Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn  41:58
Studio recording 16 March, 15 April, May-July 1967 

* Released 5 August 1967

Syd Barrett — lead guitar & vocals
Roger Waters — bass guitar & vocals
Rick Wright — Farfisa organ, piano & vocals
Nicky Mason — drums

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, EMI
Produced by Norman Smith
Recording engineer: Peter Bown
Front cover photo: Vic Singh
Rear cover design: Syd Barrett

UK: Columbia SC 6258 (Mono Mix)
UK: Columbia SCX 6157 (Stereo Mix)
Reached #6 in the UK charts
US: Tower ST 5903 (September 1967; the US release omitted 'Astronomy Dominé,' 'Flaming,' and 'Bike' in favor of 'See Emily Play')  Reached #131 in the US charts

The Pink Floyd's first album, whose title was taken from chapter seven of Kenneth Grahame's children's novel The Wind in the Willows, was an important breakthrough in British popular music. The album was seminal in that it introduced such innovations as the wah-wah pedal and the echo box to English pop. Syd was also the first to use the slide guitar in psychedelic music as opposed to blues music. Echo, feedback, and other effects were used extensively on the album, thereby setting the trend for Pink Floyd's recordings long after Syd was gone.

Recording on the album began almost immediately after the band was signed to EMI at the beginning of March 1967, and the first piece recorded was Interstellar Overdrive. Recording continued amidst an intense tour schedule through June and early July. The album was mixed during the rest of July, and released in early August. Producer Norman Smith, engineer for the Beatles up to and including Rubber Soul, carried over from his sessions with George Martin a variety of recording techniques which the Floyd found useful: Syd's voice is extensively double-tracked throughout the album, and Nick's snare drums produced a better low-end sound after having been covered with tea towels.

The band participated in and authorized the mono mix of the album, but had nothing to do with the stereo mix, which unfortunately, but understandably, is the mix in general release.

Syd Barrett: "[The music] all comes straight out of our head and it's not too far out to understand."

Manager Andrew King comments on Syd's way of recording and mixing the album.
Andrew King: "[Syd] was one hundred percent creative, and very hard on himself. He wouldn't do anything unless he thought he was doing it in an artistic way. [During the mixing process, Syd] would throw the levers on the boards up and down apparently at random, making pretty pictures with his hands."

There are many parallels between the careers of the original Fab Four and the Pink quartet partially inspired by them. Roger Waters and Miles tell the story of the meeting of the two groups at Abbey Road.

Roger: "I remember the first sessions we did at Abbey Road on four-track. The Beatles were making 'Sergeant Pepper' in the other studio. At about 5:30 in the afternoon, Ringo, Paul and George came into our studios and we all stood rooted to the spot, excited by it all."

Miles: "It was really extraordinary because the Floyd were so naive. They were saying 'Can you hear me?' because of the soundproof glass, not realizing that the mics were on. It was complete innocence, very touching really. And Paul was patting them on the back, saying they were great and were going to do fine. He wasn't being patronizing; it was almost like the Beatles passing on the mantle — at least some of it — and acknowledging the existence of a new generation of music. In my discussions with him, McCartney had always been convinced that there would be a new synthesis of electronic music and studio techniques and rock 'n' roll. He didn't see the Beatles as being quite the vehicle for that. But the Pink Floyd, he thought, were the very stuff that we'd been talking about."

Beatles archivist Mark Lewisohn suggests that this meeting took place on 21 March. This would explain why John Lennon did not make an appearance, as this was the day of his fabled LSD trip during the making of Sgt Pepper.  

Peter Jenner talked about the effect of working in the same studios as the Beatles: "I'm sure the Beatles were copying what we were doing, just as we were copying what we were hearing down the corridor!"

This is probably unlikely, though, as Sgt Pepper was in its last stages at this point.

Whereas the band's second single was an attempt to duplicate the sound of Arnold Layne, the first album developed its own unique character and sound. Joe Boyd talks about his reaction to Piper, which he would have produced had EMI accepted independent producers.

Joe Boyd: "They eventually worked out their own sound, and I think that certainly Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a great record and really well produced. And... well, I don't listen to that record and think, 'If only I'd been the producer it would have been better.' I don't think that at all. I think Bike is one of the great tracks of all time."

However, few people doubt that Joe would have done a much better job. While Arnold Layne still sounds fresh today, Piper's sound has acquired somewhat of a dated feel.

The album was a very much in-the-studio creation, partially shaped by the editing and overdubs. Roger jokingly implied in an interview for the album with Nick [see below] that some of the overdubs were done without the band's knowledge. Whereas this can be considered an exaggeration, the band certainly had nothing to do with the stereo effects that were added, influencing the sound of the stereo cut of the LP.

Nick Mason: "We would like to think that we're part of the creative half in that we write our own material and don't just record other people's numbers or copy American demo discs. Our album shows part of the Pink Floyd that hasn't been heard yet."

Roger Waters: "There's parts we haven't even heard yet."

Nick: "It's bringing into flower many of the fruits that have remained dormant for so long."

Below are others' reactions to the new album subsequent to its release.

Miles: "Many of the UFO crowd thought that the album did not adequately represent the group's sound... many people were very disappointed in it because, unlike Arnold Layne, it just didn't capture the excitement of the Floyd's live performance."

Rick Wright: "I love listening to it, just to listen to Syd's songs. It's sad in a way as well, because it reminds me of what might have been. I think he could have easily been one of the finest songwriters today."

June Bolan: "[Piper was] very much Syd's baby — and such a wonderful baby."

Mick Rock: "What else could he have done after that? He'd already defined it all. There's nothing ever been done on God's earth like that — that's Art."

Paul McCartney: "[A] knock-out."

Album Package
Compared to later covers, Piper's cover is quite simple. A photograph of the band in full psychedelic dress featured multiple images of each band member, as if the photo had been diffracted through a prism. Over this were the words 'Pink Floyd,' in white. The back cover had a design by Syd Barrett which looks like a silhouette of various figures holding odd objects and throwing their arms out in various directions, creating the net effect of a multi-limbed beast. The song information was printed in white in the centre of the silhouette design. The title of the album and the band members with their instruments were listed across the top.

Astronomy Domine
Lucifer Sam
Matilda Mother
Pow R. Toc H.
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
Interstellar Overdrive
Gnome, The
Chapter 24
Scarecrow, The

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