Monday, 24 October 2016

Neil Young "Old Ways" (1985)

Neil Young "Old Ways" (1985)

The Wayward Wind/Get Back To The Country/Are There Any More Real Cowboys?/Once An Angel/Misfits//California Sunset/Old Ways/My Boy/Bound For Glory/Where Is The Highway Tonight?

"I'm mad as hell at something I don't quite understand, thank God I'm on the road tonight with this ol' Hillbilly band" or "Work was just a habit I found and I kept showing up anyway!"

'Old ways can be a ball and chain' sighs Neil, in full country-music regalia, while sounding as if he's travelled so far down the 'traditional' music road he might never come back again (or at least that was always the threat). It's not quite 'rust never sleeps' or 'is it better to burn out than it is to rust?' but it's the mantra of this record - cut yourself off from everything, even if it means swapping the music you know and which made you famous for a style, erm, even older and more stuck in its ways than rock and roll. If you're reading this, dear reader, then you and I know that statement just isn't true or at least I hope you do - old ways are often a beacon of light when the world's gone mad and the present just doesn't seem like it fits you somehow; it's new ways that are a ball and chain for those of us who grew up thinking all music would sound the way it once did in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, though, it's the 1980s and none of the old rules apply - especially for Neil whose eschewed his natural hippie politics to stick up for Reagan and been so horrified by the response of his rock and roll fans that he's moved over to country music who (by and large) better represent his new views of nuking them Russians and proving American might. Just to add to the feeling of despondency he's also caring full-time for his sick son Ben (not that we knew it at the time as the Youngs kept this quiet from everyone) and he's currently being sued by record company Geffen for 'not making music that people have come to associate with Neil Young' (admittedly they have a point after an electronic and rockabilly album, but suing an artist whose never sounded the same two records running doesn't seem like a sensible policy somehow. The famous quote is: 'The longer you sue for making country music, the longer I'm going to play country music. Either back off or I'm going to play country music forever'). No wonder Neil is feeling distracted and no wonder he wants to get back to country music where actually he never truly belonged rather than spend another minute playing rock and roll (the most country song before this in Neil's canon is the distinctly rock and roll 'Are You Ready For The Country?' off 'Harvest'). Part genuine two fingers at Geffen, part escapism, part genuine love of the genre and the musicians amongst it, 'Old Ways' feels an inevitable part of the 1980s Young canon somehow in a way none of the other Geffen experiments quite do. Even though the cornyness of country music seems to many of us fans like the last thing the keeping-it-real-deal-Neil ought to be playing around with.

So inevitable Neil actually cut it twice - and threatened many a sequel straight away (which we were spared thanks to Neil waking up one day in 1986 with a rock and roll chant going on in his head; be careful what you wish for though - that daydream led to 'Landing On Water') with this album having a particularly complex and chequered history. The original 'Old Ways' (whose songs can be heard on many a bootleg and - via the road - on the archive set 'A Treasure') which was due out in 1983 instead of 'Everybody's Rockin' is a mini-masterpiece, a country-rock album where Neil's fierce electric guitar fits simply because he says it does and rips away all the gee-I-got-sad-the-day-my-horse-died-in-the-little-ol'-Prairie histrionics that so often go hand in hand with country music. Neil poked fun at his rock and roll lifestyle on genuinely funny songs like 'Leaving The Top 40 Behind',  found a way of working his own unique metaphor-filled-melancholy into the country environment in 'Hillbilly Band' (which also includes the gag 'we ain't all that good looking but we still get outta hand!'), laughed at the whole rock and roll scene on 'Time Off For Good Behaviour' ('he got seven years for smoking what I've been taking all my life!') and wrote an open letter to Geffen on 'Your Love Again' ('You and I want different things but we need each other!') Throw in potential songs that weren't recorded fully in the studio but were played live at the time ('Silver and Gold' re-recorded in 2000, 'Amber Jean' the sweet tribute to Neil's daughter, the 'Lucky Thirteen' compilation refugee 'Depression Blues' (the best of all of Neil's Old Ways songs?) and the most conservative Young song ever 'Nothing Is Perfect (In God's Perfect Plan)' - because there's always one song per album that messes with our heads - and the results are actually rather good. This older 'Old Ways' manages to sound both very country and very Young-like, with Neil immersing himself in the genre but also attacking things with a rock and roll rebellion; it's a prime candidate for re-release as part of Neil's 'archive' series one day (especially as we've only had one new release so far this year and traditionally we've usually had about seven by now: is everything alright Neil?) However Geffen disagreed, telling Neil that country music was old hat (which it was back in the decade even Johnny Cash got thrown off Columbia, the label he'd been on nearly all his life since leaving Sun a few records into his career, but since when did something being out of fashion ever stop Neil?) and would he mind recording some rock and roll? (The irony is that Neil started out as a folk-singer - every time Geffen asked him to do what he used to do he should have provided them with Dylan covers!) The rock and rolling 'Everybody's Rockin' was then delivered with glee, even though rockabilly Elvis covers and copycat originals really wasn't what the record company meant. 'Don't like it?' said Neil, 'Then I'm going back to country again and you can either release it or else!'

One other reason Neil was so keen to release a country record was his sense of community. The rock world was in complete disarray in the mid-1980s: we'd lost so many artists to drugs by then and even Neil's colleague David Crosby was in court on drugs charges after being considered a danger to himself and others. Few bands or artists from the 1960s were still recording intact, having lost out to younger artists, 'musical differences' or the looks of the bands on MTV. Young was also growing 'old' in rock and roll terms - he turned forty just three months after this album's (eventual) release date - and he couldn't see his future with the gutbucket teenage blues of Crazy Horse forever. 'Old Ways' is on some level almost certainly a big insult to the record label who insisted country music wouldn't sell - but on another it also feels like a genuine attempt to reach out to all the things rock and roll music didn't have at the time. You could grow old making country music and nobody laughed at you; indeed if you could win people over (and Neil knew how hard that was after his days making 'Harvest' in Nashville) you had a fanbase who were with you for life, more or less, and weren't as fickle as rock and rollers (Neil's sales have been in a slow dive ever since 'Rust Never Sleeps' in 1979). Also, Neil felt a 'misfit' amongst his rock and roll buddies: they were off drinking and partying and voting for liberals and democrats; Neil was bringing up a poorly son and genuinely worried about a Russian communist takeover (if that seems dumb now then remember that in 1985 hippies didn't necessarily appear to be right about everything - hence particularly Crosby's drug problems and Neil had viewed the counter-culture more suspiciously than most of his peers ever since the needless OD deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry) - Neil felt politically, socially and spiritually much closer to the 'Conservative' world of country music at this time. Note that the 'sunset' is over California, home of the hippie, while Neil 'gets back to the country', presumably in Nashville, Tennessee, where this second album was recorded. While we almost always associate country music with the past, for a while there it represented the future too. 'Old Ways' isn't just about looking back, then, but looking forward - which might be why Neil returned to this album after a gap of two years....

Typically the intervening time away resulted in a re-think and the whole of the original record was scrapped. Maybe it was the sparse arrangements of the first 'Old Ways' that Geffen didn't like? Or maybe it was the anti-rock lyrics he'd delivered? How about if Neil tapped into not just the spirit but the talents of the new friends he'd made in country circles so it would sell to country fans too? (Young was a big supporter of the 'country music Live Aid' known as 'Farm Aid', which supported local farmers struggling to make their work pay across America was organised with the help of Waylon Jennings and John Mellencamp a mere month after 'Old Ways' hit the shops; typically Neil only sang one song from this record, 'Are There Any More Real Cowboys?', during his performance). Or - much more likely - Neil figured that if Geffen were going to block him from making any more music then he may as well have fun making it and the newer 'Old Ways' has easily the biggest budget of the Geffen period (why use one orchestra when you can use three?) Strangely enough Geffen seemed to quite like this record and shrugged their shoulders, allowing Neil his way in the hope of getting him back to rock and roll ('where it all began') the next time around (although Neil's threat to sue them and insisted on recording twelve different versions of 'White Christmas' for his next record - adding that he could prove in court that as the best-seller around the world he could prove it was 'commercial' even if he and Geffen knew his fans wouldn't buy it - probably had more than a little something to do this). Instead Geffen held their breath and crossed their fingers that giving Neil his own way would 'allow' him to record rock and roll the next time round. Which, erm, kinda worked out if your definition of rock and roll is simply 'noise' (see 'Landing On Water' aka 'Crashing into Concrete' when my head stops throbbing enough to review it).

However it's the big budget that gets in the way: country music already sounds a little bit like a fake Hollywood movie when it's done badly - you know, the ones where nobody means a word they're saying, everybody cries from their eyes rather than their faces and all the coincidences happen on cue. Add in a bigger budget with guest artists, syrupy strings and dozens of anonymous session musicians and suddenly that personal feel that made the old 'Old Ways' fairly promising is out of the window. At times Neil doesn't sound as if he belongs in this world, giving us treacly songs about how much he loves his son (without any of the edge or realism of the similarly themed songs on 'Trans') or unconvincing love songs to wife Pegi ('Once An Angel', which is reeled off with about as much passion as 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' was on 'Rockin'). At others he sounds so comfortable it's a bit worrying, out-countrifying his co-stars Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on a series of awkward duets such as the title track and 'Where Is The Highway Tonight?' (Waylon) and 'Are There Any More Real Cowboys?' (Willie). Both are shown up by Anthony Crawford, a regular member of Neil's many backing bands who fills in their parts when neither big boy can make it by the way - but then Crawford had an advantage in that he was used to Neil's working methods; poor Willie and Waylon were, according to most accounts, upset at being treated like spare parts and made to wait in a queue when making this record, which seems a strange way to treat your guests - especially if you've come to 'visit' them not the other way around. 'Old Ways', as it's released, is a waste of good money just to wind up a record company more than anything else and perhaps as unpalatable as 'Everybody's Rockin' in the way that fans suffer through spending good money on something that should have remained a private matter between artist and record company.

There are, as always, reasons to still own this album though. 'Misfits' is one of Neil's most complex, convoluted songs but even if it's ultimately gibberish it's compelling enough for multiple listens, set in a future space station where mankind still looks backwards for inspiration, to JFK's 'dream' and 'watching re-reruns of Muhammad Ali'. 'Get Back To The Country' sounds like a song from the first  'Old Ways' (smart, sassy, fun and self-mocking) delivered with the might and money of the second and is great fun if not that serious. 'California Sunset' sounds just enough like 'Comes A Time' to remind you that Neil should be able to deliver this sort of thing in his sleep under normal circumstances. And 'Old Ways' might sound pretty ordinary, but the lyric reads like one of the most autobiographical mottos Neil ever made, informing both fans and record company that he has to keep moving on, because 'it's hard to teach a dinosaur a new trick'. Had this half of the album been combined with the punchier, funnier side of the first 'Old Ways' (and let's face it, this wouldn't have been the first Neil Young album to be cobbled together that way) then we might yet have been on target for the best of the Geffen albums (bar 'Trans' anyway, which is pretty impossible to beat). Instead 'Old Ways' is particularly frustrating because on every other track it misses the point so badly - and even though 'Everybody's Rockin' and 'Landing On Water', the albums either side of it, are worse they were always going to sound pretty awful, lightweight and over-noisy respectively. At least 'Old Ways' sounds as if it had a chance of being good and contains flashes of brilliance.

There is a theme, of sorts, but it's a dull one Neil had already done better on past albums: even though 'old ways can be a ball and chain' this album really asks 'what happened to the good old days?' Simple pleasures and old-school romance count for a lot on this album: Neil thinks his wife is an 'angel', his son is 'growing up too fast' and he laments the loss of the traditional 'cowboy' riding the range who only cares about his 'flock'  and nature (note the line that digs at rock and roll: 'Not the one snortin' cocaine with the honky-tonk all closed, but the one that prays for more rain'). Cowboys were kind of the original rebels before the rock-stars came along, running land their own way and making a living away from the taxman - they make for a natural metaphor for Neil to use. 'Get Back To The Country' is an autobiographical tale of Neil joining and finding fame with a rock and roll band even though he always felt more like a country star (as Stephen Stills succinctly put it later 'While the others in the Buffalo Springfield got into a band after watching The Beatles In 'A Hard Day's Night', Neil wanted to join a band after watching a documentary about Bob Dylan). Throughout this album the old ways are the best:  'Bound For Glory' is as traditional a love story as Neil has ever written (two truck drivers of different sexes passing each other in the night and falling in love), 'Where Is The Highway Tonight?' finds a troubled troubadour leaving his old way of life behind him and finding solace with the heart and family and  'California State' complains that even here in this sunny place Neil has been beset by blizzards and snow. It's clearly time to move - and the country is a natural place for a musician who owns his own ranch to fit in.

So, is 'Old Ways' any good? Well it feels more substantial than any of Neil's post-Rust albums with the exception of 'Trans' and the singer has clearly spent more time and effort on this one, his family duties slowly easing to the point where he could think about other things again (even if 'My Boy' suggests Ben isn't that far from his thoughts). 'Get Back To The Country' is a pretty good stab at country-rock, actually superior to any of the similar stabs at the genre on 'Harvest' and 'Comes A Time', while 'Misfits' is a fascinating song that isn't really like anything Neil has ever given us before (it's a surreal painting more than it is a song). However if the main point of 'Old Ways' was to convince Neil's many rock and roll fans over from the 'dark side' and over to good ol' honest country music then he hasn't done that good a job to be honest. Neil sounds less than convincing in his new beliefs that he's going to be a country star forever, he's not enough of a fan to realise that he ought to be doing more with the talents making the album with him (especially Waylon and Willie) and at times 'Old Ways' is the glossiest and ickiest of all the many Neil Young albums out there, sickly sweet and saccharine in a way his rock and roll never is. With so many good tracks left on the cutting room floor, you wonder how so many hastily written filler songs ever made it to the album and why Neil spent so much time and money trying to make purses out of sow's ears when he must have known how insubstantial most of this record still was. As an advert for the country it's abysmal; compared to the very best of Neil's catalogue it's flimsy and gutless - only when seen in context, as an album (re)recorded in trying circumstances by an artist who'd fallen out of love with the rock and roll spirit that was killing his friends and fallen in love with the country-family spirit that suddenly appealed to him more and made after an even flimsier album does 'Old Ways' make any sense. And even then the new 'Old Ways' makes less sense than the old 'Old Ways'. It's all far from being a vital, integral part of your Neil Young collection - but at the same time 'Old Ways' feels like a very important piece of the puzzle, if not always a particularly musical or inventive one.

