Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day One). “I Am A Traveller of Both Time and Space to Be Where I Have Been”.

Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, released on 24th February 1975.  The band wrote eight new songs for what would become Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange recording studios.  Upon realising that due to the length of the tracks, they would not be able to fit all eight songs on one record, they decided to make Physical Graffiti a double LP by using the eight recorded tracks together with one outtake from Led Zeppelin III, three from Led Zeppelin IV and three from Houses of the Holy, including the unused title track.  The new songs written for Physical Graffiti included Kashmir, a monolithic eight minute piece which became a staple part of every Led Zeppelin concert from 1975 onwards.

The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with contributions from John Bohnam, over a period of three years.  The lyrics were written by Plant in 1973 immediately after Led Zeppelin’s 1973 US Tour in an area he has referred to “the waste lands” of Southern Morocco, whilst driving from Goulimine to Tantan in the Sahara Desert.  Despite the geographical location of the song’s conception, the song is named after Kashmir, a region in the Indian subcontinent.  In an interview with William S. Burroughs in 1975, Page mentioned that at the time of the song’s composition, none of the band had been to Kashmir.  Plant explained the reason for naming the song Kashmir to Cameron Crowe for his extended essay to accompany the Led Zeppelin boxset, The Complete Studio Recordings in 1993:

“The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on, it was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert.  Two miles to the East and West were ridges of sandrock.  It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it.  ‘Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams …’ It’s one of my favourites … that, All My Love and In the Light and two or three others were the finest moments.  But Kashmir in particular, it was so positive, lyrically”.

In an article with Triple J Broadcasting Association for an article entitled Hottest 100 of All Time, in 2010, Plant spoke of the challenges which he faced writing lyrics for such a complex piece of music:

“It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me … Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is … not grandiose, but powerful:  it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments.  But everything is not what you see.  It was quite a task, ‘cause I couldn’t sing it.  It was like the song was bigger than me.  It’s true:  I was petrified, it’s true, it was painful, I was virtually in tears”.

The song has a very distinctive musical composition featuring a rising and falling guitar riff played on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.  It was inspired by Middle-Eastern, Moroccan and Indian music.  In the 1994 book, Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch, Page explained:  “I had a sitar for some time and I was interested in modal tunings and Arabic stuff.  It started off with a riff and then employed Eastern lines underneath”.

To add to the composition’s uniqueness, Kashmir was one of the very few Led Zeppelin songs to feature outside musicians.  Session players were brought in the studio to record the string and horn sections.  As well as the original Physical Graffiti version of the song, several alternative versions exist, including one entitled Driving Through Kashmir (Kashmir Rough Orchestra Mix) with a slightly different structure.  This version was released in February 2015 as part of the remastering process of all nine albums.

Additionally, and perhaps most impressively out of the alternative versions of Kashmir, Page and Plant recorded a live 12 minute version with a Moroccan / Egyptian orchestra for their album No Quarter (1994).

As the lyrics begin with the line “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream”, we are introduced to the narrator, a powerful, mysterious and transcending figure.  This audible thought finds the narrator pausing from his travels to soak up the warmth and light from above, figuratively, and perhaps literally, recharging himself.  In the following line, “I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been”, we are told that this is a journey of epic proportions, one which transcends the limitations of this dimension, both temporarily and in physical space.

Following this, “To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world had seldom seen” could refer to Revelation 4:4 in the Book of Revelation where John the Apostle is caught up in the heavens and sees the 24 elders seated on their thrones:  “And around the throne were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads”.  Alternatively, this line and the next three, “They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, Talk and songs from lifting grace, whose sounds caress my ear, But not a word could I relate, the story was quite clear”, may refer to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of the Rings (1954).  Plant was well known to be a fan of Tolkien and often used imagery from his work.  Take for instance, the lyrics to Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969): “Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, My freedom I hold dear, How years ago in days of old, When magic filled the air, ‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, But Gollum and the evil one crept up, And slipped away with her”.

Additionally, see the song titles, Over the Hills and Far Away (Houses of the Holy, 1973) …

… and Misty Mountain Hop (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971).

Following this, the line “But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear” is also likely to be a Tolkien reference.  In a number of Tolkien’s works, particularly The Silmarillion (1977), it is mentioned that when the elves sing in a language the listener can’t understand, they can sometimes still see the images that they are singing about.

