Thursday, February 25, 2010

Atom Heart Mother (album)

Atom Heart Mother
Studio recording March-August 1970 
* Released 10 October 1970

Production
Produced by Pink Floyd
Recorded at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London
Engineers: Peter Bown, Alan Parsons
Executive producer: Norman Smith
Special thanks to John Alldis Choir
Cover design & photos by Hipgnosis

Releases
UK: Harvest SHVL 78 (Stereo mix 52.04) Reached #1 on the UK charts
US: Harvest SKAO 382 Reached #55 on the US charts

OVERVIEW
Pink Floyd's first recording in the 70s reflected a new direction for the band. Their first album to be recorded using eight-track tape machines (as opposed to four-track), Atom Heart Mother was also the first to feature a composition which took up an entire album side.

Nick Mason: "We didn't consciously set out to do it, but it became apparent that we'd need at least a side to get it all down. You have, to some extent, to work in album terms which means that a piece can't be longer than forty minutes. Maximum unbroken length is about twenty-three minutes or whatever."

The band's classical pretensions reached new heights as the Atom Heart Mother Suite featured an orchestra with brass and a choir. However, this album did succeed on many levels (albeit intermittently) and was an important step towards the next LP, Meddle.


Details are sketchy on the production of this album, but it appears that writing for the title track began in November or December of 1969, and finished in time for its premiere (under the title The Amazing Pudding) in late January of 1970. The band then went into the studio to record (probably March), and laid down the basic tracks for the Atom Heart Mother Suite before handing the project over to collaborator Ron Geesin and session musicians and leaving for an American tour in May (see the individual song entries for details). Most of the work on the title track was finished by late June, when the piece had its live premiere in its embellished form. Production work continued in July and August, and it was probably during this time that the songs for side two of the album were recorded, before the band left for yet another US tour in September.

The album consisted of two lengthy group compositions sandwiching three songs written by Waters, Wright, and Gilmour respectively. The group compositions, Atom Heart Mother and Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast, were written in a style which was developing a Pink Floyd tradition — that of putting together different ideas from all the band members to create a segmented but linked piece. This method was much more successful with the former than it was with the latter. The album ends up as a bit of a vehicle for Rick Wright, as his song Summer '68, and his keyboard playing on the group compositions, are considered by many to be the highlights of the album. Engineers Peter Bown and Alan Parsons were also stars of this show. Stereo effects are used very creatively throughout the album, especially in the group compositions. Peter Bown had worked with the Floyd before, but the brilliant Alan Parsons (later responsible for so much that was great on Dark Side of the Moon) was new on the scene. They make the album a rewarding listen through headphones.

Not long after the album's release, Nick Mason commented on the growth of the group from the early days to the present, focusing on Atom Heart Mother.

Nick Mason: "The few attempts we made to compromise our public were disastrous. I'm thinking of our early singles which were made as a deliberate attempt to get into the charts. Since those early days we have never trod a particular path but simply zigzagged our way about. For example, we are probably best known at present for our electronic effects but in a few months you will probably be hearing an entirely different side to the group. Atom Heart Mother, our last album, was the beginning of an end. What we'd like to do is get into a position where we have complete control of what we do, based on a different set of values. Get to the point where we don't have to make excuses and blame the record company for things that go wrong. I don't mind admitting that Atom Heart Mother was very rushed — we had to go on an American tour right after that. The LP could have been technically better, but the effect is there and that's very important. The title track was particularly rushed. Generally, we go into the studios not with a plan but with the idea of making an album. Practically the first note becomes part of the finished product. We'd like to think about it longer next time."


Album Package
Hipgnosis, Storm Thorgerson's design company, was once again contracted to do the cover and photos for the LP, and this time they outdid themselves. Storm had the idea to come up with a sleeve design that was "as unpsychedelic as possible, as un-Floyd-like, and completely off the wall." Having heard of Andy Warhol's cow wallpaper, Storm decided to drive through the countryside looking for a cow to photograph. He happened upon a pedigree Frisian by the name of Lulubelle III, and took a superb photo that he (quite correctly) describes as "the ultimate picture of a cow — it's just totally cow." Storm noted that on an album by just any pop band, the photo could "never have carried the weight it carries on a Pink Floyd album. It looked great in the shops when it first came out. It was something completely different, and really did look completely different. Especially 'cause the group decided not to put their name on it, which was quite a risky thing to do at the time. I'm very fond of it."

The back cover features multiple cows, each successively farther away; another great photo. Inside the gatefold was an unremarkable black and white picture of a cow field. It was this album design that inspired the band to name a couple of segments of the Suite after cow motifs.



TRACK LISTING
Atom Heart Mother
If
Summer '68
Fat Old Sun
Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast

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