(a soniclovenoize re-imagining)
1. Vegetable Man
b) Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun
At what the band believed to be the height of their popularity in 1967, Pink Floyd witnessed the mental collapse of their lead singer and songwriter Syd Barrett. Caused by copious amounts of psychedelics and possibly a tendency for madness and erratic behavior in the first place, Barrett was known at that time for blank stares half-way through a Pink Floyd performance, spells in which he would just simply stop playing his guitar and vacantly stare motionless into the audience. He was becoming unreliable inasmuch as the band resorted to hiring a second guitar player to back Barrett up, a guitarist by the name of David Gilmour. After sessions for the second album had begun (which would eventually become A Saucerful of Secrets), Barrett’s madness climaxed during a rehearsal in which Barrett attempted to teach his bandmates a new song, allegedly entitled “Have You Got It Yet?”, in which every run-through of the song, Barrett altered the structure so the band could not follow along, and then sung to the band members “Have you got it yet?” In one of the great moments in Rock History, Roger Waters simply didn’t pick up Syd for rehearsals and Pink Floyd continued without Syd Barrett, the crazy diamond himself. This era in Pink Floyd’s history can only be remembered in the sole album featuring Syd Barrett as the lead singer/songwriter of Pink Floyd, the psychedelic-pop masterpiece The Piper At The Gates of Dawn. But no longer does that have to be the case.
To create this second Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd album, we must put forth very specific constrictions of what source material to include. The first of the source material would be the only songs on A Saucerful of Secrets to feature Syd Barrett: “Remember a Day”, “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun” and of course “Jugband Blues”. More Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd songs were recorded during these late 1967 recording sessions which didn’t make the album that we can also include: the single release “Apples and Oranges” and “Paint Box” (taken from The Piper At The Gates of Dawn 40th Anniversary remaster and Relics, respectively) as well as the unreleased Barrett-penned “Vegetable Man” and “Scream Thy Last Scream” (taken from The Syd Barrett Tapes bootleg). Already we have more than half an album!
After Barrett’s dismissal from Pink Floyd, he gathered himself in 1968 to record his first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. The album was essentially recorded in three sessions: May-June 1968 with Peter Jenner, April 1969 with Malcolm Jones and July-August with former bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters. For the sake of chronological continuity, we are only going to utilize the material Barrett recorded in his initial 1968 sessions (swiftly overlooking the overdubs made in 1969, of course), pairing them with the aforementioned material from the A Saucerful of Secrets sessions recorded in late 1967 and early 1968. Focusing on the material that sonically fits with the previous seven selected Pink Floyd recordings, we are using “Late Night” and an alternate version of “Golden Hair” from The Madcap Laughs remaster, as well as “Clowns and Jugglers” and “Lanky (Part One)” from the Opel remaster.
The sequence of The Shape of Questions to Heaven was heavily influenced by its actual previous album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn but almost all of the tracks were crossfaded to create a continuous two sides of music (a tactic Pink Floyd would later explore in the following years). My re-imagining begins with a duo of uptempo rockers (“Vegetable Man” and “Apples and Oranges”) before a low-key decent with the following two songs (“Late Night” and “Remember The Day”), allowing the side to slowly wind down. Side A concludes with an original edit of “Golden Hair” and “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun”, crossfaded into each other creating a seven-minute epic. Although placed with a record-flip in-between, the psychedelic-jazz jam “Lanky, Part One” continues the mood set by the previous suite, even staying in the same key and mode. After the rare stereo mix of Richard Wright’s “Paint Box”, the album picks up for a glorious and increasingly paranoid finish with “Clowns and Jugglers”, “Scream Thy last Scream” and the prophetic “Jugband Blues”.
The Shape of Questions to Heavens shapes out to be an album very indicative of Syd Barrett’s mindset in 1968. Although we largely have similar full-band Pink Floyd song arrangements as found on their debut psyche-pop debut, the off-kilter songwriting leans towards the bizarre, with two Richard Wright and a Roger Waters-penned song picking up the slack for their slipping songwriter. We are fairly certain the album would have been a commercial flop, probably too avant-garde for the mainstream 1968 and too lacking in commercial singles, with “Apples and Oranges” the only possible contender (which was a failed single in itself). Regardless, it is an enjoyable listen and an interesting alternative to A Saucerful of Secrets, and succeeds in creating an album that demonstrates just what Pink Floyd could have done with their lunatic on the grass.
Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets (1994 remaster)
Pink Floyd – The Syd Barrett Tapes (bootleg, 2008 Needledrop Records)
Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs (1994 Harvest remaster)
Syd Barrett – Opal (1994 Harvest remaster)
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included