The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
It was 1967. Over in America, it was the summer of love. It was certainly “Tune in, drop out”. Over in the London, a rock band from Cambridge was creating their debut album. That band was Pink Floyd and that album was 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It’s a bit hard to believe that six years later, this would be the same band would make Dark Side of the Moon. 45 years later, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn still sounds great. It’s certainly psychedelic, strange, and even whimsical at times.
Pink Floyd were formed around 1965 by three architecture college students: bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Rick Wright. Waters’ childhood friend, Syd Barrett, joined the band as the guitarist. It was Barrett who gave the band their name, taking the names of two blues musicians: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The band was signed to EMI around 1966 and went to work on their first album. Prior to Piper’s release, the band had released their first single “Arnold Layne”. The song, which told the true story about a man who stole women’s underwear from clothes lines, was an unusual choice for a first single but it was everyone’s introduction to the world of Pink Floyd. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released on August 4, 1967. The album’s title came from a chapter title of the same name in the novel The Wind and the Willows.
A lot can be said about “Astronomy Domine”, the album’s first track. Written by Barrett and Wright, the song sounds very space like and would fit along the lines of “space rock”. The sound effects on the track still sound realistic. Manager Peter Jenner is the voice you here yelling out the names of stars. It’s an interesting way to open the album, as it is pretty dark for an year that was supposedly peaceful. The psychedelic “Lucifer Sam” follows, with its creeping bass line from Waters. The song, written by Barrett, is probably about a cat. Some believe the word “cat” isn’t being used to describe an animal but as slang for a hipster. “That cat’s something I can’t explain” declares Barrett. “Matilda Mother” is a more mellow song but the lyrics by Barrett may be somewhat child-like. The song seems to be about a mother reading fairy tales to her child. In the chorus, the child begs “Oh mother, tell me more”. It does feel a bit nostalgic and it could possibly be insight as to what Barrett was like as a child. The child-like theme continues in “Flaming”, which seems to be about two children playing a game. Things get strange on “Pow r. Toc h” while the first side ends with the biblical Waters-penned “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”.
Side two begins with the wild instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive”. Clocking in at a little over nine minutes, it is the longest song from the album. When performed live, the band would play the song for nearly a half hour. The rest of the album is after this song is dominated by Barrett. The Tolkien-inspired “The Gnome” is a nice tune while the lyrics for “Chapter 24” were inspired by the 24th chapter in I Ching, an ancient Chinese tome. “The Scarecrow” is another different sounding track as it’s more of a folk song, something which you found probably never imagine Pink Floyd doing. The song is said to be about existentialism, since Barrett makes comparisons between he and the existence of a scarecrow. He album ends with the wonderfully wacky “Bike”. From the lyrics (“I’ve got a bike/You can ride it if you’d like”) to the avant-garde ending, the song is a classic.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was a successful album in the UK charts but it wasn’t much of a hit over in the US. The album received positive feedback, looking to Barrett as the band’s lead songwriter. However, things went downhill for Pink Floyd around this time. Barrett was a frequently experimented with drugs. It came to the point where Barrett was losing contact with reality. As a result, the band hired guitarist David Gilmour as the fifth member of the band to be sort of a replacement when Barrett wasn’t around. Shortly after making their second album A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett left the band. While Barrett was the main songwriter on Piper, he only wrote one song (“Jugband Blues”) for Secrets. The four remaining members of Pink Floyd continued without Barrett. The band found some success with a few albums but it wasn’t until the release of 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon when the band achieved worldwide popularity.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a great album. I really like this album and it really is one of Pink Floyd’s best albums. On my list of all time favorite albums, I have it ranked at #119. It’s just an amazing album and for a debut album, it’s impressive.