"Astronomy Domine" is a song by British psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd. The song, written and composed by original vocalist/guitarist Syd Barrett, was the first track featured on their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). The lead vocal was sung by Barrett and keyboard player Richard Wright. Its working title was "Astronomy Domine (An Astral Chant)". "Domine" (the vocative of "Lord" in Latin) is a word frequently quoted in Gregorian chants.
Sounds and references
It was seen as Pink Floyd's first foray into space rock (along with "Interstellar Overdrive"), although band members would later disparage this term. The song opens with the voice of their manager at the time Peter Jenner reading the names of planets through a megaphone, sounding like an astronaut over an intercom. Guitarist and vocalist Syd Barrett's Fender Esquire emerges and grows louder. At 0:19 a rapid beeping sound appears. At 0:26, Nick Mason's drum fills begin, and Barrett plays the enigmatic introductory figure which is discussed in the next section. Keyboardist Richard Wright's Farfisa organ is mixed into the background. Barrett's incantatory lyrics about space support the theme in the song, mentioning planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune as well as Uranian moons Oberon, Miranda, and Titania, and Saturn's moon Titan. Barrett and Wright provide lead vocals. Bassist Roger Waters' aggressive bass line, Wright's Farfisa organ, and Barrett's kinetic slide guitar then dominate, with Jenner's megaphone recitation re-emerging from the mix for a time.
The verse has an unusual chord progression, all in major chords: E, E♭, G, and A. The chorus is entirely chromatic, descending directly from A to D on guitar, bass, and falsetto singing, down one semitone every three beats. Strangest of all may be the intro, in which Barrett takes an ordinary open E major chord and moves the fretted notes down one semitone, resulting in an E♭ major chord superimposed onto an open E minor chord, fretting E♭ and B♭ notes along with the open E, G, B, and high-E strings of the guitar; the G functions both as major third to the E♭ chord, and minor third to the E chord. In the live version heard on Ummagumma (1969), the post-Barrett band, with David Gilmour on guitar, normalised the intro into straight E and E♭ major chords, also normalising the timing of the intro, but beginning in 1994, began performing a more faithful version (as heard on Pulse), which Gilmour carried into his solo career.
Barrett's Fender Esquire is played through a Binson echo machine, creating psychedelic delay effects. The track is the band's only overt "space rock" song, though a group-composed, abstract instrumental was titled "Interstellar Overdrive". Waters, in an interview with Nick Sedgewick, described "Astronomy Domine" as "the sum total" of Barrett's writing about space, "yet there's this whole fucking mystique about how he was the father of it all."
Alternative and live versions
It was a popular live piece, regularly included in the band's concerts. It appears as the first track on the live side of the album Ummagumma, released in 1969. This version reflects the band's now more progressive style. The song has been extended to include the first verse twice, and the instrumental in the middle, before getting louder again back to the last verse. The lead vocals are shared between David Gilmour and Richard Wright, and is chanting the names of the planets at the beginning of the song. The Ummagumma version can also be found on the American release of A Nice Pair, a compilation album released in 1973.
It was dropped from the live sets in mid-1971, but eventually reappeared as the first song in some sets on the band's 1994 tour. The last time the song was ever performed with Roger Waters was on 20 June 1971 at the Palaeur, Rome, Italy. A version from a concert in Miami appears as the B-side on the band's "Take It Back" single, and a version from one of the London concerts appears on the live album Pulse. Gilmour played the song at some of his appearances during his solo 2006 tour, again sharing the lead vocal with fellow Floyd member Richard Wright.
[' I hear you've dusted off "Astronomy Domine" for the shows. '] 'Yes, and it needed a bit of dusting, I can tell you! I don't think we'd played it since 1968.'
- The track is also featured on the 2001 Pink Floyd compilation album, Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd.
- The Pulse version reverts to the original 4-minute length, with Gilmour again taking lead vocals as in Ummagumma.
- The song was also played by Gilmour and his solo band (which included Richard Wright with Guy Pratt on bass and Steve DiStanislao on drums) at the Abbey Road Studios sessions, which has been released as part of a CD/DVD On an Island package. "Astronomy Domine" was performed during the last few dates of Gilmour's On an Island tour, and features on his Remember That Night and Live in Gdańsk DVDs.
In 1968, Pink Floyd travelled to Belgium where they filmed a lip-synched promotional film for "Astronomy Domine", as well as "See Emily Play", "The Scarecrow", "Apples and Oranges", "Paint Box", "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", and "Corporal Clegg". Syd Barrett does not appear in these films, as he had been replaced by David Gilmour.
David Gilmour lip-synced Syd's voice in the "Astronomy Domine" video.
- Voivod covered this song in their 1989 album Nothingface.
- A cover of the song by the Mike Keneally Band is included on the 2003 tribute album, A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd.
- Dredg covers the song on the Syd Barrett tribute album Like Black Holes in the Sky, The Tribute to Syd Barrett (2008).
- Syd Barrett - lead and slide guitar (Fender Esquire), lead vocals
- Richard Wright - organ (Farfisa), lead vocals
- Roger Waters - bass guitar (Rickenbacker 4001), backing vocals
- Nick Mason - drums, percussion
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- Pink Floyd: Anthology (1980 Warner Bros. Publications, Inc., Secaucus N.J.) Transcribes "Astronomy Domine" as heard on Ummagumma
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- "The Concert Database Pink Floyd, 1971-06-20, A Perfect Union Deep In Space, Palaeur, Rome, Italy, Atom Heart Mother World Tour (c), roio". Pf-db.com. 28 March 2007.
- Fuller, Graham (July 1994). "The Color of Floyd". Interview Magazine. pp. 20–21. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
- "Echoes: the album credits". Pink Floyd. Archived from the original on 2 June 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
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- Couture, François. "A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd - Various Artists : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
- Sullivan, Patrick. "Like Black Holes in the Sky: The Tribute to Syd Barrett - Various Artists : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 October 2012.