Oh By The Way: soundtrack from the film More

>> Friday, February 15, 2008

In 1969, Pink Floyd released their first album.

Some of you may have just scratched your heads. If you have been following this series at all, you may be thinking that there have been two earlier entries, one for an album called The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, released in 1967, and one for A Saucerful Of Secrets, released in 1968. Or possibly you just came in, or stumbled across this blog, and you read that first line and thought, "What the hell? This guy's an idiot; Pink Floyd released their first record in 1967."

No, they didn't. It was 1969.

In 1967, a band called "Pink Floyd" released an album full of material mostly written by a young man with nascent psychological problems that would eventually kill him after a fashion, leaving him a shell of himself for almost 40 years until complications from diabetes would finish the job. And in 1968, the surviving members of that group struggled to record a follow-up record under the name "Pink Floyd." Sure.

But in 1969, Pink Floyd recorded their first album, the first one that anyone might recognize as a Pink Floyd record. The one that someone who only knew The Wall or Dark Side Of The Moon might say, "Hey, is that Pink Floyd?" The first album where the guys who would record Meddle and Wish You Were Here would collaborate on assembling a record.

It was a soundtrack, music for a movie called More, directed by a guy named Barbet Shroeder, who had produced a few things but hadn't previously directed a feature. I haven't seen it, so I can't say whether it's any good or not. Indeed, one gets the sense that if it hadn't resulted in a Pink Floyd album the film might have dwindled into semi-obscurity, notwithstanding Shroeder's subsequent reputation. But it's purportedly a very dark film, about a young man who takes some time off only to hook up with a young lady who gets him addicted to heroin, which (I've read) kills him. A comedy, in other words.

It is here, I suppose, that I should make a confession of sorts. Nothing major, like a murder, but to a lapse of judgment.

As I probably mentioned at the start of this series, I've been a Pink Floyd fan since a ridiculously early age. My parents bought The Wall when it came, and I--only eight years old at the time--fell in love with the rich layers of sound. The music that I may have loved the most at that age was John Williams' soundtrack to Star Wars, and The Wall was a record (two records!) full of the same bombast, the same use of leitmotifs (a word I didn't know, but would have understood)--I don't think I had a clue as to what the record was really about: madness, drug abuse, violence, angst, war. But I loved it all the same. The first record I bought with my own saved-up money was The Dark Side Of The Moon, and when I decided I wanted to play guitar it was because of how I felt when I listened to "Comfortably Numb" when I was 15 or 16. When I was in high school, depressed and fit to murder myself (oh literally, I must have thought of suicide every day), it was cranking up my cassette (and later CD) of The Final Cut after I got home from school, before anyone else got home, that kept me from walking into the bathroom and finding an off-label use for the disposable blades that went with the razor I used for my adolescent stubble....

But there was one Pink Floyd album I had absolutely no use for.

The soundtrack from the film More.

I checked out the CD from the public library. This was a fine way, back in those pre-internet days, to rip music you couldn't pay for. Check it out from the library and tape the shit. I had a ton of records on 90-minute cassette tapes, two albums a tape. (If you were clever, you could try to make sure both sides were by the same band or at least thematically related--and yet I still had Born To Run and ...Famous Last Words... on the same tape for no particularly good reason. I still can't hear the end of "Jungleland" without anticipating the opening chords of "Crazy.")

I checked out the CD from the public library, and I didn't even tape it. What was this shit? The only good songs on it also appeared on the compilation album Relics, which I already owned. How was the great Gilmour letting me down with this noodling on "A Spanish Piece"? Where were the big sounds, the epic themes, where was the angst and rage?

Let me mention a minor thing that you might not grasp from the previous paragraph: I was an extremely mentally retarded teenager. In my defense, let me add that all teenagers are mentally retarded, even the ones (especially the ones) who think they aren't. A likely explanation is that all the blood that is supposed to feed the brain is going to the groin, resulting in hypoxia.

And yet I somehow persisted in this hideous delusion that More was a mediocre and unnecessary album. I might have even mentioned, if the subject somehow came up, that I had every Pink Floyd album except two compilations (later three) and More, and who needed More when "Cirrus Minor" and "The Nile Song" were both on Relics?

