Thursday, January 27, 2011
PINK FLOYD: THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN (1967)
1. Astronomy Domine; 2. Lucifer Sam; 3. Matilda Mother; 4. Flaming; 5. Pow R Toc H; 6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk; 7. Interstellar Overdrive; 8. The Gnome; 9. Chapter 24; 10. Scarecrow; 11. Bike
Best Song: ASTRONOMY DOMINE
1967, as you may or may not be aware, was a very important year in the rock scene, a year in which many important records were released (Sgt. Pepper's, for example), the year of the famed "summer of love," flower power, and the London and San Francisco psychedelic underground scenes. One of the quintessential 1967 albums, Pink Floyd's debut sounds nothing like Floyd's more famous 70s works, instead being largely the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett, who wrote 8 of the 11 songs here. Pink Floyd rose to prominence playing many of the London clubs, cultivating a "space rock" image (which got them booed every time they set foot out of London in the early years), and eventually scored two major hits in 1967 ("Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play") before cutting this album at Abbey Road Studios, in the studio next door to a group of Liverpudlians cutting a little album known as Sgt. Pepper's.
Any discussion of Piper must acknowledge the fact that at the time of its recording, Syd Barrett's mental health was beginning to decline, although it would not really become obvious until later. A predisposition towards declining mental health was only exacerbated by Syd's heavy use of acid. This does not stop him from being an absolutely fantastic songwriter, though--many of the songs here are absolutely fantastic! "Astronomy Domine," easily one of my favorite Pink Floyd numbers, kicks things off with one of the best examples of space rock known to man--the disembodied voice announcing a shuttle launch, that grumbly guitar riff, Syd and keyboardist Richard Wright's creepy harmonies, and the midsong instrumental section complete with some great pounding drumwork by Nick Mason and more of that disembodied voice make this song an absolute classic, despite the fact that I still have no fucking clue who or what a domine is. It's a shame that this song isn't played on classic rock stations as much as Floyd's 70s oeuvre is, but this album sadly never hit big in the States. Anyway, nothing on the album quite hits these heights, and none of Syd's other songs really fit the space rock image--instead, they are largely a batch of childlike ditties that run the gamut from folkish (the enjoyable but slightly throwaway "The Gnome" and "Scarecrow"), to almost surf rock with "Lucifer Sam." This ode to Syd's cat boasts an absolutely fantastic riff in addition to it's engaging melody. Wright gets a chance to shine on "Matilda Mother," singing most of the lead vocals as well as providing some great keyboards (he doesn't get much attention, but Wright really was one of the greatest keyboardists in rock, something I will bring up many times throughout my Floyd reviews!), and the song really does evoke the feel of a child asking his mother to read just one more bedtime story, while "Flaming" capture the wonders of playing hide-and-seek, although it might be through the guise of a drug trip. Great song, either way. "Chapter 24," then, is the only slight misstep on the album, being rather dull for most of its duration, but there are some great harmonies in the "sunset...sunrise" section.
"Bike," then, almost defies description--while some might say it proves that Syd was (or at least was on the way to becoming) batshit insane, it's also another great song. Not only are the lyrics a total hoot, the ending sound collage is the perfect way to end the album. And I don't even like sound collages that much! Maybe it's the evil ducks at the end. Rock music needs more evil ducks. One of the all-time great album closers.
In addition to all the Syd ditties, the album contains two instrumentals. Well, "Pow R. Toc H." (another title I'm clueless about) has a hell of a lot of vocal noises from Syd and bassist Roger Waters, but has no lyrics. Some might be annoyed by it, and it pretty much only could have worked on an album like this, but I think it's a total blast! Nice piano work by Rick, too. "Interstellar Overdrive," then, is a simply amazing spacey instrumental that begins with an orgasmic riff before essentially descending into chaos that threatens to, but never actually does, become totally unhinged, before bringing the riff back at the end to give a real feeling of blastoff. "Overdrive" was a concert staple, sometimes running upwards of 20 minutes, and was the band's signature song in the early days, a spot it certainly deserved. Finally, as if all this wasn't enough, the album also includes Roger Waters' first songwriting effort in "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk," is rather clumsy lyrically and does the job of proving that apparently the road to writing Dark Side of the Moon begins with knowing how to use a rhyming dictionary. And your father dying in the war before you were born, but I'm getting ahead of myself here. Anyway, clumsy though the song may be, I really dig the midsong freakout, during which Barrett and Wright both shine, which accurately sums up the album--this is Barrett's baby through and through, although Wright also proves that at this juncture he was clearly the second most important member of the band, as his vocals and keyboards form a key part of the sound of this album. The rhythm section, with the exception of the drumming in "Domine," is rather unspectacular, but Waters and Mason are certainly serviceable at their jobs, and do a great job of staying the fuck out of the way and letting Syd do his thing. Piper may be a shock for those of you who only know Floyd through their 70s albums (I know it was for me, and I knew not to expect anything like Dark Side!), but it is an absolutely essential purchase for anyone interested in Pink Floyd, psychedelic rock, or just some damn good music.
