A Saucerful of Secrets is the second studio album by the English rock band Pink Floyd. It was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road Studios on various dates from August 1967 to April 1968 and was released on 29 June 1968, through EMI Columbia in the UK, while the album was released on 27 July 1968 in the US by Tower.
The album was recorded before and after Syd Barrett's departure from the group. Due to Barrett's behaviour becoming increasingly unpredictable, David Gilmour was brought in, in January 1968. As a result, A Saucerful of Secrets became the only non-compilation Pink Floyd album on which all five band members appeared, the first for Gilmour, with him 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 the last for Barrett, with him on three ("Remember a Day", "Jugband Blues" and "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun").
From mid to late 1967, Syd Barrett's erratic behaviour became more apparent, and at one performance of the band's first US tour, he slowly detuned his guitar while on stage. The audience seemed to enjoy such antics, unaware of the rest of the band's increasing consternation. Interviewed on Pat Boone's show during this tour, Barrett's reply to Boone's questions was a "blank and totally mute stare". Barrett exhibited behaviour in a similar style during the band's first appearance on Dick Clark's popular TV show American Bandstand. Barrett kept his lips closed during a mimed performance of "Apples and Oranges".
Recording and structure
Recording with Syd Barrett
The album was recorded at EMI Studios in London. The first songs recorded for the album were Roger Waters' "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and an unreleased Barrett track, "Scream Thy Last Scream"; both recorded on 7–8 August 1967. The two tracks were arranged to be released as a single on 8 September, before it was vetoed by the band's record company, EMI. The band recorded "Vegetable Man" at De Lane Lea Studios on 9–11 October, and returned later in the month, on 19 October, to record "Jugband Blues", with producer Norman Smith booking a Salvation Army band, at Barrett's request. Overdubbing "Remember a Day" at the sessions; the song, which was an outtake from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn sessions, features Barrett on slide guitar, the band took a break from the album sessions to record what become their third single, "Apples and Oranges", on 26 and 27 October. A few days later, the band recorded the B-side, "Paint Box", shortly after recording "Paint Box", the band went on a tour of the US.
Partway through a tour of the US, "Apples and Oranges" was released as a single in November, failing to chart at all. The band eventually went back to De Lane Lea and recorded the unreleased track "Vegetable Man". Sometime around Christmas, David Gilmour (Barrett's old school friend) was asked to join the band as a second lead guitarist to cover for Barrett when his erratic behaviour prevented him from performing. As Barrett had, up until then, written (or, save for a few songs; co-written) all the songs on their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, as well as the band's three singles up to this point, the initial plan was to keep him in the group as a non-touring member—in similar style to what The Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson—but this soon proved to be impractical. For two days from 10 January 1968, Pink Floyd reconvened at EMI Studios, attempting to work on older tracks: Waters' vocals and Wright's organ were overdubbed on to "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", while Mason added vocals to "Scream Thy Last Scream". Upon leaving the Floyd, Barrett said to Melody Maker: "I suppose it was really just a matter of being a little offhand about things".
Recording with David Gilmour
When Gilmour joined the band, the Floyd performed briefly as a five-man piece, from 12 January till the 20th. For a handful of shows Gilmour played and sang while Barrett wandered around on stage, occasionally coming out of his delirium to join in playing. In between these five-piece gigs, the group rehearsed a few Waters-penned songs on 15 and 16 January. During the next session on 18 January, the band, joined by Smith, jammed on rhythm tracks; Barrett didn't attend this session. On 24 and 25 January, the band recorded a song, logged as "The Most Boring Song I've Ever Heard Bar 2" at Abbey Road. The band recorded "Let There Be More Light", "Corporal Clegg" (which features lead vocals by Nick Mason) and "See-Saw" all without Barrett, despite manager Andrew King claiming Barrett performed the slide solo at the end of "Let There Be More Light". The other band members soon grew tired of Barrett's antics and, on 26 January 1968, when Waters was driving on the way to a show at Southampton University, picking the members up on the way, the band elected not to pick Barrett up: one person in the car said, "Shall we pick Syd up?" and another said, "Let's not bother." Barrett was finally ousted from the band in late January 1968, leaving the new incarnation of Pink Floyd to finish the album; "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" is the only song on which all five band members appeared. After Barrett was ousted, the band struggled to come up with material for the album.
