Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Psychedelic Rock, Early Prog
11 songs (41:52)
Release year: 1967
Pink Floyd, EMI
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Pink Floyd’s debut rarely gets kudos these days, even though it was the one album from the Prog Gods made under the sole leadership of Syd Barrett. Whether you regard Barrett as a misunderstood genius or a tiresome druggie, the fact remains that he was an important part of the band’s formation, and whilst their later, undeniably classic albums were made without him, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was a distinctly brilliant album. Back in 1967 Prog was but a name on the horizon, and the psychedelic scene created by the likes of The Yardbirds and popularised by The Beatles was in vogue. Along comes a little band called Pink Floyd (earlier names the band went by including The Abdabs, The Screaming Abdabs, Sigma 6 and, of most interest to us, The Meggadeaths!) known chiefly for their live show which featured instrumental and Blues covers, and after recording some songs written by lead vocalist and guitarist Barrett created an album that has subsequently been described as one of the seminal psychedelic rock albums of the 1960s.

It’s tempting to describe just how wacky the album is and draw a correlation between that and Barrett’s increasingly odd behaviour, culminating in his exit from the band and a life of seclusion. The last time any of the members of Pink Floyd saw him was in 1975 during the recording sessions for Wish You Were Here, when he appeared out of the blue, overweight, shaved-headed and completely unrecognisable at first to his former bandmates who were recording Shine On You Crazy Diamond at the time. He spent most of the time jumping up and down whilst brushing his teeth, and when asked for his opinion of his song by the tearful Roger Waters, stunned at his ex-bandmate’s appearance, stated that he didn’t like it and walked out. My own (admittedly amateur) opinion of Barrett tends towards the negative to be honest, yet it’s impossible to avoid how damn upsetting his behaviour must have been to family and friends, and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn proves that there was a talented musician underneath all the nonsense. It is a wacky album, lyrical topics including space, scarecrows, bicycles and gnomes, and bears little in common with the rest of the band’s discography, although fans will recognise it to be the forerunner for their later sounds.

The music itself is hard to sum up. Those of you (and forgive me for the reasonable assumption that it’s a minority of readers) at all experienced with 60s rock will recognise the general style, but the songs themselves are out there to the extreme. Barrett wrote ten out of eleven songs here, and judging from these his mental state was pretty darn whacked even then, yet musically there’s little to criticise. Take The Beatles’ most out-there moments and add a hefty dose of madness, and you get The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the title taken from the oft-forgotten scene in Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind In The Willows where Rat and Mole discover the nature god Pan playing a reed flute. Each song is different and distinctive, with its own meaning and interpretation, although it takes many listens before you begin to recognise the album as anything but a weird psychedelic journey. Opener Astronome Domine has spoken word vocals telling the names of planets, a unique ‘space rock’ vibe and some wonderfully strange guitar playing from Barrett, before Lucifer Sam appears, a twisted early James Bond-esque theme melody having been likened to a more sinister Duane Eddy, and although I could go on, really, paragraphs could be written about each song individually, so deep is the thought process behind them all. The most interesting track here is undoubtedly the nine-minute plus Interstellar Overdrive, a psychedelic instrumental that has been an influence on everyone from Hawkwind to Pearl Jam. It’s almost gleefully strange, the bass line a standard that underpins the increasingly odd guitar, before the whole thing shifts into a space trip (I have no trouble in believing that it was influenced heavily by LSD) that is utterly impossible to describe but which is utterly vital for anyone that listens to music for the experience as much as the songwriting. That it goes straight into The Gnome makes it even better; folk songs about mystical creatures were par for the course in the late 60s, yet somehow Barrett managed to avoid tweeness and fits it into the general insanity rather than giving into hippy nonsense. Not to take away from the shorter tracks like Flaming which are an integral part of the album; neither the Jazz piano of Pow R Toc H nor the Avant-Garde Captain Beefheart-esque Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk are weak tracks.

You have to take The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn as a complete album rather than a collection of songs – few could find the likes of Scarecrow anything other than weird when listened to on its own, yet as part of an album as strange as this it fits in a uniquely deranged way. I hesitate to call this a classic for the simple reason that later Floyd albums are so good they deserve to be in their own category, and whilst this is good it isn’t as stellar as later efforts. Yet if you do enjoy the likes of Dark Side Of The Moon, then there is much to like here, as different as it is. Progressive Rock does owe a huge debt to its psychedelic forefather, and nowhere is that so obvious as here. Whilst few would call this a vital Pink Floyd album, it is an important one, and deserves to be part of any Progger’s collection.

Killing Songs :
Astronome Domine, Lucifer Sam, Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk, Interstellar Overdrive
Goat quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Pink Floyd that we have reviewed:
Pink Floyd - Ummagumma reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Pink Floyd - Soundtrack From The Film More reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
Pink Floyd - A Saucerful Of Secrets reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 100
Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon reviewed by Jeff and quoted CLASSIC
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