Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – [Record 121]
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the début album by the English rock band Pink Floyd, and the only one made under founder member Syd Barrett’s leadership. The album, named after the title of chapter seven of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and featuring a kaleidoscopic cover photo taken by Vic Singh, was recorded from February to May 1967. It was produced by Beatles engineer Norman Smith and released in 1967 by EMI Columbia in the United Kingdom and Tower in the United States, in August and October respectively.
The release of the album in the US was timed with the band’s tour of the US. In the UK, no singles were released from the album, but in the US “Flaming” was offered as a single. The US version of the album has a rearranged tracklist, and contains the UK non-album single, “See Emily Play”. Two of the album’s songs, “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive”, became central to the band’s setlist around this period, while other songs were performed only a handful of times.
Since its release, the album has been hailed as one of the best psychedelic rock albums of the 1960s. In 1973, it was packaged with the band’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, and released as A Nice Pair to introduce new fans to the band’s early work after the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. Special limited editions of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn were issued to mark its thirtieth and fortieth anniversaries in 1997 and 2007, respectively, with the latter containing bonus tracks. In 2012, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was voted 347th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
1. Astronomy Domine.
2. Lucifer Sam.
3. Matilda Mother.
5. Pow R. Toc H..
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.
1. Interstellar Overdrive.
2. The Gnome.
3. Chapter 24.
4. The Scarecrow.
Background: Architecture students Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright and art student Syd Barrett had performed under various group names since 1962, and began touring as “The Pink Floyd Sound” in 1965. They turned professional on 1 February 1967 when they signed with EMI, with an advance fee of £5,000. Their first single, a song about a kleptomaniac transvestite titled “Arnold Layne,” was released on 11 March to mild controversy – Radio London refused to air it. About three weeks later the band were introduced to the mainstream media. EMI’s press release claimed that the band were “musical spokesmen for a new movement which involves experimentation in all the arts,” but EMI attempted to put some distance between them and the underground scene from which the band originated by stating that “the Pink Floyd does not know what people mean by psychedelic pop and are not trying to create hallucinatory effects on their audiences.” The band returned to Sound Techniques studio to record their next single, “See Emily Play,” on 18 May. The single was released almost a month later, on 16 June, and reached number six in the charts. Pink Floyd picked up a tabloid reputation for making music for LSD users. The popular broadsheet News of the World printed a story nine days before the album’s recording sessions began, saying that “The Pink Floyd group specialise in ‘psychedelic music’, which is designed to illustrate LSD experiences.” Contrary to this image, only Barrett was known to be taking LSD; authors Ray B. Browne and Pat Browne say he was the “only real drug user in the band”.
Recording: The band’s record deal was relatively poor for the time – a £5,000 advance over five years, low royalties and no free studio time. It did, however, include album development, and unsure of exactly what kind of band they had signed, EMI gave them free rein to record whatever they wanted. They were obliged to record their first album at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London, overseen by producer Norman Smith, a central figure in Pink Floyd’s negotiations with EMI. Balance engineer Pete Bown, who had mentored Smith, helped the album have a unique sound through his experimentation with equipment and recording techniques. Bown, assisted by studio manager David Harris, set up microphones an hour before the sessions began. Bown’s microphone choices were mostly different from those used by Smith to record the Beatles’ EMI sessions. Because of Barrett’s quiet voice, he was placed in a vocal isolation booth to sing his parts. Artificial double tracking (ADT) was used not only on vocals but also on some instruments, to add layers of echo. The album featured an unusually heavy use of echo and reverberation to give it its own unique sound. Much of the reverberation effect came from a set of Elektro-Mess-Technik plate reverberators – customised EMT 140s containing thin metal plates under tension – and the studio’s tiled echo chamber built in 1931.
