Today’s album is a complicated choice as we drift further into the world of psychedelia with the debut album from Pink Floyd. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, rated as album #253 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, is a historically significant album from this powerhouse British rock band who had multiple monumental albums to follow. This first album is the only Pink Floyd album that highlights and features founding member and original lead influence Syd Barrett, who is the primary lead vocalist and lead guitar on this record.
This album forces me to confront the rhetorical question, “How much experimentation is too much?” with an art form like music. Full disclosure, Pink Floyd is a highly impactful act in my life that has served as a soundtrack for me and others during some of the darkest and most solitary moments of life. I can think of at least two Pink Floyd songs that completely nail the feelings of devastating sadness and crushing isolation unlike any other songs… they serve as perfect mergers of word and music. Admittedly, on this album, I struggle to find that impact.
Like the Velvet Underground, I made sure to give this album several listens to make sure I wasn’t rushing to judgment. It is an interesting blend with small blends of pop, larger slices of experimental sound, and it is certainly a foreshadow of some of the most thoughtful music to follow from Pink Floyd. Listening closely to Syd Barrett for the first time, his voice, and even some of his songs, remind me a bit of Keith Relf from the Yardbirds. Authentic British rock, and if you listen to the beginning of the album on “Astronomy Domine” or the end of the album on “Bike”, even without Barrett in subsequent releases, there are many continuations of sound and theme.
Ultimately, Syd Barrett was overcome by the combined demons of mental health illness and excessive drug use, and not long after this album was released, he was ultimately, and somewhat ironically, replaced by his long-time friend David Gilmour. Although this may agitate some Floyd purists, I consider Gilmour to be an incredibly essential component of the sound of Pink Floyd, and his distinctive voice and powerful lead guitar are noticeably absent on this first album.
I can’t see myself coming back frequently to this record in the future, but given what I’m trying to accomplish in learning more about the history, roots, and evolution of the music I love, spending time with this album was long overdue and a notable event with its release.