The Madcap Laughs
by Syd Barrett

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The Madcap Laughs by Syd BarrettAfter his tumultuous exit from Pink Floyd, Composer, guitarist, and vocalist Syd Barrett spent several years working on his debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs. Beginning in April 1968, the album was recorded in stages and five different producers were employed, including then-current Pink Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters. When it was finally released at the beginning of 1970, the album was more of a curiosity that a solid rock effort and it found minimal commercial success in the UK.

Following the release and success of Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, Barrett started to display counter-productive, erratic behavior. This led to the group adding Gilmour as a fifth member to pick up the slack on guitar and vocals in late 1967. Soon Barrett was no longer able to perform live but the group had hoped he would remain as their primary songwriter and lead vocalist for studio tracks. However, his mental state had deteriorated further and the material he presented to the band was largely unworkable. Barrett was officially dismissed from Pink Floyd in April 1968 and only one of his tracks appeared on that year’s album by the group, A Saucerful of Secrets.

Almost immediately upon departing from Pink Floyd, Barrett entered Abbey Road Studios with producer Peter Jenner. Although only one track from these initial sessions would appear on The Madcap Laughs, many tracks were attempted. In July 1968, Barrett abruptly stopped recording and ended up in psychiatric care in his hometown of Cambridge. Early in 1969, a refreshed Barrett resumed work on the album with producer Malcolm Jones. These sessions proved much more fruitful than those of the previous year, with a large part of the album recorded at Abbey Road in April 1969. However, there were still issues with recording as rhythm players had a tough time matching Barrett’s inconsistent timings and chord structures. Soon Jones’ interest in the project began to wane just as Gilmour had started taking an interest in Barrett’s project.

In July 1969, Waters and Gilmour were completing Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma when they decided to get involved with The Madcap Laughs. In just a few sessions, they worked on several remade versions and overdubs of previous material along with a handful of new tracks. However, Barrett started to protest further overdubs, so Gilmour and Waters decide to mix the collective material and declared the album complete.


The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett
Released: January 3, 1970 (Harvest)
Produced by: Syd Barrett, Peter Jenner, Malcolm Jones, David Gilmour, & Roger Waters
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, May 1968–August 1969
Side One Side Two
Terrapin
No Good Trying
Love You
No Man’s Land
Dark Globe
Here I Go
Octopus
Golden Hair
Long Gone
She Took a Long Cold Look
Feel
If It’s in You
Late Night
Primary Musicians
Syd Barrett – Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Gilmour – Guitars, Bass
Mike Ratledge – Keyboards
Robert Wyatt – Drums

With a slowly strummed acoustic and the slightest hint of overdubbed electric guitars, “Terrapin” starts the album complete with many blatant mistakes, especially during the chord changes at the end of each sequence. However, this is part of the charm of the album and Barrett’s vocals are on the same high level as on Piper At the Gates of Dawn. Over five-minutes in duration, the song has a hypnotic vibe along with stream-of-consciousness lyrics. “No Good Trying” follows with a full band arrangement, and a psychedelic sound, animated by drums up front with distant whining guitars and keys in background.

“Love You” is upbeat and joyous, bouncy melody over a music hall style piano, while “No Man’s Land” is a droning rocker with good rhythms and bass and a slightly potent lead by Barrett. The haunting “Dark Globe” is the first in the sequence to be produced by Gilmour and Waters, This solo track by Barrett has strummed acoustic and dramatic, deep and desperate lyrics which appear to be Barrett’s first-person account of his own mental state. Concluding the first side is “Here I Go”, a fifties type ballad with elements of English pop and especially dry vocals.

Released a few months prior to the album, “Octopus” is the lone single from The Madcap Laughs. This light and melodic track also gave the album its title when Gilmour mistakenly heard the lyric; the lyric; “Well, the mad cat laughed at the man on the border…” The most overtly psychedelic track is the dark and distant “Golden Hair”, which took some lyrics from poet James Joyce sung through haunting vocals. “Long Gone” is the last truly quality track on the album (and perhaps the finest on the album). It features very good acoustic and deep melody, almost Country-like in the verses but more artistic in chorus.

