So much has already been written about Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd that I don’t think I can really add any new insight.
Like everyone else in 1973 I was enthralled by Dark Side Of The Moon. It was some of the first music after the Beatles broke up that seemed to carry on their tradition of innovation and solid studio craftsmanship.
In many ways I liked the follow-up, Wish You Were Here, even better. It was my favorite album to play at low volume and fall asleep to in my San Diego State dorm room during the 1976-77 school year. I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time in record stores wishing I had more money. I collected a handful of Pink Floyd albums. A lot of them were pretty bad. The best part of UmmaGumma was the picture on the cover of all their gear. (I thought their movie filmed in Pompeii was a frightening bore). I liked Relics, mostly because I was charmed by “Bike”, even though it bore no resemblance to Dark Side Of The Moon. I became aware that there was an apparently brilliant former member by the name of Syd Barrett. I found out that Wish You Were Here was apparently about him. I bought the double album containing Barrett, and The Madcap Laughs both of his studio albums, re-released on Harvest in 1974, due to the enormous popularity of his former band.
The first time I played it I was put-off by the crudeness of the music. The lyric I heard as “Ice cream Baby, I seen you looking good the other evening” stuck in my craw. The music sounded like it was made by a crazy person, which was disturbing.
For some reason I taped the whole thing before I warped the records over a hot plate and returned them to The Wherehouse(record chain). I don’t remember what I exchanged it for, but I’m sure it was something worse, that at the time, seemed better.
I’d play the tape for friends as a curiosity, introducing it as “This guy founded Pink Floyd, went crazy, made this music and disappeared”. Each time I’d let it play a little longer, and pretty soon I was hooked. Some of it was, and is, pretty painful listening, hearing the struggle to get those songs on tape. Still there was something so compelling that Syd has, to this day, never left my playlist.
What I’ve collected here are some of the more obscure gems. “Vegetable Man”, and “Scream Thy Last Scream”, are some of the last attempts at coming up with a hit single, in the wake of “See Emily Play” that Syd wrote before being booted out of the band. For some reason they are not included in the newish 3 cd re-release of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the first album by Pink Floyd, and the only one featuring Syd as a leader. The story I’ve heard about “Vegetable Man” is that Syd was picked up and taken to the studio, where there was enormous pressure on him to come up with another hit. The lyrics are a catalog of what he was wearing at the time. It was rejected by the label, as was “Scream”. “Lucy Leave” and “King Bee” are acetates recorded as demos in 1965, and why they only appeared recently I chalk up to the information age we are living in. I have the files, but I’m not sure of their origin. These days the difference between unreleased and released is a pretty porous border. “Two of a Kind” was recorded for the John Peel Show, and “Bob Dylan Blues” is from a recent compilation, originally from a cassette owned by David Gilmour.
Here’s the connection I’ll make that I haven’t seen before:
While on their disastrous, and abbreviated US tour, Syd got a haircut from Vidal Sassoon in New York which he hated. This is the haircut that “looks so bad” in “Vegetable Man”.
Here can be seen said haircut in a promotional video made for “Jug Band Blues”,
Syd’s last contribution to a Pink Floyd album.
Barrett had one noted reunion with the members of Pink Floyd, which occurred in 1975 during the recording sessions for Wish You Were Here. He attended the Abbey Road session unannounced, and watched the band record “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” — a song that happened to be about Barrett. By that time, he had become quite overweight, had shaved off all of his hair (including his eyebrows), and his ex-bandmates did not at first recognize him. Eventually, they realized who he was and Roger Waters was so distressed that he was brought to tears. Barrett’s behavior at the session was erratic, and he spent part of the session trying to brush his teeth by keeping the brush still and jumping up and down. Roger finally managed to ask him what he thought of the song, and he simply said “sounds a bit old” and walked out of the studio. This would be the last time any member of Pink Floyd would ever see him. There is a reflection on the entire day in Nick Mason’s book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. A reference to this reunion also appears in the film The Wall, where the character Pink, played by Bob Geldof, shaves off all of his body hair after having a mental breakdown, just as Barrett had.