Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

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Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Goat Boy » 21 Jan 2015, 18:49

I was 17 when I first heard Piper At The Gates of Dawn. My mother gave me it for Xmas after I read a review in Q magazine that described it as the 'peak of English psychedelia'. Stuart Maconie wrote it and it was one of those very brief reviews Q used to tag onto the end of the review section but he gave it five stars and called it Syd Barretts "magnum opus" and a "queer, sad record that everybody should own". "The peak of English psychedelia".....hmmmmm....I was obsessed with the Beatles at this point and like most of us I guess they seemed particularly brilliant and colourful during their psychedelic so Piper seemed like a logical next step. I'm sure we've all experienced something similar, particularly during your teenage years and early 20s when music can really feel like some mind altering, incandescent, life changing experience but occasionally you hear something that instantly feels like the kind of music you’ve been waiting foryour whole life for. By the time Syd does that sinister chromatic falsetto during the chorus I absolutely fucking knew that this was what I'd been search for. I'd found MY KIND OF SHIT.

Is this first contact with some alien civilisation? Or the recordings of some dead astronaut lost in deep space? "sun sign systems, sun sign systems", the rat-a-tat-tat morse code signals, Masons stiff but perfect drum roll leading into Syds riff (seriously, it's fucking heavy, like proto-metal). His guitar sound is crystalline and diamond hard. And then Syds voice. Fuck. I'd never heard someone so English, his middle class accent and diction sounding genuinely strange, authentic, other. The fucking chorus! What the hell is going on? Who the fuck is this guy?! After the chorus there's this sound that accompanies Syds lonely, chiming guitar. It sounds like fucking solar winds....oh boy.....and then it explodes. The guitar is fucking wild, atonal, beautiful (especially around 2.30secs), Nicks drums are still stiff as fuck (which I love) but it ebbs and flows and builds magnificently. The feverish peak not long after 3 minutes ("blinding signs flap...") is just wonderful and is that hissing noise that follows the sound of my body forcibly blowing gas out my ears so my head doesn’t EXPLODE? It's utterly, utterly perfect. And listen to how good the band sounds here. Considering how sophomoric and middle aged they would soon become in Syds absence, to hear them sound so fucking fresh and alive seems rather incongruous and sad. I mean, it's PINK FUCKING FLOYD but here they are and they actually sound, gulp, young, you know, like teenage 60s acid punks. They're pretty crude as well, only a notch above your average garage band really. When the chorus finally returns it feels like a welcome moment of beatific relief after this level of inspired intensity and it's a beautiful moment. Dare I say it but a lot of music released around this time seems overly formal and almost prissy in comparison.

Lucifer Sam, what a song! How the fuck did it take someone until 1967 to write a song about a cat going on an adventure? This guy writes songs about cats. Genius! Just hearing the lyrics filled me with joy the first time I heard 'em. In many ways it's a straightforward garage rock song but there's also something hugely strange and unsettling throughout that elevates it into something dark and magical. This light and shade, the childlike capriciousness that characterises these wonderful songs is what makes them so damn compelling and it really drips from Lucifer Sam. Especially during that inspired instrumental break - one of my favourites - which sounds like the soundtrack to some nightmare where you're being chased through a forest at night whilst strange animals lurk in the shadows. Jesus, even the maraca sounds sinister. I mean you can hear all this, right?!

Matilda Mother is wonderful and again the light and shade of the music works together here in perfect, uncanny harmony. English psych was obviously full of songs recalling childhood but you don't get some twee, return-to-Eden bullshit with Syd. Like the best adult art that recalls those years it actually remembers how scary and overwhelming childhood could be. With Syds songs you may be transported to the wonderful world of Oz but there's always those damn flying monkeys waiting to scare the shit out of you. Seriously, who the hell did this sorta thing with such thrilling, wide-eyed authenticity as this? This music transports you, it really does.

