Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Set your Controls for the Heart of the Floyd

I've slowly been listening to Pink Floyd. Album by album, from their start, hearing how much of the band's inherent Floyd-ness was there from the beginning and also hearing how the band evolved. Years ago I'd bought a used CD of their original album from 1967, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn — a reference to The Wind in the Willows, which I didn't know until last year when I read that — and I've had a smattering of other Floyd albums in my collection*. At the encouragement of Scott Dally, a deep and longtime Pink Floyd fan, I started this listen. To really listen.

Today I've been listening for the first time to 1970's Atom Heart Mother. Before that, I'd found 1968's A Saucerful of Secrets on YouTube, because my library didn't have a copy; I feel weird about listening to it this way (assuaging my guilt by letting the ads play all the way through, at least) so eventually I'll buy it. One end goal is to get more Floyd. As well as to "get" more Floyd, understand the band better.

I honestly liked 1969's double album Ummagumma, even though my first reaction was This seems less like an album and more like a dare. Spacey even by Floyd standards, with an instrumental track titled "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict" (really), and with the longest songs released by Floyd up to that time — Scott told me specifically that one track was 24 minutes long — Ummagumma isn't background music. Some Floyd is, but not that. You pay attention...and wait, letting the weirdness wash over you. As it does, it gets tuneful frequently, and sometimes lovely, as Pink Floyd music always eventually does.

Atom Heart Mother's another "long track" album — five tracks, the title track taking up an entire LP side — but in a way I can probably absorb better as an experience now that I've heard Ummagumma. I was struck by Dave Gilmour's vocal performance of "Fat Old Sun": he seemed to be slightly, at least slightly, channeling a gentle John Lennon with that song. Not what I was expecting. Maybe I'm hearing things. Hearing more things than are actually on the album, I mean. I'm also amused that the final song includes sounds of making and eating breakfast.

Eventually I'll give another go to 1972's Dark Side of the Moon, justly and hugely famous but almost hindered by its success: I'm so familiar with so many of its songs as singles, divorced from the experience of the album, that the time 10 or so years ago that I finally first listened to it as an album, it didn't click for me nearly as well as I'd hoped. But I'm an album person at heart, appreciating the program that an album can provide.

(To cite a non-Pink Floyd example of this, I really didn't "get" The Beatles' White Album when I heard several songs out of order on the radio. Portland's played it on an "album shuffle" weekend that way, probably in 2002 or '03, and the songs seemed disjointed and a little annoying. In 2004 I bought my own copy of the album, and then I got it. Albums can have power.)

When this listening project ends, I'll have more Pink Floyd. Always feeling like I'm catching up on what's good.

* Piper, Wish You Were Here, The Wall (my most recent Floyd purchase, right before I started this listening project), and The Final Cut.
Tags: music

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