As a final bit of trivia: Old ways aren't always a ball and chain and there's proof Neil looked back: the sleeve notes actually state 'Belated thanks to George Grantham and Jim Messina for bass and drums on the Reprise album Neil Young', the guitarist finally paying a debt he's waited seventeen years to pay! You sense the line is here more to remind Geffen that Neil used to be on a 'proper' label once and to get them to print the name of his old employees...

In his book 'Definitive Guide To The Music Of Neil Young', the nearly-always reliable Johnny Rogan calls 'The Wayward Wind', 'probably Neil's most successful cover song'. To these ears it's not even the best Neil cover of a song with the word 'wind' in the title, falling short of 'Four Strong Winds' on 'Comes A Time' (and that wasn't great). Gorgi Grant, Tex Ritter and even future DJ Jimmy Young (no relation) all scored big hits with the ballad in 1956 and you can see why: it's a dramatic, sweeping and Hollywardised version of a sudden unexpected love affair that sums up its era about as well as Kurt Cobain sums up 1994 or  'Heart Of Gold' sums up 1972. You can see why the song appealed to the then-eleven-year-old Neil who'd have heard it too, seeing as it's about two wandering loners who walk to the beat of their own drum meeting up and synchronising their heart-watches, as it were. However in 1984 this is old-fashioned, tacky and so OTT it's absurd, with swirling harmonica and an orchestra pretending to be a 'wind' in the same way that primary school teachers instruct children. Country singer Denise Draper's full blown hicksville vocal are actually what this song demands - but they really don't go well with Neil's still-predominantly Canadian growl and like Neil she isn't budging or meeting him in the middle the way his more compatible co-singers like Nicolette Larson or Emmylou Harris do. The result is a recording of many firsts for Neil - from the opening mouthorgan lick it's more artificial than any Young recording has ever been up till now and while the first verse isn't that bad, Neil struggles thereafter. It's also a track that's clearly had far too much time and money spent on it and while we argue elsewhere in this project that Neil's 'first thought, best thought, only thought' policy isn't always the best, it's still better than this 'hundredth thought, worst thought' policy. In short, yuck! This isn't Neil Young - even when you factor in the fact it was made to annoy the heck out of Geffen, it doesn't even sound like Neil Young (while some of his more conservative fans probably lapped up the orchestra anyway). This is a recording where everyone loses - artists, fans, record company and no doubt the publishers who scowl whenever they think of Neil recording their precious schmaltzy song. Thankfully things will get a lot better from hereon in, with 'The Wayward Wind' one of the two lowest lights on this album.

By contrast 'Get Back To The Country' feels like the sort of message Neil would make in the country mould. It's a smart, sassy song that fits in with those how-did-I-get-here? autobiographical songs like 'Don't Be Denied' and 'Buffalo Springfield Again' although it's unusual in that it re-writes decades of history. Deep down Neil clearly had rock and roll running through his veins the way a stick of rock has 'rock' down the middle and even from his earliest days as a folkie he was slotting in random Beatles covers with first band The Squires. On this song though he tells us he merely 'got lucky' with a 'rock and roll band' that 'struck Gold in Hollywood' (specifically the Springfield at the Whisky-A-Go-Go), while in his heart 'I knew I would get back to the country - to where it all began'. Actually country arrived in Neil's setlists in his late twenties and after he'd already covered rock, soul, psychedelia, folk, the early beginnings of grunge and the orchestrated lushness of his first solo album. Country turned up late to the party - this is revisionism as bad as anything in Stalinist Russia, if not worse because there everyone secretly knew the truth but so many fans do think about Neil as a country star even today. The 'real' clue comes in the lyric that those years on the road playing rock and roll date from 'when I was a younger man' - Neil's fed up of playing the younger man's game and wants to grow old gracefully (or at least he did for, ooh, the six months it took to make this album). Helping Neil with his plea that he was always a country star at heart, honest, are the lyric's references to Young staples usually heard in his rock and roll (barns, roads and his fixation with busses and trucks) which make us wonder for a minute if Neil isn't actually telling the truth here and just happened to fall into the wrong medium by accident and the fact that he clearly understands the genre so well. The clichés are all here - banjo, jew's harp, a fiddle and a honky tonk piano that sounds as if it's seen better days - but they actually mean something in context, urging this restless bouncy song along rather than just being used because they're 'there'. The song is also just pure fun, with Neil's lead vocal full of just the right amount of mischief and Waylon Jennings' second vocal adding just enough gravitas (he's clearly taking the song at face value, despite the comedy jew's harp). The closest thing to Poco (formed by fellow Springfielder Richie Furay) in the Young canon, this song works equally well as a song expounding the benefits of being a country musician and as a delightful bit of tongue-in-cheek humour.

'Are There Any More Real Cowboys?' sounds great for the opening ten seconds or so, with Neil's 'Old Man' style acoustic and his sad slow harmonica puffing taking us right back to the better parts of 'Goldrush' and 'Harvest'. Alas then in comes a crashing drum beat, the tempo slows down, an ugly guitar 'n' piano part really drags and Willie Nelson turns up like some drunk at the karaoke bar, making Neil sound like the 'stablest' thing in the song (you know you've got problems when that happens!) The end result sounds like another clichéd parody, but with the nagging feeling that everyone involved in the song meant it to come out this way - slurred vocals, timid backbeat and funeral pace and all. Even as a song this is a lost cause: what this song is actually about is farmers, with Neil and Willie clearly trying to write a 'theme' song for their 'Farmer's Aid' concerts. Only farmers don't lead interesting enough lives so they become the more romantic 'cowboys' and Neil sticks in a few random digs juxtaposing this honest, earthy way of life with his old rockstar days - 'They're not the ones snortin' cocaine!' The trouble is, even if Neil was never as big a user of drugs as his reputation suggests (they messed with his epilepsy for starters) and is actually closer to the image of the farmer here than most (thanks to his 'Broken Arrow' ranch back home), that's the image of him people have got and Neil certainly lived up to the rock and roll lifestyle in other ways. On this song he comes over as patronising to both his old audience he's trying to leave behind and his new one, with some truly wretched lines 'country families working hand in hand' and with nothing bigger on their mind than 'praying for rain' to help their crops. Only the melody of this song has anything to recommend it, slowly and wearily getting on with things despite some clearly creaking bones in much the same way as the characters in the song. Even so the question isn't so much 'are there any more real cowboys?' as much as 'were there ever any cowboys who ever acted like this at all ever?'

'Once An Angel' is one of the ugliest songs about heaven ever written. Even for an album big on slow treacly ballads this one drags and the opening piano triplets sum up everything false and artificial about country music at its worst. However this song about wife Pegi gets better the further it continues, with some nice pedal steel guitar work, some lovely understated harmonies (from no less than eight female backing singers, none of whom ever worked with Neil on anything else) and a vocal from Neil that manages to cut through the cloyingness of the backing track and offer something 'real'. As with so many of the second batch of 'Old Ways' songs a remix or a re-recording one day would most likely make this song appear a lot better than fans have ever assumed it to be. It is, after all, about as close to a simple and straightforward love song as Neil ever wrote and yet it still manages to sound as if it was written about a real feeling for a real person. Neil is autobiographically accurate when he sings 'it's been six years now since that ring slipped on your finger' (he and Pegi got married in 1978 - 'Comes A Time' is kinda their engagement party) and by most accounts equally accurate when he pays tribute to his wife for 'making a better man out of me'. The third verse feels out of place though, as Neil pretends that he doesn't see how hurt and upset his partner is as she stares out of the window wishing her old life back. This could have made for a much more interesting song (she's right for him but he isn't for her) but we don't get it, the song ending up a typical defensive country song full of excuses ('I've done things that you can never understand!') Nowadays this song immediately makes fans wonder if Neil is singing about current girlfriend Darryl Hannah - the pair reportedly met on holiday in the 'early 1980s' (no one is too specific on the timings), while funnily enough the whole tone of love-tinged-with-regret-and-guilt-and-piano recalls Neil's 2014's 'Storytone'.

By far the most intriguing and longest-lasting song on the album is 'Misfits', a typically dense and experimental work that Neil often reverts to when he's too tired to think straight ('Hawks and Doves', the 1980 album recorded when son Zeke was first diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy features many similar songs). A jumble of the future and the past, humans onboard a space station watch boxing matches from the 1960s and keep an eye on 'elephant characteristics' in the population below (what are 'elephantines' exactly? Besides growing a big nose, big ears and a tail?) The crew are 'living Kennedy's dream' but is the line meant genuinely (mankind in space! One small step for man! etc) or sarcastically (instead of doing some good for the Earth they're watching Muhammad Ali box, which they could have done back home)? Houston call to say 'the sky is falling' (beautifully mimicked by the best string arrangement on the record) but we never get any more from that story and if this is the end of the world none of the workers appear to be that fussed about it. The song then switches gears for part two, following the adventures of a 'see-through hooker' (her clothes or her character or both?) who lives the life of luxury with two televisions even though she can only watch one at a time. A sneezing fit makes her collapse outside a lift and the doctors announce 'the worst is over' but that they cannot save her. The hint is that she doesn't have to live out her life as a sex toy for randy old men so in that sense she's been 'saved', but like many similar songs Neil could mean anything - or nothing - by these lyrics. Next we get two verses about a 'rider' from 'South Dakota' who is a returning Veteran from some unspecified war who still drinks to cover up the scars of what he's seen. After that we loop back to that space station, living Kennedy's dream - what to make of all this? The title 'Misfits', a word rather thrown-away near the end of the song as the rider heads off to a place 'where only misfits can go', suggests that America is becoming fragmented, with everybody acting strangely in different ways and for different reasons so that we're 'all' misfits. Nobody in this song re-acts to life the way they should: the space station workers don't shriek in fear of what has happened to the Earth or cry for their loved ones, the 'hooker' could have given up her 'job' years ago but is now doing it for the luxury not the necessity and the rider has survived against the odds and earned peace and tranquillity, not drunken-ness and self-destruction. However there may be no message at all here - this might just be Neil's fevered imagination working overtime again the way it did on 'Last Trip To Tulsa' and 'Down By The River' and even Neil hasn't got a clue what this is all about - he just happened to the subconscious that came up with all this and wrote it down. Like so many of these similar stream-of-consciousness songs, though, 'Misfits' teases because it sounds so substantial (especially in the middle of one of Neil's more insubstantial albums). The arrangement is clever, the performance is poignant (with Doana Cooper's haunting wordless backing vocals particularly strong) and everybody in the room seems to be pulling together to make this recording work in a way that none of the others on 'Old Ways' do (indeed, it's ironic that the country backing band who play on everything play this, the least country song here by a country mile, the best of all). Hypnotic and other-worldly, 'Misfits' lives long in the mind - even if it is, ultimately, all gibberish.

'California Sunset' was taped - for no apparent reason - out on the road, at Austin City Limits to be exact even though it sounds much like a studio take would have done and the audience applause has been mixed way down low. This is an ok-ish sort of song, caught halfway between the brilliance of the best of this album and the clichés of the worst whilst also serving as a tribute and a put-down of California and Neil's old way of living. Chances are Neil is more waving goodbye to an old part of his life here than being rude to his former home anyway - his migration to Nashville sounds more like a bird migrating when they feel the pull of something new and bad weather arriving in tandem. However Neil is still proud enough to call California 'the golden state' at the song's end and still sees California as having 'many colours' and calls it a 'land of beauty' when looking back from afar. A bouncy tune sounds much like the title track of 'Comes A Time' and Neil's vocal is, naturally, much better and more focussed than the 'expensive' re-takes on the rest of the album he cut over and over. However the backing band is a tad shrill: fiddle player Rufus Thibodeaux gets well off the beaten track by the end of his lengthy instrumental and harmony vocalist Anthony Crawford is not at his best here.

Title track 'Old Ways' finds us back in Nashville and the band have a certain purr in their performance as Neil delivers his latest metaphors for having to move on and do different things. Only this time the irony is that Neil finds that as hard as he tries even he is 'set in my ways' and has gone even further into his past by diving into country music headfirst. This song is more about character than genre, though, with Neil clearly having had enough of his boozing and partying rock and roll lifestyle, telling us that when he woke up after yet another party 'I was a different man' and that, now middle age is approaching, 'I'm really going to make my life last'. He even admits that work - ie his music - was getting to be a 'habit' and that even though he got 'laid off' - by 'himself' as he sings here though he might mean talking himself out of his old contract with Reprise, which was more Neil pulling away to something new  than the record company pushing him out - 'I kept turning up to work anyway', with Young perhaps admitting that he's been sleepwalking through his Geffen contract so far. Though Neil continues to sleepwalk through most of 'Old Ways', you can tell this title track means more to him than most as he turns in a far more suitable performance big on the rough edges and sly humour. Waylon Jennings is under-used again but at least he sounds as if he belongs on this song despite the very rock and roll swagger and amplification between the country instruments this time around and there's a fun duet between Neil's plunky guitar and Terry McMillan's bluesy harmonica. All in all, not bad.

