Song of the Day: “Atom Heart Mother”

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Today in music history, Pink Floyd released their fifth studio album, “Atom Heart Mother”, their first UK No. 1 album.

So far this week, we’ve mainly been focusing on more contemporary songs and new releases. On Monday, we looked at The New Pornographers’ “The Surprise Knock” from their new album, “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”. And yesterday, we listened to Tegan and Sara’s “Hey, I’m Just Like You”, from their new album of the same name. But just like we did last week, we’ll be pivoting to classic oldies to accommodate for a significant date.

The significant date that draws us back to the past today was October 2, 1970, when “Atom Heart Mother” was first released in the UK. The album was released in the U.S. some eight days later.

Just like yesterday, our song today is the title track to the album it appeared on. Unlike yesterday, this particular title track is over twenty minutes long, and took up the whole first side of the LP on its original release. But before we get too far into it, let’s first take a quick look at the album itself.

Atom Heart Mother (the album)

While “Atom Heart Mother” wasn’t Pink Floyd’s strongest album, it was a necessary stepping stone for them to move on to the work that would solidify their place in rock history. Nowadays, it’s known more as an obscure album – a misstep before the more coherent “Meddle”. But despite that, “Atom Heart Mother” actually did pretty well on its initial release, going No. 1 in the UK, and later being certified gold in the U.S..

Atom Heart Mother (the song)

“Atom Heart Mother”, which takes up the entire first half of the album, is one of Pink Floyd’s attempt at the instrumental epics they would later perfect on later albums like “Wish You Were Here”, and “Animals”. As it is, “Atom Heart Mother” feels a bit disconnected. Actually, more than a bit.

The track is split up into six consecutive parts, each individually named. Rather than go over them broadly, we’re going to tackle each in turn.

I. “Father’s Shout”

This first section lasts only two minutes and fifty seconds. In it, we’re introduced to an interesting element that continues throughout the song. That is, the orchestral instrumentation. For the first half of this section, we hear nothing but rumbling and then blaring brass, before it stumbles into the main musical theme that runs through the song.

II. “Breasty Milky”

The transitions into a softer section begins here, with strings, keyboard and guitar all coming in for a spacey sound, which then transitions into a familiar Gilmour-esque solo. In moments like these, you can see the beginnings of their later works taking shape.

III. “Mother Fore” 

This section just about marks the halfway point of the song, and is twice as long as the previous two segments. Here, we get a choral arrangement that sounds inspired by Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores. The chorus goes on for quite a while before building into a final, drum-filled climax.

IV. “Funky Dung”

This one has a similar length to “Mother Fore”, but now we’re back to the Gilmour solo accompanied by the rest of the band. This is the first segment of “Atom Heart Mother” that actually sounds like what you think of when you think of Pink Floyd. Unfortunately, later it’s ruined by the choral voices coming back to sing nonsense words.

V. “Mind Your Throats Please”

This is the obligatory weird and off-putting experimental section of the song. You may hear traces of inspiration for Pink Floyd’s later “Echoes” in its high pitched notes, echoes, and squealing. In “Echoes”, this technique at least fits the concept. Here, it just feels out of place and weird for weirdness’ sake.

VI. “Remergence”

The final section brings back the wild orchestral pieces, that remain chaotic until finally coalescing in the main theme heard in the first section. Then, a violin solo takes center stage for some time before passing the mic to Gilmour again to take over the outro. While this final solo succeeds in being more epic and distorted than the others, something about it feels a little out of place.

Final Thoughts

“Atom Heart Mother” sounds like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western directed by David Lynch. My main problem with it is that the orchestral section feels very out of sync with the band’s instrumentation. It feels like there are a lot of ideas going into this epic instrumental, but not enough focus to really refine what was there.

That about does it for our discussion today. If you want to listen to “Atom Heart Mother”, feel free to do so in the video above. But you’ve been warned. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song for you.

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