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Old 11-27-2011, 08:52 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Review: Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother- 1970


Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother- 1970
RMR Album Rating- 7


The side-long title track on Pink Floyd’s 1970 release “Atom Heart Mother” has been called both a masterpiece and a complete failure by fans, critics, and Pink Floyd themselves. Pink Floyd was clearly proud of the suite when it came out because they toured with an orchestra and choir, and they played the song in its entirety upon the release of the album, and they even kept a shorter version in their live set through the “Dark Side of the Moon” tour, but in later years, the band completely dismissed the song, with comments like these:
“I wouldn’t dream of performing anything that embarrassed me. If somebody said to me now: Right… here’s a million pounds, go out and play Atom Heart Mother, I’d say: You must be ****ing joking… I’m not playing that rubbish! Cause then I really would be embarrassed” (Roger Waters ’84).

“Atom Heart Mother was a good idea but it was dreadful. I listened to that album recently: God, it’s ****, possibly our lowest point artistically. Atom Heart Mother sounds like we didn’t have any idea between us, but we became much more prolific after it” (David Gilmour ’01).
However, with all that being said and with all the hype centered around the “Atom Heart Mother” suite, I think almost everyone has missed out on the real centerpiece of the album, which is not the title track; it is a completely underrated masterpiece written by Rick Wright called “Summer ’68.” This song is a completely hidden gem in the Floyd catalog, and it is certainly the best song on “Atom Heart Mother,” so let’s start there, and then I’ll return to the Title track.

The song starts out as a simple ballad, but it is actually quite complex and layered, and it is amazing that Wright is able to pack so much content and texture in a song that clocks in under 6-minutes. Lyrically, the song focuses on the rock and roll life style that Pink Floyd had adopted, but Wright sings of this with a tone of boredom and indifference, as if he has become numb to it, and it is clear that he misses his old lifestyle with his friends at home, as he sings that his “friends are lying in the sun, I wish that I was there/ Tomorrow brings another town, another girl like you.” The lyrics are great, but the musical structure of the song is where it really shines. The start of the song (and the first layer) is a beautiful ballad section sung by Wright. Then, the second layer is added, which is an extremely heavy psychedelic section, and because it is layered on top of such a soft ballad, the contrast of the two sections makes each one extremely powerful. The third layer is a Beach Boy’s style simple pop chorus of repeating “ba ba-ba ba,” and then the forth layer is an orchestral section of brass horns. After two verses of this structure, the song closes with a long classical piano outro, which is layered under more brass horns. So in summary, you have moving lyrics sung as a beautiful ballad, heavy psychedelics, Beach Boy’s style pop, orchestral horns, and classical piano all packed into one short song that is completely overlooked by most Pink Floyd Fans. All in all, it is an absolutely phenomenal song, and it is one of my personal favorite Pink Floyd tracks ("Summer '68 YouTube clip below).

“Summer ‘68” is just one of three ballads on the album. The other two don’t reach the level of greatness of “Summer ‘68,” but they’re both good tracks as well. Waters’ contribution is “If,” and although it is pleasant, it is not quite as good as some of his other early ballads like “Grantchester Meadows.” I will mention one lyrical section of the song that stands out: “If I go insane, please don’t put/ Your wires in my brain.” These lyrics are significant because they’re the first Pink Floyd lyrics that make a clear reference to insanity. This is important because the insanity theme would completely dominate Pink Floyd’s later lyrical content. Lastly, you have Gilmore’s ballad contribution of “Fat Old Sun.” It starts out as a great folky piece with just Gilmore singing over his guitar, but the song concludes with much heavier instrumentation. In terms of the three ballads, I think it’s interesting to point out that Waters’ contribution is by far the weakest; however, he would go on to be the primary songwriter and the band’s leader, and his domineering leadership would ultimately tear the band part. I’m certainly not judging his musical prowess based on one simple short ballad, but on this particular album, Waters is clearly outshined by both Wright and Gilmore.

On to the title track. It took a while for me to have any reaction to it at all. For a long time, it was just there. I mean, it’s almost 24-minutes long, it’s completely instrumental with the exception of some background sound effects and vocals, and the backing vocals aren’t even words, they’re really just chanting and humming. So, at first, there really wasn’t anything for me to latch on to. However, I ultimately really did latch on it, and I completely disagree with the quotes from Waters and Gilmore that I cited earlier in the review.

