Syd Barrett – An Introduction to Syd Barrett

Hey kids, I am sure there are many of you who don’t know who Syd Barrett was. Since his prime creative years are long past, you may not be aware that for a short period of time, he reigned as one of the great psychedelic songwriters of rock and roll antiquity. Whether it is better to burn out rather than fade away is a matter of personal choice; but Syd didn’t really do either. He simply fried his cranial endowments after taking one too many doses of Lysergic acid diethylamide or as the San Francisco hipsters called it, LSD. In spite of his eccentric behavior and erratic output, Syd was the original songwriter for Pink Floyd and left the world with a remarkable body of work.

When I’m headed home from a nocturnal excursion, nothing pleases my ears more than popping on some late 1960’s psychedelic rock by the likes of the Doors, Grateful Dead, HP Lovecraft and the Jefferson Airplane. Though I don’t partake on drugs or heavy drinking, listening to this music at 2:00 PM gives me a contact high. An Introduction to Syd Barrett, a new release of Barrett’s work is perfect for those late night rides. It provides the listener with a well rounded collection his writing with early Pink Floyd as well as his solo material. The compilation was supposedly supervised by David Gilmour and the remixes offer high quality sound.

Barrett’s brand of groovy, atmospheric material evokes images of riding a merry-go-round at a Brighton amusement park and that’s even without taking LSD. Just pop on opening track “Arnold Layne” and you’ll immediately get what I mean. The song, originally released in 1967, has a cheesy cool, Farfisa organ sound, British art school lyrics and appropriately staccato textures. “See Emily Play” treads similar territory but far more brilliantly. While maintaining timeless aesthetic aplomb, it has a beautifully catchy verse and chorus melody that offers this twisted lyrical nursery rhyme:

Put on a gown that touches the ground, ah ooh / Float down a river forever and ever, Emily, Emily / There is no other day / Let’s try it another way / You’ll lose your mind and play / Free games for May / See Emily play

Pink Floyd’s “Matilda Mother” seems to have been inspired by a child’s recollection of his mother imparting fairy tales about a king’s and his misty riders…or it could have just been the LSD talking. Either way, the results are interesting and reminded me of some Arthur Lee and Love’s work on Forever Changes—same period, same substances ingested.

One of the gems of this collection is “Bike”, which was originally featured on Pink Floyd’s Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, released in 1967. It’s sort of like what a schizophrenic might have written after listening to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, while concurrently ceasing his intake of medication. But it’s also an unconventional love song that is creatively arranged, strangely accessible and has a Cacophony at the end that borders on unsettling. Some of Syd’s solo work gets a bit dicey in the area of coherence; but one of the better songs is “Baby Lemonade”. The lyrics seem like they could have been written by Thomas Pynchon after a psychotic break yet the track itself is relaxed and melodic.

Perhaps Syd didn’t enjoy being a rock star. When the pressure to write more hit songs was dialed up, he indulged in substance abuse and began to check out of society. This caused Pink Floyd to retool and sally forth in another direction for which the end result turned out pretty well. Barrett was certainly a catalyst for them; and not unlike Brian Wilson is an artist whose brief but sterling period of enormous creativity can now be appreciated by a fresh generation of fans. 

(Capitol Records)