TODAY (10 October), Pink Floyd’s fifth studio album Atom Heart Mother is 40 years old. It was recorded from between March and August 1970 at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, and reached #1 in the UK album chart – the first such achievement by a Floyd album.
The album cover is a simple picture of a Cow named Lulubelle III. The picture was taken by the album cover genius that is Storm Thorgerson. The band wanted to break away from the Psychedelic Space Rock image they had been given, so they asked Thorgerson to put “something plain” on the cover.
The album itself runs for 52 minutes and 44 seconds and features five songs. The entire first side of the album is taken up by Pink Floyd’s longest uninterrupted song, Atom Heart Mother (Suite). The six part instrumental piece comes in at 23:44, and was written by all four members of Pink Floyd: Roger Waters (bass), David Gilmour (guitar), Richard Wright (keys) and Nick Mason (drums), along with composer Ron Geesin. The six parts of the suite are: Father’s Shout (0:00 – 2:54), Breast Milky (2:55 – 5:26), Mother Fore (5:27 – 10:12), Funky Dung (10:13 – 15:29), Mind Your Throats, Please (15:30 – 19:13) and Remergence (19:14 – 23:44). Also in the studio with Pink Floyd when this song was recorded where the Abbey Road Session Pops Orchestra and the John Alldis Choir. I can’t write anything other than it will blow your mind every single time you here it.
The drum and bass parts were all recorded in one take, and the piece itself actually went through a number of different working titles including: Theme From an Imaginary Western, Epic and The Amazing Pudding. The latter became the name of the Pink Floyd magazine from 1983-93. The name Atom Heart Mother (Suite) was finally decided upon when Ron Geesin gave Roger Waters a copy of the 16 July 1970 Evening Standard newspaper and told him that the song title would be in there. Waters spied an article about a pregnant woman who had been fitted with a pacemaker. The articles’ headline was: “Atom Heart Mother Named”.
Film director Stanley Kubrick wanted to use the suite for his film A Clockwork Orange but the band turned him down (but this hasn’t stopped people from making ‘what if’ videos on the internet – see below). Years later Kubrick would deny Waters audio from 2001: A Space Odyssey for his solo album Amused to Death.
The second track on the album is the Roger Waters composition If. This gentle acoustic track (in my eyes) can be seen as the embryonic stages of Waters concocting the character ‘Pink’ who would be unleashed nine years later on The Wall.
We then have the song Summer ’68 which was written and sung by late keyboardist Richard Wright. It is about a one night stand and the return to habitual life. There are also lyrics that reference the down side of touring: “My friends are lying in the sun, I wish that I was there…”
But the fourth track of the album is the one that takes the biscuit. I my opinion, Fat Old Sun is the best song that David Gilmour has ever written. It starts of so gentle and peacefully, before launching into an awesome but never overblown guitar solo. Gilmour also played bass and drums in the studio for this track.
Unfortunately the last track on the album is one of the very few Pink Floyd songs that I don’t like. Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast is more of a recorded jam session than a song. It is just plain weird. But Pink Floyd were experimenting at this time, and occasionally when you experiment you get turned an odd shade of green.
So summary, a fantastic but yet sadly overlooked album (no song off it made the ‘best of’ album sadly), with three excellent individual works and perhaps the most unique track in rock history.