Moving into the bridge section, the lyrics, “Oh, I been flying … mama, there ain’t no denyin’, I’ve been flyin’, ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’” could refer to the band travelling round the world before and during the composition of the song.

In the following lyrics, “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground, And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land, Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been”, we can clearly see the landscape which inspired Kashmir, “the wastelands” in southern Morocco.  Next, “Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace”, perhaps refers to God, whilst following this, “like thoughts inside a dream” refers to the creator of the storm being as hard to visualise as the thought inside one’s dream.  The creator is elusive and mysterious but somehow very real.

The “Shangri-La” mentioned in the lines “Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream, My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again” refers to the fictional paradise from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933).  In the novel, Shangri-La is a utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.  Shangri-La is often referred to in the same way that someone would refer to the Garden of Eden.  These lines suggest that the narrator of the song s haunted by the memories of the place which he speaks of and is attempting to return.

“Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir” finds the narrator once again speaking of the dusty road which inspired the song.  Following this, the “father of the four winds” mentioned in the following line possibly refers to Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds who is usually depicted as the controller of the Anemoi, the minor wind gods.  Alternatively, the “Father of the four winds” could possibly be another Tolkien reference:  Manwe, the King of the Valar, from The Silmarillion.

More travel imagery follows with “… fill my sails, across the sea of years, With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear”.  Here, the lyrics once again compliment the utter vastness of the composition, with the narrator, the “traveller of both space and time”, travelling across “years”, unsure of what he will discover on his journey.

The song reaches its climax with Plant singing “… well I’m down so down … let me take you there”.  Kashmir speaks of a dark time of reflection, of God, of existence and Plant attempting to find his place in the midst of all of this.

One thing to note about Kashmir is its curious placing on the album.  One may expect a song of such monolithic proportions to end the album but it is instead placed, if we were to think of Physical Graffiti as a double vinyl album, at the end of side two.  In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Page said of this:

“Each side of the vinyl was sequenced to showcase whatever was on there, so it wasn’t square pegs in round holes.  Any of the four sides could be your favourite side.  All of them have an intensity to them, but some have got more rock roots than others.  A double album was so right for Zeppelin”.

Similarly, on the vinyl versions of Physical Graffiti, the colossal 11 minute In My Time of Dying closes side one of the album.

Once again speaking to The Guardian, Page said:  “Those songs – In My Time of Dying, Kashmir – are supposed to be:  That’s it.  Nothing follows that.  You need time to catch your breath after”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day One). “But Every Time It Rains, You’re Here in My Head …”

Right from her early days, Kate Bush was never afraid of demonstrating her literally knowledge.  For her first single, Bush had released Wuthering Heights (The Kick Inside, 1978), based on Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name (1847).

For her second album Lionheart (1978), she had referenced J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan in both Oh England My Lionheart …

… and In Search of Peter Pan.

Further to this, Get Out of My House from 1982’s The Dreaming album was inspired by Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining.

For her 1985 album, Hounds of Love, Bush’s love of literature and writing about her favourite works in song took a biographical turn with the song Cloudbusting, which took its cue from Peter Reich’s 1973 book, A Book of Dreams, a biography of his father, Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher who was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud.  Reich’s work combined Marxism and psychoanalysis in order to advocate sexual freedom.  He would often visit parents in their homes to see how they lived, and took to the streets in a mobile clinic, promoting adolescent sexuality and the availability of contraceptives, abortion and divorce, a provocative message in Catholic Austria.  His aim was to attack the neurosis by its prevention rather than treatment.

In the 1930’s, Reich became an increasingly controversial figure.  From 1932 until his death, all his work was self-published.  His promotion of sexual permissiveness disturbed the psychoanalytic community and his associates on the political left, and his vegetotherapy, in which he massaged his undressed patients in order to dissolve their muscular armour, violated the key taboos of psychoanalysis.  In 1939, he and his son moved to New York, in part to escape the Nazis.  Shortly afterwards, Reich proposed the concept of orgone, a physical energy contained in the atmosphere and in all living matter.  In 1940, he started building orgone accumulators, devices which his patients sat inside of in order to harness the reputed health benefits.  This led to newspaper reports about sex boxes that cured cancer.  Reich is also famed as the inventor of the Cloudbuster, a device which manipulated the orgone energy in the atmosphere, forcing clouds to form and causing rain.  This invention is what informed the concept of Bush’s Cloudbusting.

