When I worked at FYE over one Winter break, a customer walked in and began to browse the Vinyl Records on display. I asked him if he needed any assistance, to which he replied with the question “Yeah. What do you know about Pink Floyd?”. To any Pink Floyd fan, this is the quickest way to their heart. I hesitated on just how much information I should throw his way. I gave him the basics of the band and pulled out “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973) from the stacks, their most well known album by far. I mentioned how I’ve listened to all of their albums. “Which one is your favorite?” he asked. I said it depends on the era, there’s a lot of good stuff out of the “Pre-Dark Side of the Moon” era. He seemed confused. “So this one”, he points to the black cover with the prism on it, “Isn’t their first album?”. It was almost like someone had set up this specific encounter for me. No, I said. That would be “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.
Over 50 years ago last week, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was released to the world. PATGOD as it is acronymized by some, is well known to devout fans, obscured to the general public. On August 4th, 1967, it was released, and was well received in the band’s home turf of the UK, reaching #6 on the UK Album charts. The US, however, wasn’t as welcoming. It peaked at #131 on the Billboard 200. The album was utterly psychedelic. Featuring harsh guitars, echoing vocals, lyrics of a bucolic nature, a nearly 10 minute long instrumental reminiscent of a bad trip, and a song about a gnome. It’s no surprise it wasn’t well received by the West, however it’s interesting how divisive the album can be for fans of Floyd.
Whenever someone gets “in ” to Pink Floyd, it’s never over PATGOD. The album doesn’t sound like how we think Pink Floyd should sound. That’s in large part to the fact that this album was conceived by then band leader, Syd Barrett. In conjunction with Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright, the album was very much of the time. Very 60s, very psychedelic, very, very British. Barrett was the head creative force, and his sound isn’t exactly easy to listen to. He took influence from British poets and authors when writing his lyrics. While being the framework for the band itself, he wouldn’t be with them for very long. After his mental breakdown the following year, he was removed from the band and replaced with David Gilmour, giving us the line-up that would remain intact throughout the band’s “Golden Age ” in the 1970s. As the band went on without Barrett, their sound evolved, Waters and Gilmour becoming the central creative forces. The trippy, childlike lyrics so innate to Barrett’s style were now gone. However, the core auditory mechanics of what makes Pink Floyd work, are marked in their debut. Their use of atypical sounds (Famously clocks, cash registers, etc), their droning harmonies that seem to blend into one voice, the overall auditory space.
While it may be an acquired taste, even to those with a palette for psychedelic, garage and brit rock, it still holds some great sound, if you’re willing and ready to give it a go. If nothing else, it remains the starting point for one of the great rock bands of the 20th century. This week on my show, “The B-Side” we’ll be celebrating this anniversary with a track from the album! Catch it this Thursday, August 10th from 12pm to 1pm on 88.3 WHCM, and every Thursday at the same time for album cuts, lesser played tracks, and of course, B-sides.