Atom Heart Mother

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Atom Heart Mother
Studio album by Pink Floyd
Released 2 October 1970
Recorded February – August 1970 at
Abbey Road Studios
(London, United Kingdom)
Genre Progressive rock, symphonic rock, psychedelic rock
Length 52:06
Label Harvest, EMI
Producer Pink Floyd, Norman Smith (executive producer)
Pink Floyd chronology
Ummagumma
(1969)
Atom Heart Mother
(1970)
Meddle
(1971)
Singles from Atom Heart Mother
  1. "Summer '68"
    Released: 10 October 1970

Atom Heart Mother is the fifth studio album by the English progressive rock band Pink Floyd. It was released by Harvest and EMI Records 2 October 1970 in the UK, and by Harvest and Capitol on 10 October 1970 in the US.[1] It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, England, and was the band's first album to reach number 1 in the UK,[2] while it reached number 55 in the US chart,[3] eventually going gold there.[4] A remastered CD was released in 1994 in the UK and the United States, and again in 2011. Ron Geesin, who had already influenced and collaborated with Roger Waters, made a notable contribution to the album and received a then-rare outside songwriting credit.

This was the first Pink Floyd album to be specially mixed for four-channel quadraphonic sound as well as conventional two-channel stereo. The SQ quadraphonic mix was released on LP in a matrix format compatible with standard stereo record players. There was also a release of the quadraphonic version in the UK in fully discrete four-channel form on the "Quad-8" format, a four-channel variant of the stereo 8-track tape cartridge.

The cover was, like earlier albums, designed by Hipgnosis, and was significant in that it was the first one to not feature the band's name on the cover, or contain any photographs of the band anywhere. This was a trend that would continue on subsequent covers throughout the 1970s and beyond.

Although it was commercially and critically successful on release, the band, particularly Waters and David Gilmour, have expressed several negative opinions of the album in more recent years. Nevertheless, it remained popular enough for Gilmour to perform the title track with Geesin in 2008.

Recording[edit]

Roger Waters onstage at Leeds University, 28 February 1970. One of the earliest live performances of the album's title track was at this show.

The album came about after the band had completed work on the soundtrack to the film Zabriskie Point in Rome, which had ended somewhat acrimoniously, and headed back to London in early 1970 for rehearsals. A number of out-takes from the Rome sessions were used to assemble new material during these rehearsals, though some of it, such as "The Violent Sequence", later to become "Us and Them", would not be used for some time.[5]

Side one[edit]

The title track resulted from a number of instrumental figures the band had composed during these rehearsals, including the chord progression of the main theme, which David Gilmour had called "Theme from an Imaginary Western",[6][7][8] and the earliest documented live performance was on 17 January 1970[8] at Hull University.[9] The band felt that the live performances developed the piece into a manageable shape.[5] Recording of the track commenced at Abbey Road Studios, and was somewhat cumbersome, as it was the first recording to use a new eight-track one-inch tape and EMI TG12345 transistorized mixing console (8 track 20 microphone inputs) in the studio, and, as a result, EMI insisted the band were not allowed to do any splicing of the tape in order to edit pieces together. Consequently, Waters and Nick Mason had little choice but to play the bass and drums respectively for the entire 23 minute piece in one sitting. The other instruments the band played were subsequently overdubbed later. Mason recalled the final backing track's lack of precise timekeeping would cause problems later on.[5]

By March, they had finished recording the track,[10] but felt that it was rather unfocused and needed something else. The band had been introduced to Ron Geesin via the Rolling Stones tour manager, Sam Cutler, and were impressed with his composition and tape editing capabilities, particularly Waters and Mason.[5] Geesin was handed the completed backing tracks the band had recorded, and asked to compose an orchestral arrangement over the top of it while the band went on tour to the US, which he duly did.[5] Geesin described the composing and arranging as "a hell of a lot of work. Nobody knew what was wanted, they couldn't read music".[10] According to him, Gilmour came up with some of the melodic lines, while the pair of them along with Richard Wright worked on the middle section with the choir.[8][11] When it came to recording his work in June with the EMI Pops Orchestra,[12] the session musicians present were unimpressed with his tendency to favour avant garde music over established classical works, and, combined with the relative difficulty of some of the parts, proceeded to harass him during recording. John Alldis, whose choir were also to perform on the track, had experience in dealing with orchestral musicians, and managed to conduct the recorded performance in place of Geesin.[5][13]

The track was originally called "The Amazing Pudding", though Geesin's original score referred to it as "Epic".[7][8] A refined and improved version (with Geesin's written parts) was played at Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music on 27 June.[13][14] Its name was changed after the band were due to play an "in concert" broadcast for BBC Radio 1 on 16 July 1970, and had needed a title for John Peel to announce it.[nb 1][13][15] Geesin pointed to a copy of the Evening Standard, and suggested to Waters that he would find a title in there. The headline was: "ATOM HEART MOTHER NAMED", a story about a woman being fitted with a nuclear-powered pacemaker.[7][16][17]