After two critical articles about Reich in The New Republic and Harper’s, the US Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction against the interstate shipment of orgone accumulators and associated literature, believing that they were dealing with a “fraud of the first magnitude”,  In 1956, Reich was charged with contempt for having violated the injunction and was sentenced to two years in prison.  In the summer of 1956, six tons of his publications were burned by order of the court.  Reich died of heart failure whilst in prison just over a year later and days before he was due to apply for parole.

Although Bush’s Cloudbusting is the most recognised, and personally, I feel the best song based on Reich, his life and concepts, it was not the first.  Other songs about Reich include Birdland by Patti Smith, from her debut album Horses (1975), which is also based on A Book of Dreams.

Cloudbusting is about the relationship between Wilhelm Reich and Peter Reich as a young boy, told from the perspective of Peter Reich as an adult.  The song describes the boy’s memories of his life with Reich on their family farm and research centre, which Reich named Orgonon, hence the song’s first line, “I still dream of Orgonon”.  Today, Orgonon is a museum dedicated to Reich and his research.  Of the first verse of Cloudbusting, which continues, “… I wake up crying, You’re making rain, And you’re just in reach, When you and sleep escape me”, Bush told Alternative Press Magazine in 1989:

“All of us tend to live in our heads.  In Cloudbusting, the idea was of starting this song with a person waking up from this dream, “I wake up crying”.  It’s like setting a scene that immediately suggests to you that this person is no longer with someone they dearly love.  It puts a pungent note on the song.  Life is a loss, isn’t it?  It’s learning to cope with loss.  I think in a lot of ways, that’s what all of us have to cope with”.

The second verse of Cloudbusting, “You’re like my yo-yo, That glowed in the dark, What made it special, What made it dangerous, So I bury it, And forget it” refers to part of Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams in which he tells of his father’s dislike of fluorescent light of any kind, believing that it held bad orgone energy.  Wilhelm made Peter bury his fluorescent yo-yo in the back yard in order to stop its harmful effects.  The yo-yo of which Bush speaks stood out from everything around it, thus bringing attention to itself in much the same way that Wilhelm Reich’s genius set him apart from other people and brought attention to him, leading to his demise.  Reich’s genius made him a very special person but also caused him to appear “dangerous” to the Federal Government.

In the song’s chorus, we find the lyrics “But every time it rains, You’re here in my head”, referring to the cloudbuster built by Wilhelm Reich.  In these lines, every time Peter sees the rain, he remembers his father and his experiments.  In an interview for MTV in 1985, Bush said of these lines:

“And the song is really using the rain as something that reminds the son of his father.  Every time it rains, instead of being very sad and lonely, it’s a very happy moment for him, it’s like his father is with him again”.

The chorus’s phrase of “… something good is going to happen” refers to the recurrent foreboding in A Book of Dreams that “something bad was going to happen”.

The lyrics of Cloudbusting’s third and fourth verse describe Wilhelm Reich’s abrupt arrest and imprisonment, the pain of loss felt by the young Peter and his helplessness at being unable to protect his father:  “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming, You looked too small, In their big, black car, To be a threat to the men in power” and “I hid my yo-yo, In the garden, I can’t hide you from the government, Oh God, Daddy, I won’t forget”.  Additionally, the lyrics “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming”, refers to the following passage in A Book of Dreams:

“He was like a man who was standing on top of the world looking over into a new world.  That is what Daddy was like.  He had lifted himself so he was looking the horizon to a new world, a free and happy world.  He stood there on the edge of the universe looking into the future … They pulled the ladder out from under him and killed him”.

The wonderful seven minute long music video for Cloudbusting, directed by Julian Doyle, the was an idea collaboration between Terry Gilliam and Kate Bush and features Canadian actor Donald Sutherland in the role of Wilhelm Reich, whilst Bush plays his son, Peter.  The video shows Wilhelm and Peter on top of a hill attempting to make the cloudbuster work.  Wilhelm leaves his son on the cloudbuster and returns to his laboratory, where in a flashback, he remembers the times he and Peter enjoyed working on various scientific projects.  He is then interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the laboratory.  Peter senses that his father is in danger and tries to reach him to no avail, watching as his father is driven away.  Peter runs back to the cloudbuster and to his father’s delight, gets it working and begins to rain.