Unfortunately 'My Boy' is terrible. We've already heard just how nauseating Neil can be about his children on the previous 'Already One' (one of 'Comes A Times' lowest ebbs written about Zeke, Neil's song with Carrie Snodgrass) and here's another similar song for son Ben, who'd have been about ten by this time (third child 'Amber Jean' definitely got the best part of the deal with the song named after her, performed on the International Harvesters tour that promoted this album but never in the studio). Given the many descriptions of Ben around, Neil's middle child would probably have hated and been deeply embarrassed by this song - its mawkish, dull and generic (everything Ben apparently isn't, despite his illness). The trouble is Neil's thinking with his country hat on again rather than working out how his natural sound might combine with the country genre and after the cliché that my little ol' dog died (a cliché that Neil will return to on 'Old King' released on 'Harvest Moon' in 1992) 'I love you sonny Jim' is probably second. Neil complains that his son is growing up too fast and urges him to slow down even though they both know he has no control over that. I mean, if he carries on like this soon he'll be grown and 'living out your dreams' which sounds like a terrible tragedy in Neil's hands, while the summer vacations come and go and slowly add up. And that's about it, for three painful minutes, while a pedal steel guitar, a fiddle, a banjo and an unusually ugly Neil guitar solo all compete to see who can tug at our heartstrings the most (the result: it's a draw, none of them do at all!) The only real benefit of 'My Boy' is that it seems to last an eternity to get to the end so maybe it is a means of slowing down time and making childhood last longer after all. Along with 'Wayward Wind' it's easily the worst thing here.

Neil reportedly wrote the lyric to 'Bound For Glory' in one sudden spurt of creativity bashing out ideas on an old typewriter he had on his tour bus. That kind of shows - you can tell this song's basic melody has been fitted around the lyrics rather than vice versa and the boom-chikka arrangement sounds like all those wretched 'Highwayman' tracks Willie, Waylon, Kris Kristoffersen and Johnny Cash made together in country music's abhorrent version of a  CSNY super-group in the late 1980s. Waylon takes a whole verse in fact and sounds awful - awkward, off-key and OTT, not that Neil sounds an awful lot better and the pair's vocals really don't fit well at all when they duet on the chorus. It's lyrically this song nearly works, using a storytelling mode that Neil doesn't use very often - that of the omniscient narrator who can see the 'fate' pulling two of his characters together despite their will. The story follows a trucker and a girl 'hitch-hiking with her dog' who end up chatting when he gives her a lift. Both of them are used to 'living on the edge' and Neil comes up with a whole jumble of metaphors about how their lives impact on one another when they finally agree they're a natural couple: 'like two comets heading for a bed' is one; 'bound for each other like two blankets layin' on a bed' is another. My guess is this song is one of Neil's earliest for Darryl - the trucker is confused and torn between the new adventure that lies ahead and the 'two children' back at home, but he can't stop thinking about 'her new way of looking at life'; for her part she wasn't looking to fall in love either, it's just something that happened. The trouble with this song is we never find out what happens next, perhaps because if this is about Neil's 'real' new relationship he doesn't have the answers himself yet, torn between the security of the present and the tug of a potential future. The performance isn't quite as strong as the song, though - especially given that the restless melody really isn't up to the words to begin with - and is quite off-putting with those ugly harmonies and more wretched fiddle playing edging this song towards sickly saccharine than truthful storytelling. And also, why are the couple 'bound for glory?' If anything, they sound like they're bound for tears and drama and misery, even if they helpless about doing anything about it.

'Old Ways' then ends with 'Where Is The Highway Tonight?' is more Neil 'n' Waylon as old-timers, leaning on the fence and talking about how great the old days were and wishing they'd come back again. Neil's done this before many times across his career (his 'first' song - at least until the 'Archives' box set gave us an even earlier twenty or so - 'Sugar Mountain' is about exactly that), but usually with more panache and skill than this rotten song which doesn't go anywhere but just limps it's way round the yard a bit before going back in its box. Interestingly, given that it's the last 'country' song before the rock and roll returns (whatever Neil said in interviews about making this sort of music forever in his interviews) the character in the song is having a re-think about his life, having realised that he took the wrong path at the crossroads and his old, safer way of life was better anyway. In context this is probably Neil convincing himself not to run after Darryl (perhaps the 'haunting melody' he hears in his head) and to stay with his wife and family - but it also sounds at times like he's missing his rock and roll crew ('Where are those old and crazy nights?') However, typically, if Neil is singing about how much he misses plugging in his electric guitar then he's doing so on perhaps the most 'country' song on his most 'country' record. The fiddles (two of the flipping things!), the walking bass, the pedal steel, the Hicksville piano and especially Waylon's vocals all make for the purist country backing here, while Neil sounds genuinely sad and alone here which fits better with what's going on behind him than elsewhere on the album. Unfortunately, though, this song about old times isn't original or inventive enough to stand out and the track - and album - ends most unexpectedly on a question mark which rather says it all. This isn't a song - or LP - about answers so much as it is about questions, but equally they're questions we're not really being let in on.

The end result is an album that, like all of the ones from the Geffen era, does grow on you no matter how off-putting they sound on first hearing. There is something going on here - in part of the album at least - but to work out what we're being told you have to dig through some of the ugliest and most off-putting music of Neil's career (until 'Greendale' anyway). Neil doesn't suit purist country - he didn't on 'Harvest' (where the country-rockers are generally accepted as the weaker tracks) and only did on parts of 'Comes A Time' and 'Harvest Moon' (thanks mainly to a sparkling backing band and a rock edge that went alongside the country twinges). However sounding like a fish out of water rather suits these rambling narrators who don't quite know where they're going or which way to turn in life and the country grounding and solidarity is naturally appealing for someone whose trying hard not to fall into the same rock and roll pitfalls that have beset so many of those close to Neil. There's a very interesting conversation going on across parts of 'Old Ways' - it's just not always the one between Neil and his guest artists, or between his guitar and the International Harvesters backing and too much of this album feels as if it was made as 'country' as it could be to annoy the heck out of Geffen rather than because that was the best way to serve the songs, which is not a good reason to make an album (although at least there's slightly more of a reason to make this album than 'Everybody's Rockin', which was only done to make the record company as mad as could be). You can hear that conversation much better on the road and on the live 'A Treasure' album where the Harvesters sound alive and enthusiastic rather than tired and half-dead thanks to all the many re-takes on this album, while the additional 'new' material (most of it taken from the old 'Old Ways') shows just how good this album could have been and how well Neil suits the country genre - when he wants to, on his own terms and not his record label's. Old ways can indeed be a ball and chain, but you can teach a dinosaur a new trick sometimes; just not when you're at war with your record company, when your heart is being tugged in different directions and Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson are on the phone asking when their next solo on the record is.

Other Neil Young articles from this website include:

'Neil Young' (1968)

'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969)

‘After The Goldrush’ (1970)

'Harvest' (1972)

'Time Fades Away' (1973)

'On The Beach' (1974)

'Zuma' (1975)

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977)

'Comes A Time' (1978)

'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979)

'Hawks and Doves' (1980)

'Harvest Moon' (1992)

'Sleeps With Angels' (1993)

'Mirror Ball' (1995)

'Broken Arrow' (1997)

'Greendale' (2003)

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)

'Fork In The Road' (2009)

'Le Noise' (2011)

'A Treasure' (1986/2012)

'Storytone' (2014)

'The Monsanto Years' (2015)

The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings

Pink Floyd: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1965-1978

David Gilmour In Joker's Wild "Joker's Wild"

(Private Pressing, '1965')

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?/Walk Like A Man/Don't Ask Me (What I Say)//Big Girls Don't Cry/Beautiful Delilah

"I'm gonna walk like a man, as fast as I can"

Though he won't join our story proper for another three years, David Gilmour is the first Floyd member off the mark with his school band Joker's Wild making a single limited edition self-titled EP. Given that this power trio plus friends features Gilmour's first recordings with the same band he re-hired to back him on his hard-rocking 1978 solo LP, fans expected some raunchy rock and roll, with David letting his hard down back in the days he had lots of it and lots of pre-Floyd raw and ragged sounds. Actually, this is a doo-wop album where the biggest influences is not the Four Beatles like almost every other early AAA release but The Four Seasons and The Four Freshman. Gilmour's guitar is barely brought out the case and when he does he strums more like a rhythm player without any of those stinging guitar solos he's so famous for.  His vocals too are a surprise, a Frankie Valli/Frankie Lymon  falsetto that's only ever been heard on 'Fat Old Sun' in the Floyd pantheon on a series of tracks that already point at his love of harmonies. The end result is a fascinatingly parallel world where David had his own career away from the Floyd, indulging in his favourite groups and styles without being hired to look, sing and sound like his friend Syd Barrett or find his own sound within the context of a band who'd already found theirs.

Surprised by what they find most fans tend to dismiss this EP when and if they ever actually find it - understandably Gilmour has been keen to keep it hidden, although the British Library National Sound Archive has one of only fifty rare copies open to the public for anyone passing in London and unlike most Floyd things on Youtube which get taken down instantly, Gilmour doesn't seem to have fought anyone posting the soundtrack (which fans do from time to time - goodness only knows where they get these near-priceless relics from). However, if you can pout yourselves far back enough in time to a time when singing falsetto love songs was a perfectly respectable thing to be doing and make adjustments for the fact that this is a nervy bunch of teens making their first recording for an album they thought would probably only be bought by their mothers, not pored over by scholars in decades to come, then Joker's Wild is a surprisingly enjoyable album. 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love?' features an impressive mixture of voices (extraordinarily that's Gilmour doing the high pitched lead even higher than the original), 'Walk Like A Man' has a real clapping-enhanced funky beat while the band's 'real' lead singer John Gordon is impressive and full of character (and a lot more confident than Gilmour), Manfredd Mann's 'Don't Ask' adds a burst of R and B with some early Gilmour guitar slashes, while a fast-paced 'Beautiful Delilah' by Chuck Berry has Gilmour already playing a scratchy solo completely at odds with what the rest of the band are doing is at least the equal of the Kinks cover from the year before. Only 'Big Girls Don't Cry' sounds clumsy enough to remind you that this band are just teenage wannabes recording in somebody's living room rather than a 'proper' 60s band. Though it's a long way from being as fully formed as the Floyd's own debut 'Joker's Wild' is more enjoyable than just being a musical time capsule and probably the equal of the even rarer Floyd first recording from the same year, with Syd Barrett sounding far less at home rasping Slim Harpo's blues 'I'm A King Bee'. Better than you might expect and more than deserving of its first CD release.


"Tonite Let's All Make Love In London"

(See For Miles, Recorded January 1967, Released July 1968)

Interstellar Overdrive*/Michael Caine/Changing Of The Guard/Marquess Of Kensington/Night Time Girl/Dolly Bird/Out Of Time/Edna O'Brien/Interstellar Overdrive (Reprise)*/Abdrew Loog Oldham/Winter Is Blue/Mick Jagger/Julie Christie/Michael Caine Again/Paint It Black/Alan Aldridge/Paint It Black (Reprise)/David Hockney/Here Comes The Nice/Lee Marvin/Interstellar Overdrive (Second Reprise)*/Tonite Let's All Make Love In London/Nick's Boogie*
* = Pink Floyd Recordings

(CD Edition Track Listing)

"There's no real secret to it, it;s just dpoing the best you can and poutting everything you've got into it and hoping people will like it"

Film-maker Pete Whitehead is one of the few documentary makers who actually realised that the mad scene unfolding around him in the build-up to the Summer of Love might be worth capturing on tape. His take on the Swinging London scene of 1966 came hot on the heels of his originally unreleased Rolling Stones film 'Charlie Is My Darling' and is a similar mix of the primitive and the profound. Understandably the film flopped at the time - why bother going to see the film when you could experience the real thing at a cheaper price? - but most of Whitehead's films have been recognised in the decades since as treasure troves of what it was like to be alive back then. As a casual acquaintance of the Floyd, they were an obvious candidate for Whitehead's most contemporary film, even though the band had yet to make a record and that aside from a half-hearted recording in 1965 (still officially unreleased) this would be the first time anyone had captured the Floyd on tape. Better yet it's the only record ever made of the band in their natural habitat at the London club scene, complete with psychedelic lava lamp show if you own the DVD version. Understandably, given how unknown they were at the time, the Floyd are only seen in part, with a seventeen minute version of 'Interstellar Overdrive' that ranks amongst their best cut in two for the film and edited badly, while a second track tapes for the project - a one-off jam titled 'Nick's Boogie' - doesn't seem to have made it into the original film at all. The original soundtrack LP here rather reflects that, with three bursts of 'Interstellar' cut down to a senseless four minutes between them - the last reprise only lasting a mere 54 seconds. Thankfully the CD re-issues of the album as outlined above are much more interesting, including not just the 'Interstellar' extracts but also the full seventeen minute unedited version at the start and the full twelve minute Nick's Boogie at the end as extra-special bonus tracks. As for the rest of the album, you get a cameo from John Lennon dropping into see what all the fuss is about, Michael Caine pretending he knows something about the youth movement, the soundtrack of Chris Farlowe preparing to tape the Stones song 'Out Of Time' for Decca, a posh-sounding Mick Jagger gets deep by claiming not to want to be a generational spokesperson and The Small Faces, here represented by their cheeky 1867 drug-referencing hit 'Here Come The Nice'. All in all, plenty of evidence that London did swing like a pendulum do and the Floyd might have become big even earlier had the full portion of their performance been used instead of bits.

 "In London 1966-1967"

(See For Miles, Recorded January 1967, Released September 1995)

Interstellar Overdrive/Nick's Boogie

"If you're someone new starting out in pop music they have to know first that you exist"

Sensing that Floyd fans felt short changed by having to sit though interminable lectures and Michael Caine poncing about, See For Miles re-issued the 'Let's Make Love In London' soundtrack featuring just the unedited Pink Floyd tracks. Billed as an 'EP', in actual fact the length of the two songs played meant it ran just fourteen minutes shorter than Floyd debut 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn'. With so little footage surviving of the Barrett-era Floyd going at it tooth and nail in a live setting, this is a valuable document with an 'Interstellar' that snakes around like anything before finally coming in for the kill at the end, whilst 'Nick's Boogie' is a nice bit of collection filler. 

