • Barrett
  • Waters
  • Wright
  • Mason
instrumental 9:41

Personnel

Pink Floyd

Production

  • Syd Barrett – rear cover design
  • Peter Bown – engineering
  • Peter Jenner – intro vocalisations on “Astronomy Domine” (uncredited)
  • Vic Singh – front cover photography
  • Norman Smith – production, vocal and instrumental arrangements, drum roll on “Interstellar Overdrive”[125]

BC.jpg (1181×1200)

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Jimi Hendrix

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

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