“Dark Globe” by Syd Barret and R.E.M.

January 25, 2009

For reasons probably best left to psychiatrists, my second or third album purchase ever was Pink Floyd’s early singles collection, Relics.  I fell head over heels in love with it, and I’m sure I’ve listened to it hundreds of times in the ensuing twenty-plus years.  (My junior high and high school friends thought it was a bit odd of me to always play strange psychedelic sixties rock, although some of them came to appreciate it.)

Anyway, at some point I learned that most of the songs on that collection were not written by Roger Waters, but by Syd Barrett–hey, we didn’t have the Internet back then and bargain-bin tapes didn’t have songwriting credits or much of anything besides cover art and song titles.  I also learned that in addition to writing most of Pink Floyd’s amazing debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Syd Barrett had also released two solo albums.

Those albums were not in print at the time and my job sorting bottles and cans at the grocery store was not going to fund purchasing the vinyl from a classified in Goldmine or some similar publication.

Strangely, the first Barrett to be released on CD was Opel, a collection of rarities.  I snapped it up and listened to it obsessively (which really annoyed many of my friends–let’s face it, having to listen to a bunch of Syd Barrett demos would strain the patience of damn near anybody).  One of the songs that stuck out was an early version of “Dark Globe,” here titled “Wouldn’t You Miss Me.”

At some point, I read in Rolling Stone that R.E.M. had recorded a cover of the song and it was being released as a flexi-disc.  For those of you younger than me, a flexi-disc was a 45 RPM record pressed on vinyl so thin that it could be bound into a magazine.  This flexi-disc was being released in, of all things, Sassy.

So, yes, I–a teenage boy–had  to go to the bookstore and purchase a copy of Sassy.  I pray to this day that no one saw me.

It was worth the humiliation.  R.E.M.’s take on “Dark Globe” is beautiful.  The piano is an excellent addition, adding  a wistful grace to the song.  This seems to me to prefigure the gorgeous “Nightswimming,” released about three years later on their best album, Automatic for the People.

The following year, Syd Barrett’s two studio albums were released on CD and I heard the original version of “Dark Globe.”  R.E.M.’s version turned out to be much closer to the demo than to the released version, which is sung at a higher register.  Picking which version of this song I prefer is impossible–I treasure all of them.

I’ve included Barrett’s studio version and R.E.M.’s version here, figuring two “Dark Globe”s is enough for one post.  If you’d like to hear the Barrett demo, it’s here.

Syd Barrett:

R.E.M.:

Also of interest: David Gilmour paying tribute to his predecessor shortly after his death by covering “Dark Globe” solo.  It’s quite touching.

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Album (Sort Of) Review: Crystal Antlers – EP

September 20, 2008

Up front, I’m going to have to make a confession.  There are few things that I loathe more than prog rock.  I have gotten into many losing arguments with many a Rush fan about why, while I respect their technical musical ability, I would rather claw my eyes out than listen to any of their songs.  Same goes for Yes, Jethro Tull, Dream Theatre, and a host of others.  These were losing arguments because you simply cannot convince a prog rock fan that their music is lame.  Scientifically impossible.

Having said that, there have been a few prog rock bands that have broken through my wall of hate and have actually made a fan of me.  Pink Floyd had many prog rock tendencies in their music, but they always had a strong respect for melody and good songwriting, which made their music much more palatable for someone with my tastes.  Another more recent band that has gained my respect is The Mars Volta, if only for their first album, De-Loused in the Comatorium.  This record had actual songs on it, whereas all of their subsequent releases have just been one long “song” characterized by not much more than alternating noise, guitar wankery, and lyrics about internal organs.

The latest prog rock band to catch my ear is Long Beach, CA’s Crystal Antlers, and I’m happy to say that they are making a fan of me.  While the album’s songs do tend to bleed into one another, each piece has it’s own musical identity and is easily distinguishable from the one before it.  And, much like Pink Floyd, Crystal Antlers employ strong and oftentimes riveting melodies to craft exciting and energetic rock songs that draw from many influences. 

Some would probably say that Crystal Antlers are not really prog, which has also been said of Floyd and the Mars Volta, but the blueprint of the genre is definitely there.  What allows Crystal Antlers to overcome being pigeonholed into this genre is the myriad of influences that they draw from.  Opening song “A Thousand Eyes” begins with a blasting wall of Latin-influenced rock that recalls old Santana or The Mars Volta before slowing down into an awesome 60’s garage rock chorus tinged with a bluesy melody.  “Vexation” and “Arcturus” recall the unhinged rock ‘n’ roll mania of the MC5, while “Owl” is a slower yet powerful exercise in classic psychedellic rock.  One element that seems to tie these songs together is a bluesy psychedelic theme borrowed from early, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, especially on display in “Parting Song From The Torn Sky.” 

Still, the record sounds fresh and far from a rip off of any of their influences.  Crystal Antlers have taken some very familiar sounds from rock’s past and crammed them together in an exciting and solid new form that makes them one of this year’s more promising new bands.  Hopefully they can keep their momentum going and not devolve into a meandering beast like fellow prog torchbearers The Mars Volta.

“A Thousand Eyes”

“Parting Song For The Torn Sky”


Pink Floyd Co-Founder Richard Wright Dead at 65

September 15, 2008

News outlets are reporting that Pink Floyd member Richard Wright has passed away at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer.  Wright played piano, keyboards, and sang vocals on many tracks, as well as writing several songs for the band, most notably “The Great Gig In The Sky” and “Us And Them” from Dark Side Of The Moon

Floyd played a massive part in my musical upbringing, and while many dismissed them as nothing more than a drug band, they were extremely influential on modern music.  I like to think that old friends Richard and Syd Barrett are jamming in Heaven right now.  RIP, Mr. Wright!

Here’s a clip of my favorite Richard Wright vocal, “Echoes” from their 1972 film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (backup harmony, but still awesome).  If you haven’t seen this film and are a Pink Floyd fan, go out and get the DVD.  Probably my favorite concert film, featuring several pre-DSOTM favorites performed live, as well as some clips of them recording DSOTM in the studio.