"The Man"

(Never Released)

Daybreak (Grantchester Meadows)/Work (Unreleased)/Afternoon (Biding My Time)/Doing It (Up The Khyber)/Sleeping (Quicksilver)/Nightmare (Cymabline)/Daybreak Reprise (Grantchester Meadows)

"Will the tightrope reach the end? Will the final couplet rhyme?"

Though Pink Floyd released two albums that year, 1969 might be better remembered by fans for what the band were doing in concert. Regenerating afresh after the Barrett years this is an equally spacey and improv-led Floyd but one that had less Syd moodswings and more Roger-type structure. Featuring a few new songs from 'More' and 'Ummagumma' and the not-released-till-Relics 'Biding My Time' and a new, rather eccentric instrumental that mainly consists of the band drinking tea (not unlike 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' in parts). The theme of the suite was 'a day in the life of man' (so not at all like The Moody Blues' 'Days Of Future Passed' then) and holds together quite well even if the half hour or so is a little heavy on the instrumentals. You can, perhaps, hear a little of the 'Dark Side Of The Moon' frustration at the repetition and mundanity of life, though mainly what you take away from this suite is how scary even the pretty ballads sound, with Rick's twinkling organ higher in the mix than it was on either record. There are a handful of bootlegs featuring these tracks doing the rounds by the way, though it's the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam set that's the best played and probably in the best sound too, the microphone so close to the stage you can even hear Roger's sibilance (very rare for bootlegs - typically the best gigs are the ones recorded so far away from the stage they're practically in the car park!) At this show, then, 'Grantchester Meadows' has a much folkier and free-flowing feel with Roger and Dave improvising rather than sticking to the repetitive riff of the record, while Rick gets an extended solo in lieu of the sound effects, which is a brgain really. 'Work' rambles on and on, with something happening off-mike to make the crowd laugh, without much happening outside the clunk of tea-cups, the audience coughing (seriously, how virus-infected were they?) and Roger's laughter. 'Biding My Time' has a killer guitar sound and a lot more life about it than the studio take, with Roger outwardly sarcastic rather than drily witty and Nick - whose been missing the last two songs - making up for his absence with a noisy drum part. Rick plays the trombone alone on this version. 'Doing It!' - reportedly Roger's attempts to sum up sex, although if so it seems a rather odd time of the day - is effectively 'Up The Khyber' (nice euphemism there boys) without Rick's parts, segueing into the lengthy solo from 'The Grand Vizier's Garden Party' along the way. 'Sleeping' is a Rick and Dave special, as Wright holds the song together and Gilmour gets weird. It's clearly based around the same notes as 'Quicksilver' but builds up to one intense climax rather than several. Next is 'Nightmare', a slowed down and especially creepy version of 'Cymbaline' with Rick's organ darting out of the song like a shadow. Unlike the album the footsteps really do catch up with the narrator in a scary anything-goes finale that's played really loud and hard. In a sign of concept albums to come, the track ends in a row of ticking clocks (simpler but similar to Alan Parsons' sound effects for 'Dark Side'). Overall, the best Floyd improvisations after the 'Pompeii' gig - why oh why isn't this gig out on CD?!?

"The Journey"

(Never Released)

The Beginning (Green Is The Colour)/Beset By The Creatures Of The Deep (Careful With That Axe Eugene)/The Narrow Way (Part Three)/The Pink Jungle (Pow R Toc H)/The Labryinths Of Auximines ('Interstellar Overdrive' - the quiet bit)/Behold The Temple Of The Light (Unreleased)/The End Of The Beginning (A Saucerful Of Secret's 'Celestial Voices')

"Hazy were the visions overplayed..."

After the break in the 1969 tour, The Floyd usually returned to the stage for a second suite made up of period songs both used and unused. 'The Journey' tended to be a vaguer story than 'The Man' and perhaps the vaguest of all the Floyd's concept pieces: it's effectively a suite that keeps switching from cosy pastoral innocence to nightmarish atonal jazz at the drop of a hat. This is, most likely, meant to represent the Floyd's and perhaps particularly Roger's growing sense of paranoia in this period, that mankind has somehow gone down the wrong path. However it's a less directionless idea than 'Dark Side' 'The Wall' or even 'The Body', using melodies from past Floyd classics that fit but not necessarily the lyrics and ending with four straight instrumentals. However 'The Journey' holds together rather better than 'The Man' as a mood piece, with all the songs (most of them usually extended far past their natural length on record) sounding as if they fit together with no weird drum solos or on-stage tea breaks! 'Green In The Colour' is a case in point, a lovely slow version that swaps the slightly grating tin whistles of 'More' for more of Rick's organ and instead of being a compact sweet love song this live version has a lengthy fade that stretches out across several minutes. Little bit by little bit the peaceful scene falls apart, with Rick's sweetness fading lick by lick and Roger's bass getting more repetitive until suddenly the band have magnicifently manouvred 'Green' into its polar opposite 'Beset By Creatures', which may well be the scariest of all three goes at 'Careful With That Axe Eugene'. The band's telepathy (at least at the Concertgebouw gig - others a bit more tentative) when the band suddenly rush as one before Roger lets out a shriek so loud you'd think he was being murdered is one of the great Floyd moments - the sort of moment no other band would think to try. Though hardly compact, there aren't as many creatures here as you might expect and the band slow down little bit by little bit until coming to the sighing paranoia of' 'The Narrow Way'. Gilmour struggles to sing at the same time as playing a charging pulsating electric guitar part and the song lacks the eerie sound effects of 'Ummagumma', but David's gruff vocal works better than his falsetto. The instrumental at the end of the song is different, being effectively a Nick and Rick duet that slowly sinks into a jazzy and slightly too 'posh' 'Pow R Toc H' (sorry, 'The Pink Jungle'). Roger and Dave swap the vocal sound effect parts (Roger sounding more like a monkey than ever), while Rick shimmers on an organ rather than plinkty-plonks a piano as per the 'Piper' recording. The song is far less intense played like this and it's almost a relief when Gilmour starts using his guitar for some chilling sound effects like the ones from 'Echoes' (minus the ravens), while Roger and Nick play the slowed down just-before-Syd-comes-back-in bits from 'Interstellar Overdrive' behind. We then get a tape of heavy footsteps and heavy breathing (both sounding like Roger's) as a man tries to walk between two heavily locked doors at speed (shades of 'On The Run' here) on the part known as 'Behold The Temple Of The Light'. What's found on the other side of the door? 'Celestial Voices', the last quarter of 'A Saucerful Of Secrets', starting with Gilmour's feedback-drenched guitar before Rick's blissful organ wipes all the tears away and Roger gets to play with his gong again. This leads to the usual full ending with Gilmour singing at the top of his voice into a storm of four instruments played at full power, the result being far more therapeutic than the original record and feeling as if you really have been and gone on a journey. There is no way that only four people came up with this unholy racket from a tiny stage back in 1969 - music has never sounded so...huge!  Even more than 'The Man' this is a terrific lost piece of the Floyd puzzle and at 40 odd minutes each represents a chunky length of the band's set lists at the time. What a shame that the band never recorded a live album in this manner (it would have made more sense than the live disc on 'Ummagumma'!) or recorded it 'properly' for posterity. It would have been fascinating, too, to see updated versions of these suites in years to come: surely there's a great one going from the purity of 'Stay' and 'Burning Bridges' into the abject horror of 'One Of These Days' for instance, with the paranoia of 'If' thrown in, ending up at the absolution of 'Fat Old Sun'. Ah well, too many directions to go in and not enough time - that's the late 1960s Floyd all over. What men. What a journey!

Various Artists "Zabriskie Point" (Original Soundtrack)

(**/Rhino, Recorded November-December 1969, Released May 1970)

Heart Beat Pig Meat*/Brother Mary (Kaliedescope)/Dark Star (Grateful Dead)/Crumbling Land*/Tennessee Waltz (Patti Page)/Sugar Babe (Youngbloods)/Love Scene (Jerry Garcia)/I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again (Rosie Holcomb)/Mickey's Tune (Kaliedescope)/The Dance Of Death (John Fahey)/Come On In Number 51 Your Time Is Up*

CD Re-Issue Bonus Disc (1997): Love Scene Improvisations 1-4 (Jerry Garcia)/Country Song*/Unknown Song*/Love Scene Version Six*/Love Scene Version 4*

* = Pink Floyd Recordings

"In his hand a moving picture of the crumbling land, screaming dealing movie man"

'Zabriskie Point' always gets left behind in the Floyd discographies. Intended as their second full film soundtrack, the band clashed with director Michelangelo Antonioni and were shocked to find some of their better songs being rejected (such as an early version of 'Us and Them') in favour of what they considered their worst efforts. Instead the Floyd were largely replaced by Jerry Garcia and a bunch of stock records, with just three songs to their name on the original album (though the CD re-issue adds another four). Fittingly given the contents of the film, it suffered through mis-communication, the director having a clear vision of what he wanted - something more spacey like 'More' you suspect given what was chosen - without being able to articulate it. Unknown to him, by 1970 Pink Floyd had moved on somewhere towards the 'pastoral beauty' of 'Atom Heart Mother' and, especially when the outtakes are counted too, 'Zabriskie' sounds like their last goodbye to the artier Floyd sound of 1968-1969 before they came back to Earth. Plotwise this  film is one of those generation gap style films, a bigger budget version of 'More' though even more clumsily done for the most part and starring a pair of unknowns in Mark Frachette and Daria Halpin whose acting is ruined by the fact they clearly hate each other (a livewire off and on screen, Frechette was later jailed for armed robbery in 1973 and was far from your normal hippie - Halpin, however, very much was and they clashed badly and regularly off and on set). The film was a mammoth box office flop at the time, already criticised before it came out for its scenes of sex drugs and violence, losing some $6,000,000 at the box office. Understandably the soundtrack album didn't exactly set the charts alight either, making this one of the rarer original Floyd albums, all but impossible to track down until Rhino bought up the rights in 1997 (although that rather pricey two-disc set is rather hard to track down itself now).

The album is well worth tracking down, though, because the three Floyd tracks that made the film are amongst some of their most overlooked. 'Heartbeat Pigmeat' is a pulsing drum heartbeat (a clear inspiration for 'Speak To Me' to come) overlaid with dialogue from the film and some nice avant garde organ stabs by Rick, while Roger howls away like the secret werewolf he clearly is. Heard at the start of the film, it's an ear-catching opening spilt only by the tackyness of a bit of the film dialogue ('Teenagers are sometimes so freaked out that they cannot sit up straight in class!') 'Crumbling Land' is a fab song mainly written by Gilmour which is more in keeping with 'Atom Heart Mother's mellowness and an early example of Gilmour's love of the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter harmony-drenched sound. Gloriously sung by Dave and Rick over a brilliant quick-stepping riff and one of the best Floyd band performances, it also features some sudden jarring changes of speed that sound more like Roger's work, the glorious bright happy hippie future seemingly run off the road by a noisy motorcar. Finally, 'Come In Number 51' is a re-make of 'Careful With That Axe Eugene' (supposedly Antonioni's favourite Floyd song) that's longer and even creepier, but not quite so intense with the sudden acceleration more clearly signposted. It's still more than creepy enough, though, and works well near the end of the film when Halpin tries to leave her boyfriend and her hippie past behind, her old house exploding into flames in her imagination (at least I think that's what's happening - heck it's 'Zabriskie Point', anything could be happening). The four outtakes included on the CD meanwhile, are a mixed bag with a nice Rick piano piece intended for the film's most famous scene in the desert (the pair of 'heroes' making love in the desert despite the glares they give each other when they think the camera's not looking, replaced by some Jerry Garcia acoustic picking) and 'Country Song', a Gilmour-led rock song about chess or something like that, along with a couple of doodles. Better songs still exist in the vaults, available only on bootleg so far.

Syd Barrett "Barrett"

(EMI/Harvest, November 1970)

Baby Lemonade/Love Song/Dominoes/It Is Obvious/Rats/Maisie//Gigolo Aunt/Waving My Arms In The Air/I Never Lied To You/Wined and Dined/Wolfpack/Effervescing Elephant

"You shouldn't try to be what you can't be!"

Those who were surprised that Syd got it together for his debut album were even more astonished when he got it together for a sequel. 'Barrett' is at once more together and more ramshackle than 'Madcap Laughs'. Produced by Dave and Rick rather than Dave and Roger, it features less Syd and more overdubs which is both a blessing and a curse, adding more melody and structure to Syd's songs while papering over the cracks which on this album are on more display than ever. Syd seems to spend the whole album pleading to someone for something, wracked by guilt and frustration whilst also hinting at his impatience with a world still thinking 'straight', who aren't zipping through at the same speeds as his mind. Syd's 'Waving My Arms In The Air' is about drowning, not waving, segueing uncomfortably into a song of guilt in 'I Never Lied To You' pleading for redemption - from his girlfriend, his band, the world. 'Dominoes', meanwhile, is Syd back to his 'Jugband Blues' eerieness, apparently about being better off in his lonely inner world un-connected to people who harm him, though the lyric is just that bit further away from literal meaning to grasp hold of. 'Rats' and 'Wolfpack' meanwhile are Syd having a go at the Roger Waters paranoia style, damning the world who've abandoned him with a snarl.