Flaming starts with the eeriest moment on the album and the song is a pure delight. The way Syd says "yippee!" is marvelous, the silly cuckoo noise (fuck yeah), the fantastically evocative twinkling of bells (?) that accompanies the "watching buttercups cup the light" line and the harmony on "liiiiiight" that makes the song really shiver. The pastoral section around 90 secs is one of the loveliest on the album and Wright really shines here as his organ floats away down stream; his piano solo is especially lovely as well. And what about the melody?! Jesus, we really need to talk about Syds melodies because they are wonderful, beautiful, odd things and yet massively hooky. I mean, they're so earwormy it's unreal. The guy wrote some genius pop songs.

I think I'm probably in a minority who prefers Pow R Toc H to Interstellar Overdrive. I love the vocal effects, Wrights shuffling piano line, the first spooked climax around 2 minutes leading into Syds extended guitar note, slowly building again to the lovely moment around 3 minutes when the weirdness gives way to the extended coda before a final burst of chattering madness at the end. I think it's great and underrated. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk is predictably the weakest song on the album and Rogers Syd aping vocal only goes to show just how dominant Syd was at this stage but after a clunky opening verse some magic happens and they launch into something which I think is technically known in mid 60s parlance as a 'freak out'. Syds guitar playing is, of course, fucking great. Only the Velvets were doing things as similarly out there in '67 and it leaves McGuinns Coltraneisms of the previous year in the fucking dust. You can hear the galvanising effect of Syd on the band here too as they rise to the challenge and you get a real sense of the wildness of their live sound, which was pretty much impossible to capture in all its glory in the studio but there's enough here, and in Interstellar Overdrive of course, to put Townshends disappointed reaction to the album in context I think. And whilst I may prefer Pow R Toc H, Interstellar is still like some psych Mothership and the studio version is The One for me: slower, heavier, more powerful and yeah there are noodly bits there's always something good just around the corner and, fuck it, it's simply a great reverberating, clanging sound built around that central, doomy riff. The fucking Gnome slays me. I mean, it's funny, you know? Rogers waking bass line, Syds irresistible bouncing melody, the vibraphone, the "oooooooooomraaaaay" which sounds like the chant of a depressed Tibetan monk. Fuck yeah. And then one of my favourite moments on the album:

"look at the sky, look at the river, isn't it gooood"

Again, the effortless switch from like to dark. It's heavy man, you can feel the weight of the acid experience right here, like he's receiving some kind of mystical revelation on a midsummers eve and yet it's a song about a fucking gnome :lol: Chapter 24, a personal favourite, is absolutely gorgeous and the "sunset, sunrise..." fade is one of the highlights of the album. If you've ever been lucky enough to experience the gentle rolling beauty of the English countryside then you'll know how perfect this is. I'll always remember traveling down to London on an overnight train when I was 18 and looking out the window and seeing, for the first time, landscapes and villages which were quite different to the ones I grew up with: neat red brick houses, a particular vivid shade of green, the grandfatherly oak trees, a sort of a refined bucolic tranquility. The morning light in particular was special too, like the light in a 70s Spielberg movie. I remember thinking how different it was and how beautiful too. I'm pretty sure the countryside where Syd grew up was magical to him and I think you definitely get a sense of this in Piper. Scarecrow channels a similar feeling of course with its clip clop percussion and stunning sun-disappearing-over-the horizon-fade but there's also something incredibly melancholic about it. I initially thought the bonkers Bike was strange choice to end the album with but with its manic ADHD kids-fucking-about-in-grandmas-attic climax and that infernal duck sound it carries a degree of sad prescience. In that sense it was somehow unknowingly perfect. And that's it folks. I feel exhausted just writing about it. Quite clearly one of THE great debut albums and one of the great rock albums full stop. Wild, strange, queer, beautiful and bursting at the seams with energy, colour and inspiration. It's a singular piece of work. I mean I dig the solo stuff but this, along with the singles of course, absolutely IS the peak of Syd Barrett. And what a peak. Jesus, I'm feeling frail!


And what about those singles, huh?!

Has any songwriter come up with songs this startlingly original and shit fucking hot right off the bat? Arnold Layne and See Emily Play: truly one of the greatest double whammys in pop history. And so fully formed too. The compelling darkness and strangeness that I've mentioned above is all there in Arnold Layne which manages to be both whimsical and creepy. It's a marvel of song. Amazingly they actually bettered it with the follow up which is absolutely one of the high points of 1967. A mad, beautiful, ageless record.