(l-r: Mason, Gilmour, Waters, Barrett, Wright)
ARTIST INTRODUCTION: PINK FLOYD
Syd Barrett--guitars, vocals (1965-68)
Roger Waters--bass, vocals (1965-83)
David Gilmour--guitars, vocals (1968-94)
Richard Wright--keyboards, vocals (1965-81, 1987-94)
Nick Mason--drums and percussion (1965-94)
NOTE: although the band never officially broke up, they have been on hiatus since 1994 with the exception of the one-off Live 8 reunion with Waters, and Wright's 2008 death makes any future reunion unlikely. Also, note that Waters, Gilmour, and Wright frequently played instruments in the studio other than their main one (it's well known that Gilmour played many of the bass parts, but he also occasionally played keyboards and drums, Waters supplied acoustic and rhythm guitar and some synth work, and Wright played trombone on "Biding My Time." Mason rarely, if ever, left the kit, but is responsible for recording many of the sound effects that are ubiquitous to the band's 70s albums).
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Formed in the mid 1960s by Waters, Mason, Wright and guitarist Bob Klose (all London architecture students), the band, which went by various names in their early days, eventually picked up guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett (a friend of Waters) and began to tour the London circuit under a variety of names, including the Screaming Abadabs, Sigma 6, and The Tea Set. The name Pink Floyd comes from Syd combining the name of two obscure American bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, when another band performing at a venue the same day shared the name The Tea Set. One of the leading bands in the London Underground. Oh, and they're my favorite band. Just thought I'd get that out of the way.
Personally, I prefer amateur sites when trying to discover new music, as they are run by one person and thus you can see how their tastes compare to yours, and can use that to see if you would like an album or not. Plus, a person doing this for fun can't really have an agenda. Plus, they generally like prog rock a lot more than mainstream publications do. Note: despite the fact that there are many, many great sites out there that are no longer being updated, I am only linking to currently updated sites, as anything else usually requires sifting through various layers of the Wayback Machine, which I'm too lazy to do right now. I might come back and add a couple of my favorite archived sites later, though.
Only Solitaire: George Starostin's Music Reviews: http://starling.rinet.ru/music/index.htm (note: link is to the old site, the blog can be accessed from the front page). One of the most comprehensive reviewers on the Web, and the definitive source for '60s music, George Starostin began his site seemingly in the late 90s, and updated into the mid 2000s. As well as being the source of my highlighting system for the track listings, George has one of the most comprehensive and best writing styles, and the man has reviewed just about anything up through the 70s, after which it is a bit more sporadic. Although he ceased updates of the original site in 2007, in late 2009 he began reviewing again, independent of his old reviews, on the Only Solitaire Blog, and I'm pleased to see that he no longer rabidly hates "Dream On." I read his stuff a lot more than I initially expected, considering the first words I read from the guy were" I HATE PINK FLOYD. "
Mark Prindle's Record Reviews: http://www.markprindle.com The original (from what I know of this, anyway), and one of the most popular web reviewers, Mark Prindle is both a great music critic and a hilarious writer. Even the reviews for bands you have no interest in are worth reading, as they are often both hilarious and informative (although people who are extremely easily offended should probably avoid doing this). Mark also frequently reviews bootlegs and compilations from the artists he reviews, so this site is probably the best resource for people looking for information on such things. Additionally, Mark Prindle is the most famous person to ever comment on my Facebook status.
John McFerrin's Rock and Prog Reviews: http://johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org/ The definitive source for progressive rock (a mantle I'd love to steal someday but doubt I will), John McFerrin may not have as large a count of artists as other sites, and he may only write four reviews a month, but his reviews are extremely comprehensive, well-written, and helpful. He is also extremely knowledgeable about the artists he reviews--in fact, much of the trivia I know about some of my favorite bands I originally learned from reading John's reviews.
Scott's Rock and Soul Album Reviews: http://www.sfloman.com/ Scott Floman is another excellent writer, who seems to be refreshingly positive about the music he reviews. Updated sporadically, but what's there is great. Much of his writings in the "lists" section of the web site are spot on, as well.
