Atom Heart Mother
Pink Floyd’s fifth studio album was released in October 1970 (the band had already released ‘Piper at The Gates of Dawn’ in 1967, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ in 1968, the soundtrack album ‘More’ and the half-live half-studio album ‘Ummagumma’ in 1969). The album title was found by Roger Waters in a July 1970 edition of the Evening Standard when the title track needed a name. The article was about a pregnant woman who had been fitted with a heart pacemaker with the headline "Atom Heart Mother Named."
The album’s cover features a cow standing in a field but with no other text or imagery. This was 'designed' by Hipgnosis as Pink Floyd wanted to step away from the psychedelic space rock imagery and wanted something plain and a cow was considered part of a representation of Pink Floyd's humour at the time.
The title track is the "Atom Heart Mother" suite which is divided into six parts with a brass band and choir featuring throughout. Ron Geesin co-wrote the piece and the recording began with Roger Waters and Nick Mason playing the bass and drums through in one take for twenty-three minutes. This resulted in an inconsistent tempo throughout. A Japanese Pink Floyd tribute band does a fantastic version of this piece with keyboards taking the place of the brass and with just two female singers and one male singer.
Opening with a low Hammond organ note, the brass band comes in, thus creating a suspenseful note to it, like a suspense or murder mystery movie from the 1960s. The band then enter with the brass continuing, before the music seems to calm. This part is reprised several times throughout the whole piece and this part is considered the main theme.
A cello solo accompanied by bass guitar and organ begins. It then joins in with the drums later. This is then followed by a double-tracked slide guitar solo with the choir then joining in soon at the end of this section.
After the last note of the guitar solo, this part picks up with the organ (with the bass and drums being very quiet) taking over for a five-minute ostinato sequence. Soprano voices join in gradually then followed by the choirs with the voices swelling in a dramatic crescendo, before finally dying down.
A key change from E minor to G minor introduces this part that features a simple band jam session. There is a second guitar solo that is much more blues influenced. The section changes into the choir doing a chant after the introduction of a sustained note on a Farfisa organ and grand piano. The song then changes the key back to E minor after building slowly to a reprise of the main theme from "Father's Shout".
Mind Your Throats Please
This is the noisy part of the piece and is divided into two smaller parts:
Part one mainly features electronic noises and is the only section on the album to feature the Mellotron. Richard Wright uses the instrument to great affect combing three violin sounds and one flute sound to create dissonant chords throughout. About ten seconds before the next part starts a distorted voice says, "Here is an important announcement!" with a passing steam train sound effect from the record company archives ending this section.
In part two various instruments fade in and out with many of them being recognizable from earlier in the suite (it also features a Leslie speaker used on a piano) with the same opening brass part heard over this section with Nick Mason's distorted voice shouting, "Silence in the studio!" before it explodes into the next section.
This part begins with a reprise of the main theme from ‘Father's Shout’ but it then quietens into an abridged reprise of the cello solo from ‘Breast Milky’. This is followed by a double layered guitar section reminiscent of the first solo on the slide guitar. This all then leads into a climax and reprise of the ‘Father's Shout’ theme involving the entire brass section and choir. The piece then ends with a very long resolve to E major from the choir and brass.
"If" was written by Roger Waters in the key of E major. He also sings, plays acoustic guitar and bass while David Gilmour plays slide guitar, Richard Wright plays piano and Hammond organ and Nick Mason play drums. It is a folky and pastoral song about introspection. Some people may consider it naïve and silly, but it is a very delicate and innocent piece.
"Summer '68" was written and sung by Richard Wright about the band’s US tour in 1968. It is alleged to be a song about an encounter with a groupie. Piano driven with quite an intense feel, it is one of Wright’s best solo songs and an underrated classic.
"Fat Old Sun" was written by David Gilmour. He plays every instrument on the song apart from Farfisa and Hammond organs (which are played by Wright). It is a similar pastoral piece to “If” but slightly heavier with less of a folk influence. It is another song that may be considered naïve, but it has one of David Gilmour’s best guitar solos towards the end and is still played live by him today.
The thirteen-minute-long "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" is probably one of the weirdest Floyd tracks (and that is saying a lot). In the piece, roadie Alan Styles talks about making and preparing a breakfast as well as mentioning various breakfasts he has had in the past. It is divided into three sections with the band playing at intermittent moments:
In the opening section ‘Rise & Shine’, Alan can be heard muttering “Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, toast, coffee... Marmalade, I like marmalade... Yes, porridge is nice, any cereal... I like all cereals.”
‘Sunny Side Up’ is a modified fugue and was written and performed by David Gilmour on two acoustic guitars and a steel guitar. Though obviously he does not have six arms and played all three instruments at the same time.
In ‘Morning Glory’ the entire band plays but it is Richard Wright’s piano that is the dominant instrument (it was overdubbed in the left, middle and right-hand channels) but the piece also features bass, electric guitar, drums and Hammond organ.
The songs are quirky and weird and is an acquired taste but once you have listened to it a few times, you see the many layers of sound contained herein. The three solo written songs are very beautiful, but it is let down slightly by the weirdness of "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" which is probably ten minutes too long. Atom Heart Mother may not be one of Pink Floyd’s most accessible albums nor one of its best sold. Despite this, it is one of their best albums.