And what about this old thing, the b-side to Arnold Layne...



"Tastes good if you eat it soon!". The man was on fire.

And then there's this:




Which for any Syd fan I'm sure packs a profound emotional wallop. The final verse in particular is especially haunting as art and real life combine to devastating, heartbreaking effect. Poor Syd.

I have mixed feelings about the solo stuff to be honest. I don’t think either Madcap or Barrett are great albums, in fact they're both a bit spotty (Madcap maybe less so) but spread across both there is lots of good and occasionally great things and for any Syd head there is lots to savior: the guitar intro of Baby Lemonade, the lurching No Mans Land, the beauty of Dominoes, Dark Globe and Golden Hair, fucking Wolfpack, the pop brilliance of Gigola Aunt etc. And like I said, some of it, like Late Night, is genuinely great and moving. Maybe this period is slightly overrated though, I dunno. The shadow of his mental illness inevitably casts such a huge shadow that it's impossible to separate the music from the man (and the myth) and for some people I daresay this elevates it somewhat. There is something extremely compelling about this stuff but these aren't the Syd songs I return to the most. Certainly when you listen to something like Rats (just that title alone, jeez) you get the sense that the man actually had big, scary rats scuttling around in the attic of his confused and unique mind. It's a powerful thing for sure but often uncomfortable for me to listen to personally.



Didn't he look beautiful, too huh? Sort of delicate, fragile, pixie like. It makes a difference you know. My first avatar on BCB was Syd by the way. I guess that shows you what he means to me. He'll always be some kind of hero.



Some questions: Apples and Oranges....thoughts?

The unreleased stuff: Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream...great lost tracks?

Favourite song?

Arnold or Emily?
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby pcqgod » 21 Jan 2015, 19:31

I like 'Madcap' at least as much as 'Piper,' though it could be as much for the sheer emotion invested in certain tracks (or alternatively, the alienated "I no longer care about this planet" vibe some of the tracks have), as much as any technical, musical reasons.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Phenomenal Cat » 21 Jan 2015, 22:58

Goat Boy wrote:
Lucifer Sam, what a song! How the fuck did it take someone until 1967 to write a song about a cat going on an adventure? This guy writes songs about cats. Genius!


I never really thought about it, but were I never to hear another Sonic Youth song again, I'd be fine. So long as I have "Lucifer Sam". It's like Pink Floyd and The Velvets created an alternate universe where anything remotely clichéd or 'pat' was instantly discarded. I'm glad the Floyd never lost that sense of daring. I only wish Syd had held it together for just a while longer.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Bent Fabric » 22 Jan 2015, 04:07

Goat Boy wrote:I was 17...some kind of hero.


Hold me.


Some questions: Apples and Oranges....thoughts?

I don't hate it. But, I clearly don't love it in the way that I feel like I should love one of three Syd-era 1967 The Pink Floyd A sides. I mean, Jesus - these things don't grow on trees!

But...I just can't hold it in the same regard as I do that crucial remaining 50 or so minutes of prime gold dust.

The band claim that it was a masterpiece ruined by shitty production. Seems entirely possible - that the chemistry of just a few months earlier would have given way to an unworkable collaborative anarchy seems entirely possible (and yet "Jugband Blues" is gorgeous - maybe some days were better than others). There are perceptively great ideas in there that somehow just fail to land. The bridge and interlude seem like the sort of thing that could have really lifted the song up if executed with full mojo.

The unreleased stuff: Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream...great lost tracks?

I love them. They aren't necessarily "Chapter 24", but...there's something about them.

"Scream..." is demented in the best possible way, and there's something palpably mad about the lyrics as married to that melody and those changes. The Chipmunk effect definitely does what it should.

"Vegetable Man" has its own menace - this sort of garagey heavy metal that, while not necessarily married to his strongest song ever, still evokes a rather compelling emptiness.

They aren't the peak of the enterprise, but I certainly can't live without them. I bought one bootleg after another as a kid, looking for the best sounding versions of these (the fact that they also did them on the BBC adds to the confusion).

I've always dreamed that there was more where this comes from, but..I think we'd all know by now if there were. Inevitably, the 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries of Piper will yield one thing or another...