Syd BarrettDown the stretch, the album does include some really sub-par material. “She Took a Long Cold Look” sounds stale in comparison to the fine preceding track and its rambling and lack of structure (which has a charm earlier in the album) starts to really wear thin here. On the acoustic solo track “Feel”, there is some effective use of reverb at strategic parts but this is offset by the inclusion of studio chatter and the weird false start which reveals Barrett’s incoherent mumbling condition at the beginning of the off-tune “If It’s in You”. The album concludes with “Late Night”, the only song from his 1968 recording sessions with Jenner to make the album. This track features full band arrangement, albeit disjointed, as Barrett’s lyrics of isolation bring the listener back to the original purpose of this album.

The Madcap Laughs sold just enough copies and got well enough reviews that EMI decided to ask for a second Syd Barrett solo album. A month after this album’s release, recording commenced for what would become the second studio album, Barrett, produced solely by Gilmour. This album features a slightly richer sound, especially in the rhythmic mix, but material is not quite as interesting musically aside from the standout tracks “Baby Lemonade”, “Gigolo Aunt” (which was actually started in 1968), and the closing, stream-of-consciousness track “Effervescing Elephant”, which seems like an appropriate closer to Barrett’s recording career. In June 1970, Barrett performed his first and only solo concert, which was cut short after only four songs when he abruptly put down his guitar and walked off stage.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

A Saucerful of Secrets
by Pink Floyd

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A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink FloydA Saucerful of Secrets is the only album by Pink Floyd to feature all five group members. This was due to the album being recorded before (late 1967) and after (early 1968) the departure of guitarist and chief songwriter Syd Barrett. Due to this, the group took two separate approaches to the album, which was produced by Norman Smith and recorded mainly at Abbey Road Studios. The first was as a continuation of their successful 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, while the latter approach was a journey into unchartered territory with tracks composed by other band members. The result is an album which contains as many (if not more) sound collages as it does proper rock songs.

After the release of the band’s debut in mid 1967, it was apparent that Barrett’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Barrett’s friend and “understudy” David Gilmour was brought in to help out with Barrett’s guitar and vocal parts live. During the earliest sessions for A Saucerful of Secrets in the Fall of 1967, Barrett was still considered the group’s chief songwriter and he did compose several songs. However, most of these recordings were omitted from the album, with “Apples and Oranges” and “Paint Box” released as the band’s third international single in October 1968, and the rest left off due to various levels of non-satisfaction. These included the tracks Vegetable Man”, “Scream Thy Last Scream”, and the maddening “Have You Got This Yet?”, which Barrett performed differently every single time, making it impossible for the other group members to learn their parts.

Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd in January 1968, leaving a new incarnation of Pink Floyd to finish the album. The band initially struggled to come up with this material, with all four remaining members contributing some songwriting and vocals. The first tracks from these sessions, “It Would Be So Nice” and “Julia Dream”, were also released as a non-album single in April 1968. After a few more songs were completed, the group still felt there was not enough material for an album and each contributed to the twelve minute, experimental title track to fill this gap.


A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd
Released: June 29, 1968 (EMI)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1967-May 1968
Side One Side Two
Let There Be More Light
Remember a Day
Set the Controls for..
the Heart of the Sun
Corporal Clegg
A Saucerful of Secrets
See-Saw
Jugband Blues
Band Musicians
Rick Wright – Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Vocals
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Vocals
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums

 

A Saucerful of Secrets begins with a three part mini-suite called “Let There Be More Light”. The first part contains a really cool and sharp bass riff by Roger Waters which later dissolves into the bouncy and mocking main section, which alternates between the marching vocals of harmonies of the verse and the harder refrain part with Gilmour on vocals. The closing guitar section features Gilmour providing multiple riffs simultaneously. “Let There Be More Light” was also released in edited form as the fourth single by Pink Floyd.

