1968 – Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets
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A Saucerful of Secrets is the second album by rock band Pink Floyd, and marks the group’s stylistic change from psychedelic to progressive rock. It was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, at various dates from August, 1967 to April, 1968. Due to Syd Barrett’s declining mental state, this was to be the last Pink Floyd album that he would work on.
Recording and Structure
During its difficult recording sessions, Barrett became increasingly unstable and in January 1968, David Gilmour was brought in. Barrett was finally removed from the band by early March, leaving this new incarnation of Pink Floyd to finish the album. As a result, A Saucerful of Secrets is the only non-compilation Pink Floyd album on which all five band members appear, with Gilmour appearing on five songs (“Let There Be More Light”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, “Corporal Clegg”, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, and “See-Saw”) and Barrett on three (“Remember a Day”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, and “Jugband Blues”). As well as “Jugband Blues”, the album was to include “Vegetable Man,” another Syd Barrett song. However, the band believed “Vegetable Man”, with its autobiographical lyrics, was unsuitable for inclusion and so it was left off the album. The song was to appear on a single as the b-side to another unreleased track, “Scream Thy Last Scream”. Two additional Syd Barrett songs, “In The Beechwoods” and “No Title” were also recorded early in the sessions for the album.
“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is the only Pink Floyd song that features all five band members. Keyboardist Richard Wright sings lead or backing vocals on four of the album’s seven songs, making this the only Pink Floyd album where Wright’s vocal contributions outnumber those of the rest of the band.
This is the first of several Pink Floyd album covers designed by Hipgnosis, and was only the second time that an EMI group (The Beatles were the first) was permitted to hire outside designers for an album jacket . Certain elements of the collage are taken from page 25 of Strange Tales #158 (1967) by Marvel Comics, including the face of the Living Tribunal in the upper left, Doctor Strange along the right edge and the image of a string of planets entering a whirlpool that runs through the center of the design.
Songs From The Album
Like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn before it, the album contains space rock and psychedelic rock songs. But unlike Piper, which was dominated by Syd Barrett’s compositions, A Saucerful of Secrets contains only one original Barrett song – the painfully poignant “Jugband Blues”. The song greatly contrasts with Barrett’s work on Piper, which was entirely whimsical and child-like. Instead, “Jugband Blues” is a deeply introspective song, interpreted by some as Barrett’s acknowledgment of his declining mental state.
With Barrett seemingly detached from proceedings, it came down to Roger Waters and Richard Wright to provide adequate material. The opening “Let There Be More Light” penned by Waters, continues the space rock approach established by Barrett, with its mesmeric opening bass line reminiscent of the material found on Piper. Both “Remember a Day” and “See-Saw” use the child-like approach that was established on their debut. Wright remained critical of his early contributions to the band.
“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (another Waters composition) is a space rock number which was first performed with Barrett in 1967. The success of the track was such that it remained in their live set-list until 1973 where it appeared in a greatly extended form. Waters later performed the track during solo concerts from 1984 and later. Waters borrowed the lyrics from a book of Chinese Poetry from the Tang Dynasty, like Barrett had used in “Chapter 24”. “Corporal Clegg” is the first song by Waters to address issues of war and his father’s death, themes which would endure throughout his career with Pink Floyd and culminate in the 1983 album The Final Cut.
“Corporal Clegg” also features Mason on backing vocals, marking the first official release in which makes use of Mason’s vocals. He would again perform vocals in the song “One of These Days” on their album Meddle. During the recording of the album, Mason was the lead vocalist of the song “Scream Thy Last Scream,” however, it was not included in the album.
The album’s avant-garde title track, which is comparable in length to “Interstellar Overdrive,” provided a way forward for the band, and acted as a template for future progressive rock ventures. “A Saucerful of Secrets” remains as one of the band’s most experimental compositions, and is the first in which David Gilmour contributed to the writing. Like “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, it became a regular live feature, and was eventually extended to around twenty minutes.
The album was released that June as both mono (SX 6258) and stereo (SCX 6258) LPs in the UK, where it reached #9 on the charts. It remains the only Floyd album to not chart at all in the US (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’s US version, entitled Pink Floyd, had lingered at the bottom of the US charts some months earlier). However, when reissued as A Nice Pair, with the original version of Piper after the success of The Dark Side of the Moon the album did chart at #39 on the Billboard Hot 200.
The CD stereo mix of the album was first released in 1987, and in 1992 was digitally remastered and reissued on CD as a part of the Shine On box-set. The remastered stereo CD was released on its own in 1994 in the UK, and then in April 1995 in the US. The mono mix version of the album has never been officially released on CD, although Bootleg CD versions do exist.