Favourite song?

The scope of "Astronomy Domine" is pretty hard to beat. It does a LOT with seemingly very little. The changes are beautifully sinister, and I'm always sad when it ends (I could just have easily picked the more fragile likes of "Chapter 24"). It represents some platonic ideal of music to me in much the same way as does...

Arnold or Emily?

..."See Emily Play" - it's like their "She Loves You", "Good Vibrations", "Jailhouse Rock", "Ever Fallen In Love", "I Can See For Miles", "Strawberry Fields Forever", etc. all rolled into one. I just imagine a very real time when this was on the radio and in the charts and it makes me misty eyed with wonder at the possibility in the world. I really wish it had been a signpost, rather than the road closure sign it turned out to be. Undoubtedly, part of my general antipathy towards "brown albums" comes from the very notion that they were somehow considered worthy successors to THIS!

The melody and lyrics are just out of this world gorgeous - those verses really create enormous sympathy for this Emily. The idea that all of this untamed instrumental magic occurs throughout (the intro and solo should be an absolute mess, by all rights, yet to my ears they are perfection) really seems improbable. It's like the opposite of someone like Toto (undoubtedly skilled expert musicians creating absolute nothingness). You can't imagine that these amateurs with what, on the surface, seem like such immature ideas (Rick Wright really seems to be painting himself into a corner throughout 1967) could make such magic. If ever there were an argument for groups being a gestalt and a big bang, as opposed to a merger of great talents. Their talent, such as it was, was in being The Pink Floyd. None of them would have improved another leading band, yet...the Beatles/Who/Motown couldn't do THIS.

"Arnold" is nearly as great, but...what an utterly lofty and rarefied second place we're talking about here. Few people's masterpiece is as massive as The Pink Floyd's runner up.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Quaco » 22 Jan 2015, 07:45

So many great things you guys have said. As for my own thoughts, let them unfold over the next couple days. First of all, though, I want to say that my first version of Piper, the one that I grew up on, ended with "See Emily Play", sequenced after "Bike". Believe me, unless you've heard it, you have no idea how good that sounds!
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Quaco » 22 Jan 2015, 07:49

Arnold Layne - 7/10
See Emily Play - 10/10
Apples and Oranges - 5/10
Vegetable Man - 5/10
Scream Thy Last Scream - 6/10
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby SWIMMING POOL HARRINGTON » 22 Jan 2015, 08:30

and Candy and a Currant Bun?
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Rayge » 22 Jan 2015, 10:44

Goat Boy wrote:If you've ever been lucky enough to experience the gentle rolling beauty of the English countryside then you'll know how perfect this is. I'll always remember traveling down to London on an overnight train when I was 18 and looking out the window and seeing, for the first time, landscapes and villages which were quite different to the ones I grew up with: neat red brick houses, a particular vivid shade of green, the grandfatherly oak trees, a sort of a refined bucolic tranquility. The morning light in particular was special too, like the light in a 70s Spielberg movie. I remember thinking how different it was and how beautiful too.

Wow.
*applause*
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Belle Lettre » 22 Jan 2015, 10:51

The writing on this thread is the best!
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Goat Boy » 22 Jan 2015, 11:37

Quacoan wrote:Arnold Layne - 7/10
See Emily Play - 10/10
Apples and Oranges - 5/10
Vegetable Man - 5/10
Scream Thy Last Scream - 6/10


Absolutely shocking. Hang your head in shame.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby SWIMMING POOL HARRINGTON » 22 Jan 2015, 12:20

Yeah.

But I think I might be the only one here who actually prefers 'Arnold Layne' to 'See Emily Play'.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby fange » 22 Jan 2015, 14:34

No, i reckon i've always enjoyed 'AL' a bit more than 'SEP'. There is something very deceptively simple but extremely powerful about the way it seems to break down and then climb again through each verse/chorus, those repeated switches between the melancholy and exultant. It is magnificent.