And yet that's not what most fans hear when they play this album, most commenting something along the lines of 'doesn't Syd sound well?' or 'gosh this song actually has a tune!' At heart 'Barrett' is an album more tortured and less playful than 'Madcap Laughs', but the fuller production sound featuring both Dave (largely on bass) and Rick a lot and Jerry Shirley bravely returning on drums soothe a lot of those troubles away, while the album ends with a pre-Floyd joke that may or may not be Syd's first song (it's certainly an early one anyway) which is Syd's most Floyd-like recording across the two albums. Recorded within six months, more or less together, it was felt that Syd copes with this format more than the scattered 'Madcap Laughs' sessions with three different producers across eighteen months, although the writing seems to have been less smooth. Syd himself is caught between extremes - at times he seems happy to go along with the idea, mellowed out for 'Love Song' and audibly having fun on overlooked solo highlight 'Maisie' (in which two Syds attempt to out-improvise and pun each other while trying not to get the giggles!) However you sense that the 'real' Syd that bares his teeth on the ragged and painful medley 'Waving My Arms In The Air' and 'I Never Lied To You' is closer to the truth (the line 'I call to you but what do you do?!?' sung with the closest thing approaching real emotion across the album is an exhilarating spine-tingling moment). 'Barrett' is a much more rounded and finished sounding album than its predecessor, for which we have to thank the patience of his two former buddies who do Syd proud by wrapping his alien performances with something closer to the band sound. You sense the pair are working the way the Barrett era Floyd did anyway, letting Syd take off into his own world while providing the tether back to Earth. There's a moment at the end of 'Dominoes' where the band even busk together, coaxing lots of extra unwieldy and unworldly slide guitar out of Syd, which would have been unthinkable on 'Madcap Laughs'. That predecessor is clearly the better album, but 'Barrett' is the easier listen by far - you only need to hear the original 'Barrett tapes' releases in part as bonus parts on the CD to hear how similar this album would have sounded to 'Madcap'.

This has made more than a few fans uncomfortable though. 'Madcap Laughs' is the pure sound of a man lost in whatever dark cavern he's found himself in, giving one last update before getting lost into the darkness forever. Being as simple as it is, you have the feeling that it's close to how Syd wanted it, in as much as he had ideas of arrangements and production at all. He did offer ideas to the other performers, but there were on the lines of 'I'd like the middle eight a bit more after-noonish', which mainly left the trio nodding their head and going 'yes Syd' before playing what they were going to do anyway. 'Barrett' the album sounds like Syd's been given tranquiliser pills, made to straighten up and sound more 'normal' thanks to the piano and guitar contributions, as if everyone is 'ashamed' of who he's become. Several lines sound as if Syd is desperately trying to do inane pop instead of expressing what's on his mind ('Spot knock inside a spider - that's love yeah yeah ye-e-eah!') It doesn't help that Syd sings on auto-pilot throughout (though some fans prefer that to hearing Syd audibly distressed it has to be said). It doesn't help that some of these songs aren't anywhere near his best, with 'Barrett' a far more inconsistent record than its predecessor: 'Rats' tails off into a made-up word association game unworthy of the Barrett past ('Splashotee Moxy, very smelly, table table, splintra chanel'), while 'It Is Obvious' isn't far behind ('Mote to a grog - the star a white chalk') although this song at least has come classic Barrett lines too ('Braver and braver, a handkerchief waver, the louder your lips to a loud hailer'), written around some 'obvious' chords. 'Wined and Dined' too is an uncomfortable love song written to order by someone who can no longer remember what love is, while the pre-fame 'Effervescing Elephant' is funny until you realise that it's still a song about murder, the elephant's worst crime being to frighten the narrating mouse a bit (it ends with the sound of an animal roaring in pain, which doesn't exactly help the laughs). You have to wonder what on earth Gilmour and Wright were thinking using either ahead of the best of the songs released on 'Opel' which could have turned this from a good LP into a great one. Syd himself said that he preferred the first album and that this second one featured only an 'echo' of what he had in his head.

Even so, I can't help but think that fans are missing out on a treat when they say they don't like this album. 'Maisie' is the best fun you can have with your record player on, a slow blues played for laughs as two Syds in different time zones play 'tag' with a daft improvised lyric that proves Syd was a lot happier creating than he was remembering or tidying his work up ('Her luminous grin put her in a spin'!) 'Baby Lemonade' and 'Gigolo Aunt' would in another world have been prime candidates for Floyd single releases, with the slightly darker but still catchy charm of 'Apples and Oranges', the overdubs at their best here. 'Dominoes', like 'Terrapin' on the last album, is the album's 'hidden' message that sounds as if it matters more than all the others here, even if Syd has failed to provide us with a key to unlock it. 'Waving > Lied To You' is devastating in all the right and wrong ways, Syd taking pride in getting out ('Because you shouldn't try to be what you can't be!') while worrying that he's brought all his problems on himself. The song's manic exaggerated limp only emphasises how lame a once bright spark has become, almost unbearably poignant.

The end result is an album that has more highs than 'Madcap Laughs', but also more lows. Though the music has been tidied up a bit, lyrically it feels as if we're more of a 'fly on the wall' of Syd's mind without him quite realising than ever (hence, perhaps, Syd's cover display of twelve insects, reportedly drawn when he was still an art student and it's use here has been much debated since the album's release - has Syd gone from an effervescing elephant to an insect squished underfoot by an ignorant world? Or is this a 'random' cover in line with the Floyd's own mooing 'Atom Heart Mother' that year?) Interestingly animals are a big theme of this album as Syd, like the rest of his band as it happened, gets back to nature. Only this is no pretty 'Grantchester Meadows' journey into the countryside but a world of rats, wolves, bulls and tigers eating elephants, perhaps symbolic of a world where everything is out to get you. Or is the 'real' Syd here the playful one of 'Gigolo Aunt' and 'Effervesing Elephant' where the world's a joke? 'Barrett', like 'Madcap Laughs' deepens an extends rather than solves the enigma of Syd Barrett - which is, perhaps a good thing, Syd's secrets safe with him until the end. Though Syd will try a third album in 1974, apparently while desperate for money, these will be his last productive recording sessions (a post-'Dark Side' re-issue frenzy helping him out financially), with only the drum track 'Rhamadan' ever given a release beyond this date. As epitaphs go there are worse ones to have than 'Barrett', which has all the charm and wide-eyed wonder as well as bursts of pure creativity of our much missed crazy diamond that falls perhaps that tiny bit shorter of what Syd was once capable of. But not, perhaps, as far as this album's detractors have always made out.

'Baby Lemonade' starts with a guitar riff so together many have assumed that it's Gilmour playing in Barrett's signature style. But Dave says no - this was Syd warming up when he thought they weren't recording, captured in a hurry from the start of another take which is why it rolls away mid-note like that, hanging in the air like a question mark. Lyrically, this is 'Octopus' territory again, everyone laughing at the funny little narrator whose pleading with the world to - well - what does he plead? Syd gets cut short every time he sings 'please' while the persona of 'Baby Lemonade' (a typically un-rhymeable Barrett name) is indecipherable. Though Syd is 'screaming' he's not entirely sure why - the people are 'nice' to him, though their words also feel like 'ice', while the songs heaves almost a sigh of relief as the mad world goes away and leaves Syd 'so alone'. At least now the 'rain falls on grey' not here but 'far away', on a land much stronger than Syd is now. A nice Paul McCartney style melody, full of rounded peaks and troughs, is nicely enhanced by the band performance.

'Love Song' sounds like the most 'normal' of Syd's solo songs, thanks to Rick's accordion style organ and a lyric about trust that could almost be on top 40 radio. Syd may have had his old girlfriend Jenny in mind here, Syd perhaps imagining her turning up again in his life after 'nodding off' and dreaming that he's woken up to a 'big surprise'. A bit of wish fulfilment, Syd even speaks hip again ('Ok baby tell me what do you see?'), sadly this song never has the dream resolution it longs for and simply chases its own tail going round in circles, a dream that could never become real.

'Dominoes' is the album song that 'reads' best, the most daring attempt yet to sum up how trapped Syd feels in his own little world. He no longer plays the 'dominoes' game where so many waste their own time, trying to find compatible pairs, but what does he fill his time with instead? Every day feels the same and days go by with nothing to show for them. A glorious performance features Rick especially understanding this song (so close to his own style, actually), his washed-out organ chords acting as a brake on the song as if holding Syd in place, while some gorgeous backwards guitar beats at a different speed to the rest of the song (including a 'solo' that's quite extraordinary). Only Syd's only flat and expressionless double-tracked vocal isn't quite there, hinting rather than living the sentiments in the song. This track's animal/bird: a lark.

'It Is Obvious' is Syd's equivalent of 'High Hopes', a trip back to Cambridge as it used to be taken in his mind because his legs won't take him there. Syd was always looking back to his childhood, but this sounds like a most recent memory, perhaps of his last walk round familiar places. However the whole song has been put through a blender, full of surrealisms 'found on another plane' that may also feature a nod of the head to C S Lewis (about the only Victorian children's author not mentioned on 'Piper') in that Syd goes to sleep in a cupboard and wakes up back in his home town.  The title, which lyrically doesn't appear to fit, might refer more to the music, which by Syd's standards is obvious indeed, switching between two simple C Major chords for the most part, whipped up by Rick's organ into something of a sea shanty.

Though many fans rate 'Rats' as one of Syd's greatest songs, I've never been one of them. This is the song where the overdubs fall down the most, with everyone so caught out by Syd's switching rhythms that four people are playing different songs by the end. Syd switches between his most pop-star lyrics since 1967 and the oppressive symbol of a noose around his neck with Syd poised about to fall. The 'rats' then are presumably the music world who keep wanting more and more, sending Syd away with a dismissal for being honest rather than commercial ('If you think you're unloved - well we know about that!') The song then ends in the scariest word association game ever which gradually makes less and less sense as Syd makes his words up ('Seething wet we meeting fleck'). Syd is at his most deranged on this song, building up to a rare scream on the second half as if this song is bringing up bad memories, which makes it feel like something we shouldn't really be listening to.

'Maisie', though, I'm sure, is a bit of the old Syd peeping through, goofing off and having fun. Trust Syd to get most of his kicks out of a blues song, with a slow moody guitar riff quickly picked up by Gilmour and Shirley while two Syd's try to outdo each other on the lyrics. Unlike most songs recently which have all been about or through the eyes of Syd or someone like him, this is a real 'character' driven song, perhaps a cousin of 'See Emily Play'. Maisie is a rich girl so drunk she's still lying in the hall with her emeralds and diamond brooch ('beyond reproach'). Syd is punning and rhyming like he's at the top of his game, while all the time using the 'Maisie' refrain as his tether to earth, passing the buck to the 'other' Syd while he has a bit of a think about his next line. This is perhaps how the Syd albums should have been made, the band taking one of Syd's ideas and running with it, allowing him to come back at a later date and add things over the top. Definitely my favourite solo Syd song.

'Gigolo Aunt' is another of the album's better ideas, with a great cooking beat that's born for the ad hoc band to strut their stuff on (Rick being the harmonic cushion, just like the old days) with Syd getting so far into the guitar solo he very much sounds like the Syd of old. Syd's words, though, are perhaps his most peculiar yet - one minute he's down the beach where 'everything's rosy and it's a beautiful; day' and the next he's backing away in alarm, having seen though his companion as a 'gigolo aunt'. Syd is pleased enough to 'almost want you back' by the end of the song though - perhaps the 'aunt' is his former way of life, always trying to lure him back with its big promises and its mixture of prudity and promiscuity, both of which make Syd feel a little ill. The song winds down quite naturally but the band are having so much fun they spontaneously burst into gear again, the song sadly being forced to a stop after just one note of the re-cap (easily the worst engineering decisions on the record).

Another triumph, of sorts, is 'Waving My Arms In The Air', which sounds more like a 'Madcaps' song the way it trips over it'=s own time signatures. Syd starts the song fully in control, sounding as if he's directing a giant crowd, but slowly things fall apart - the pretty girl gets a 'slinky look' and though Syd 'calls to you - what do you do?!' Suddenly even the crowds feel distant from him, seeing 'no one in the land' in a Strawberry Fields-style statement of uniqueness ('You shouldn't try to be what you can't be!' is his message to himself). By the end Syd is waving for help not for fun, while a 'stormy day' blows around him.

Suddenly the song collapses, leaving Syd soggily telling us that he tried to be authentic - that through his problems 'I Never Lied To You'. A girl who used to see Syd as her one and only is now giving him competition - 'shoulders pressing in the hall' - with Syd not even sure where his girl is or whether she's in to see him. The theme seems to be that Syd once considered himself special because other people did - but now he's been reduced to the status of a nobody and he's not entirely sure why. he figures he must be guilty of something so pleads for our forgiveness, but what comes over most is Syd's puzzlement and his excuse that he gave his 'everything' - 'and to you everything was never easy'. The song ends with Syd realising that his love probably isn't going to come back and asking, Waters style, 'Why am I Here? What's meant to be?' Powerful stuff, with Syd the most self-aware he's been since 'Jugband Blues'.

After all that emotion  the sleepy 'Wined and Dined', on which Syd sleepwalks his way through the song, seems liked an anticlimax. There's a nice tune though, with Rick earmarking the chord changes with his customary care, while what sounds like a quacking duck but is probably a guitar adds some wacky sound effects on the right speaker. Lyrically I've always wondered if this, too, is another song of Syd looking back on his short time in the limelight with a bemused smile - it felt like a 'dream' as everyone looks after him and treats him as the golden boy. Though Syd reflects that it was 'only last summer', it seems an eternity ago already.

'Wolfpack' is another 'Madcap' style song with multi-tracked Barretts all howling out their pain at once on a noisy paranoid track where everything seems to be about to get you: the rough relentless acoustic guitar, the pounding drums, the other-worldly organ and Syd's bubbling desperate-sounding electric. A tale of gang warfare, it's about mob mentality and, perhaps, Syd's desperate need to belong to a group of people. Perhaps 'the life that was ours...the electricity eyes' even refers to the Floyd themselves, flying 'in formation' in tune with Barrett's mind, now another distant memory. Rick still remembers, though and rises to the occasion as Syd plays one of the most bonkers guitar solos in history. It's all a little uncomfortably un-numb for comfort, though.