The video was filmed at The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, England.  Bush personally approached Sutherland to ask him to appear in the video at the hotel room in which he was staying.  She found out where he was staying from actress Julie Christie’s hairdresser.  In the UK, the music video, conceived more as a short film than a standard video, was shown at some cinemas as an accompaniment to the main feature.  Due to difficulties in obtaining a work visa for Sutherland at short notice, the actor offered to work on the video for free.  Despite the fact that the events in the story took place in Maine, the newspaper clipping in the video reads “The Oregon Times”, possibly in reference to Reich’s home and laboratory, Orgonon.

The cloudbuster depicted in the video was designed and constructed by people who worked on the alien in the film Alien (1979) and later, Aliens (1986).  The machine bears only a superficial resemblance to the original cloudbusters, which were smaller and featured multiple narrow, straight tubes and pipes and were operated whilst standing on the ground.  The video makes reference to Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams, acknowledging the song’s inspiration, in the scene where Bush pulls a copy of the book out of Sutherland’s coat.

The video is a magnificent retelling of the song and of the life and times of Wilhelm and Peter Reich.  If the song successfully manages to convey the moment when a child first realises that adults are fallible lyrically; then the video, in which Bush, as always, uses her significant acting talents so wonderfully, is a powerful visual interpretation of that theme.  When asked about her role in the video during a 1985 interview with MTV, Bush replied:

“I think it’s something I’d obviously worried about.  When you’re not a child, there are a lot of things that could be a problem.  Like I could look old and not young.  And we were also [coughs] – excuse me – trying to take away the feminine edge so that in a way I could be a tomboy rather than a little girl.  Trying to keep the thing as innocent as possible.  And I think rather than being that worried about playing a child, I was just worried about the whole process of acting, because it’s something I’ve not really done, in a true sense.  I’ve performed in lots of ways, but not really acted.  And it was something that I was wary of and I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it”.

Anyone Can Play Guitar: Ten Songs About Guitars. Forty Years Ago Today, Ronnie Wood Joins the Rolling Stones, Replacing Mick Taylor. This Day in History, 01/06/1975.

1.  Radiohead ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’

(from the album Pablo Honey, 1993).

2. Mott the Hoople ‘All the Way From Memphis’

(from the album Mott, 1973).

3.  Elvis Presley ‘Guitar Man’

(from the album Clambake, 1967).

4. The Clash ‘Jail Guitar Doors’

(B-side of Clash City Rockers, 1977)

5.  Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama’

(from the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh, 1970).

6.  The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

7.  Talking Heads ‘Electric Guitar’

(from the album Fear of Music, 1979).

8.  BB King ‘Lucille’

(from the album Lucille, 1968).

9.  Charlotte Hatherley ‘Bastardo’

(from the album Grey Will Fade, 2004).

10. The Rolling Stones ‘Torn and Frayed’

(from the album Exile on Main St., 1972).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.

National Express: Ten Songs About Buses. Worst Motor Vehicle Disaster in UK; Bus Full of Elderly Women Plunges Dibble’s Bridge, Yorkshire, Killing 38. This Day in History, 27/05/1975.

1.  The Divine Comedy ‘National Express’

(from the album Fin de Siecle, 1998).

2.  Billy Preston ‘The Bus’

(from the album I wrote A Simple Song, 1971).

3.  The Who ‘Magic Bus’

(single A-side, 1968).

4.  Simon & Garfunkel ‘America’

(from the album Bookends, 1968).

5. Supergrass ‘Sitting Up Straight’

(from the album I Should Coco, 1994).

6.  The Hollies ‘Bus Stop’

(single A-side, 1966).

7.  Belle & Sebastian ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’

(from the album The Boy with the Arab Strap, 1998).

8.  The Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’

(from the album Magical Mystery Tour, 1967).

9.  Dawn featuring Tony Orlando ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’

(from the album Tuneweaving, 1973).

10. Oasis ‘Whatever’

(single A-side, 1994).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day Two). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part Two: “Remember When You Were Young, You Shone Like the Sun …”

It’s sad that these people think he’s such a wonderful subject, that he’s a living legend when, in fact, there is this poor sad man who can’t deal with life or himself.  He’s got uncontrollable things in him that he can’t deal with and people think it’s a marvelous, wonderful, romantic thing.  It’s just a sad, sad thing, a very nice and talented person who’s just disintegrated”.

