Genre: Space Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Preceded by: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
Followed by: More (1969)
Related to: not available yet
Before: a psychedelic rock band fronted by Syd Barett, having released a couple of successful singles and a more than decent debut album. After: an ambitious rock act, featuring David Gilmour and packed with ever growing ambitions. Struggling with exuberance before, turning vinyl into gold afterwards and threatened to end up in its own shadow towards the end. This is a key album, the only album with Barett as well as Gilmour, a personal favorite, but above all: a beautiful Floyd album, merging great melodies with foggy instrumental parts without drowning in its own sound. As if the title could already foresee what would happen during the early seventies, this would remain the best preserved secret of the band.
Although Roger Waters went to the same high school as Syd Barett, and although Gilmour was hanging around in his neighborhood, he laid down the ground works for Pink Floyd together with Nick Mason and Richard Wright after they met (1962) at the school of architecture. Together with three other guys they played in a band named ‘Sigma 6’. As was made clear later, Waters was already not such a great fan of schools back then and he dropped out after one year, just like Mason. Wright apparently just didn’t show any interest at all in architecture and switched to the London College of Music. Not a bad decision at all, as was also made clear later.
The three of them initially kept playing together, till they are joined by Syd Barett (1964) after the departure of some other members. The younger childhood friend from Waters had meanwhile become an art student, fascinated by work from The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Barett’s star within the band quickly rises, as singer as well as lead guitarist, and when the band starts to grow towards its definite form, it changes its name to The Pink Floyd Sound in 1965. The Sound is dropped the next year and the four of them start performing in London’s underground clubs, where their long instrumental improvisations (avoiding to repeat themselves with their limited repertoire) were supported by surreal light effects. It was told that this new band played psychedelic music, which was not at all generally appreciated. Luckily for them, 1967 was within reach.
The rock scene turned upside down right from the start of this year by the massive booming of psychedelic bands, and on the very day the Monterey Pop Festival kicks off on the American West Coast, Pink Floyd releases its second (after ‘Arnold Layne’) single: ‘See Emily Play’. The debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn follows in August, being successful in their home country. The support tour in the US however is no success at all, due to many practical troubles and the mental downfall of Barett, set in already during the recordings of Piper. Nevertheless, the band would ultimately play at San Francisco’s famous Winterland in November, after Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company.
On their return in the UK in December, Barett’s state of mind has further deteriorated and the band decides to add a fifth band member in case Barett can no longer perform properly: David Gilmour. He would initially become the second guitarist while Barett would stay connected with the band as non-performing songwriter, Brian Wilson-style. However, Barett left the band permanently in March and the four of them remained. Lots of material for the second album was already recorded at that point, resulting in A Saucerful of Secrets being the only Floyd-album with Waters, Gilmour, Mason, Wright ánd Barett.
With Barett gone as the bands main songwriter, the time had come for Waters to take things over. As this new Supreme Being he opens the album with ‘Let There Be More Light’. This track immediately draws your attention to the album, with an opening bass riff that originated from ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ but sounds (especially with the adding of the threatening organ in the background) like an anachronistic piece of techno music from the late sixties. However, when the drums fall in, you know you’re somewhere up high, lost in the cosmos and in the middle of this ultimate space rock song. The lyrics and music reveal that Waters is still inspired by Barett (and, apparently, some concept album by The Beatles; For there revealed in glowing robes – Was Lucy in the sky?) during his early songwriting, while new member Gilmour is also introduced. He takes on the lead vocals during the chorus and more important, he plays his first Floyd solo towards the end of the song, in that characteristic style we would get used to later on.
It’s up to the other new songwriter next, Richard Wright, presenting a song that was an outtake from Piper: ‘Remember a Day’. As we are used from him, the lyrics mainly deal with childhood memories, but because of the albums’ context it feels like we’re looking down from above to witness those young children playing. Might sound mellow or even poppy at first, but as a matter of fact it’s a real showcase for the drums (ironically played by producer Norman Smith instead of Mason on this track), giving this song a haunting groove from the moment they set in. That’s why Wright basically doesn’t need any guitars here, with Gilmour also being absent (Barett would have played acoustic and slide guitar but it’s barely noticeable). Great song.