Hello, and welcome to "Living in a Rock and Roll Fantasy," my blog dedicated to analyzing, reviewing, and occasionally writing loving odes to various rock albums by various significant (and not-so-significant) artists from the last 50 or so years. Since when reading reviews by anybody, I like to have somewhat of an idea of what they're tastes are, and how they are in sync with mine, I have provided this IAQ (infrequently asked questions) page where you can learn more about me, my musical tastes, which artists you can expect to be reviewed here, and the formats for the blog. Once the blog becomes "established" and people occasionally actually ask questions, instead of me just envisioning questions readers might have, I'll update this page and get rid of the stupid joke.
INFREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
- SO, DO YOU HAVE ANY QUALIFICATIONS FOR THIS JOB OTHER THAN AN INTERNET CONNECTION AND TOO MUCH FREE TIME? Quite frankly, no I don't. I am not a musician (I took classical piano five years ago, but I've forgotten most of what I learned by now, I'm sure, plus that's not the type of music that will be reviewed here), and I don't think that I have better insight onto what makes a certain piece of music objectively great than any dude on the street. What I do have, however, is a love of rock music that I want to share with the world, through reviewing what I think are great (and crappy) albums, and hopefully can help people discover some great new music. Anyone can be a music reviewer, as long as you have the requisite interest and time to create a blog
- WHAT ARE YOUR MUSICAL TASTES? Well, I'm open to anything, as long as it's good. My main area of interest is in rock music, or more specifically progressive rock and hard rock, along with some of the less rockin' 60s-style pop that still has amazing melody/lyrics and some psychedelic stuff. I also have a burgeoning interest in some 90s alternative, as well as some metal and punk, although my knowledge in these areas is limited, and my interest in them is more individual-band related than entire genre related. I'm also beginning to collect some of the more highly recommended indie albums, although these won't be reviewed for awhile as they are outside of my area of expertise, and I usually only have one or two albums by an artist. Oh, and I'm also a pretty big country fan, and will probably review some country album eventually, but with country being primarily a singles genre it is hard to make reviewing anybody's discography worthwhile, as a good greatest hits comp can often make the albums unnecessary (a choice cut or two excepted, of course). Genres I don't particularly care for are teen pop (although hopefully my exposure to it will decrease dramatically when I graduate from high school in May) and rap/hip-hop, although there are a few exceptions to the latter. One thing I should mention is that I am entirely in favor of music for the sake of music itself--how big a douchebag sellout the performer might be, if they perform a good song I will enjoy it. I don't care if it's the top-selling album of all time or some dude with an acoustic guitar playing for six people on open mic night, good music is good music. If you're curious, my top five favorite bands would be, more or less in order, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Kinks, Yes, and Led Zeppelin.
- HOW DOES YOUR RATING SYSTEM WORK? I have considered various numerically-based rating systems, but unfortunately often fell back onto the same problem--my mind is just too goddamn numerically based, and rating an album 7/10 would make me think of it as a 70%, or a D-. Thus, I settled upon a 15-point system, as I do not think of the associated percent as regularly as I would on a 5 or 10 point scale. Here's a breakdown of how it works:
- 15--absolutely amazing. Doesn't have to be absolutely perfect, but has to be relatively close. This grade will be relatively rare--a 15 album is, for now, in my mythical top20-25 or so (although this is subject to expand provided I haven't run out of all the great music in the world). There is no limit to the number of 15's a band can receive, but there are very few bands I can think of that will get more than one--Pink Floyd, The Who, and maybe Yes are the only ones that spring to mind* (this is subject to change as I write more reviews). A 15 will not have any songs I actively dislike, but I might still say that a certain song is slightly overlong, the vocals are slightly poor, etc.
- 14--a damn awesome album. Basically an almost 15-worthy album that I'm not quite as fond of, and since I don't want to give too many albums the top score (or it would become essentially meaningless), a 14 it is. Many bands I quite like will have their highest rated album score a 14. A 14 album can have at most one (short--probably less than four minutes) song I somewhat dislike, but is easily forgettable amidst the greatness of the rest of the songs
- 13--just a simply great album. Doesn't hold that special place in my heart the 14 and 15-rated albums do, but every time I listen to it I'm still reminded of how great it is. These albums either have consistently great songs, but not enough stellar ones to push them over the top, or the stellar songs are balanced out by songs I'm not fond of at all (Hotel California)
- 12--very good, but not great. Maybe the musicianship or the songwriting isn't always there, maybe the second half drags, maybe there's nothing really stellar, or maybe they stuck an unholy piece of shit on here, but enjoy a 12 as much as I might, I can't call it a great album. I'd still recommend it, though.