“Remember a Day” was a song left over from the debut album and was written and sung by keyboardist Richard Wright with Barrett providing a lot of the effect through his slide, lead, and acoustic guitars. The most melodically cohesive song on the album’s first side, this song contains a great piano above a strong rhythm by Waters and drummer Nick Mason. The song was never performed live by Pink Floyd, making it a true forgotten classic from the era when the group was alternating between British pop and pyschedelia, as this song straddles both.

“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is the only song on which features all five group members. It was first performed and recorded with Barrett in 1967 and later featured guitar overdubs by Gilmour. Written by Waters, the lyrics were inspired by a book of Chinese poetry and the song was a successful part of their live set for years.
 

 
“Jugband Blues” is the only track on the album written and performed by Barrett and perhaps one of the most haunting songs with Syd apparently singing about his own demise; “…and I’m wondering who could be writing this song…” – an epitaph of Barrett’s short reign as band leader. Barrett enlisted a Salvation Army band to play on this eclectic track which features a three time signatures and dissolves into a slowly strummed acoustic during the final outro which closes the album along with Barrett’s tenor with Pink Floyd.

Waters’ rocker “Corporal Clegg” is the first Pink Floyd song to address the recurring theme of war, as Waters dedicated it to his father. Musically, the song features a good wah-wah guitar on top of a steady and melodic organ before breaking into odd but entertaining kazoo sections. The song is also notable for featuring rare lead vocals by Mason. The dreamy and distant “See-Saw” is the second song written and sung by Wright and features much of the same childlike themes of “Remember a Day”. It features strummed acoustic and a cool electric with heavy chorus effects along with a vibraphone, xylophone and strong mellotron, to convey a great mood and a totally Abbey Road production.

Pink Floyd in 1968

The title song, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, is a twelve minute experimental and avant-garde piece broken into four sub-chapters. It reaches an eerie climax in the first section before the brilliant “Syncopated Pandemonium” section, fueled by Mason’s drum loop, Wright’s haunting piano chords, and a wild theramin effect. Later the song settles into a melodic organ with vocal choruses in a section entitled “Celestial Voices”. “A Saucerful of Secrets” is what the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” should have been and has been dubbed a “masterpiece of psychedelic rock”.

The album A Saucerful of Secrets reached the Top Ten on the UK Albums charts and marked the beginning of an era when the band entered their most experimental phase. Syd Barrett went on to record two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett in 1970 with Gilmour and Waters helping out with production, before totally withdrawing from public life.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

The Piper At the Gates of Dawn
by Pink Floyd

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The Piper At the Gates of Dawn by Pink FloydThe Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the legendary debut album by Pink Floyd and the only album during their Syd Barrett-led era. This era began during the summer of 1965, when Barrett joined the established band which included his childhood friend Roger Waters and unilaterally began to call this band “The Pink Floyd Sound”, after a couple of obscure blues men he had in his record collection. By 1966, the band became part of London’s “underground” scene, gained some high connections, and played some high profile gigs attended by celebrities. In early 1967, the band signed with EMI and their debut album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Norman Smith. The sessions had their share of turmoil as Barrett was unresponsive to direction and constructive criticism.

The sessions for The Piper At the Gates of Dawn came during the middle of a turbulent, exciting, and productive year for Pink Floyd, which also saw the release and charting of three non-album singles. “See Emily Play” was the highest charting on these early singles as the follow-up to “Arnold Layne”, a controversial song as it depicted a transvestite whose primary pastime was stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines and many English radio stations refused to play the song.

 
Knowing the band’s reputation for long and improvised live renditions, EMI gave Smith and the band free reign to create the album they wanted to make. There is a certain genius to this album which may take a lot of work for mainstream audiences to “get”. At just the age of 24, Barrett reached inside and tapped into a psychological world caught between the wondrous discoveries of childhood and the tragic revelations of a finite life. The also captures both the pleasure and madness of psychedelic music, all the more compelling in light of Barrett’s subsequent breakdown and deterioration which would force him out of the band within a year.

The album also contains many philosophical and intellectual elements, including it’s title, which Barret took from Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind In the Willows. Although the compositions are genius, there are some flaws in the production as the overall mix is a bit bright and the bass is woefully under-represented throughout. Still, the production is fine enough for the musical quality to shine through, especially for the seasoned listener.