The third song was the first one that was recorded for the album: ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’. This is the only Floyd song on which all five members play, although the guitars are quite overruled by drums and organ again. However, there’s only one guy completely defining this song: writer Roger Waters. Of course there’s the awesome bass playing, proving that it’s possible to create an entire song with this instrument as long as the guy who plays it is haughty enough to believe it. But the secret power of this song is without any doubt Water’s threatening whispering, in a style Thom Yorke would later apply to some Radiohead songs.
It’s followed by another Waters song, closing side one: ‘Corporal Clegg’. As the title already might presume, it’s also his first of many song dealing with war (inspired by Waters’ father, who died during World War II). The lyrics tell about this Corporal Clegg, a soldier suffering from shell-shock and losing his leg, while the music drenches the song in sarcasm by using a kazoo (played by Gilmour and once invented by… Thaddeus Von Clegg) in the second part. And in fact, apart from the solo on the opening track, this is the first song on which the guitar really shines.
Side two opens with the title track, a twelve minutes lasting instrumental that was compiled from several separate pieces, composed by Waters, Wright, Gilmour and Mason. According to Waters, it’s the musical translation of a battlefield, including the setup, the actual battle, the view of the dead afterwards and, in the end, the mourning. Again, it are the drums and the piano (+organ) that claim the leading role here. Nick Mason even shows that the drums can perfectly take over the role of the guitar when it comes down to soloing, if this instrument is played brilliantly. Meanwhile, Wright pounds the keys out of his piano with his fists, as can be seen on the legendary Pompeii recording. Some minutes later he switches to his church organ, and creates this mystical atmosphere on a part that might be considered a dress rehearsal for ‘Echoes’. To sum up: listening this song evokes more subterranean imagery than successively watching the entire Indiana Jones collection.
Over to Wright’s second contribution then, lyrically not differing very much from the first one. If one track must be called the least one on this album, it must perhaps be ‘See-Saw’. It sounds kind of peaceful all along and surely can help you falling asleep quietly, and maybe that’s why it was called ‘The Most Boring Song I’ve Ever Heard Bar Two’ on the recording sheet. Throughout the entire song you can ask yourself whether if it’s a charming dream or a sad condolence.
The final secret to discover is ‘Jugband Blues’, the only song out there written and sung by Barett. It was already recorded before Floyd’s trip to the US and Barett must already have known that he would soon (have to) leave the band. The Salvation Army band was added on his insistence, and initially he just wanted them to play whatever they wanted, independent from the rest of the group. Was he maybe inspired by Dylan’s opening track on Blonde on Blonde or is it a little naïve to presume that there still was some memory left at that point? Whatever the answer might be, if there was ever made a song that literally translates somebody’s mental state of mind into music, it must be this one, displaying total schizophrenia between lyrics and instrumentation. That’s why it deserves its spot on this album as a worthy clincher, with Barett seeming to drench his goodbye speech to the group in black humor and irony: I don’t care if the sun don’t shine, I’ll do my loving in the winter.
Altough Barett is represented by only one song on A Saucerful of Secrets, his songwriting still echoed in the first experiments of Waters and Wright. In this way they didn’t break completely with the band’s roots, something that would more or less happen on following albums. This new approach is already announced by the title track, which was a collaboration between the four members who would form the band from now on. That band would exceed their limits in many ways during the following years, but on almost every next album you can find something that points back to A Saucerful of Secrets. Enjoy.
North-America during the late eighties: many punk influenced high school bands are trying to make their own respectable music which was later called ‘alternative rock’, characterizing the pop climate of that time. Many were as short-lived as their songs and if they were lucky, they left us one good album. Lemonheads (Boston) had theirs with this one and it would never become much better afterwards (with several line-ups). Acoustic and electric guitar dance well together on this track.
To the more recent past with another trio, from the flowering Canadian indie rock scene in the beginning of the new century. Apostle of Hustle was founded by Broken Social Scene guitarist Andrew Whiteman, during the recordings of their own album You Forgot It in People. His personal folkloric feel didn’t fit on this album, but thank God he didn’t waste it but threw it on another great record instead.
First single from their second (really) album, which (just like its contemporaries, the self-eponymous debut and Curtains) I used to appreciate a few years ago. Started to repeat themselves at a certain point, although this was well intended in some cases.
