One of rock’s legendary living dead casualties, guitarist/songwriter Syd [Roger] Barrett formed Pink Floyd in 1965 and made it one of the first art-school bands to abandon blues for druggified psychedelia. Syd fell out of Pink Floyd after a debut album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn) that put the band on the verge of major international success; having grown erratic, withdrawn and unpredictable, he pretty much retired in 1968, and has since lived a private, reclusive existence — except for making two solo records in 1970. Barrett has influenced many bands and remains an enduring rock icon for the chronically dislocated. Twenty years later, his unselfconscious looniness continues to set a framework in which artists can explore updated acid-rock with little more than an acoustic guitar. The Television Personalities have sung about him, Robyn Hitchcock, Anthony More, Edward Ka-Spel (of the Legendary Pink Dots) and others have been compared to him, and numerous art, psychedelic and neo-mod bands have invoked his name, recorded his songs or acknowledged his impact. Tormented but unquestionably brilliant, Barrett left a musical legacy which is wholly contained on Floyd’s first LP (plus some singles), his two solo albums, the Peel platter and an album’s worth of outtakes entitled Opel. (The two original records were issued separately but subsequently repackaged as a double album. When it came to CDs, however, they were split up again. Crazy Diamond is a box set of the three studio albums augmented by nineteen bonus tracks.)
The Madcap Laughs sounds as though it was a difficult record to make. Ex-bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters obviously had to expend some effort to get Barrett organized enough to produce releasable tracks, and they only did half the record. (The remainder was produced by the label manager of Harvest Records.) The inclusion of false starts and between-take discussions make it clear this was no easy task. Still, the songs (e.g., “Terrapin,” “Octopus”) are wonderful, and Syd’s delicate but clumsy singing lends charm to the effort, which alternates between one-man performances and subtly played group efforts (several of which were actually solo takes overdubbed by Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt of the Soft Machine).
Gilmour and Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright produced Barrett, using Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley as the album’s fourth musician. This more consistent-sounding record — relatively confident and upbeat — offers Barrett’s idiosyncratic view of life in songs like “Waving My Arms in the Air” and “Effervescing Elephant.” Confusion and anger lurk just below the surface of misleadingly chipper bits of Carnaby Street flower-power music.
The outtakes and leftovers from those two projects, combined with 1968 demo sessions, were culled for Opel, an excellent appendix to Barrett’s oeuvre. Considering the uncommon qualities of The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, this collection of early/alternate/unaccompanied versions and otherwise unreleased material — including “Golden Hair,” “Octopus” (then titled “Clowns & Jugglers”), “Dark Globe” (aka “Wouldn’t You Miss Me”) — make just as cohesive an album. None of these tracks shed any new light on Barrett as a person or an artist, but this is a major addition to his slim solo catalogue.
The excellent Peel EP dates from February 1970 and contains cogent renditions of “Terrapin,” “Gigolo Aunt,” “Baby Lemonade,” “Effervescing Elephant” and the otherwise unissued “Two of a Kind,” performed energetically and reasonably cogently with simple accompaniment by Gilmour and Shirley. The EP’s US release (on CD and tape only) has a different cover and a singular title.
One of the very first entrants in the recent rash of tribute albums, Beyond the Wildwood contains interpretations of Barrett songs by an assortment of neo-psychedelic bands, including the Soup Dragons (“Two of a Kind”), Shamen (“Long Gone”) and the TV Personalities (“Apples and Oranges”). Highlights: the Mock Turtles’ unnervingly Syd-like version of “No Good Trying,” Plasticland’s straightforward “Octopus” and SS-20’s wispily sung/enthusiastically played “Arnold Layne.”