I stared at a cow for 23 minutes...
Atom Heart Mother, how Pink Floyd brings you to space...
I stared at a cow for 23 minutes, I'm not gone mental, I just listened to Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother suite on YouTube. That cow on the album's cover, it's called Lullubelle III and it's probably the most famous cow in history. Lullubelle III is a Holstein Friesian cow photographed by Storm Thorgerson, from Hipgnosis art collective. I wonder if she had any idea that soon she would have become so popular, being displayed on every record store since 1970... But why there's a cow on a prog rock album? I mean, without sounding disrespectful to Lullubelle, who is a pretty nice cow, it's definitely an unusual choice...
When you hear the name Pink Floyd, your first thought usually goes to psychedelia, complexity and overall good music to get stoned with. Atom Heart Mother is the fifth studio album released by the band, after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) More (1969) and Ummagumma (1969). These are early Pink Floyd, sort of distant from the sound of more famous songs like "The Wall" or "Wish you were here", at the time, they were already labelled with the psychedelia tag, and what could be less psychedelic than a normal cow, doing normal cow things, in a normal field? Unexpected right? That cover, showing just a cow, without anything else, grabbed more attention on the shelves...
Leaving cows aside for a moment (sorry Lullubelle) let's talk about the album itself. Atom Heart Mother has been released in 1970, as every album of the band, the amount of instruments, tape recorded sounds, and complexity is impressive, like the ability of David Gilmour, (Various guitars and vocals) Roger Waters (Bass guitar, classic guitar and vocals) Richard Wright (Hammond Organ, Mellotron, piano, Farfisa organ and vocals) and Nick Mason (Tape effects, percussion and drums).
The album is composed by five tracks, that have been recorded in London, in Abbey Road's studios, for a total of 52.06 minutes of good quality music, starting with the Atom Heart Mother suite, that takes the whole A side of the LP, a 23 minutes or so of pure bliss.
The suite is made of six segments, I. "Father Shout" (2.50 Minutes) II. "Breast Milky" (2.33 minutes) III. "Mother Fore" (4.50 minutes) IV. "Funky Dung" (5.15 minutes) V. "Mind Your Throats Please" (2.28 minutes) VI. "Remergence" (5.48 minutes) that creates a crescendo of sound that literally brings you in outer space, also thanks to the amazing vocals of the John Alldis Choir and a full brass and cellos orchestra.
There are no proper lyrics, except for a couple of spelled lines from Mason, "There is an Important announcement" and "Silence in the studio!". All the work is done by the vocals and instrumental parts, in a psychedelic opera that mixes different styles, like the sort of march of "Father Shout" that reach is top in a triumphant end which leads to the struggling sounds of the cellos of "Breast Milky" . Then the interstellar epicity melts on the deep and mystic sound of "Mother Fore" , until "Funky Dung" , that really brings you to space, a sort of, quoting Bladerunner "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."
The feeling is even more accentuated in" Mind Your Throats Please", sharp and almost disturbing, like laser-beams passing through your ears. "Remergence" sounds like the calm after the storm, the rising up, the conclusion of an heroic space battle. I swear I'm not high while writing this, and it's amazing how music can recall so many fantastic scenarios using only its power.
This is definitely not "fast food" music, but something you listen thoroughly, keeping this symphony only in the background seems almost a sacrilege. And it's in this way that it works the best, letting the sound carry you away and sink in its magnificence.
The other tracks of the album sound a little disjointed from the A side, "If", "Summer `68" and "Fat Old Sun" have a more acoustic tune, there's more melancholy than epicity, and the last song, "Alan's psychedelic Breakfast", it's... Well psychedelic, with many amazing tape effects but far from the greatness of the initial Suite.
Fun fact #1
The suite initially was supposed to be called "The Amazing Pudding" the name Atom Heart Mother was inspired by a newspaper headline about a woman been fitted with a nuclear powered pacemaker.
Fun fact #2
Despite the recording of the various tracks that compose the suite, and the many part overdubbed, the Bass guitar track and drums were recorded in a single continuous session, meaning that either Roger Waters and Nick Mason had to play their instruments for the whole 23 minutes length of the track.
Fun fact #3
Waters and Gilmour stated that the Atom Heart Mother album is a load of rubbish. They will never perform it live again apparently neither for a million pounds.
Fun fact #4
Someone recorded a bootleg called The Dark Side of The Moo, with the same cover of Atom Heart Mother and B-sides and rare tracks from the band.
Fun fact #5
Stanley Kubrick wanted to use the Atom Heart Mother suite in his movie A Clockwork Orange, but the band denied the permission.
We're not given to know what happened next to Lullubelle, if she's become a burger, cat food or if she had a sweet and serene death, we only know that her wise cowly glance and her dappled arse accompanied many generations of people while listening to this great album.