Just over fifty years ago, PINK FLOYD’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released. Like so many of the records issued in the mid ’60s, it was put out in both mono and stereo versions. Since stereo eventually became the de facto standard, the mono version eventually faded away and was never reissued, except as part of the 40th Anniversary 3CD box set from 2007 (see red image below). Finally, that epochal original mono mix has been reissued on vinyl.
A Record Store Day 2018 release, this limited edition puts Piper back into the dawn it was born in, when an experimental English band – led by a mercurial guitarist named Syd Barrett – played at the UFO Club amid projected light shows that really added to the goings-on, especially if you were tripping. (I’m going by all the things I’ve read over the years – I was only four in ’67.) The album starts off with a lengthy almost-instrumental called “Astronomy Domine” (“Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon Miranda and Titania / Neptune Titan, stars can frighten…”), ascending to Barrett’s telecaster trickery and keyboardist Richard Wright’s imaginative meanderings. Next comes a short one, “Lucifer Sam,” about a Siam cat who is “something I can’t explain.” Another descender but with much more of a pop hook, it’s the should’ve-been single that wasn’t. (The English believed a single shouldn’t also be on an album; huh?) Following from there, “Matilda Mother,” “Flaming” (two nursery rhyme-esque Barrett tunes), “Pow R. Toc H.,” and side closer “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk,” bass player Roger Waters’ first solo writing credit on a Floyd record and a percussive popper.
Flip over the record and The Floyd shift into “Interstellar Overdrive,” at once ascending and descending into space, a song that has since become a staple of alt-rock bands wanting to prove their Pink prowess. (I saw Camper Van Beethoven do it at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA a few years ago.) The rest of the album is dominated by Barrett material, with a few more kiddie corkers like “The Gnome” (“a story about a little man… called Grimble Gromble”) and “Bike” (“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house, I don’t know why I call him Gerald / He’s getting rather old but he’s a good mouse”). Fans of the album will wonder why I haven’t mentioned “The Scarecrow” (which has a pretty cool “video”) or “Chapter 24,” though now I have so they can quit wondering. (See how I did that?)
Its place in the great rock albums hall of fame can’t be denied, and not just because The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the first album by Pink Floyd and the start of their illustrious career. Piper came out when pop groups were actively trying to push out the boundaries, before they became rock bands, and still somehow managing to chart (although not with their most out-there stuff). Barrett & Co. managed to do just that. This version of that album comes in an engaging outer box (pictured at the top of this column) with a new design based on the original’s back cover image, and a replica version of the actual cover inside the box sleeving up a heavy vinyl record with Columbia labels (that was their record company in England), and a poster depicting the band – Syd way up front and Roger all the way in the back. (Did Waters approve that? Good on ya, Rog!) Probably already sold out in your local record shop, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in magnificent mono is one I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a few extra bucks for.
5/5 (Pink Floyd Records PFRLP26, 1967/2018)