What’s So Great About ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’?

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Released in the summer of 1967, Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn invented a new language that was probably the first of its kind to represent a distinctive and radical break, musically, from the past for the post war generation of young Brits. Prior to hitting the recording studio, the group were already making a name for themselves as one of the leading lights in the London counter-cultural and underground scene of the time. Their gigs at the Marquee, Roundhouse and UFO is the stuff of legend.

The band were the first in Britain to merge electronic effects, elongated jams and light shows into their performances which reflected the personality of band member Syd Barrett. In fact the influence of Barrett on the bands highly original and distinctive work illustrative of Piper and their follow up, A Saucerful of Secrets, cannot be overstated. Pink Floyd were the flag wavers for a new and distinctive unifying variation of the San Francisco psychedelic acid rock scene.

The original group proper that emerged from the ashes of the Barrret and Gilmour folk duo of 1964, comprised Syd Barrett on vocals and guitar, Roger Waters on Bass and vocals, Richard Wright on organ, piano and vocals and Nick Mason on drums. All four were accomplished virtuoso musicians in their own right.

The album opens with.Astronomy Domine whose intermittent radio signal and hissing and throbbing guitar sounds must of sounded as extraordinary to young people when they first heard it as the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen did to the British punk generation. This track took psychedelia to a new level where anything and everything seemed possible. With their long and vast notes, Wright and Mason, invented a new style of accompaniment in which eccentric lyricism and space-rock instrumentals coexist.

The guitar sound on Lucifer Sam creates an atmosphere of panic and alienation and the feeling is replicated in the ballad Matilda Mother. The collage of sound effects that permeates Flaming is executed in the style of vaudeville, while Pow R.Toc H is an instrumental with a tribal beat underscored by classical piano that morphs into a sound that’s simultaneously celestial and manic.

Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk is a magnificent orgy of guitars and organ interspersed with Bass notes and frantic drums.

The centrepiece of the album is the long instrumental track Interstellar Overdrive which is basically a stream of consciousness tour de force – a masterpiece inside a masterpiece. The track is a beguiling suite that works as a piece of subliminal Freudian psychoanalysis that merges a multitude of literary sources and surreal subliminal messages. The framework for the group’s tonal music crashed into the deafening primordial chaos of free improvisation and bags of instrumental tricks. The performance is both intense and cosmic, celestial and dissonant.

The track seques neatly into The Gnome, one of the group’s most catchy refrains, reminiscent of a classical fairytale. The most serious aspect of Barrett’s psychedelia was documented in Chapter 24, which adapted raga-rock to cosmic and suspenseful organ arrangements.

The Scarecrow, first appeared as the B-side of their second single See Emily Play two months before. The song contains nascent existentialist themes, as Barrett compares his own existence to that of the scarecrow, who, while “sadder” is also “resigned to his fate”.The song contains a baroque, psychedelic folk instrumental section consisting of 12-string acoustic guitar and cello.

Bike ,which closes the album is a surreal sketch, consisting of random noise (sirens, cuckoo clocks, bells, bass drums, rusty chains, and animal sounds) perhaps suggesting the insanity of Barrett.

Pink Floyd’s first two albums epitomised the British psychedelic scene of the late 1960s. ‘Piper’ merges the three strands of US psychedelia – the eccentric melody of Jefferson Airplane, the improvised jam of the Velvet Underground and the abstract freak-out of Red Crayola.

The end result was a new distinctive, highly inventive and groundbreaking form of psychedelic rock music that merged the Dadaism of Syd Barrett with brilliant guitar riffs, wonderfully imaginative arrangements and memorable songs. The influence of Piper on subsequent generations of musicians is palpable.

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