1969 – Pink Floyd – Ummagumma
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Ummagumma is a progressive rock double album by Pink Floyd, released in 1969. The first disc is a live album of their normal setlist of the time, while the second one contains individual compositions by each member of the band.
The album’s title supposedly comes from a Cambridge slang word for sexual intercourse, commonly used by one of Pink Floyd’s friends and occasional roadie, Iain “Imo” Moore. However, some band members have since stated that the word was “totally made up and means nothing at all”. In footage of the band rehearsing for a Royal Albert Hall appearance in 1969, one of the band members can be heard, off camera, quietly chanting the word “ummagumma”.
The first disc of Ummagumma was recorded live at Mothers Club, Birmingham, on 27 April 1969 and the following week at Manchester College of Commerce, on 2 May 1969; the second disc included four solo segments, one half-side of vinyl each by, in order: Richard Wright, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason.
The band had also recorded a live version of “Interstellar Overdrive” (from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn), intended for placement on side one of the live album. The track was dropped at the last minute, some say to maintain the sound fidelity of the record, but numerous test pressings with the original track list were given to friends of the band, including John Peel. Other sources have claimed that the song was dropped because of a conflict over the music publishing rights. (It would have been one of only two songs on the record to include Syd Barrett as a writer.)
The album was released in the UK on 25 October 1969 and then in the U.S. on 10 November 1969. The album reached #5 on the UK album charts and #74 on the US album charts, marking the first time the band reached the top 100 in the U.S. The album was certified Gold in the U.S. in February 1974 and Platinum in March 1994. In 1987, the album was re-released on a two CD set. A digitally re-mastered version was released in 1994 in the UK and 1995 in the US.
Album Cover Art
The cover shows the members of the band, with a picture hanging on the wall showing the same scene, except the band members have switched positions. The picture on the wall also includes the picture on the wall, creating a recursion effect, with each recursion showing band members exchanging positions. After 4 variations of the scene, the final picture within picture is the cover of the previous Pink Floyd album, A Saucerful of Secrets.
The cover of the original LP varies between the British, American/Canadian, and Australian releases. The British version has the album Gigi leaning against the wall immediately above the ‘Pink Floyd’ letters. On most copies of American and Canadian editions, the Gigi cover is airbrushed to a plain white sleeve, apparently because of copyright concerns; however the earliest American copies do show the Gigi cover, and it was restored for the U.S. CD edition. On the Australian edition, the Gigi cover is completely airbrushed, not even leaving a white square behind.
On the rear cover, roadies Alan Stiles and Peter Watts are shown with the band’s equipment laid out on a runway at Biggin Hill Airport; a concept proposed by Nick Mason.
Song titles on the back are laid out slightly differently in British vs. North American editions; the most important difference being the inclusion of sub-titles for the four sections of “A Saucerful of Secrets”. These subtitles only appeared on American and Canadian editions of this album, but not on the British edition; nor did they appear on original pressings of A Saucerful of Secrets.
The inner gatefold art shows separate black and white photos of the band members. David Gilmour is seen standing in front of the Elfin Oak. Original vinyl editions showed Waters with his first wife, but she has been cropped out of the picture on all CD editions.
“What was your inspiration for The Narrow Way (on Ummagumma) your first major Floyd composition?”
“Well, we’d decided to make the damn album, and each of us to do a piece of music on our own… it was just desperation really, trying to think of something to do, to write by myself. I’d never written anything before, I just went into a studio and started waffling about, tacking bits and pieces together. I haven’t heard it in years. I’ve no idea what it’s like.” – David Gilmour – Sounds “Guitar Heroes” Magazine, May 1983
“What do you think of your early records like Atom Heart Mother and Ummagumma today?”
“I think both are pretty horrible. Well, the live disc of Ummagumma might be all right, but even that isn’t recorded well.” – David Gilmour – German news magazine Der Spiegel No. 23 – 5 June 1995
“When you listen to Ummagumma, you get the feeling that each one of you is doing his own music, not caring much about the others.”
“That’s right. I can’t be precise, but we were very individualistic at the time.” – Nick Mason – March 1973
“The back of Ummagumma comes from something Nick Mason did.” – Storm Thorgerson – Guitar World – February 1998