– David Gilmour, interview with Musician Magazine, December 1982.

The mad genius of Syd Barrett first addressed by Pink Floyd on Brain Damage from The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 was further celebrated on Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.  The recording session for the song is infamous due to the appearance of Barrett wandering into the studio complete with shaved head and eyebrows and having put on a lot of weight since the band had seen him last some years earlier.  Because of his drastically changed appearance, the band did not recognise him for some time.  Upon finally recognising him, Roger Waters was reduced to tears.  Somebody asked to play the suite, followed by Barrett saying a second playback wasn’t needed when they had just heard it.  According to Richard Wright in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, when the song Wish You Were Here was played, “He [Barrett] stood up and said, ‘Right, when do I put my guitar on?  And of course, he didn’t have a guitar with him.  And we said. ‘Sorry, Syd, the guitar’s all done”.  When asked what he thought of Wish You Were Here, Barrett said it sounded “a bit old”.  He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour’s wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which had taken place earlier that day.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond contains nine parts and was written by Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour.  As with Brain Damage, Waters was the chief lyricist.  The nine parts of Shine On You Crazy Diamond were originally intended to fill an entire side of the Wish You Were Here album, much like the song Atom Heart Mother fills an entire side of Atom Heart Mother (1970) …

… and Echoes fills an entire side of Meddle (1971).

Instead, Shine On You Crazy Diamond was split into two sections and bookends Wish You Were Here, with the other tracks on the album also being tributes to Barrett and telling of the situation which the band found themselves in.

Lyrically, Shine On You Crazy Diamond looks at the life of Syd Barrett, considering the way the artist was before demons such as LSD, fame and mental illness took hold in lines such as “Remember when you were young, You shone like the sun, Shine on you crazy diamond!” before contrasting it with lyrics detailing the effect of these demons in lines such as “Now there’s a look in your eyes, Like black holes in the sky, Shine on you crazy diamond!”  The latter lines state the way in which Barrett’s bandmates described him after he had succumbed to mental illness.

The following line, “You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom”, refers to the way in which Barrett was never able to fully engage the transition from underground sensation to mainstream success and the pressure and implications that came with it.  The next line, “Blown on the steel breeze” alludes to the sound made by Barrett’s guitar strings.  The lines “Come on you target for faraway laugher, Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” is a reference to the way in which Barrett was ousted from the band in favour of David Gilmour due to his worsening drug use and mental problems rendering him ineffective as a band member.

The lyric “You reached for the secret too soon” refers to the true meaning of life and the mysteries which lay behind it.  Barrett used drugs in order to try to unlock the meaning and its mysteries but was not ready to see them, causing him to go insane.   The following lines, “You cried for the moon, Shine on you crazy diamond!” are a reference to the band’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon and its lyrics about Barrett and talk of how Barrett’s life had peaked too soon.  “Threatened by shadows at night, And exposed in the light, Shine on you crazy diamond!” refers to the way in which the darker machinations in Barrett’s mind, the “shadows at night” shielded him from the public eye, the exposure to light, which overwhelmed him.  These lines express the exposure of himself beneath the outward appearance of the rockstar.

The “random precision” referred to in the lines “You wore out your welcome with random precision, Rode on the steel breeze” is an allusion to the haphazard nature of Barrett’s contributions to the band towards the end of his involvement whilst the following lines, “Come on you raver, you seer of visions, Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner and shine!”, the word “seer” can be read in two ways.  Firstly, a “seer” is a person of supposed supernatural insight who sees visions of the future.  Secondly, a “seer” is simply somebody who sees things, i.e. ‘a see-er’. Additionally, the use of the word “piper” alludes to Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), the only album by the band to feature full involvement from Barrett.

“Well, I’m a painter, I was trained as a painter … I seem to have spent a little less time painting than I might’ve done … but it didn’t transcend the feeling of playing at UFO and those sort of places with the lights and that, the fact that the group was getting bigger and bigger”.

– Syd Barrett, interview with Melody Maker, March 1971.