The piece as presented on the completed album is a progression from Pink Floyd's earlier instrumental pieces such as "A Saucerful of Secrets" and even earlier, "Interstellar Overdrive". The "Atom Heart Mother" suite takes up all of side one, and is split into six parts, individually named. Geesin chose the opening section name, "Father's Shout" after Earl "Fatha" Hines, while other names such as "Breast Milky" and "Funky Dung" were inspired by the album cover artwork.[12] The orchestral arrangements feature a full brass section,[11] a cello[18] and the 16-piece John Alldis choir,[19][20] which take most of the lead melody lines,[11] while Pink Floyd mainly provide the backing tracks;[11] a reverse of the 1960s pop music practice of using orchestration as the background, and putting the rock band in front.[21] Nevertheless, there are several occasions where Gilmour's electric guitar takes the lead.

Side two[edit]

By 1970, Richard Wright had started using a Hammond M102 organ (pictured) on stage regularly, and it makes a prominent appearance on the album.[22]

Side two opens with three five-minute songs: one by each of the band's three resident songwriters, and closes with a suite with sound effects primarily conceived by Mason,[23] but credited to the whole group.[21] Therefore, this album's concept is similar to their previous Ummagumma album, in that it features the full band in the first half, and focuses on individual members in the second half.[21][24] Waters contributes a folk ballad called "If", playing acoustic guitar.[21][25] While the Floyd themselves rarely played the song live, he would revisit it with frequent performances at solo shows[25] in support of his Radio K.A.O.S. album, more than a decade later. This is followed by Wright's "Summer '68", with also features prominent use of brass in places. It was issued as a Japanese single in 1971,[26] and was the only track on the album never to be played live in concert.

According to Mason, Gilmour, having had little songwriting experience at that point, was ordered to remain in Abbey Road until he had composed a song suitable for inclusion on the album.[5] He came up with a folk influenced tune, "Fat Old Sun",[21] which he still considers to be a personal favourite.[5] The song was extended in arrangement to fifteen minutes as a key part of the band's live set, and is a staple of Gilmour's various solo tours.

The final track, "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast", is divided into three segments, each with its own descriptive title, joined by dialogue and sound effects of then-roadie Alan Styles preparing, discussing, and eating breakfast.[21][23] The idea for the piece came about by Waters experimenting with the rhythm of a dripping tap,[23] which combined sound effects and dialogue recorded by Mason in his kitchen[23] with musical pieces recorded at Abbey Road.[27] A slightly re-worked version was believed to be performed on stage only once on 22 December 1970 at Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield, England with the band members pausing between pieces to eat and drink their breakfast. The original LP ends with the sound of a dripping tap which continues into the inner groove, and thus plays on indefinitely.[7][14]

While recording sessions for his Barrett album were underway (with help from Gilmour), previous Floyd frontman, Syd Barrett would occasionally observe his old band as they were recording Atom Heart Mother.[18][21][28]

Cover art[edit]

The bootleg The Dark Side of the Moo featured a fan's attempt at copying the cover.

The original album cover, designed by art collective Hipgnosis, shows a cow standing in a pasture with no text nor any other clue as to what might be on the record.[23][29] Some later editions have the title and artist name added to the cover. This concept was the group's reaction to the psychedelic space rock imagery associated with Pink Floyd at the time of the album's release; the band wanted to explore all sorts of music without being limited to a particular image or style of performance. They thus requested that their new album had "something plain" on the cover, which ended up being the image of a cow.[23][29] Storm Thorgerson, inspired by Andy Warhol's famous "cow wallpaper," has said that he simply drove out into a rural area near Potters Bar and photographed the first cow he saw.[23][29] The cow's owner identified her name as "Lulubelle III".[23][29][30] More cows appear on the back cover, again with no text or titles, and on the inside gatefold. Also, a pink balloon shaped like a cow udder accompanied the album as part of Capitol's marketing strategy campaign to "break" the band in the US.[23][29][31] The liner notes in later CD editions give a recipe for Traditional Bedouin Wedding Feast on a card labelled "Breakfast Tips".[32] Looking back on the artwork, Thorgerson remembered "I think the cow represents, in terms of the Pink Floyd, part of their humor, which I think is often underestimated or just unwritten about."[33]

In the mid-1970s, a bootleg containing rare singles and B-sides entitled The Dark Side of the Moo appeared, with a similar cover. Like Atom Heart Mother, the cover had no writing on it, although in this case it was to protect the bootlegger's anonymity rather than any artistic statement.[34] The album cover to The KLF's concept album, Chill Out was also inspired by Atom Heart Mother.[35]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[36]
Rolling Stone unfavourable[37]
Robert Christgau D+[38]

