Atom Heart Mother
Atom Heart Mother
Summer of '68
Fat Old Sun
Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast

    Ah, those were the days!  Almost no one does it anymore, but there was a time (and this was it) when Rock 'n Roll bands simply had to see what they would sound like backed by a symphony orchestra.  (Usually, they sounded like Rock 'n Roll bands crashing a symphony concert.)  Some were quite successful with it, and it certainly brought rock music into a new age, because the experimentation {CPFS} caused many bands to think about the great improvement they could make in the quality of their music by adding orchestral instruments to it.  (Maybe the reason few people do it these days is because synthesizers have made it possible for one techno-geek to sound like an entire orchestra, and today's listeners are seldom sufficiently sophisticated enough to tell the difference.)  The "Rock Opera" was all the rage, and some bands turned it into a career (same time period that Emerson, Lake, and Palmer made PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION)
    On the surface, this seemed like a great trend for the Floyd to follow, since so much of their music had classical and orchestral constructs.  Unfortunately, it did not turn out as well as we might hope, for a variety of reasons.  Primary among these reasons, I think, was that the orchestra just did not grasp the overall Pink Floyd "concept".  They keep trying to play everything "straight", and so end up missing the boat.  It became a very aggravating experience for both the orchestra and the band, and the result is pretty muddled.  In fact, at one point, the album and title song were going to be called "The Amazing Pudding", because the whole just sounded so darned "puddinglike".  (Think how a concert would sound if you were submerged in pudding - maybe.)  Redemptorially, all the best Pink Floyd parts are present, they just all need work.  The poetry needs to be improved {CPFS} , the effects need to be more a part of the music {CPFS} , and the concept will have to come from the songs rather than the other way around, but you can tell that they are on the right track.  Plus, there is the amazing Lulubelle the cow on the cover - inspired imagery!

    Atom Heart Mother was named after a headline the boys saw in the newspaper, about a woman who had had a nuclear pacemaker installed.  Like many Floyd song titles, it is completely coincidental, and unrelated to the music.  Actually, almost no title would fit this composition well, though I might have used "Motorcycles in Moldavia".  The parts are also named, but these titles seem to be for laughs, because there's no logical connection to the music (though there is to the cow): Father's Shout, Breast Milky, Mother Fore, Funky Dung, Mind Your Throats Please, and Remergence.  Ron Geesin did all the orchestration and choral arranging, but ended up with no credit because of differences with the band.  To some extent, he may not have really wanted this on his resume.  By the time it was over, both Waters and Gilmour felt that it was pretty much worthless except for the experience of learning to "think big".  The band edged closer to the total concept album, which really is a hard thing to create.
    By comparison, the other songs don't really seem to fit on this album.  If is a pleasant, though namby-pamby, acoustic ballad, in which Roger describes some of his failings, which seem to include his inability to have saved Syd from losing his way.  Roger says this is the "real" him at work here, but I think the real Roger has more edge.  It does cause one to pause for thought.
    Summer '68 gives Rick Wright another chance to demonstrate his songwriting skills, and he crashes again.  This one seems like he wrote a song (with a Country style, some interesting ideas, got to use the orchestra while it was paid for) and he wrote a poem (not much rhyme, no rhythm, probably about a groupie who got too clingy) and then just slapped the two together.  If you're a whiz with recording equipment, try editing out all the vocals, and I think this one would be his best composition ever (not that that's saying so much).
    Fat Old Sun is a favorite of my friend Dan Ondrusek, but I think it lacks some punch.  Dave Gilmour wrote this one, and seemed to lack some confidence in his singing, perhaps since it's so high.  It's not a bad song, and it builds well (though painfully slowly), with some nice guitar riffs at the end, but it needs to have its tempo raised a notch or two, and a little harder edge honed onto it.  Other than that, it's almost perfect.  (Dan let me borrow a recording of this song that was done live on the BBC in 1970, which is much more psychedelic, and somewhat better.)
    Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast closes out the album, and is almost entirely sound-effects.  If you close your eyes, you can smell the bacon cooking.  (In fact, when they did it in concert, the band included smell-effects along with the sound effects!)  With your headphones on, you can probably name everything Alan has for breakfast, but you end up wishing he'd get it all cooked and eaten in far less than 13 minutes.  (If it was a display at Disney World the lines would be huge!)  The band said it was the "most thrown-together thing we've ever done", but they were probably too harsh with themselves.  Still, it's not easy-listening.
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