As Shine On You Crazy Diamond moves into its ‘Parts 6-9’ section, we find the line “Nobody knows where you are, How near of how far”, an insight into the blankness and the madness that hallucinogenic drugs left Barrett with.  The title of Shine On You Crazy Diamond itself is interesting as if one were to remove the words ‘on’ and ‘crazy’ from the title, the first letters of the words in ‘Shine You Diamond’ spell out ‘Syd’.

In the lyric “Pile on more layers, And I’ll be joining you there”, the use of the word ‘layers’ perhaps refers to an array of interpretations of one’s surroundings.  Waters feels that he must “pile on more layers” in order to attain Barrett’s level of introspection and worrying that, if in the process, he might succumb to the same fate as his former bandmate.  These lines are Waters admittance that he is less contemplative than his former bandmate.  Following this, “And we’ll bask in the shadow, Of yesterday’s triumph” memorialises the triumphs that the band shared with Barrett, whilst the repetition of the idea of “the steel breeze” in the line “And sail on the steel breeze” in this case refers to the fact that both Waters and Barrett played steel instruments.

The three variations on the idea of “the steel breeze” lyric throughout the song are interesting.  The first variation, “Blown on the steel breeze” implies that Barrett was somewhat thown in to musical production in order to meet the demands of the media.  The second variation, “Rode on the steel breeze” alludes to the way in which, despite the delusive state of his mind, Barrett still attempted to carry on playing music.  Finally, the third variation, “And sail on the steel breeze” finds Waters suggesting that if he were reunited with Barrett, they could take control of the music and take it in any direction they wish.

“That’s all I wanted to do as a kid.  Play guitar properly and jump around.  But too many people got in the way”.

– Syd Barrett, Rolling Stone, December 1971.

The next line, “Come on you boy child” tells of how the band were very young when they first started and is suggestive that Barrett was impressionable and irresponsible in his lifestyle.  The line “You winner and loser” juxtaposes Barrett’s triumphs and failures:  Despite the fact that he suffered due to his recklessness and divided opinion as to whether he was a “winner” or a “loser” even amongst his own bandmates and in the public eye, his triumphs included the work he contributed to the band in the early days, his solo work, and his influence on artists such as T-Rex, The Kinks and David Bowie.  In 1973, Bowie acknowledged the influence of Syd Barrett by covering the Barrett penned Pink Floyd single See Emily Play (1967) on his album Pin Ups.

The final line of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, “You miner for truth and delusion, and shine!”  sees Barrett portrayed as an artist who both dug for truth and meaning and tapped into his drug-induced delusions in order to influence his often deep and penetrating lyrics.

Also from Wish You Were Here, the title track, as well as encompassing Waters’ feelings of alienation from other people, also tells of Barrett’s mental breakdown.  The music of Wish You Were Here was a collaboration between Waters and Gilmour, with Waters once again being the primary lyricist.  Whilst Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a specific homage to the absence of Barrett, Wish You Were Here can also be read as a more general song about absence, undoubtedly adding to its appeal over the last forty years.  The other two tracks from Wish You Were Here, Welcome to the Machine …

… and Have a Cigar express the band’s distaste for the pressures of the music industry which they felt, in part, aided Barrett’s breakdown, therefore tying the album together as a concept album.

In the opening lines of Wish You Were, “So, do you think you can tell, Heaven from hell”, the band introduce the idea that something that may look like heaven, in this case being part of the music industry, may actually be hell, as it turned out to be for Barrett.  The following lines of the first verse, starting with the line “Blue skies from pain” are further juxtapositions of emotions and elements, creating a series of metaphors for heaven, “blue skies” and hell, “pain”.  The lines “Can you tell a green field, From a cold steel trap” are a reference to the lines “Hold You tighter so close, Yes you are, Please hold on to the steel rail” from Syd Barrett’s solo song If It’s In You, from the album The Madcap Laughs (1970).

By referencing these lines, the band places the listener in no doubt as to the inspiration behind the song and its parent album.  The repetition of the line “So you think you can tell” at the end of the first verse emphasises the question put to Barrett as to whether he really wants to be squandering his life on his various addictions.

The “They” mentioned in the lines “Did they get you to trade, Heroes for ghosts” could be interpreted as being the voices in Barrett’s mind which stop him from remaining on the straight and narrow.  The “heroes” referred to in these lines are the rock stars, such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Gram Parsons,  who fell prey to the lifestyle which could have also cost Barrett his life.