The Piper At the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd
Released: August 4, 1967 (Capitol/EMI)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: EMI Studios, London, February – July 1967
Side One Side Two
Astronomy Domine
Lucifer Sam
Matilda Mother
Flaming
Pow R Toc H
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
Intersteller Overdrive
The Gnome
Chapter 24
The Scarecrow
Bike
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
Arnold Layne
Candy and a Currant Bun
See Emily Play
Apples and Oranges
Paintbox
Primary Musicians
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Organ, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 
The album begins with “Astronomy Domine”, the ultimate space odyssey song with wild tremolo effects and a chanting vocal duet between Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright. There is an extended instrumental section after first verse sequence before the song returns for the concluding sequence. the riff-driven “Lucifer Sam” follows with a cool, mid-sixties British groove, making the song a lot less psychedelic than those on the rest of the album.

“Matilda Mother” begins with some interplay between Waters’ bass and Wright’s organ, who plays a big role in the song by also taking on lead vocals. There are also some fine harmonies during the verses and a slow carousel-like sequence through the end. “Flaming” is another melody-driven song but with wild sound effects throughout as well as a bright acoustic guitar, overdubbed in the third and fourth verses and an odd, yet melodic middle break. “Pow R. Toc H.” is the first of two instrumentals on the album, with the heart of the song driven mainly by a blues riff (one of the few moments where Waters bass is well represented). This is a great early art piece by Pink Floyd, though there are times when the sound effects are just a tad overwhelming. According to drummer Nick Mason, the band members were present at Abbey Road when they watched The Beatles recording “Lovely Rita” for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and decided to try voice effects and noises similar for “Pow R. Toc H.”

Syd BarrettBarrett wrote eight of the album’s eleven songs along with contributing to two instrumentals which were credited to the whole band. Waters was credited with one composition, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. This closer of the first side is a more frenzied piece than anything else on the album, with Mason really shines on this track with a style of over-the-top drumming which should make Keith Moon proud.

Rumour has it that the band insisted in contract negotiations that “Interstellar Overdrive” remain in experimental form on the debut album. The song, which became the the unofficial theme song of the underground event “the fourteen hour technicolor dream”, was the first recorded by the band in January. This instrumental starts strong, with a strong and catchy main riff, but within a minute and a half the song begins to deteriorate into a psychedelic collage of sound effects, which goes on for about seven minutes and may have be just a bit much for any sober listener.

Syd Barrett takes over the rest of the album, with some fine and interesting compositions. “The Gnome” is an upbeat, acoustic folk song with some exaggerated vocals by Barrett and some excellent bass by Waters. “Chapter 24” is perhaps the first deeply philosophical song by a band that would make their reputation exploring such matters. Barrett’s melody floats above the transcending musical motif with the middle part dissolving with a Middle-Eastern sounding organ. The song was inspired by by text from chapter 24 of the ancient Chinese script I Ching (The Book of Changes).

 
“The Scarecrow” is built on a series of percussive effects by Mason and organ flights by Wright. These at first sound disparate, but are soon held together by layered vocals in concert with tightly strummed electric guitars. An acoustic montage is later overdubbed over the whole ensemble in the outro.

“Bike” is the most brilliant and chilling song on the album, and perhaps the quintessential Syd Barrett song. Lyrically, the song is metered like a 10-year-old’s boasting rant about disparate subjects during the verse and a melancholy chorus about a “girl who fits in with my world”. Knowing of Barrett’s eventual mental demise, the song has turned out to be extremely profound. Musically, the song is driven by good piano and effects by Wright throughout and rock driven rock verses with softer, melodic choruses through the song proper, which lasts less than two minutes. The song and album concludes with a psychedelic reprise of sound collages.

Pink Floyd in 1967

After the release of the album in August 1967, Pink Floyd continued to perform in London, drawing ever larger crowds. But Barrett’s mental state continued to deteriorate and soon he got to the point where he could not perform onstage. Aside from a few more single tracks and one song on the next album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett would not perform with the band again, making The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, a truly unique work.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1967 albums.