- 11--good. May contain a few bad songs, and there won't be more than one absolutely stellar number without at least one piece of putrid shit to balance it out, but the album is still enjoyable, but I'd only recommend it to established fans of a band.
- 10--decent. This is the lowest score for an album I'd feel good recommending to anybody but the most hardcore fans of a band. Either one great song and a bunch that don't do anything for me, or consistent songs in the mediocre-to-good mode where nothing really stands out as good or bad.
- 9--mediocre. Hardcore fans will want this, as it probably contains at least one song that adds something to a band's repertoire, and there might be a hidden gem or two, but overall not recommended, but not outright bad, either.
- 8--not good. Not terrible, but the bad is outweighing the good by this point and will probably have one song worth using iTunes to find, but this isn't an album I would listen to regularly
- 7--bad. But ordinary badness, usually. If the majority of the songs suck hard enough, there may be one great song on an album I give a 7 to, but if there isn't a song I consider great, the majority of the songs aren't shit-terrible, either. They're just ordinary badness. Which might be even worse than the truly terrible ones, which at least have some bile fascination going on.
- 6--really bad. Maybe the songs have some good moments (the singer or an instrumentalist for the most part does a good job, the productions is good, or a decent, if not really good song shows up), but even the good ones aren’t worth wasting your time for by now
- 5--why the fuck is this still on my hard drive? Because I NEVER delete anything from iTunes, that's why. Because if I did, this would be gone in a second. Hardly any redeeming qualities, and those that exist are negligible.
- 4 and below--unthinkable. As of right now I'm reviewing artists I like as a whole (even though I may dislike some of their albums), and I can't think of any artist I like that released an album shit terrible enough to get this low of a score. Getting a score this low would probably require being a bad album in a genre I don't enjoy (i.e., someone doing really bad teen pop, as opposed to a normal teen pop album that would likely score in the 5-7 range were I to waste my time listening and reviewing something I don't like and have no interest in). Seriously, hearing an electric guitar is probably enough to give an album a 5. I'm a relatively easy grader, there won't be a plethora of albums under 10 and even fewer under 8. Maybe one day I'll seek out something bad enough just so I can say I gave a score this low, but until then, just ignore these ratings. And yes, I know a system where I ignore a third of the numbers at my disposal is far from perfect, but most personal review sites are at least somewhat top-heavy, because really, who wants to waste time from their hobby reviewing entire discographies they hate with a passion?
- WHAT'S UP WITH THE RED AND BLUE TITLES IN THE TRACK LISTINGS? This is a concept I'm ripping off from George Starostin's Only Solitaire site (see below and the links page), but the songs on an album I really love will be in red, songs I dislike will be in blue, and the rest won't be highlighted at all. An unhighlighted song should be taken in regards to the ranking--something a didn't highlight on a 13 or 14 album is a very good song, just not a highlight of the album (but might even be in red on a 7 or 8 album), but one on a 7 album actually stands out as better than the dreck around it enough that I don't hate it that much while it's on, even though if it were on a better album I would probably spend a paragraph bitching about how its suckitude is bringing the album down. A red song is truly good, and a blue song is truly bad, however, no matter what the ranking (not as good/bad as one on a higher/lower ranked album, but not just "good/bad comparatively")
- WHO ARE SOME OF THE INFLUENCES ON THIS SITE? I spend a lot of time reading other amateur web critics. There a lot of great ones out there (although sadly few update anymore, and many were condemned to the archives of the Internet when Yahoo! Geocities shut down), but my three favorites, and the biggest influences, would have to be George Starostin, Mark Prindle, and John McFerrin. For a more comprehensive list, see the links page.
- SO WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU, ANYWAY? Just a high school senior from Omaha, Nebraska with a passion for both music and finding something to do when I should be doing my homework. My favorite TV shows are The Simpsons, Futurama, and South Park, my favorite books are The Stand, Lonesome Dove, and the Harry Potter series, I don't really have a set favorite movie, and I'm planning on going to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln next year, as an engineering major. My dream job (excluding rock musician /songwriter and quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs) is to be a city planner. Yeah, I'm kind of a nerd, but I love it. That's pretty much it. Go Huskers!
- WHAT ARE YOU REFERENCING WITH THE BLOG TITLE? The song "Rock and Roll Fantasy" by The Kinks from their 1978 album Misfits. Specifically this verse (music and lyrics written by Ray Davies, under copyright, etc.):
There's a guy in my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night
And when he feels down, he puts some rock 'n' roll on
And it makes him feel alright
And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high
He just spends his life, living in a rock 'n' roll fantasy