Sunday, July 29, 2012

Playlist: Pink Floyd After Syd Barrett and Before Dark Side of the Moon

These days I spend a lot of time feeding babies in the dead of night.  Since they were premature and are still quite young, we have to feed them every three hours, whether they ask for it or not.  My wife and I have worked out a system where I stay up until the 2AM feeding, and she gets up early for the 5AM feeding, which allows us to get 5-6 hours of solid sleep.  Our little ones really love listening to music, and I have learned that playing a record is the perfect thing to do during our feedings.  The time it takes for one side of the LP to play is about as long as I need to diaper, feed, burp, and rock a baby to sleep.

Of course, when you're dealing with babies in the dead of night, you don't want to agitate them too much, which requires records that are on the mellow side.  One old standby that I have found to work very well is Pink Floyd's Meddle, which I had used for years to relax me for sleep, never knowing I would be using it on my daughters.  Listening to it has got me thinking about that obscure period in Pink Floyd's history after original leader Syd Barrett lost his mind and was kicked out of the band in 1968, and the Floyd's triumphal launch into stardom via one of the most iconic albums of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon, in 1973.  It's not their best stretch of work, but a lot of it is fantastic, and the band is probably at their most experimental in that period.  So plug in the lava lamp, roll your smokeables, and prepare to get mellow.

This track from Meddle is one of the most beautiful songs in the whole Pink Floyd catalog, one I was lucky enough to tape off the radio during an all-day Pink Floyd marathon on the local classic rock station when I was in high school.  I have a killer 90 minute Maxell tape in the bottom of a box somewhere as the fruit of that day.  (Back in my day we didn't have illegal downloading, we had to sit next to the radio with a trigger finger to record the songs we wanted. ) This song struck me immediately, it just felt like therapy listening to it, and to this day is one I like to play on a bad day.

"Let There Be More Light"
Pink Floyd's original guitarist, lead singer, and principal song writer Syd Barrett started losing his mind after the band's amazing first album (Piper at the Gates of Dawn), and even though he's listed in the credits of the second, A Saucerful of Secrets, he didn't really contribute much beyond the epically disturbing "Jugband Blues."  (He also wrote the unhinged "Vegetable Man," which was used as a B-side.)  This song kicks off the latter album, and has a wonderfully creepy vibe.

"See Saw"
Another track from Saucer, and one that I've always loved even though others (including the band) do not.  It's also one of the few written by keyboardist Rick Wright.  It might not be a masterpiece, but I do love a little psychedelic confection, since it does wonders for the old nerves.

"Granchester Meadows"
The Pink Floyd aesthetic transformed into English folk, and absolutely lovely.

"Careful With That Axe, Eugene"
I've linked here to the version from the Live From Pompeii film, since I find it to be especially powerful with the volcanoes blowing off and such.  This sounds more like an avant-garde jazz experiment than rock and roll, and while the Floyd would go on to make better music, it would never be this daring.

"Free Four"
Roger Waters went on to take himself a little too seriously on later albums, turning his pessimism a little too loose on Animals, The Wall, and most egregiously, The Final Cut.  Before then, he was able to harness his dark outlook on life to write profound little ditties about mortality.  This song contains one of my favorite lyrics on the subject, "Life is a short warm moment/ and death is a long cold rest."

This track takes up the entire second side of Meddle, something that really intrigued me when I first heard it, since it was the only song I knew of that was longer than "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida."  (I've got that song on a Maxell tape somewhere, too.)  After all these years I don't find it ponderous or overdone, but singularly beautiful, like watching the tides roll in.  I can't think of a better song to rock my daughters to sleep to.

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