Must admit I've never shared the fans' love for 'Effervescing Elephant' either, with what should be a cute little ditty from the days when life seemed to be working out for Syd sounding downright scary surrounded by the jungle sound effects. In a tale worthy of the Gruffalo, an elephant scares a mouse into hiding from the tiger, 'running for all the day and night' but the tiger chooses something 'less scant' and eats the elephant instead. A precautionary tale with an unhappy ending, you can't help but feel that Syd's the hunted here, desperately trying to come up with his earlier self's quick-stepping rhymes. The album then ends on some uncomfortable whistling, as if Syd's forgotten we're listening in.

Overall, then, 'Barrett' is an album of contradictions - even more fitting, in it's own way, for Syd's life at the time than the more focussed (but more revealing) 'Madcap Laughs'. Both are fine, though very different, albums - both to each other and to any other record that's ever existed (apart from outtakes set 'Opel', obviously, which sounds a little like both).

Syd Barrett "The Radio One Sessions"

(Strange Fruit, Recorded February 1970 and February 1971, Released 1987)

'Top Gear' 1970: Terrapin/Gigolo Aunt/Baby Lemonade/Effervescing Elephant/Two Of A Kind
'Sounds Of The Seventies' 1971: Baby Lemonade/Dominoes/Love Song

"Life that comes of no harm, you and I and dominoes..."

Who on earth booked fragile genius Syd Barrett into a radio studio to record some as-live recordings for near-immediate recordings, with all the pressures and rawness that entails? Because, against all odds, they deserve a medal. Syd doesn't speak (that might perhaps have been an intrusion too far) but he's on top form for both these shows recorded a year apart, bright and sparky and full of ideas the way he used to be. Though 'Madcap' and 'Barrett' both had sudden moments of inspiration, it's probably fair to say that making these records was hard work for Syd, with the daunting thought of filling up a whole album on his own suddenly a very difficult task. These radio sessions sound closer to fun than work, with Syd having fun re-shaping the songs he's just recorded and doing them with a ragged energy the albums might have benefitted from too. Though most acts on both John Peel's 'Top Gear' and Bob Harris' 'Sounds Of The Seventies' tended to do one or two songs, thankfully Syd gets to do a few for both shows.

On the Peel show - a famous bootleg before it found its first official release - a solo 'Terrapin' is faster and more 'dramatic' with an overdubbed 'aaah' making it sound more like a 1980s pop tune. 'Gigolo Aunt' lacks the full-on onslaught of the album version but still features a certain charm as two Syds (thanks to the wonders of overdubbing) compete for our attention. A lovely 'Baby Lemonade' may well be the highlight of the set, with a pretty organ part added on top and a folkier rather than a poppy vibe. 'Elephant' sounds much like the album version, perhaps with a bit less bounce. The most interesting song is surely 'Two Of A Kind', a track exclusive to this set which has confused more than a few Floyd scholars down the years (it's been accredited to both Syd and Rick and sounds at different times like both men's work). A cute charming Beatley pop song about soulmates, it also has a bit of that Barrett darkness hidden at the centre. Though less well regarded, the Harris show may be even more important. Dated February 1971, a few months after the release of 'Barrett', it's the last real recording of Syd we have (there are a few hastily abandoned backing tracks still in the vaults from an aborted third album, mind). A slightly slower and sadder 'Baby Lemonade' gains from both the lack of double tracking and a mystery guest bassist, with more of the usual Barrett melancholy making this sound like an entirely different song. A wonderfully claustrophobic 'Dominoes' is taken at one heck of a lick as if Syd can't wait to get out of the studios, but it's still a great version, Syd still together enough to nail the tricky vocal line. 'Love Song' is perhaps the most disappointing, reduced to a 90 second run that's only as pale shadow of its studio self.

These are, clearly, important tapes: it's not as if Syd did any other real promotion for his two albums and the fact that these tapes exist at all (radio one sessions surely being part of the 'pop star game' Syd so desperately wanted to escape) is a minor miracle. Typically, the BBC didn't think to keep them and fans are eternally grateful to the Floyd bootlegger who tapes these songs back in the day (possibly two for the different shows - that's all been lost in the mists of time). However the reviews for this CD were scathing on release, mainly because Strange Fruit sourced an inferior quality copy of the album than that owned by most bootleggers in regards to the 'Peel' session, while the Harris show sounds even worse. To be fair to the company, it's not as is they could do a lot to clear this tape up as so many reviewers claimed - it's from a cassette not a master-tape - while they also sensibly leave the 20 minute set alone without adding any extras (by the way the Peel sessions are also available alone, released a few months earlier, on an even shorter CD of just fourteen minutes!) It's a shame that they didn't spend a bit longer on the packaging, though, which simply consists of  a scary looking close-up of Syd and the track listing with nothing else here. For all the problems, though, this is an important set that every Syd-ophile should own, throwing at least as much light on Barrett's inner mind as 'Opel' and the CD bonus tracks, with the un-regarded Harris sessions particularly one last great message from one of the greatest talents of our times.

Roger Waters/Ron Geesin "Music From The Body" (Original Soundtrack)

(Harvest, November 1970)

Our Song/Sea Shell and Stone*/Red Stuff Writhe/A Gentle Breeze Blew Through Life/Lick Your Partner/Bridge Passage For Three Plastic Teeth/Chain Of Life/The Womb Bit/Embryo Thought/March Past Of The Embryos/More Than Seven Dwarfs In Penis Land/Dance Of The Red Corpuscles/Body Transport/Hand Dance - Full Evening Dress/Breathe*/Old Folks Ascension/Bedtime Dream-Clime/Piddle In Perspex/Embryonic Womb Walk/Mrs Throat Goes Walking/Sea Shell And Soft Stone*/Give Birth To A Smile*

* = Roger Waters Song

"The sunshine is not to blame - could be the insane inhumane games we play"

Hot on the heels of Syd's debut album comes Roger Waters' first solo work, an overlooked gem that finds Roger at his mellowest and proves that it wasn't just David Gilmour bringing the 'pastoral' vibe to the Floyd's releases around 1970. Typically for someone as visual as Roger, his first commission away from the band is for a film soundtrack, an oddball biology documentary which is nowadays even rarer to track down than the soundtrack album and - astonishingly - even more weird. This is, you see, not a true solo album but a collaboration with 'Atom Heart Mother' collaborator Ron Geesin, who gets to show what sort of weird things he can do successfully when not being interrupted by dodgy rhythm tracks, brass bands and album covers featuring cows. In some ways it's the true psychedelic heir to 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' full of bizarre bodily sound effects and creepy spoken word pieces that make the human body sound like a weirder place than any amount of Syd landscapes full of gnomes and scarecrows and Lucifer Sams. Though Roger's game for his usual 'Careful With That Axe Eugene' creepy whispers, oddly enough he's mostly the 'straight' man to Geesin's joker across this LP, performing three actual songs on the album alone with acoustic guitar 'Grantchester Meadows' style and a fourth 'Give Birth To A Smile' with a guesting Pink Floyd. Roger, not yet at the height of his creativity, effectively writes the same song four times with different words but no matter - they/it are/is a good one!

'The Body' also sounds far closer in feel and theme to 'Dark Side Of The Moon' than any of the albums the Floyd did together before this. Though the passage of mankind from birth to death via all manner of odd things happening in between brings out the dafter side of Geesin's box of tricks, it clearly touched a nerve with Roger (who, funnily enough, gets thinking about the mind rather than the body). For the first time he's thinking deeply about what it means to be a human being, what the point of any of this puzzling existence is and a fear that the human body cycle is too brief to give him time for all the things he needs to say. Though most of the songs reflect the message of 'Time' best, the song 'Breathe In The Air' is a dead ringer for 'Breathe' itself and even starts with the same opening line ('Breathe in the air...') though the next lines 'Make for the meadow and savour the grass while it lasts' make it clear that Roger's still in his 'mother nature's son' phase here. Elsewhere 'Sea Shell and Stone' is a gloriously descriptive song about mankind's journey out of the primordial soup that's done with a characteristic mixture of humour and awe that will become Roger's trademarks ('Hillock and hump, Hummock and clump and mound, I feel a lump, here a bump, see a low bulbous sound!') The track is later given an string quartet reading which is rather lovely  and demonstrates that Roger was a great melodicist as well as lyricist (it's re-named 'Sea Shell And Soft Stone' even though the tune's identical to 'Breathe' and similar to the others anyway). 'Give Birth To A Smile', meanwhile, mixes the Floyd's rather heavy handed performance with gospel singers for the first time, with a lyric that sounds more like 'River Deep Mountain High' and tries hard to end the record on a positive life-affirming note with a similar rush of energy to 'Eclipse', only it doesn't quite come off as heard here.

That leaves 'Chain Of Life' as the album's overlooked gem, as a baby ages through childhood in the space of a song with Roger the stern yet proud parent looking on through all the major milestones. Though a list song, as so often happens with Roger, this cavalcade of images is most effective, with Roger's nostalgic vocal sighing that 'childhood years are floating by'. The song stops in the teenage years, with the shy narrator trying to work up the courage to ask for a date, before Roger gets cosmic, imagining a higher power watching all this at speed just as he is on the camera: 'Good time, lifetime, good line, lifeline' - throwing in 'his future is your past' for parents reminded of their own childhood along the way. By the end of the song Roger has aged as many years himself, wheezing to us from his rocking chair, telling his grandchildren 'gathered round my chair' about memories of his own generation: 'carriages open to the breeze, muffin boys and trams and trees', summing up a disappearing world with some aplomb given how few of these things are left now. The song ends with Roger sighing that when he was young 'the world was not so small', old long before his time. Leading in to some scary Geesin passages that are meant to represent birth ('The Womb Bit', credited to both Ron and Roger which sounds like 'Atom Heart Mother's central riff to boot) it's highly effective and startling, adding pathos to what till now has been a sneezing flatulent comedy of sound effects.

Admittedly you won't want to play the rest of the album that much - of Ron's solo tracks only 'March Past Of The Embryos' is all that striking, sounding like a psychedelic King's Singers on acid. The other two Ron/Roger collaborations are two art college students messing around really. 'Our Song' does feature an inventive use of sound effects similar to 'Money' as a baby's laugh, slapped thighs and flatulence combine into the daftest rhythm track ever. 'Body Transport', though, is simply Roger trying to make Ron laugh while he tries to record some snoring sound effects, rounding off with a loud peal of giggles and return of Roger's raving lunatic Scotsmen ('Save us all!' he cries, even though he's the one what started the chaos!) 'The Body' isn't really an album made for easy listening and was probably never intended to last past the lifetime of the film - which really wasn't very long at all. However the strength of Roger's core songs actually makes this his best and most realised project outside 'Amused To Death', revealing a lovely simple folky side we never got to hear anywhere near enough of and hinting at the depths in Roger's psyche that till now have only really been heard on Syd-style psychedelic space epics and a song about clouds. 'The Body' was a huge boost for Roger's confidence and it's ripples will be felt long into his concept works, with this set ong overdue for another CD release. By the way, the film soundtrack differs slightly from the album, with rougher versions of  'Breathe' (with the 'Cirrus Minor' bird sound effect yet again!), 'Sea Shell and Stone' and 'Give Birth To A Smile'.


(Starline, May 1971)

Arnold Layne/Interstellar Overdrive/See Emily Play/Remember A Day/Paintbox/Julie Dream/Careful With That Axe Eugene/Cirrus Minor/The Nile Song/Biding My Time/Bike

"Why can't we blow the years away?"

Relics, a reminder of what Floyd used to be at just the moment when they'd finally worked out who they can become, is a real fan favourite and for good reason - it's one of my favourite AAA compilations in fact, offering a combination of hits and rarities and album tracks that offer a breadth of character a mere singles compilation could never have managed along with a typically early Floyd cheeky grin. Subtitled ‘a bizarre collection of antiques, rarities and curios’, it even comes with the band's only Nick Mason-drawn front cover on an equally bizarre retro-technological object, using his draughtsmanship/architect skills to good measure (Mike Leonard would have been proud). Gloriously Floyd (its big and its bold and its slightly silly, though made up of practical elements and using several musical instruments to make up a...whatever it is) it's one of the band's best album covers and was even made for 'real' and photographed for the CD release (the model was then auctioned off to fans for charity; it's pretty big so goodness only knows what the winners did with it; I still prefer the charming drawing though).

As for the music, this is the last time on a band release that Syd Barrett is very much the driving force, perhaps as a belated attempt to 'push' his two solo albums as the band become increasingly concerned for his welfare now that their own careers are much more stable. His influence is firmly felt on side one which mixes the band's only two hits at this point in time making their first appearance on a longer-lasting long-playing record, a boon to any compilation. Arnold Layne, the debut single about a cross-dressing weirdo who stole clothes from washing lines (no other band would have gotten away with this...) and the psychedelic splendour of ‘See Emily Play'. There's also album classic 'Interstellar Overdrive' (Syd's best guitar workout)  and two Rick songs that are both enhanced enormously by his distinctive slide guitar playing ('Paintbox' and the superb 'Remember A Day').Meanwhile over on side two many of these songs are 'about' Syd: the creepy 'Julia Dream' (Gilmour's first vocal) is a Waters B-side that may refer to madness and ends with the creepy Waters cry 'Save me...Syd!' or words to that effect); 'Cirrus Minor' from 'More' re-creates the hazy surreal feel of the Barrett era Floyd and the Waters B-side 'Careful With That Axe Eugene' is the single creepiest song in the AAA canon - I'd stake Battersea Power Station on the fact that Roger at least partly had his disintegrating friend in mind when he came up with that eerie riff and all the screams. The set even ends with 'Bike', because where on earth can you go after this surreal journey that takes us from earthly cycles to a mad room full of clockwork toys?