Atom Heart Mother was released in the UK[nb 2] and US[nb 3] in October 1970, reaching number 1[2] and number 55,[3] respectively. It was released in the quadraphonic format in the UK,[23] Germany[nb 4] and even Australia.[nb 5] A remastered CD was released in 1994 in the UK[nb 6] and the US.[nb 7] Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab released a 24KT gold CD in the US in 1994,[nb 8] while a LP version was released in the US in the same year.[nb 9] As part of the Why Pink Floyd...? campaign, a remaster was released in 2011.[nb 10][nb 11]

Legacy[edit]

The album's title track was regularly performed in concert between 1970 and 1972, including an appearance at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music

Critical reaction to the suite has always been mixed, and all band members have expressed negativity toward it in recent times.[17] For instance, Gilmour has said the album was "a load of rubbish. We were at a real down point ... I think we were scraping the barrel a bit at that period"[48] and "a good idea but it was dreadful... Atom Heart Mother sounds like we didn't have any idea between us, but we became much more prolific after it."[49] Similarly, in a 1984 interview on BBC Radio 1, Waters said "If somebody said to me now – right – here's a million pounds, go out and play Atom Heart Mother, I'd say you must be fucking joking."[12]

The band were initially enthusiastic about performing the suite in the early 1970s. An early performance was taped for the San Francisco based television station KQED, featuring just the band, on 28 April 1970.[50] Two memorable performances were at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music on 27 June and the "Blackhills Garden Party" in Hyde Park, London on 18 July. On both occasions the band were accompanied by the John Alldis Choir and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.[51] Later, the band took a full brass section and choir on tour just for the purpose of performing this piece.[14] However, this caused the tour to lose money, and the band found problems with the hired musicians, which changed from gig to gig as they simply took who was available, which, combined with lack of rehearsal and problems miking up the whole ensemble, made a full live performance more problematic. Reflecting on this, Gilmour said "some of the brass players have been really hopeless".[27] According to Mason, the band arrived at one gig in Aachen, Germany, only to discover they had left the sheet music behind, forcing tour manager Tony Howard to go back to London and get it.[5] Because of this, a later arrangement without brass or choir, and pared down from 25 minutes to fifteen by omitting the "collage" sections and closing reprise of the main theme, remained in their live repertoire into 1972. For instance, during the first concert of that year, halfway through the first ever public live performance of The Dark Side of the Moon in Brighton, technical problems resulted in the abandoning of that performance, replaced by Atom Heart Mother.[52] The last documented live performance of the suite was on 22 May 1972 at the Olympisch Stadium, Amsterdam, Netherlands.[53]

Stanley Kubrick wanted to use the album's title track in A Clockwork Orange.[23] The group refused permission, primarily because Kubrick was unsure of exactly which pieces of music he wanted and what he wished to do with them. In retrospect, Waters said "maybe it's just as well it wasn't used after all".[27]

On 14 and 15 June 2008, Geesin performed "Atom Heart Mother" with Italian tribute band Mun Floyd over two nights as part of the Chelsea Festival.[54] Geesin introduced it with a history and slide show. The performances featured the chamber choir Canticum,[55] brass and noted cellist Caroline Dale, who has worked with Gilmour. The second night saw Gilmour join Geesin on stage for the performance, which was extended to 30 minutes.[56]

In 2013, Geesin produced a book, The Flaming Cow, which documented his experience with working with Pink Floyd, including the making of this album from his point of view.[57]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. "Atom Heart Mother"
  • I. "Father's Shout"
  • II. "Breast Milky"
  • III. "Mother Fore"
  • IV. "Funky Dung"
  • V. "Mind Your Throats Please"
  • VI. "Remergence"  
Nick Mason, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Ron Geesin Instrumental, wordless vocals by John Alldis Choir 23:44
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
2. "If"   Waters Waters 4:31
3. "Summer '68"   Wright Wright 5:29
4. "Fat Old Sun"   Gilmour Gilmour 5:22
5. "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast"
  • I. "Rise and Shine"
  • II. "Sunny Side Up"
  • III. "Morning Glory"  
Waters, Mason, Gilmour, Wright Instrumental, vocalisations by Alan Styles 13:00

Personnel[edit]

Taken from sleeve notes[58]

Pink Floyd

(all instrumentation uncredited)

Additional musicians
Production

Charts and certifications[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ A free performance was held at London's Hyde Park in July 1970, arranged by former Floyd management, Peter Jenner and Andrew King, with Geesin in attendence, who has shocked by the performance.[13][14]
  2. ^ UK EMI Harvest SHVL 781[39]
  3. ^ US Capitol Harvest SKAO-382[40]
  4. ^ UK EMI Harvest/HÖR ZU SHZE 297 Q[41]
  5. ^ Australia EMI Harvest Q4SHVL-781[42]
  6. ^ UK EMI EMI United Kingdom 7243 8 31246 2 6 / CDEMD 1072[32]
  7. ^ US Capitol CDP 0777 7 46381 2 8[43]
  8. ^ US Capitol Harvest/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 595[44]
  9. ^ US Capitol Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1–202[45]
  10. ^ Europe EMI 50999 028940 2 7[46]
  11. ^ US Capitol 50999 028940 2 7[47]
Citations
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