I think it’s somewhat interesting how I came to enjoy the song. The song is very mellow, and I found that it was great to listen to at night with headphones as I was going to bed… it would put me out right away, and I probably listened to it every night for a few months. Although I would rarely make it through the whole thing before falling asleep, I guess my brain would still be processing it because before long, I knew every note to the song, and I started listening to it all the time. It’s certainly not at the level of some of the other early prog epics like Yes’ “Close to the Edge,” or even Floyd’s next side-long epic “Echoes,” but it is maybe the most pivotal turning point in Pink Floyd’s catalog because it is extremely atmospheric with a great Gilmore guitar solo mid-way through it, and all the Pink Floyd monster records that would follow “Atom Heart Mother” are based on two key elements above all else: atmosphere and Gilmore’s guitar, so I think a case can easily be made that the “Atom Heart Mother” suite laid the foundation and blueprint for Pink Floyd’s future sound. Personally, I love it, but as I mentioned— it is not an easy song to love, and it is one that has certainly polarized listeners.

Lastly, I can’t close this one out without mentioning “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” which closes the album. It features very slight instrumentation, but the main parts of the song (to which the title alludes) are just the sounds of someone cooking and eating breakfast. You can hear cereal being poured, bacon cooking, and a myriad of other breakfast related sound effects. The song does nothing for me, and I skip it every time I play the record. However, two things did come out of the track. First, it is the last song like this that Floyd would ever put out, so it shows them leaving that type of experimentation behind, which is certainly a good thing in my book. Secondly, although I don’t care for the song, I will admit that the sound effects are amazing. They are crisp, sharp, and they show Pink Floyd’s mastery of using sound effects. This is important because sound effects play a major role in Pink Floyd’s future sound, and these types of sound effects would re-appear (in much better taste) on “Dark Side of the Moon.” Personally, I never listen to “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” anymore (a half dozen times was too many for me), and the “Atom Heart Mother” album really ends for me after the three ballads that follow the title suite.

“Atom Heart Mother” is a very mellow album at its core, and it is a tough album to penetrate, so many people just skip over it or dismiss the album completely, but I think that is a mistake. Although it is mellow and unpolished, it is important to recognize that it is the first Pink Floyd album that contains all the key elements that would create their signature sound, so its place in the evolution of Pink Floyd is unparalleled and the album should not be overlooked.

Here's "Summer '68" a completely hidden gem in Floyd's catalog...

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Old 11-27-2011, 09:39 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Great review.

I absolutely agree with you about Summer '68. My favourite song on A Saucerful Of Secrets is Remember A Day. It's too bad we didn't hear more of Richard's individual songwriting talent on the later albums. Your last paragraph hits the nail on the head as well.

I haven't heard it in awhile. I'm going to throw it on now.

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Old 11-27-2011, 10:12 AM   #3 (permalink)
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That's a beautifully written review you made there .

I don't think Atom Heart Mother is a failure in any way.
I never understood UmmaGumma. Atom Heart mother hasn't got the power as an album that Meddle or WYWH or DSOTM has. But it's still got quite a few little gems on it
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Old 11-27-2011, 10:41 AM   #4 (permalink)
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which reminds me, i have it but have yet to listen to it

will get back to you about it
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Old 12-09-2011, 12:40 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I haven't heard this album in a while. I remember it being good the last time I listened. Gonna give it a listen a little later
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Old 12-09-2011, 06:19 PM   #6 (permalink)
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okay, have heard it

quite like it, though i'm not really so sure about the orchestrations

and despite what people say about Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast, i think it's ok

so, uh, wot's the deal?
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Old 12-09-2011, 06:47 PM   #7 (permalink)
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uh, wot's the deal?
Great "Obscured by Clouds" allusion, which is by far the most underrated album in Pink Floyd's catalog. That's my next Floyd review... whenever I get to it, I'll post it.
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Old 12-09-2011, 06:47 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Just got through listening to the album. Actually only knock I have on it is the Orchestra. Other than that not a bad album at all
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Old 02-18-2012, 12:13 AM   #9 (permalink)
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great review!
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Old 02-18-2012, 12:23 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Fantastic review, although I'd personally have given it an 8/10 or so.
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