It was about a year-or-so ago that I started to download Pink Floyd ROIOs--"Recordings Of Indeterminate Origin." Bootlegs of concerts and studio demos and lost singles, in other words. It used to be, back when I was a kid, that getting a prize boot of an old concert meant knowing someone who knew someone who maybe had a copy of an old reel-to-reel or scratchy Italian LP, and maybe they'd make you a copy or you'd take a chance on a $20 vinyl you found in a kinda shady record store (keep in mind, this was when albums cost $10-$12). There were probably tons of these things in record stores in LA or NY or SF; but this was in Charlotte, NC, a town that (in those days) could have been compared to an armpit but for the fact that armpits are generally an erogenous zone--you might have compared Charlotte to a square inch of skin located on the leg approximately three-point-five inches directly below the taint, maybe. Charlotte is a city that has long yearned to be Atlanta, for pity's sake. (Have you been to Atlanta?)

The thing that was kind of funny, was I kept hearing two or three songs in the 1969-1970 setlists that were pretty awesome and I couldn't place them. Moody pieces, evocative of some of the Ummagumma stuff, a lot of acoustic guitar and keyboards and interesting percussion. Beautiful songs about yearning and loss. I'd get up and check the computer serving the digital files, a Windows machine running Winamp, and I'd look:


"Green Is The Colour"

And here was the tipoff, the one that left no doubt where these mysterious and gorgeous tunes were coming from: "Main Theme From More".

Oh. I see. That's how it's going to be.

Well of course I felt stupid. No, not stupid: like a prize asshole. These were great songs. What the hell was I thinking when I was sixteen or seventeen?

Oh yeah: I was pining for a young lady whose name I'll omit in this blog though I remember it quite well, and feeling oppressed and misunderstood and angry and sad. Retarded, remember?

I bought the CD from Amazon, and only a few months later I bought the Oh By The Way boxed set with its copy of the album (the same remaster, but with the original cover from the vinyl LP).

The first half of the album largely consists of Roger Waters compositions, and the second half is mostly stuff by the whole band together, and it's all quite good in a way that's essential if you love Pink Floyd and admittedly skippable if you're a casual listener content with some of the later albums. And, oh yes, it's here that we have Pink Floyd coming into their own as a band and not merely Syd Barrett's backing musicians or surrogates. Here's David Gilmour's vocals and Rick Wright's harmonies and Roger Waters discovering his voice as a lyricist and Nick Mason truly being Nick Masony (and that's a good thing). Here's meddling and dark sides and delicate sounds and echoes and wishing and momentary lapses and walls of sound. Here are atomic hearts and empty spaces and meadows; fat old suns, time and Sisyphus waiting for one day when he can lay his head down on a pillow of winds. Here's regret, love, loss, hope and desperation. Here's the evolutionary forebears of what really would be the Pink Floyd sound. Here's pastoral folk-rock and heavy metal and spacey prog and old-school electric blues. Here's a band becoming a band, the first record where these four guys played together like a unit and sounded like it, everything coming together in a whole.

Eventually, I'm going to get around to writing an entry about The Wall, and I'm going to have some not-nice things to say about that classic. And someone may look at these entries and say "familiarity breeds contempt; here's love for the last Pink Floyd album he bought and ambivalence about the first one he ever heard." Maybe, maybe not. The things that I like about More are the things I love in my favorite Floyd albums, in Obscured By Clouds and Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here. These are records where four talented guys sat down and in the years 1969-to-around-1975/76 made incredible music as a band; and this is the dawn of all that. Even the string of Waters-credited tunes on the first side are enriched by Gilmour's smooth voice and Wright's layered organ sounds (as I write this, having hit "play" a third time, the room is full of the cathedral-like sounds of Wright's organ solo on "Cirrus Minor").

More. The first real Pink Floyd album. I didn't like it, and then I did; I was stupid once, but I'm less stupid now, and maybe I'll be even less stupid later. One can only hope.

Side One
  • Cirrus Minor (Waters)
  • The Nile Song (Waters)
  • Crying Song (Waters)
  • Up The Khyber (Mason, Wright)
  • Green Is The Colour (Waters)
  • Cymbaline (Waters)
  • Party Sequence (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)

Side Two
  • Main Theme (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • Ibiza Bar (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • More Blues (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • Quicksilver (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • A Spanish Piece (Gilmour)
  • Dramatic Piece (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)


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