And fab opening post, GB.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby trans-chigley express » 22 Jan 2015, 14:46

Great write up on Piper, Goat Boy. Loved the enthusiasm which was so infectious I had to play the album this evening and I haven't played it for years. Quaco's idea of having Emily tagged on at the end is intriguing as I always see Bike as a the right choice for closing the album but perhaps that's down to the fact it also closes Relics which was my gateway album to Floyd and because of that See Emily Play should follow Intersteller Overdrive as that's how it always was for so many years.

I tend to agree that Syd is all about that album and those first two singles. Apples and Oranges is a disappointing third single (Rick Wright's B-side Paintbox is a better song). I've never been a fan of the two solo albums; they're just a bit too unhinged and messy for me with only fleeting moments of what could have been.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Snarfyguy » 22 Jan 2015, 15:51

Goat Boy wrote:Apples and Oranges....thoughts?

I love it unreservedly. To me, it's kind of the apotheosis of the sort of whimsical psych-pop Pink Floyd were purveyors of at the time. Woozy and off-kilter, it retains a certain grace by dint of its melodic quality. The lyrics aren't as interesting as the two previous singles' were, but they're certainly appropriate to the music, which veers into some pleasingly shambolic terrain.

Okay, maybe the quacking is overdoing it a bit, but it's certainly a million times better than "Point Me at the Sky."
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Quaco » 22 Jan 2015, 16:49

Then again, there's also the original U.S. version. True to form and with short attention spans, the Americans put the single first and consigned the instrumental to the end. I've long wanted to try this sequence out:

See Emily Play
Pow R. Toc H.
Take Up They Stethoscope and Walk
Lucifer Sam
Matilda Mother

The Scarecrow
The Gnome
Chapter 24
Interstellar Overdrive
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Quaco » 22 Jan 2015, 16:58

I can't find the quote at the moment, but apparently when the Floyd started talking about making the album, they were going in with mostly these long freakouts for which they had become known on the scene -- "Interstellar Overdrive", "Reaction in G", "Pow R. Toc H." and so on -- and the album was originally going to be more like that. It wasn't until "See Emily Play" became a hit that Barrett was encouraged to write more of that style. This collection of short whimsical ditties that we revere was all written in a very short time -- like, a couple weeks.

On one hand, I can see it -- I can just about picture Syd sitting in his flat writing these things, almost as little Beatles songs, not investing too much in it because it's just pop ditties he's cranking out. On the other hand, the mind boggles at what came out in such a short time.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby sloopjohnc » 22 Jan 2015, 17:28

I was listening to a recent Robyn Hitchcock album and I was thinking to myself, "This is what Syd Barrett might be doing if he didn't do so much acid and freak out."

I'm glad Hitchcock has used Barrett as a continual frame of reference but I think Barrett was way more adventurous, if not skilled, musically.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby The Modernist » 22 Jan 2015, 22:18

C wrote:Yeah.

But I think I might be the only one here who actually prefers 'Arnold Layne' to 'See Emily Play'.


I've always prefered it, as I argued here..in the days when I could be bothered saying more than few lines!

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby SWIMMING POOL HARRINGTON » 22 Jan 2015, 22:40

The G Experience! wrote:
C wrote:Yeah.

But I think I might be the only one here who actually prefers 'Arnold Layne' to 'See Emily Play'.


I've always prefered it, as I argued here..in the days when I could be bothered saying more than few lines!


A couple of lines on the first page and then fuck-all for the next six pages!! As usual it's our American friends who get their teeth into things.

Reading the thread again, I'm struck by how great Feeb and Balboa were as contributors (and not writers, incidentally - I'm tired of people talking about that here - if I want Simon Reynolds I'll go and read Simon fucking Reynolds)
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Syd Barrett

Postby Goat Boy » 22 Jan 2015, 23:22

C wrote:
The G Experience! wrote:
C wrote:Yeah.

But I think I might be the only one here who actually prefers 'Arnold Layne' to 'See Emily Play'.


I've always prefered it, as I argued here..in the days when I could be bothered saying more than few lines!


A couple of lines on the first page and then fuck-all for the next six pages!! As usual it's our American friends who get their teeth into things.

Reading the thread again, I'm struck by how great Feeb and Balboa were as contributors (and not writers, incidentally - I'm tired of people talking about that here - if I want Simon Reynolds I'll go and read Simon fucking Reynolds)


:(
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