The album is made up of two different classes of songs: lengthy improvisations from the band’s live performances, and shorter songs that Barrett had written. Barrett’s LSD intake escalated part-way through the album’s recording sessions. Although in his 2005 autobiography Mason recalled the sessions as relatively trouble-free, Smith disagreed, and claimed that Barrett was unresponsive to his suggestions and constructive criticism. In an attempt to build a relationship with the band, Smith played jazz on the piano, while the band joined in. These jam sessions worked well; Waters was apparently helpful, and Wright was “laid-back,” but Smith’s attempts to connect with Barrett were less productive: “with Syd, I eventually realised I was wasting my time.” Smith later admitted that his traditional ideas of music were somewhat at odds with the psychedelic background from which Pink Floyd had come, but nevertheless he managed to “discourage the live ramble” (as band manager Peter Jenner termed it) and guide the band toward producing songs with a more manageable length. Barrett would end up writing eight of the album’s songs and contributing to two instrumentals credited to the whole band, with Waters creating the remaining composition, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” Mason recalled how the album “was recorded in what one might call the old fashioned way: rather quickly. As time went by we started spending longer and longer.”
Recording started on 21 February with six takes of “Matilda Mother” (titled “Matildas Mother”). The following week, on the 27th, the band recorded five takes of “Interstellar Overdrive,” and “Chapter 24”. On 16 March, the band had another go at recording “Interstellar Overdrive” in an attempt to create a shorter version, and “Flaming” (originally titled “Snowing”) which was recorded in one take, with one vocal overdub. On 19 March, six takes of “The Gnome” were recorded. The following day, the band recorded Waters’ “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. On 21 March, the band were invited to watch the Beatles record “Lovely Rita”, the next day the band recorded “The Scarecrow” in one take. The next three tracks (“Astronomy Domine,” “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Pow R. Toc H.”) were worked on extensively between 21 March and 12 April, due to having (or being) lengthy instrumentals. Between 12 and 18 April, the band recorded both “Percy the Rat Catcher,” and a currently unreleased track called “She Was a Millionaire”.
“Percy the Rat Catcher” received overdubs across five studio sessions, and then was mixed in late June. A majority of the album is credited solely to Barrett, with tracks such as “Bike” having been written in late 1966 before the album was started. “Bike” was originally titled “The Bike Song,” and it was recorded on 21 May 1967. Because of Barrett’s increased LSD use during the recording project, by June he looked visibly debilitated.
Release: In June 1967 before the album was released, the single “See Emily Play” was sold as a 7-inch 45 rpm record, with “The Scarecrow” on the B-side, listed as “Scarecrow”. The full album was released on 5 August 1967, including “The Scarecrow”. The album contains whimsical lyrics about space, scarecrows, gnomes, bicycles and fairy tales, along with psychedelic instrumental music. Pink Floyd continued to perform at the UFO Club, drawing huge crowds, but Barrett’s deterioration caused them serious concern. The band initially hoped that his erratic behaviour was a phase that would pass, but others, including manager Peter Jenner and his secretary June Child, were more realistic:
“… I found him in the dressing room and he was so … gone. Roger Waters and I got him on his feet, we got him out to the stage … and of course the audience went spare because they loved him. The band started to play and Syd just stood there. He had his guitar around his neck and his arms just hanging down.” —June Child.
To the band’s consternation, they were forced to cancel their appearance at the prestigious National Jazz and Blues Festival, informing the music press that Barrett was suffering from nervous exhaustion. Jenner and Waters arranged for Barrett to see a psychiatrist – a meeting he did not attend. He was sent to relax in the sun on the Spanish island of Formentera with Waters and Sam Hutt (a doctor well-established in the underground music scene), but this led to no visible improvement.
The original UK LP (with a monaural mix) was released on 5 August 1967, and one month later it was released in stereophonic mix. It reached number six on the UK charts. The Canadian LP had the same title and track listing as the UK version. The original US album appeared on the Tower division of Capitol on 26 October 1967. This version was officially titled simply Pink Floyd, though the original album title did appear on the back cover as on the UK issue. The US album featured an abbreviated track listing, and reached number 131 on the Billboard charts. A UK single, “See Emily Play,” was substituted for “Astronomy Domine,” “Flaming” and “Bike”. Released in time for the band’s US tour, “Flaming” was released as a single, backed with “The Gnome”. The Tower issue of the album also faded out “Interstellar Overdrive” and broke up the segue into “The Gnome” to fit the re-sequencing of the songs. Later US issues on compact disc had the same title and track list as the UK version. The album was certified Gold in the US on 11 March 1994.
