Syd Barrett was the founding force and primary inspiration of the early Pink Floyd. He wrote their first two unique hits Arnold Layne and See Emily Play. Legend has it that he got part way through recording the follow-up – Scream thy last scream – when he had a nervous break-down of some kind, couldn’t really go on, and that song remains in the vaults, although there’s a bootleg CD called Magnesium Proverbs which has a half-finished version of it that is extremely promising; it almost certainly would have been another distinctive psychedelic hit. He was then fired from Pink Floyd and became a recluse; they of course went on a had a few hits themselves.
The thing about Barrett is his startling originality, his melodic fluency, his extreme lyrics, and his production vision. I’ve linked to several of his later acoustic songs.
Feel is word-salad and contains the delicious line “Oh, find me inside of a nocturnal blonde…” The melody goes all over and is a study in itself, as is his use of reverb at critical points.
Long Gone has anthem qualities, but the melody is too complex and unpredictable for that. The lyric is worth reproducing here in its entirety.
She was long gone… the bigger they come the larger her hand ’till no one understands why for so long she’d been gone. And I stood very still by the window sill and I wondered for those I love still – I cried in my mind where I stand behind the beauty of love’s in her eyes…
She was long gone… the bigger they come the larger her hand ’till no one understands why for so long she’d been gone. And I borrowed a page from a leopard’s cage and I prowled in the evening sun’s glaze – her head lifted high to the light in the sky the opening dawn on her face…
She was long gone… the bigger they come the larger her hand ’till no one understands why for so long she’d been gone, And I stood very still by the window sill and I wondered for those I love still – I cried in my mind where I stand behind the beauty of love’s in her eyes…
If it’s in you is a very strange song that really shows how far one can take a melody and lyric. The descending line that begins each verse – “Yes, Im thi-i-i-i-i-i-nking…” is very brave. It probably would have been better, certainly easier to sing if it was an “oo” sounds, but who cares. The word “tight” works better in Verse 2, but “winking” in Verse 3 doesn’t really cut it either. I think he may have been far beyond such concerns by then.
Perhaps the great lesson to take from Syd Barrett is that with a bit of practice one can quite literally take a melody anywhere, limited only by one’s inventiveness and courage (if you fear sounding ridiculous you’ll never get anywhere). These may not be great songs but they are great experiments that we can all learn from!
Barrett died in 2006. He never married and left no children. A truly unique talent