The album nearly-ends, thoughm, with a taste of what's to come. Gilmour's screams on Waters' 'The Nile Song' (also from 'More') represent the first track the Syd-era Floyd would never have dared to tackle, a cod heavy metal rocker that's as tough and brittle as Syd's songs were fragile and (largely) playful. There's also the one song exclusive to this set, a 1969 Waters outtake 'Biding My Time' in which Roger takes an early lead vocal over a jazzy backing that features the rest of the band playing unusual instruments (most notable for Rick's unhinged trombone). The song worked well when used as part of the Floyd's 1970 suite 'The Man' (where this song represented pointless work and often came after a bit of on-stage malarkey featuring carpentry) and slightly well less well here, falling apart in a chaotic ending that leaves the sound throbbing through the speakers in a Who-style manner long after the main noise has ended. You doubt too whether the Syd-era Floyd would have been quite so dark or quite so jazzy, with Waters' finding his voice on one of his earliest bitingly cynical songs more based in the real world than the Syd-style trips into space on 'Saucerful Of Secrets'.

Overall 'Relics' is a great taster of what had been and what's to come, released at just the right time to remind new comers where the Floyd had been and where they still have to go, while giving overlooked songs a new lease of life and giving house room to a couple of leftovers. What stops this compilation being perfect is what’s missing – several singles from the period aren’t here and are fabulous (Point Me At The Sky, Candy And A Currant Bun, Syd’s forgotten and under-rated ‘farewell’ song ‘Apples and Oranges’) and oddly there's nothing from the revebtly released 'Atom Heart Mother' here either. While in the vinyl age that would have meant either making this a pricier set or leaving something good out, there's no excuse for not adding these tracks in the CD age, many of which have only been made available since as part of a pricey £100+ box set. What are you trying to do to collectors, Floyd? Turn us into ageing relics too?!

"A Nice Pair"

(EMI/Harvest, '1974')

Disc One: 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn'

Disc Two: 'A Saucerful Of Secrets'

"Whyat exactly is a dream? And what exactly is a joke?"

Realising that Pink Floyd were going to take their time to release a full follow-up to 'Dark Side Of The Moon', EMI did the sensible thing by leaving the compilations to the pretty comprehensive 'Relics' and instead decided on a full re-issue of the band's first two records. It was a sort of 'and this, children, is where the story all began' moment that if nothing else helped to explain the cryptic questions of 'whose this Syd geezer the band keep talking about in interviews?' Syd is of course the star of these two albums and hearing them back to back makes the sudden rise and fall seem even sharper, with the thrilling opening notes of 'Astronomy Domine' giving way to the bittersweet coda 'Jugband Blues' a little more than an hour later. Though straight repeats, many fans are fond of these sets as their 'introduction' to the older Floyd and especially for the witty Hipgnosis covers, which gave the art department the chance to go all out and design not just one idea but dozens! The saucy title was named by Roger partly because he knew it would tickle the Hipgnosis team, while it also gave them a chance to use up several old ideas floating around with not one image on this sleeve but dozens. Highlights includes the literal frog in the throat, the giant fork in the middle of a rugby pitch, a literal kettle of fish, a woman whose coat is there but whose limbs aren't (this will be embellished for next album 'Wish You Were Here') and the scariest football team you'll ever see (actually the Floyd themselves and some showbiz pals: Roger and Dave look the part; Rick and Nick less so). Inevitably with a name like this Hipgnosis got into trouble for the copious nudity seen on the sleeve and had to censor the back cover image of a naked girl eating jelly. Even more controversially in my view, Hipgnosis covered the inner sleeve shots of some great unseen pictures of the early Floyd with coffee cup stains, making part of it un-viewable! (Do you mind, some of those shots are priceless!) Look out, top right middle, for the only photographic session for the five-man Floyd. In the wake of 'Dark Side' the band could have released anything - erm, even an album made out of the sounds of household objects - and it would have been a hit, with this double-priced double-album set of previously released material doing staggeringly well to make #21 in the UK album charts. The record did so well there was a sequel combining Syd's two solo albums which didn't do too badly either and best of all helped bring Syd in some more royalty money at just the point where he was struggling financially. The verdict? A nice pair of albums. What else could we put really?!

"Syd Barrett"

(EMI/Harvest, '1974')

The Madcap Laughs: Terrapin/No Good Trying/Love You/No Man’s Land/Dark Globe/Here I Go//Octopus (Clowns and Jugglers)/Golden Hair/Long Gone/She Took A Long Cold Look At Me/Feel/If It’s In You/Late Night

Barrett: Baby Lemonade/Love Song/Dominoes/It Is Obvious/Rats/Maisie//Gigolo Aunt/ Waving My Arms In The Air/I Never Lied To You/Wined and Dined/Wolfpack/Effervescing Elephant

Following on from the success of the 'Nice Pair' record, EMI decided to have another bash at promoting flop albums and as Syd had been such a key part of the first two records decided to re-package his two albums together in a new cover (one featuring a matchbox, a plum and an orange - all key elements to 'Syd's first trip' allegedly, where they all started looking like planets). The record sold well - #166 in the Us Charts, which is pretty good for a re-release without the artist around to re-promote it. The success even led to Abbey Road asking Syd to try some more sessions, but alas Syd was too far gone by then and the resulting 20 minutes (available on bootleg but never released officially) are painful indeed. Much better to remember Syd this way.

"Masters Of Rock" aka "The Best Of Pink Floyd"

(Harvest, 1970/1974)

Chapter 24/Matilda Mother/Arnold Layne/Candy And A Currant Bun/The Scarecrow/Apples and Oranges/It Would Be So Nice/Paint Box/Julia Dream/See Emily Play

"Everybody lives beneath the ceiling, living out aq dream that sends them reeling"

Pink Floyd weren't exactly rock stars and would never claim to have mastered the art - but at the same time didn't release enough hit singles for a 'best of', which means that the first Floyd compilation has two names, both of them 'wrong'! The reason this album has two names is that it was released twice. The first 'Best Of' issue back in 1970 got almost no attention and very few sales considering it was released by a band who had their first number one album that year; the second, named 'Masters' and released as part of an entire series of EMI artists using that name in 1974, created bigger ripples thanks mainly to the fact that there was a sudden influx of new fans after 'Dark Side Of The Moon' eager to find out what the band used to sound like. Both sets are identical apart from the names and front covers ('Best Of' features a bored looking band posing in 1970; 'Masters' goes for some horrible lettering over a gold background) and the fact that the 1970 model is only in mono while the 1974 LP adds a few mock-stereo songs into the bargain (it's still the source for most stereo mixes of 'Apples and Oranges' to this day). Both sets make an intriguing counterpart to 'Relics', rounding up even rarer flop singles and album tracks with only the two bona fide 'hits' plus B-sides 'Julia Dream' and 'Paintbox' in common. It's a welcome chance to hear career highlights like 'Chapter 24' and 'Matilda Mother' again alongside what was back in 1970 and 1974 increasingly pricey singles like 'Apples and Oranges' and 'It Would Be So Nice' (the latter with the 'revised' lyrics 'Daily Standard' sadly, so the original single is still worth a fortune). With nothing here dating later than 1968, though, this has almost nothing in common with the sound of the Floyd in either 1970 or 1974 and must have confused more than a few fans who bought this expecting another 'Atom Heart Mother' or 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. Be warned that both records are now rather expensive and slightly rare. Some bootleggers down the years have taken advantage of the fact and used the titles for their own compilations: if your copy has a different track-listing to the one given here then you probably have an illicit copy I'm afraid.

Rick Wright "Wet Dream"

(EMI, May 1978)

Mediterranean C/Against The Odds/Cat Cruise/Summer Elegy/Waves//Holiday/Mad Yannis Dance/Drop In From The Top/Pink's Song/Funky Deux

"It was meant to be a holiday, building castles by the sea..time to pause and consider what we've done"

The sound of 'Wet Dream' is effectively of someone trying to take a long unwinding holiday to forget about things, but who keeps waking up in the middle of the night full of doubts about what to do when they get back home. Part relaxing travelogue, part dark teatime of the soul, 'Wet Dream' is an album that tries to very hard to unwind with the laidback groove that was always one of Rick's trademarks, but which ends up sounding at times more like the person that inspired most of it: Roger Waters. Rick was never the sort of person to rant and moan - he was never going to make an album like 'The Wall' or 'Final Cut' for instance - but in his own way 'Wet Dream' is the equivalent. By 1978 Rick was facing the end of his first marriage (and it had been a long marriage that had lasted longer than Pink Floyd), a new life in a new continent (for tax purposes), financial worries (Pink Floyd had been given some very dodgy financial advice and Rick felt it more than Roger and Dave who continued to earn a nice songwriting boost from 'Animals') and the possible end of the band that had been his life for the past fifteen or so years. Too old to really be able to start again with a whole new career (at least in the pop music business), but too young to retire Rick was facing a real crossroads in his life. After the frenetic sessions for 'Animals', where Rick felt belittled and stressed almost all the way through, taking a long writing holiday and recording a first solo album must have seemed like a great idea: a long resting unwind in Rick's beloved Greek Islands and a long period working on a record in his new adopted home in France, safe in the knowledge that it would be years before Pink Floyd ever got round to making anything else. But much as Rick tries to focus on having fun in the short-term, those long-term problems aren't going away and this sounds like someone having a rotten time on the quiet, dreading the moment when he picks up the phone to be told the Floyd are heading back into the studio...

In retrospect Rick might have found it far easier had he written this album but not recorded it. One of Roger's big problems was that Rick was a far slower writer than himself and in Waters' eyes the reason Wright's contributions grew less and less over the years was because he wasn't providing anything - oblivious of whether it was good or bad or not. With Gilmour in similar writing decline, in Roger's head he was doing the band a favour by providing all their material because otherwise there'd have been no albums at all and if it came together in a big concept then so be it - that was the way he worked. If Rick and Dave had saved the cream of their dual albums released in 1978 (and kept the rest back for release after) the health of the Floyd might have been very different, with Roger at least given a choice over having material to work with. Though Roger might have scowled at some of the lyrics and he'd no doubt have hated the overly poppy instrumentals, you hope that he'd have appreciated Rick's honesty and open-ness across this album, so similar to his own. Rick was always the passive melancholic yin to Roger's aggressive well-let's-change-it-then yang and the two contrasts were a powerful combination. 'Wet Dream' too is in its way as powerful a statement as anything Roger was making under the band name and this first solo record is one of the most overlooked Floyd solo albums of them all - but there is one major obstacle. Rick can't fill a whole album himself, he's just been attacked by Roger for not having any ideas after all, so in true Pink Floyd solo album style this is an album of instrumentals with the odd proper song scattered within it rather than a truly groundbreaking piece of art. Rick might have been better to have balanced these songs out a bit, to have a first side of 'holiday music' and a second side of soul searching but instead it's all thrown together in a jumble so that 'Wet Dream' never quite gains the momentum it deserves. Every-time the album does something great, you know with a sinking feeling that it's about to do something ghastly again in a minute.

Still, at the album's best - on about an EP's worth of songs - that doesn't really matter. More revealing than even Roger's  'Pros and Cons', never mind 'David Gilmour' and even Rick's later 'Broken China' (the supposedly revealing Rick album, or so we've always been told) there's a certain power about 'Wet Dream', which can go from being as bubbly as a Jacuzzi to as torrential as a waterfall in the time it takes to get your speedos on. 'Against The Odds' is Rick's self-deprecating comment that he isn't supposed to be able to do this and has almost forgotten how, while reflecting Lulu's 'I Don't Want To Fight No More' hit from decades later. 'Summer Elegy' is a superior Elton John style ballad about being stuck, effectively written to Roger as an open letter trying to understand him (and characteristically it's much kinder than anything Roger wrote about Rick). 'Holiday' tries so hard to forget the old life 'for another way to live' but can't help going back over old ground. 'Pink's Song', actually written for the tutor of Wright's children who was taking on more and more of the parenting work in Rick's absence, suggests by name alone that Roger was paying more attention than he pretended while busy scribbling 'The Wall' on a holiday of his own. Unlike Gilmour and Mason on their early solo albums, Rick's content to stick with the old Floyd sound rather than try something new, but naturally goes for a far more keyboard and especially piano based sound than normal, with Rick's sad sighing vocals unadorned by stinging Gilmour solos, big productions or harmony parts, which in itself is a 'new' style. For the most part it's a good one, as 'humble' a Pink Floyd album as any in the canon. This record only really goes wrong on the sappy poppy instrumentals, where Rick breaks with his usual sound for a bunch of upbeat faceless pop - which must have sounded pretty groundbreaking back in 1978 but forty years later hasn't aged as well as what the Floyd were up to under the band name. Still even these bits are better played than the more celebrated and supposedly 'atmospheric' instrumentals on Gilmour's later albums which got all the credit in later years and feature first contact with many of the musicians who'll be key on later albums, including sax player Mel Collins and Gilmour sound-alike guitarist Snowy White. Though ignored and dismissed both then and since as a self-indulgent oddity, with some of the worst sales of any Floyd-related album on release, 'Wet Dream' is proof that Rick was far more capable of writing, performing and producing top quality material than the rest of the band were prepared to give him credit for. Not for the first or last time, Wright was proved to be right, but no one was listening.

Many of the instrumentals are arranged around the sea - something that would later inspire the 'final' Pink Floyd album 'Endless River' in 2014 (actually a bunch of outtakes from 1993). 'Mediterranean C' sets the scene for the album with a geographic location that's the sunniest on the album, with Rick's synth sounding like the sun playing on the decks as the rhythm section puts the boat into a slow chug. Charming, if disposable.

