Rory Murray, Staff Writer
Atom Heart Mother was Pink Floyd’s fifth studio album, released in the UK by Harvest and EMI Records and in the US by Capitol Records. It was the band’s first album to reach the number one spot on the charts in the UK, and it also charted in the top ten in France, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.
The album was the first of Pink Floyd’s work to be mixed specifically for four channel quadraphonic sound, comparable to today’s 4.0 surround sound. The band experimented with brass and choir orchestration, often playing the backbeat to the orchestra, which was an uncommon musical style at the time. This odd album had an even stranger cover, featuring a cow grazing in a pasture with no words to be found.
Atom Heart Mother generally received mixed critical reviews, some calling it undirected, and while it certainly doesn’t measure up to some of their later works, like Dark Side of the Moon, it is worth a listen.
The A-side of the album is the 23-minute title track “Atom Heart Mother,” Pink Floyd’s longest uncut track. It is a six-part suite composed by every member of the band as well as Scottish musician Ron Geesin, known for his unique compositions. The track was difficult to record because the bass and drum part had to be done in one take, resulting in an inconsistent tempo throughout. A choir provides vocals for the suite, but there are no lyrics or members of the band singing. Overall, this extended jam fits nicely as a background to a lazy Sunday. Its dynamic contrast throughout allows you to almost forget you’re listening to it. Then out of nowhere, it pulls you right back in with a grand orchestral sound only to slip away into some dissonant organ solo moments later.
Atom Heart Mother uses a similar composition style as Pink Floyd’s previous album, Ummagumma. The first side of the album features the entire band and the second side focuses on the band members as individuals. The first track, “If,” written by Roger Waters, the band’s bassist and co-lead vocalist, is an acoustic folk ballad that was seldom performed live. Up next is “Summer 68,” written by keyboardist Rick Wright, which was the only song from the album to never be played live.
The next track, “Fat Old Sun,” written by David Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s guitarist and other lead vocalist, is the saving grace to the B-side of the album. Gilmour actually had very little songwriting experience at the time. The song was extended to a 15 minute jam to become part of the band’s live set and was a personal favorite of Gilmour.
The album concludes with “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” a title that speaks for itself. The final track is about their roadie Alan Styles preparing and eating his breakfast. Atom Heart Mother is not Pink Floyd’s best release, but it was a major milestone for the highly regarded band and will always remain a favorite in the heart of their diehard fans.