The second verse of the song continues with the lines “Hot ashes for trees, Hot air for cool breeze”, reinforcing the idea of questioning one’s surroundings and whether change is necessarily the best thing first seen in the first verse.  The final highly powerful sentiment of the second verse, “And did you exchange, A walk on part in the war, For a leading role in a cage?” refers to the way in which Barrett chose to forgo his chance to be a small part in something hugely important, instead selfishly insisting on being the main event with his drug-influenced behaviour.

The final verse of Wish You Were Here, “How I wish, I wish you were here, We’re just two lost souls, Swimming in a fishbowl, year after year, Running over the same old ground, What have we found?  The same old fears, Wish you were here” could be interpreted in two different ways.   Firstly, the “fishbowl” of which Pink Floyd speak could refer to the world of fame and the record industry which the band are so disheartened by on the entire Wish You Were Here.  Secondly, this part of the song could simply just be an analogy for life itself, with everybody living the same life, making the same mistakes and going around in endless circles “year after year”.  On this verse, Waters covers similar ground to that of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, echoing Shine On You Crazy Diamond’s expression of kinship with Barrett in the line “We’re just two lost souls”.

Additionally, in 1968, Waters also wrote the song Incarceration of a Flower Child, the lyrics of which appear to also tell of the downfall of Syd Barrett, although Waters himself has never confirmed this.  Lyrically, Incarceration of a Flower Child covers much the same ground as Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here, being full of reminiscence about more innocent times in lines such as “Do you remember me?  How we used to be helpless and happy and blind?” before discussing the causes of the Flower Child’s downfall in lines such as “Sunk without hope in a haze of good dope and cheap wine?”

The song compares the culture of the flower power movement, with tongue-in-cheek humour directed at its pretentiousness (“Laying on the living-room floor on those Indian tapestry cushions you made, thinking of calling our first born Jasmine or Jade”), with the potential consequences of the movement upon some of those who had got too heavily involved in its drug culture, such as Barrett (“Now in your little white room with no windows and three square sedations a day, You plead with the doctor who’s running the show, “Please don’t take Jasmine away and leave me alone””).

Possibly the most important and indeed chilling line of Incarceration of a Flower Child, bearing in mind that the song was written in 1968, is “It’s gonna get cold in the 1970s”.  Incarceration of a Flower Child could be seen as Waters’ veiled warning to Barrett from the time in which Barrett’s mental state was starting to suffer, that things had the potential to get much worse.  It would seem that Barrett wasn’t the only “seer of visions” in Pink Floyd.

Incarceration of a Flower Child remained unrecorded for years until Waters offered it to Marianne Faithfull to record for her 1999 album Vagabond Ways.  When recorded by Faithfull, the lyrics of Incarceration of a Flower Child took on a whole different dimension.  The song was quite probably written about Barrett but it could very easily have been about Faithfull.  Faithfull herself  had also been a casualty of the flower power era, developing various serious drug addictions from which it would take her years to recover, both in terms of her personal life and her career. However, compared to Barrett’s disintegration, even Faithfull escaped the flower power era relatively unscathed.

“We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett – Syd – has passed away.  Do find some time to play some of Syd’s songs and remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows.  His career was painfully short, yet he touched more people than he could ever know”.

– David Gilmour in response to Syd Barrett’s death, 2006.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day One). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part One: “The Lunatic is on the Grass …”

Roger Keith Barrett, better known as Syd Barrett, was an English musician, composer, singer, songwriter and painter most notable for being a founder member of the band Pink Floyd.  Barrett was Pink Floyd’s lead vocalist, guitarist and principle songwriter in the band’s early days before leaving the band in April 1968, due to his increasingly unpredictable behaviour.  Barrett was hospitalized briefly shortly afterwards amid speculation of mental illness exacerbated by heavy drug use.

Barrett was musically active for less than ten years.  With Pink Floyd, he recorded just four singles in 1967 (Arnold Layne; See Emily Play; Flaming; Apples and Oranges), their debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and contributed one song, Jugband Blues, to their second album A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).

Barrett began his solo career in 1969 with the single Octopus, which was included on his debut solo album The Madcap Laughs (1970).  The album was recorded over the course of a year and included contributions from Pink Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters.

Barrett began working on his second solo album, simply called Barrett (1970), two months after the release of his debut solo album.  This album also included contributions from David Gilmour and also featured Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright.  Following his second solo album, Barrett went into self-imposed seclusion until his death in 2006 from pancreatic cancer, aged 60.