'Against The Odds', though, is powerful, seemingly equally written about Rick's fading marriage and fading band. He keeps telling himself things will get better, but 'each time we return to this crazy place we break the promise made face to face'. The song switches from a confrontational major key for a timid minor key middle eight sighing 'I don't know why we go on so'. Trapped, Rick asks if there's a way out because he can't find one - he doesn't want to leave something that's brought him so much joy across his life, but when there's no joy to be had now is it kinder to make a clean break? Sung to a slow unfolding pattern of chords, with Rick's voice sounding small against such a big backdrop (barely heard above the piano chords and Snowy's flamenco guitar - again Roger was clearly listening given the similarities with his own 'Is There Anybody Out There?' written in the same period). A lovely mournful song, right in the Floyd tradition, this song is perhaps an extra verse away from greatness but it's an overlooked gem all the same.

'Cat Cruise' sounds like a period Pete Townshend solo instrumental, trying hard to be upbeat and poppy but never quite shaking off the nagging feeling of doubt and panic the contemporary sounds are trying so hard to overshadow. A twinkling rolling Rick part sounds like the waves, while some heavy drumming adds drama and a sax part sounds like a faster, more urgent 'Us and Them'.

'Summer Elegy' finds Rick confronting his demons again: 'Something's got to give - we can't carry on like this'. Having given himself time to think, Rick realises he'll never actually know what to do as 'one year more and I'm still unsure'. He's tried hard to escape his problems, given himself every opportunity to escape and have fun, but after another 'sleepless night and wasted day', he's got too many conflicting thoughts and fears this 'song' will never end. He sounds, in short, uncomfortably numb, with a last verse coming close to Roger style sarcasm as he drinks to 'absent friends' on the condition they remain absent! Returning to the watery theme, he ends the song by comparing himself to a boat about to sink if he doesn't do something fast: 'Time's running out' he sighs, 'and I'm about to go down'. Of course, this being Rick there's little urgency in this song's music, which is his usual sad slowly unfolding drama at a similar pace to 'Us and Them'.

The noisy 'Waves' is a sax heavy jazz song that must have reminded Rick of his early days at the start of the Floyd when he was looking round for a jazz band to join, not a rock one. Sax player Mel Collins' lovely warm rich tones are the highlight of this sleepy instrumental, which sounds more like a slowly building storm than simply 'waves'.

Over on side two Rick tells us that he's been looking forward to this 'Holiday', but it's all gone wrong and he needs another one, fast. Rick sounds as if he's fallen in love again (though he won't marry his second wife until 1984) but is nervous of revealing too much about himself, aware that he's coming across as 'a man who doesn't know where he stands'. Rick's fantasies about what might be hit reality head on as he tries to work out where one ends and another begins and gets confused about which way to go. Returning home he finds himself 'shut in, only half alive' so he takes off for another holiday, agreeing to 'sail on' wherever life takes him. Though lacking the same memorable melody as the other three actual songs on the album, this one is another delight with a very Floydian theme of escape and absence.

'Mad Yannis Dance' is an interesting instrumental. Needless to say for Rick, it's not a dance at all, too slow to even be a romantic waltz and with an eerie, claustrophobic feel that's about the closest he came to putting the Waters brand of paranoia in song. Played on what must back then have been a very modern sound, it's one of the more convincing songs without words on this album.

Alas 'Drop In From The Top' is probably the worst - a clunky Floyd soundalike that misses their breadth and passion and sounds like a backing track from 'Momentary Lapse'. Though usually I rate Snowy White highly he comes off as a very second rate Gilmour here, while Rick seems to have forgotten how to play the funky grooves that were once second nature in the early 70s. Usually the word 'slow' is a complement when describing Rick's slowly unfolding beauty, but this track needs to played about ten times faster to get any swing at all.

Luckily 'Pink's Song' is another highlight and a rare song of friendship and love from Rick. Written in honour of Pink, a family friend particularly close to Rick's children, this song is half tribute and half apology to someone 'thrown into our lives' who quickly realised the tension between the couple and 'saw through our disguise'. Rick tributes Pink with 'giving me time to breathe', taking the daily pressures away so Rick could find himself again and supportive even as Rick makes the hard decision to go 'because I can no longer stay'. Though infused with the sorrow of the rest of the album, you can tell this quiet song has a warm heart and Rick means every praising word. The addition of flutes is a nice and unusual touch too, making this song sound more folky than most.

The album should have ended there, but no - we get more lumpy modern jazz in the form of 'Funky Deux', which might well be named for the most 'Rick' section of the 'Atom Heart Mother' named 'Funky Dung'. This one however swings even less convincingly and feels suspiciously like the musicians are clock watching until they've vamped long enough to fill out the rest of the album. A real shame that the album had to end on one of its two poorest tracks.

Overall, though, 'Wet Dream' has a lot of things going for it. Pretty without being empty, sad without being saccharine and relentlessly modern without it being in a dear-God-please-remix-this-now kind of a way like 'Momentary Lapse Of Reason', it's an album that's far more convincing than any of the other Floyd's debut albums ('The Madcap Laughs' being an understandable example). The four actual songs could easily have sat side by side with the best songs from 'The Wall' and 'David Gilmour' (three albums all about regret and failure, they would have fitted together better than you might expect; David's 'There's No Way Out Of Here' would have slotted onto this album perfectly with its tale of entrapment and fear of the future). Sadly what should have re-energised Rick only made things worse and left him without even half-ideas to work on when the band reconvened the following year. That brave new world Rick dreamt of only really began coming together a decade or so after this album and you get the sense that secretly he rather realised it here too. The poor sales for this album rather put him off making another too - though Rick will play around with being part of a synth double act in the 1980s he won't make another actual solo album for eighteen years. Hard to find, full of instrumental filler and released by the band member everyone always dismisses, there are several good reasons why 'Wet Dream' has been ignored by fans for so long. But the real fans long ago learnt that 'Wet Dream' might well be the most Pink Floyd album of all the solo records - humble, sad, shy and full of amazing beauty if only you're prepared to work at finding it. And working at finding the hidden beauty in forgotten records really is my kind of a holiday. Much under-rated and second only to 'Amused To death' in the solo Floyd stakes.

"David Gilmour"

(EMI, May 1978)

Milhalis/There's No Way Out Of Here/Cry From The Street/So Far Away/Short and Sweet//Raise My Rent/No Way/Deafinitely/I Can't Breathe Anymore

"The boat we're sailing might have a leak or two, but I know it's sound - just like me and you"

Released the same month as Rick's 'Wet Dream', the self-titled Gilmour debut was similarly overlooked at the time, though in this case fans have tended to go back and claim this album as a lost classic. It isn't quite - the album plays it safe a little too often and features more cover songs than you might be expecting - but it is fair to say that Roger's claims that the rest of the band never had any decent material to offer him might have been quite different if both Dave and Rick had kept back the stronger of this batch of songs for him to work with, Actually, Gilmour did: the melody for what will become 'Comfortably Numb' was taped for this album but left unused, pounced on by Roger as the perfect innocent platform for his counterpart terror. The rest of 'David Gilmour' sounds like it could have done with a quick going over by Roger too: there are several great bits to this album and songs like the Floydian Claustrophobic/death epic 'I Can't Breathe Anymore' rank alongside Gilmour's very best. However much of it seems to be lacking that last 10% to make it shine, a middle eight here or an intriguing lyrics here, while Gilmour seems all too comfortable to stick with what he's got forming in his brain rather than risk it all for something that never comes. Even by Floyd standards, this is a very repetitive LP. Like Rick there are too many instrumentals here compared to songs, though again like Rick they are rather good ones, if lacking something to make them great. 'Deafinitely' for instance is like a dry run for 'Run Like Hell' crossed with the riff from 'Sheep', but lacks the impact of both thanks to a sluggish tempo and a lack of anything else added to the mix.

Where Gilmour gains, though, is in the wonderful down to earth performance (this record was made in a month - it took the Floyd that long to get the drum sound and argue over the biscuits) and production that makes such a refreshing change after hearing so many polished LPs (although the angry swagger does recall 'Animals' in parts). This record is effectively made by a power trio, with Gilmour matched nicely by his old pals from Joker's Wild: bassist Rick Wills and drummer Willie Wilson, who had to take a sabbatical from his day job in The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver to make the record (there's a great shot in the inner sleeve of the trio looking ridiculously young, especially a be-quiffed Gilmour). It's remarkable to me that, thirteen years after their EP together, Gilmour was still friendly enough with his two old pals for them to agree to work with him, with none of the usual court cases or tinges of betrayal and jealousy. After all, that's like expecting John Lennon to have the phone number of his old Quarryman washboard player to hand when forming the Plastic Ono Band or for Neil Young to actually remember the name of the band he worked with forty groups ago. That just never happens and is testament to how loved in the industry Gilmour is. This is still very much his LP, though, and out of the four Floyds post-Barrett who released their first solo albums he sounds the most comfortable being by himself (yes, even Roger misses David on 'Pros and Cons' more than he misses Roger). The album's radioplay hit 'So Far Away' features one of the most gorgeously expressive Gilmour vocals, while his guitar burns a hole in the band jams like never before. In some alternate universe somewhere Syd Barrett has just beamed a new version of 'Interstellar Overdrive from space with a hologram version of Pink Floyd and David was never needed in the band, but became a solo star anyway thanks to albums like this one that sold bucketloads. If at times this album skirts a little too close to being tribute band Floyd rather than the real thing, then it's impressive there aren't more mistakes from someone who'd never made a whole album on his own before and - until the making of 'Animals' turned him away from the Floyd - had never shown any interest in doing so. It's a lot more suitable in the Floyd discography than 'Momentary Lapse' anyway...

The rough instrumental 'Milhalis' - Greek for 'Michael' - is one of those scene setters that later Gilmour solo albums will be full of. Pleasant without really doing that much, it features some nice Gilmour-played synthesiser behind his usual stinging guitar, played more aggressively than Rick's usual style (just as the guitar on Rick's album is more passive than Gilmour's work).

Gilmour first heard the song 'No Way Out Of Here' by the band Unicorn when he was producing their first album for them. Perhaps impressed with the strong take on an old Floyd trick (a deeply unhappy song given a contrast with a nicely hopeful chorus), Gilmour takes the germ of a song and makes it his own, switching the main riff to an unusual electronically-treated harmonica part and keeping his guitar instead to angry rhythm and the occasional soaring line. Claustrophobic but with the promise of release, it's perfect for Gilmour to show off all sides of his vocal character.

The hard-edged 'Cry From The Street' is a bit of a bad idea, though, a clunking blues song that's less a cry from the street than a minor wail from a millionaire's holiday home. 'Run Like Hell' without the fun, it's a paranoid song so lazy you can hear this mugger coming a town away.

'So Far Away' starts off like a generic piano torch ballad but actually turns into a rather a strong song that, very much like Rick's material, expresses doubt over a dead-end in Gilmour's life. Though like his partner David could be singing about his band and Roger in particular, this song is much more of a love song and finds him debating the collapsing marriage between him and first wife Ginger. Sighing that he always knows what to say in his head before arguments happen, he thinks he's 'always going to come off second best' and again like Rick worries 'is this a dream or is this real life?' We rarely hear David so vulnerable and only a typically breathtaking fiery solo is played above a whisper. Delightful.

'Short and Sweet' marks the second appearance in this book by Roy Harper, the guest vocalist of 'Wish You Were Here's 'Have A Cigar'. A simple, bluesy instrumental, you wonder that it took two people to think of this simple song, which with its slashing chords and simple hook sounds more like the sort of thing writers come up with in their first year of making music.

The six minute 'Raise My Rent' is being set up to be an epic, but sadly it never comes: instead David chickens out of turning this into the full song it's crying out to be and simply makes it an overlong instrumental instead. A shame because the chord changes are rather nice, especially with pinging Rick-style organ buried right at the bottom of the mix.

'No Way' is the song that most points forward to second Gilmour album 'About Face' and  features the famous passive-aggressive truculence Waters complained about so much. 'I won't go down easy 'cause that's not my style' scoffs David on a song that could be addressed to either his wife or Roger. Played with a sultry sexy swagger and an impressive confidence, it's a sort of fast paced blues that's nicely played.

'Deafinitely' is actually a lot more restrained than its title suggests, a reprise of 'Sheep' with the bitter sting taken out. David has fun going mad on a space-age sounding synthesiser but the real song is going on in the bed of guitars underneath. Nice while it lasts, but not the sort of track you hurry to listen to again.

Luckily closer 'I Can't Breathe Anymore' may well be the album highlight, another sad and mournful song that suggests Dave and Rick should have got together. David sounds as if he's having a panic attack but he's not quite sure why - he's always had his feet 'on the ground' but this time he's 'flat on the floor'. Trapped, David sighs that this is a 'tale without end' but simultaneously stops himself and says that there are so many 'divorce' songs in the world everyone knows where this one will end. However there's a hint that this is more about the band than his marriage: 'I want to be there at the kill, with or without God on my side' Giulmour teeth-gnashes in a line that even Roger might have considered a little too brutal, although in context with this song's sleepy weariness it makes perfect sense. This is the sound of a man who knows how to fight and will do it again if need be, but he tired of having to fight long ago. We all know the song is going to do Gilmour's favourite trick of changing tack midway through and taking off into a compendium of fireworks, but the solo is still pretty terrific when it arrives. Easily the most memorable and original moment on the album.

Overall, then, 'David Gilmour' is a bit of a treat. Not a lot of a treat perhaps and by the time you've taken the songs that don't quite work out of the equation you're not left with that much after all. But even with such caveats this feels like a substantial album, a missing part of the Floyd puzzle in the way that his third and fourth solo albums just aren't packed enough to match. I still think that the even more overlooked 'About Face' is a better album, though I seem to be in a minority in the Floyd community, but 'David Gilmour' is another strong album from an under-rated talent.

 Other Pink Floyd articles from this site you might be interested in reading: 

‘Obscured By Clouds’ (1972)

‘Animals’ (1977)

'The Wall' (1980)

'The Final Cut' (1983)

'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' (1987)

'Amused To Death' (Waters) (1992) 

The Best Unreleased Pink Floyd Recordings