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Sunday, December 5, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, # 55

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

Pink Floyd

"I've got a bike
You can ride it if you like
It's got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good.
I'd give it to you if I could
But I borrowed it."
    -- Bike, Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd's debut album was the only one based on the vision of founding singer/guitarist Syd Barrett, an art student whose world revolved around music, mysticism, and liberal doses of hallucinogens. The band's moniker was taken from the first names of Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council (an album of theirs was a favourite of Barrett's), and the album's title came from a chapter of Kenneth Grahame's children's classic, The Wind In The Willows (also a staple of Barrett's library).
Recorded at Abbey Road at the same time The Beatles were cutting Sgt. Pepper, Piper is an avant-garde pastiche of trippy improvisation and snappy pop snippets--a blurring of musical borders that went far beyond what the Fab Four were doing a couple of rooms away. (Producer Norman Smith had been The Beatles' chief engineer for much of the early '60s.) Instrumental tours de force like "Pow R. Toc H". and the 9-minute 41-second "Interstellar Overdrive" smashed the conventionality of the pop mainstream by opening up traditional song structures, as bits of Rick Wright's reverb-soaked Farfisa organ and Barrett's scratchy guitar float in and out of the mix. The other side of Barrett's musical expression was an ability to write shorter "pop" songs that were similar to traditional fare only in length--acid-fueled observations of a Siamese cat on "Lucifer Sam", and child-like tales on "The Gnome" and "Bike".  Barrett seemed destined for greatness--that is, until psychedelic drugs got the best of him, and he abandoned the band to bassist Roger Waters and new guitarist David Gilmour. The rest, as they say, is history.

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