Following Barrett’s departure from the group, Pink Floyd wrote a number of tributes to him, most notably Brain Damage from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon album and Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here from 1975’s Wish You Were Here.  The latter album is actually said to be a concept album with every song actually being about Barrett and his experiences with the music industry.

Brain Damage was brought to the band by Roger Waters along with other songs such as Money when the band reconvened following the American leg of their tour in support of their 1971 album, Meddle.  At this point in time, Brain Damage was titled The Dark Side of the Moon, a title which would later just be used for the song’s parent album.  The song was inspired by Barrett’s mental breakdown and was originally part of a suite of songs entitled A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.  Brain Damage was recorded alongside another track from The Dark Side of the Moon, Any Colour You Like.  David Gilmour encouraged Waters to sing the song on the album, whilst, following Waters’ departure from the band in 1985, Gilmour sung the song when Pink Floyd performed it in concert and Waters himself has performed it in his solo shows.

The famous opening verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is on the grass, The lunatic is on the grass, remembering daisy chains and games and laughs, Got to keep the loonies on the path” refers to areas of turf which display signs reading “Please keep off the grass” with the exaggerated implication that disobeying such signs may indicate insanity.  In the 2003 documentary Classic Albums:  Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, Waters said that the particular patch of grass he had in mind when writing the song was to the rear of King’s College, Cambridge and that the real insanity was not letting people on such beautiful grass.  To add another meaning to the opening verse of Brain Damage, ‘grass’ is also a slang term for marijuana.  Therefore, these lines could perhaps be remembering the good times the band had smoking marijuana before Barrett’s drug habit escalated to using drugs such as LSD and caused him mental problems.  The line “Got to keep the loonies on the path” could be a reference to the way in which “lunatics” are given drugs to control them.

The second verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is in the hall, The lunatic is in my hall, The paper holds their faded faces to the floor, And every day, the paper boy brings more”, uses the idea of the hallway as a metaphor for Barrett’s mind.  The door which the paperboy, a metaphor for society, pushes information (the newspapers) through refers to the way in which the “lunatic” is locked inside his own mind.  Additionally, those featured in newspapers are often seen as “lunatics” of society.  “And every day, the paper boy brings more” is suggestive of overload with the mind of the “lunatic” not being able to take all the information thrown at him on board.  The fact that the pictures of the “lunatics” on the newspaper are face down is suggestive of them being locked up away from the view of society.   Additionally, the way in which their faces are “faded” is suggestive of the way in which the “lunatics” become just a faded memory when locked away.

The first chorus, “And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and there’s no room upon the hill, And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” refers to the way in which Waters felt a kinship with Barrett in terms of his mental idiosyncrasies.   The line “And if there is no room upon the hill” could be seen as a nod to The Beatles’ song The Fool on the Hill, from their 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour.  The fact that “there is no room on the hill” is suggestive that we all have lunatic elements within us.

The following verse, “The lunatic is in my head, The lunatic is in my head, You raise the blade, you make the change, You re-arrange me ‘til I’m sane, You lock the door and throw away the key, There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” refers to the frontal lobotomy, a controversial surgical intervention used to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, paranoia or other severe conditions.  In particular, the line “You raise the blade, you make the change” refers to the actual act of making incisions in the patient’s head.  The final line of the verse, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me”, is suggestive of the disassociation felt by those suffering from mental illness between the true self and the self impacted by the condition; the self presented to the world outside of their head.

The second chorus, “And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear, You shout and no one seems to hear, And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”, makes reference to Barrett’s behaviour towards the end of his time with the band.  Due to his mental health issues, he would spontaneously break into playing a different song to the rest of the band in the middle of a concert, hence the band “playing different tunes”.

Barrett’s final practice session with the band including the artist coming into the session saying he had a new song called Have You Got It Yet?  At first, the song was simple to learn, but quickly became impossible, with the rest of the band then realising that Barrett had been changing the arrangements whilst they were practicing it.  He would then play it again, with the changes he had made and sing “Have you got it yet?”  Eventually his bandmates realised that they were simply being subjected to Barrett’s idiosyncratic sense of humour.  In Toby Manning’s 2006 book The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd, Waters called the incident, “a real act of mad genius”.