From February 1968, the band performed and recorded as a four-piece, the first tracks they recorded were "It Would Be So Nice" and "Julia Dream". In early February it was announced that the Waters-penned track, "Corporal Clegg" would be the band's next single, however, due to pressure from the label, the band abandoned releasing "Corporal Clegg", and placed it on the album instead. Richard Wright's "It Would Be So Nice" was released in April was a single, with "Julia Dream" on the B-side. Throughout April, the band was taking stock of the songs recorded up to that point. Waters blocked the release of the two tracks, "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream", on the album, though the band retained "Jugband Blues", and the Waters-written "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" which Barrett played on. With not enough material to fill the album's last 12 minutes, the band started piecing together several pieces of material—that the finished song the band later said that they felt happy with—that was to become the title track of the album, "A Saucerful of Secrets". Mason and Waters planned the track out as if it were an architectural design, including peaks and troughs. Producer Smith didn't like the song, stating to them that they "just can't do this, it's too long. You have to write three-minute songs," On 25 June, the band recorded another session for Top Gear, the session feature two tracks from Saucerful: "Let There Be More Light" and a shortend retitled version of the title track, titled here as "The Massed Gadgets of Hercules".
Like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn before it, the album contains space rock and psychedelic rock songs. However, unlike Piper, which was dominated by Barrett's compositions, A Saucerful of Secrets contains one Barrett original, "Jugband Blues". AllMusic described that with A Saucerful of Secrets, "the band begin to map out the dark and repetitive pulses that would characterize their next few records." Wright sings or shares lead vocals on four of the album's seven songs, and contributes vocals on the eleven-and-a-half-minute instrumental opus "A Saucerful of Secrets", making this the only Pink Floyd album where his vocal contributions outnumber those of the rest of the band.
With Barrett seemingly detached from proceedings, it came down to Waters and Wright to provide adequate material. The opening, "Let There Be More Light", penned by Waters, continues the space rock approach established by Barrett. "Let There Be More Light" evolved from a bass riff that was part of "Interstellar Overdrive". Both "Remember a Day" and "See-Saw" use the childlike 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" was first performed with Barrett in 1967. The success of the track was such that it remained in their live setlist 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 Pink Floyd song to address issues of war, a theme which would endure throughout the career of Waters as a songwriter for the band, culminating on the 1983 album The Final Cut. "A Saucerful of Secrets" was originally written as a new version of "Nick's Boogie". Waters and Mason originally planned the track out as an architectural design. The track is titled as four parts, on Ummagumma. A staple in the band's live set until summer 1972, a live version of the song was recorded on 27 April 1969 at the Mothers Club in Birmingham for inclusion on Ummagumma. "Jugband Blues" refers to Barrett's departure from the group ("It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here / And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here"). A promotional video was recorded for the track. The band's management wanted to release the song as a single, before being vetoed by both the band and producer Norman Smith.
As well as "Jugband Blues", the album was to include "Vegetable Man", another Barrett song. The song was to appear on a single as the B-side to "Scream Thy Last Scream". The band performed "Jugband Blues", "Vegetable Man", and "Scream Thy Last Scream" for a BBC Radio Top Gear session, recorded on 20 December, and broadcast on 31st. Two additional Barrett songs, "In the Beechwoods", and "No Title" (frequently referred to on bootlegs as "Sunshine"), were recorded early into the album sessions. At least one other song, "John Latham", was recorded during these sessions, and remains unreleased.
Release and reception
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This is the first of several Pink Floyd album covers that were 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. The album was released in the UK on 29 June 1968 on EMI's Columbia label as both mono and stereo LPs, reaching number 9 in the UK charts. It was released in the US by the Tower Records division of Capitol, where it remains the only Pink Floyd album to not chart. However, when reissued as A Nice Pair with the original version of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn after the success of The Dark Side of the Moon, the album did chart at number 36 on the Billboard 200. "Let There Be More Light" was released as a single, backed with "Remember a Day", in the US on 19 August 1969.
The CD stereo mix of the album was first released in 1988, and in 1992 was digitally remastered and reissued as part of the Shine On box set. The remastered stereo CD was released on its own in 1994 in the UK and the US. The mono mix version of the album has never been officially released on CD.
Upon its release, Rolling Stone magazine's review was unfavourable, writing that it is "not as interesting as their first" and "rather mediocre", highlighting the near-departure of Syd Barrett as one of its detractions.
In a retrospective review for Allmusic, Richie Unterberger called the album "gentle, fairy-tale ambience", with the songs that move from "concise and vivid" to "spacy, ethereal material with lengthy instrumental passages." In a review for BBC Music, Daryl Easlea said Saucerful was "not without filler", saying "Jugband Blues" was "the most chilling" song on the album. Piero Scaruffi called the title track "one of the greatest masterpieces of psychedelic rock".
Rest in peace, Mr. Barrett and Mr. Wright. Your legacy as pioneers has been well-documented, and the both of you will never be forgotten. Interstellar Overdrive continues!
Till next time, never attempt space travel without a safety net. I'll see you on the DSOTM!