About being handled on Tower, Jenner commented that: “In terms of the U.K. and Europe it was always fine. America was always difficult. Capitol couldn’t see it. You know, ‘What is this latest bit of rubbish from England? Oh Christ, it’ll give us more grief, so we’ll put it out on Tower Records’, which was a subsidiary of Capitol Records […] It was a very cheapskate operation and it was the beginning of endless problems The Floyd had with Capitol. It started off bad and went on being bad.”
Packaging: Up-and-coming society photographer Vic Singh was hired to photograph the band for the album cover. Singh shared a studio with photographer David Bailey, and he was friends with Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Singh asked Jenner and King to dress the band in the brightest clothes they could find. Once the band had been relaxed with several joints, he shot them with a prism lens that Harrison had given him. The cover was meant to resemble an LSD trip, a style that was favoured at the time.
Barrett came up with the album title The Piper at the Gates of Dawn; the album was originally titled Projection, up to as late as July 1967. The title was taken from the title of chapter seven of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows which contains a visionary encounter with the god Pan, who plays his pan pipe at dawn. It was one of Barrett’s favourite books, and he often gave friends the impression that he was Pan, that he was the Piper. The moniker was later used in the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” in which Barrett is called “you Piper.”
Reception: At the time of release, the album was received positively, and the record is now recognised as one of the seminal psychedelic rock albums of the 1960s. In 1967, both Record Mirror and NME gave the album four stars out of five. Record Mirror commented that “the psychedelic image of the group really comes to life on this LP, which is a fine showcase for both their talent and the recording technique. Plenty of mindblowing sound.” Cash Box called it a “a particularly striking collection of driving, up-to-date rock ventures.” Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd’s past producer Joe Boyd both rated the album highly. Some voiced the opinion of the underground fans, by suggesting that the album did not reflect the band’s live performances.
In recent years the album has gained even more recognition. The album is hailed not only as a psychedelic masterpiece but LSD is named as a direct influence. In 1999 Rolling Stone magazine gave the album 4.5 stars out of 5, calling it “the golden achievement of Syd Barrett.” Q magazine described the album as “indispensable,” and included it in their list of the best psychedelic albums ever. It was also ranked 40th in Mojo magazine’s “The 50 Most Out There Albums of All Time” list. In 2000 Q magazine placed The Piper at the Gates of Dawn at number 55 in its list of the 100 greatest British albums ever. In 2012, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was voted 347th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums ever. Professor James E. Perone says that Piper became known as a concept album in later years, because listeners wanted to play it all the way through rather than pick out a favorite song. Beatles biographer Philip Norman agrees that Piper is a concept album. However, other authors say that Pink Floyd did not start making concept albums until 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Author George Reisch called Pink Floyd the “undisputed” kings of the concept album, but only starting from Dark Side.
Reissues: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was reissued in the UK in 1979 as a stereo vinyl album, and on CD in the UK and US in 1985. A digitally remastered stereo CD, with new artwork, was released in the US in 1994, and in 1997 limited edition 30th anniversary mono editions were released in the UK, on CD and vinyl.[nb 16] These limited editions were in a hefty digipak with 3-D box art for continental Europe and the world outside the United States. This mono CD included a slightly edited version of “Flaming”. A six-track bonus CD, 1967: The First Three Singles, was given away alongside the 1997 30th-anniversary edition of the album.
In 1973, the album, along with A Saucerful of Secrets, was released as a double album set on Capitol/EMI’s Harvest Records label, titled A Nice Pair to introduce fans to the band’s early work after the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. (On the American version of that compilation, the original four-minute studio version of “Astronomy Domine” was replaced with the eight-minute live version found on Ummagumma.) The American edition of A Nice Pair also failed to properly restore the segue between “Interstellar Overdrive” and “The Gnome.”