Always a tough one to pick the strongest Doors album out of these five gems (disregarding The Soft Parade and the post-Morrison period). The first two (obviously) contain the band’s most original sound, Morrison Hotel probably is the rawest and hardest one, while LA Woman has that legendary gloom around it. But this one might have the best songs, like ‘Not to Touch the Earth’, ‘Spanish Caravan’ and closing song ‘Five to One’. This one is another interesting odd one, with Morrison acting as the high priest of a mendacious cult.
The story of the notorious Wilburys might meanwhile be well known. This track was mainly written by Tom Petty, but especially captivates when Orbison shines during the bridge.
Played the life out of this great (second) album last year. The band tributed it to Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld (an important temporary representative of the homonymous art movement) and Blind Willie McTell, who was honored another time by Jack White more recently, on his last solo album Lazaretto with his interpretation of McTell’s classic ‘Three Women Blues’.
Singer of another great band from the 21st century, who also released some solo work afterwards (‘with their blessing’). This was his debut (and only) album, which is as reverting to the recent past (‘The Gloaming’ more specifically on this track) as predicting some later work with his band. However, in the end it’s above all Yorke without the rest, which keeps you hungry for those characteristic Kid A / Amnesiac grooves.
Easy listening closing track from the band’s twelfth album. Not a great lover anymore, although it remains difficult to not sing along with tracks like ‘Keeps me Wondering Why’ and ‘Cool Magic’.
One of Simon’s best known compositions (from their marvelous third album), written in an era when it was no option to post a picture of yourself waiting in a train station, to make clear to other people that you’re actually waiting in a train station. All you could do was, well, wait, and (if you were a genius) write a great song about it.
Certainly daring, but not the band’s strongest album. This track however can delight me now and then.
Debut album from so-called Canadian supergroup (Mercer, Bejar and Krug). Krug provided the album title by describing its sound as ‘a boar dying in a tar pit’, which is also a way of saying that it’s not quite as good as the music they produced earlier with their respective bands. They released a second album in 2009, but their debut didn’t convince me to obtain that one.
Many words were written about the true identity of Doctor Robert, who according to Sir Paul ‘kept New York high’. Apparently, it was not at all John Lennon, Robert MacPhail or Bob Dylan, but dr. Robert Freymann, the New York doc who provided the wealthy ‘Upper East Siders’ with vitamin shots including amphetamins.
From the seventh Pearl Jam, that was released after a one year sabbatical (following the death of 9 fans at the Roskilde festival). Keyboards player Kenneth Gaspar made his entrance on this album, and most notably on this track. Adding a keyboards player was part of Pearl Jam being open to new things, which apparently also included having an opinion about things, instead of concentrating on the writing of exceedingly strong songs.
One of those numerous gems on this absolute classic. The track is sung by Simon together with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose singer Joseph Shabalala co-wrote the song with Simon. Mister Shabalala came up with the music, which he lent from a traditional Zulu wedding tune, and the Zulu lyrics, while Mister Simon delivered the English lyrics.
Another one from 2002, this debut album from Portland’s finest band, entirely written by singer Colin Meloy. It was a pleasant first acquaintance with the band for me, and meanwhile I’ve become fan of later work, for example Picaresque that was released three years later. Besides Meloy’s affairs with the band, he also proceeds with a solo career by covering songs from his musical heroes like Morrissey and Sam Cooke.
More music from the 21st century, this opening song from Fistful of Mercy’s only album. Another example of a so-called super group, consisting of Joseph Arthur, Dhani Harrison, Ben Harper and… Jim Keltner on drums! Keltner earlier played on solo-albums from John Lennon, Ringo Starr as well as Harrison’s father, and would even provide the drums on both Traveling Wilburys albums as Buster Sidebury. This is the most noteworthy fact about this album, that above all contains lots of embarrassing failures.
From the same era, with a gem from one its greatest pop albums, created after the temporary departure of guitarist Deakin. Not that he’s a bad guitar player, but it obliged the group to renew their sound once more. An average band would perhaps replace the man, but inspired by Panda Bear’s genius’ Person Pitch, Animal Collective chose to replace the instrument.
