Psych album of the week: Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

We look back at one of the most mind-expanding—and downright weird—records to come out of the 1960s

Pink Floyd

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The English band Spacemen 3 once released an album called Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is an amusing title and probably pretty accurate as far as Spacemen 3 was concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take any drugs to enjoy music; music is arguably its own kind of mind-altering substance. For those so inclined, however, we offer the following as a must-hear.

For its debut long-player, Pink Floyd somehow distilled its legendarily shambolic noise jams, frontman Syd Barrett’s taste for fairy-tale whimsy, and prodigious LSD consumption into one of the most mind-expanding—and downright weird—records to come out of the 1960s.

Recorded with producer Norman Smith at EMI/Abbey Road Studios at the same time that the Beatles were making Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band there, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is wildly inconsistent, but that’s part of what makes it great. The free-form proto-prog freakout that is “Interstellar Overdive” might sound like a bad trip, but what follows it is the twee, Tolkien-esque story-song “The Gnome”, and suddenly everything’s okay again.

Sonic psych-out

At the 1:28 mark of “Matilda Mother”, keyboardist Richard Wright launches into an organ solo with a twisting melody that will etch itself into your brain. If you must know, Wright is playing in the F# Phrygian dominant scale —more commonly used in Arabic and Egyptian music—with a natural sixth instead of its typical flatted counterpart. For the benefit of nonmusicians, that means it sounds trippy as fuck.

Trippiest lyrics

“Screaming through the starlit sky/Traveling by telephone/Hey ho, here we go/Ever so high.” (“Flaming”)

In their own words

“Norman was being the perfect A&R man. He realized Syd could write great pop songs. If we’d put out what they were playing live, it wouldn’t have sold fuck-all. The one song that was like the live show was ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. They played it twice, one version recorded straight on top of the other. They double-tracked the whole track. Why? Well, it sounds pretty fucking weird, doesn’t it? That big sound and all those hammering drums.” (Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner)

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