For the 40th anniversary, a two-disc edition was released on 4 September 2007, and a three-disc set was released on 11 September 2007. The packaging – designed by Storm Thorgerson – resembles a cloth-covered book, along with a twelve-page reproduction of a Syd Barrett notebook. Discs one and two contain the full album in its original mono mix (disc one), as well as the alternate stereo version (disc two). Both have been newly remastered by James Guthrie. The third disc includes several Piper-era outtakes from the Abbey Road vaults, along with the band’s first three mono singles. Unreleased material includes an alternate, shorter take of “Interstellar Overdrive” that was previously thought lost, the pre-overdubbed abridged mix of “Interstellar Overdrive” previously only available on an EP in France, an alternative mix of “Matilda Mother” as it appeared early in the sessions and also the 1967 stereo mix of “Apples and Oranges,” which features extra untrimmed material at the beginning and end.
Piper was remastered and re-released on 26 September 2011 as part of the Why Pink Floyd…? re-release campaign. It is available in this format as either a stand-alone album, or as part of the Why Pink Floyd … ? Discovery box set, along with the 13 other studio albums and a new colour booklet.
Live performances: Although there was never an official tour of the album, the band gigged in the UK to promote the album. They played dates in Ireland and Scandinavia, and in late October the band was to embark on their first tour of the United States. It was unsuccessful, mainly because of the mental breakdown of Barrett. In his capacity as tour manager Andrew King travelled to New York to begin preparations, but he ran into serious problems. Visas had not arrived, prompting the cancellation of the first six dates. The band finally flew across the Atlantic on 1 November, but work permits were not yet obtained, so they settled into a hotel in Sausalito, California, just north of San Francisco. Elektra Records had turned Pink Floyd down, and so the band were by default handled by EMI’s sister company, Capitol, which assigned them to their subsidiary, Tower Records. Tower released a truncated version of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn on 21 October 1967. After a number of cancellations, the first US performance was given 4 November at Winterland Ballroom, following Janis Joplin fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company.
For the American tour, many numbers such as “Flaming” and “The Gnome” were dropped, while others such as “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” remained, and were central to the band’s setlist during this period, often performed as encores until around 1971. “Astronomy Domine” was later included on the live disc of Ummagumma, and adopted by the post-Waters Pink Floyd during the 1994 Division Bell tour, with a version included on the 1995 live album Pulse. David Gilmour resurrected “Astronomy Domine” for his On an Island tour.
Communication between company and band was almost non-existent, and Pink Floyd’s relationship with Tower and Capitol was therefore poor. Barrett’s mental condition mirrored the problems that King encountered; when the band performed at Winterland, he detuned his guitar during “Interstellar Overdrive” until the strings fell off. His odd behaviour grew worse in subsequent performances, and during a television recording for The Pat Boone Show he confounded the director by lip-syncing “Apples and Oranges” perfectly during the rehearsal, and then standing motionless during the take. King quickly curtailed the band’s US visit, sending them home on the next flight.
Shortly after their return from the US, beginning 14 November, the band supported Jimi Hendrix on a tour of England, but on one occasion Barrett failed to turn up and they were forced to replace him with singer/guitarist David O’List borrowed from the opening band the Nice. Barrett’s depression worsened the longer the tour continued. Longtime Pink Floyd psychedelic lighting designer Peter Wynne-Willson left at the end of the Hendrix tour, though he sympathised with Barrett, whose position as frontman was increasingly insecure. Wynne-Willson, who had worked for a percentage, was replaced by his assistant John Marsh who collected a lesser wage. Pink Floyd released “Apples and Oranges” (recorded prior to the US tour on 26 and 27 October), but for the rest of the band Barrett’s condition had reached a crisis point, and they responded by adding a new member to their line-up.
Tracks 8–11 on the UK album edition were played the least during live performances. The success of “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne” meant that the band were forced to perform some of their singles for a limited period in 1967, but they were eventually dropped after Barrett left the band. “Flaming” and “Pow R. Toc H.” were also played regularly by the post-Barrett Pink Floyd in 1968, even though these songs were in complete contrast to the band’s other works at this time. Some of the songs from Piper would be reworked and rearranged for The Man and The Journey live show in 1969 (“The Pink Jungle” was taken from “Pow R. Toc H.”, and part of “Interstellar Overdrive” was used for “The Labyrinths of Auximines”).
Beginning in September 1967, the band played several new compositions. These included “One in a Million”, “Scream Thy Last Scream”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “Reaction in G”, the latter of which was a song created by the band in reaction to crowds asking for their hit singles “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne”.