Debut album from this obstinate band, on which absurdity is permanently lurking, musically as well as lyrically.
Great recording from one of rock’s most notorious concerts, at the Manchester Free Trade Hall during Dylan’s 1966 world tour (falsely attributed to the Royal Albert Hall). This classic from Highway 61 Revisited is to be found on side 2, with Dylan playing electrically together with The Hawks.
Closing in style with more recent work, although there’s clearly a veteran involved this time. Love This Giant was a collaboration between former Talking Heads guru David Byrne with art rock woman St. Vincent (Oklahoma). Most hit sensitive song on the album.
Opening track from Fanclub’s third album, which became one of the absolute indie-singles from that decade. The Scots succeeded to blend Elvis Costello’s melodic sound with the heavy guitars from Sonic Youth on this album, and this song in particular (with great instrumental outro) even reminds of Neil Young with Crazy Horse.
Staying in the early nineties with Rev’s second album during the psychedelic Baker years: a little less conventional and therefore just a little more interesting at the first sight. This one also features an instrumental intro, but less straightforward and with mysticism added by some bells.
Another two year jump, to end up with the Pumpkins’ third album, the famous double one. Now this absolutely is one of the best albums the nineties brought us, freely combining deafening guitars with hit sensitive compositions without boring a single moment (remember it’s a double album, length: 121’49”). Due to internal struggles they quickly degraded to a cult band and subsequently a nostalgia act with several, mediocre line-ups, but this album will never devaluate.
Talking about outros, probably one of the most famous ones of all time. Originally a single from 1968 (B-sided by ‘Revolution’), this is the remixed version by George and Giles Martin. The best version perhaps was the one during the 2012 Olympics, not during the ceremony but together with the velodrome crowd during track cycling.
Cave was still searching for the sound he wanted after four earlier albums and I guess Tender Prey still didn’t meet his expectations, although it has some good tracks on it. The album was recorded in West-Berlin’s Hansa Tonstudio, where Bowie recorded “Heroes” earlier.
Stones classic that was revised by Indian sitar player Ananda Shankar, nephew from Ravi. Shankar was inspired by some great Western rock classics thanks to his stay on the American Westcoast during the late sixties, and it must still be a compliment for Jagger and Richards to hear Shankar’s version of their song, as the composition proves that vocals are even unnecessary.
Back to the nineties, but only for a Little While of course.
Most hit sensitive song from this album, and therefore resembling later wrought up bands like Green Day, Foo Fighters and, yes, Nickelback. Just like all other songs on the record, it was written by singer/guitarist Bob Mould, who succeeded to release even uglier album artwork with Sugar than with his earlier band Hüsker Dü.
Just like ‘We Can Work it Out’ and ‘A Day In the Life’, a great example of the symbiosis of McCartney (“It’s getting better all the time”) and Lennon (“Can’t get no worse”).
Even from Queen we are offered the rather scarce 90’s material. From the final real album featuring Mercury, one that combines some top songs with several fillers and a couple of embarrassing flaws. This one belongs to the second category.
Starting this little trip through rock history with young Riley Ben King, a former cotton cropper and recreational gospel singer from Mississippi who turned into the number one Blues Boy from Memphis, Tennesee. King was 39 when he went to Chicago to play the Regal Theatre, packed with a dozen hit singles about desire and sorrow and his Lucille. The recordings became one of rock’s finest live albums. Someday baby Oh…someday baby.
One of the disappointing albums Oldfield released after his experimental breakthrough with Tubular Bells in 1973. After nine years of doubt during which he released five more albums, Oldfield finally decides to turn away from long symphonic compositions on side 2 of this album. Not yet ready for poppy excesses like ‘Moonlight Shadow’ on the next album, Oldfield and Reilly still sing their vocals trough a vocoder on this one to give it the experimental feel.
Back to the live stage with this album from Kraftwerk, collecting many shows from the band’s world tour in 2004. The increased tempo gave the legendary songs an even more modern sound, as this song originally appeared on 1978’s all-time classic The Man-Machine. Back then Kraftwerk already sketched us this image of the human being that has become one with his machine, although our new hands weren’t called Iphones yet.
