Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother- 1970
RMR Album Rating- 7 (Excellent)
Pink Floyd’s first album of the ‘70’s, Atom Heart Mother, is best known for its 24-minute orchestral epic title track, but it also contains three beautiful ballads, and Pink Floyd’s last pure psychedelic-experimental track.
The “Atom Heart Mother” suite 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 & choir, and they played the song in its entirety upon the release of the album. Plus, they even kept a shorter version in their live set through the Dark Side of the Moon tour, yet 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 fucking 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 shit, 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).
Admittedly, it is a difficult song to get into. It’s almost 24-minutes long. It is completely instrumental with the exception of some sound effects, chanting, and humming, but it has great atmosphere, and it features Gilmore’s first great extended guitar solo. So, I think “Atom Heart Mother” is arguably the most pivotal song in Pink Floyd’s catalog because its musicality laid the foundation for Pink Floyd’s signature sound, which is primarily built upon atmosphere and Gilmore’s guitar. Personally, I love the suite, but it is not an easy song to love, and it certainly polarizes listeners and the band. (Click here to listen to Atom Heart Mother Suite)
The other key tracks on the album are three ballads written independently by Wright, Waters, and Gilmore. My favorite of these is Richard Wright’s “Summer ‘68,” which seems like a simple ballad on the surface, but it is actually quite complex, and it layers 4 contrasting musical styles on top of each other. The 1st layer is a simple ballad section sung by Wright. The 2nd layer is a heavy psychedelic section. The 3rd layer is a Beach Boy’s style pop chorus of repeating “ba ba-ba ba” vocals, and the 4th 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. All of these styles are packed into one short song that is criminally underrated and easily my favorite song on the album. (Click here to listen to Summer ’68)
The other two ballads are good as well. Waters’ contribution is “If,” which is pleasant; however, it is not quite as good as some of his other early ballads like “Green is the Colour,” or “Grantchester Meadows.” Lastly, Gilmore’s contribution of “Fat Old Sun” starts out as a great folky piece with just Gilmore singing over his guitar, but the song concludes with some heavier instrumentation, which creates an interesting juxtaposition of sounds throughout the song.
Click here to listen to If
Click here to listen to Fat Old Sun
Lastly, there’s “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” which closes the album. It features very slight instrumentation, and 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 sizzling, and a myriad of other breakfast related sound effects. The song doesn’t do much for me; 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. Secondly, the sound effects are amazing. They are crisp, sharp, and they show Pink Floyd’s complete mastery of sound effects. This is important because sound effects play a major role in Pink Floyd’s future sound, most notably on their 1973 masterpiece, Dark Side Of The Moon. (Click here to listen to Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast)
Atom Heart Mother is a very mellow album, and it is a tough record to penetrate, so many fans just skip over it or dismiss it completely, which is a huge mistake, for 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 it should not be overlooked.
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