It took some time for Jeff Lynne to establish exactly the sound he had in mind when The Move fell apart, but after searching for three years during the early seventies, he was at full speed. Just when disco was getting ready to conquer the world, Lynne knew how he wanted to rediscover McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ string sections and launched three successful symphonic albums in a row: Eldorado (1974), Face the Music (1975) and A New World Record (1976). For the following album he only needed a couple of weeks in a Swiss chalet, on which this is the opening song of side three: ‘Concerto for a Rainy Day’.
More live music with this classic from Neil Young, from the Rust Never Sleeps tour. Young performed this tour together with Crazy Horse, and that’s why this track obviously couldn’t be lacking on the setlists. The original is of course to be found on 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, on which Crazy Horse established its fame as Young’s legendary backing band. This was mainly due to producer David Briggs, who just like Neil (and contrary to Jack Nitschze, producer of Young’s debut) loved the raw live sound that defines that album.
Penultimate track on Björk’s fourth studio album, the first intense collaboration with producer Mark Bell, who produced among others this song about the primal drift to make tabula rasa of your environment. Remarkable is the unorthodox combination of classical string sections with electronic beats, characterizing the whole album and referring to the raw (natural) as well as the computed (hi-tech) side of Iceland.
Lennon song that finally gave the world a clue about McCartney being the walrus or not. Also the first track on the White Album with Starr on drums, as McCartney played the drums on both his own ‘Back in the USSR’ and Lennon’s ‘Dear Prudence’.
In fact the only Stripes album I did not play the life out the past year. As the folkish intro of this song already indicates, Jack White moves away a bit from collecting all the best electric riff-based songs he wrote (Elephant!) and tries out another range of instruments and rhythms.
Absolute gem, from an absolute must-have album. Listening the lyrics closely already suffices to admire this epic piece of music, that acquired its definite fame thanks to numerous legendary live versions, as the traditional closer of every performance.
Closing with a fourth live track, not from the original release that contained only nine (adjusted) tracks from the movie, but from the 1999-release, including all sixteen songs. The band once performed live for the first time as a support act for the Ramones, but that was about the last time that the paths of Talking Heads and punk would cross, after being noticed by Brian Eno. Just when the paths of Byrne/Eno and the Tom Tom Club also seemed to diverge, this movie from Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme was released.
Second track on rock’s all time best album. Written of course by Reed, about his main concern around that time. Blueprint for lots of garage rock songs to follow by numerous bands, thanks to Tucker’s forceful drums and the pounding piano playing by John Cale.
Song from DeVotchKa’s fourth album. The band from Denver was named after the Russian word for ‘girl’ and acquired most of its fame with contributions to movie soundtracks like this album’s title track. I suspect the Greek bouzouki of being the stringed instrument returning throughout the entire song.
A muscular guitar part opens this next song, that sounds like something from Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR at first, but surprisingly proves to be a song that was written by Badly Drawn Boy. It stands on British music project UNKLE’s debut album, dominated by DJ Shadow’s production (who left the ‘band’ after this album). Other collaborating artists on this album include Thom Yorke and Metallica’s Jason Newsted.
A little joke from the shuffle, serving another song by Briton Damon Gough. Six years later he became a moderately successful solo artist and released his fourth album. Certainly not as solid as his debut album, but containing a couple of reasonable tracks like this one. Reminds of Jethro Tull, thanks to the nervous flute intermezzos.
Not the first time we meet this one.
Absolute masterpiece, later covered by Primal Scream (in which mood does somebody decide to cover this song?), defined by Tommy Hall’s electric jug. Recommended for when sitting behind the wheel, without even having to drive the vehicule.
Probably the most sunny sound from a British band ever, including some delightful Westcoast choirs and an intro that must have inspired some Fleet Foxes. Second album from the band, entirely recorded during the Summer of Love and featuring an apposite album cover.
Some blues gospel that didn’t save on orchestration. Strings and horns are all over the place in this track containing a certain amount of criticism on the Vietnam War.
This incredible funky guitar intro will probably never bore me. Did we have blues mixed with some gospel and symphonic orchestration on the previous track, now the blues is injected with a satisfying dose of psychedelia. The perfect album opener?
Third album from this Welsh rock band, released at the end of the previous century and a lost item in my collection. Somehow sounds like Elvis Costello under lots of stress. Till next time.