When Pink Floyd first came together as a band in 1965, its founding members were Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright. David Gilmour was also in the picture as he was Barrett’s schoolmate but had yet to commit to this new group full-time. It wouldn’t be until Barrett’s departure in 1967 would Gilmour step up and become more involved. Up until that big change took place, Barrett was Pink Floyd’s lead vocalist. There are at least ten top songs sung by Barrett that come to mind while he served as the group’s frontman.
Born on January 6, 1946, as Roger Barrett, the singer-songwriter fans know as Syd first grew up in Cambridge, England, before he and his four siblings were moved to Hills Road. While growing up, he had a passion for drawing, music, and writing. He also had a childhood friend named Roger Waters. When he was a guitar-picking teenager, he adopted the stage name Syd “the Beat” Barrett.
Just shy of turning sixteen years old, Barrett was devastated when his father passed away from cancer. His mother encouraged him to further engage in his musical interests as a means to cope with the loss. In 1962, he enrolled as a student at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology. It would be here he’d meet David Gilmour as a fellow student. At the time, these two were heavily influenced by the music from the Beatles that they began to perform in gigs, covering their material. It wasn’t long after this that Barrett began to write his own songs. After watching Bob Dylan perform in 1964, an inspired Barrett took up painting in college. This, combined with the direction of his music style that would bring Pink Floyd together as a band, dictated the start of his career path for Barrett.
Barrett’s Pink Floyd
When Pink Floyd officially became a band in 1965, the frontman at the time was Syd Barrett. It was he who began the band’s musical direction with a whimsical psychedelic wave that included special sound effects to enhance the group’s musical sounds. Not only was Barrett the lead vocalist but also performed as a guitarist. The signature sounds that made Pink Floyd stand out compared to every other musical artist at the time originated with Barrett’s playing style.
The London Underground movement of psychedelic music had Pink Floyd as the most popular act going into 1966. Because of this success, the group recruited the management team of Peter Jenner and Andrew King in an effort to bring their career as a band to a higher level. Together, they formed Blackhill Enterprises a company designed to handle the band’s business affairs.
While with Pink Floyd’s lineup, Barrett sang as lead vocalist for its first two studio albums. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was recorded and released in 1967, followed by 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets. The first of these two albums intended to include a new recording of “Arnold Layne” but the one they performed while with Joe Boyd and The UFO Club was released as a single, months before they had the chance.
After this, however, Syd Barrett’s battle with substance abuse and mental illness was sending him on a self-destructive path that gave his bandmates cause to remove him from the lineup. What they saw in Barrett was heartbreaking. Before their eyes, he went from behaving like a social butterfly to an erratic entity that seemed alien to them. It was learned during this process his dependency on psychedelic drugs was leading Barrett down a path of self-destruction. Between his disappearances, memory loss, and other awkward behavior, the members of Pink Floyd had to think about their future as a rock band. Some of Barrett’s actions put the band in really uncomfortable situations that included live concert performances and television appearances. Pink Floyd had no choice but to cut ties with Syd Barrett in order to survive in the unforgiving world of the music business. In the meantime, as Barrett struggled with his personal demons, David Gilmour became more involved with the hope that his friend and former schoolmate would at least be able to stay on as a nontouring member of the band. However, this simply wasn’t in the cards, and Barrett’s time with Pink Floyd was officially over.
Now on his own, Syd Barrett briefly embarked on a solo career as a recording artist. “Octopus” was a song he released in 1969 before his two albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett were released in 1970. Although he was no longer part of Pink Floyd’s lineup, his former bandmates assisted him in the production process of his solo work. Fans will recall Barrett’s solo work included material he originally wrote as Pink Floyd’s primary contributor.
From 1972 onward, Syd Barrett opted for a quieter lifestyle that kept him out of the public spotlight. Between health issues and the need for a calmer environment around him, Barrett focused on gardening and painting for the rest of his days. On July 7, 2006, he passed away at sixty years old after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. In the meantime, he and his fellow Pink Floyd bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, then into the UK Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Although Syd Barrett’s public appearances as a musician ended in 1972, the influence the man has as a legendary rock god still continues. When Barrett was unable to continue with Pink Floyd, this had a profound effect on Roger Waters. Fans of the band are aware that much of the musical material throughout the 1970s from Pink Floyd had the biography of Syd Barrett written all over it.
Top 10 Syd Barrett Pink Floyd Songs
#10 – Bike
The earliest years of Pink Floyd had Syd Barrett and his bandmates experiment with drugs that would lead them into practicing Sikh as a spiritual practice. It was at this time, “Bike” was written by Barrett as a song that would appear on the group’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. For Barrett, when he was the only bandmate rejected from joining a Sikh group led by Storm Thorgerson, this played a key role in what fueled Barrett’s mental instability. He was deemed too young to join the Sikh’s Sant Mat sect at the time and it was a rejection he never seemed to get over while he part of Pink Floyd’s lineup. In the vision shared by “Bike,” there was a homeless mouse, a group of gingerbread men, and a bicycle. This was a trippy song that was released in 1967 as one of the tracks belonging to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
#9 – Apples and Oranges
From the album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, “Apples and Oranges” was the third single to be released by Pink Floyd. Performed by Syd Barrett as the group’s lead vocalist, it failed to make an impression on the music charts and was deemed a commercial failure. As a love song, Barrett shared a lighthearted tale about a woman he met at the supermarket. One of Barrett’s most appealing was his ability to take an otherwise ordinary event and turn it into a song. This was a whimsical nature that served him well. Sid Barrett’s Pink Floyd enjoyed a simpler run as a psychedelic rock band that didn’t focus so much on political and social issues at the time. They were once upon a time enjoying the moment and making some really good music while doing it.
#8 – Candy and a Currant Bun
“Candy and a Currant Bun” was a song that made references to drugs and casual sex. It was released on the same record as “Arnold Layne” by Pink Floyd in 1967. Syd Barrett was the lead singer at the time who wrote the lyrics to this song. This, along with “Arnold Layne” was a controversial tune at the time. As a songwriter, Barrett had a whimsical approach to music that was regarded as a creative genius by his fellow bandmates. It often contrasted the politically engineered material Roger Waters came up with after Barrett left Pink Floyd’s lineup. “Candy and a Currant Bun,” despite its mature theme, became an early fan favorite during an era when the band was still perfecting the psychedelic sound they became world famous for.
#7 – Flaming
1967’s “Flaming” was one of the songs belonging to Pink Floyd’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This was a whimsical song first performed live in 1966 by lead singer Syd Barrett. It was a flighty song that was loaded with childlike fantasies. This was a staple favorite played by Pink Floyd in concert until 1968. By this time, Barrett was no longer in the lineup as he became too unstable to continue. Stepping in was David Gilmour, who sang this in his stead until the end of the year.
#6 – Vegetable Man
Originally, “Vegetable Man” was supposed to appear on the album, A Saucerful of Secrets. It was also supposed to be released on the same record that featured “Scream Thy Last Scream.” However, both of these songs were replaced with “Apples and Oranges” and “Paint Box” instead. On a live BBC radio broadcast in 1967, Pink Floyd performed “Vegetable Man” with Syd Barrett as the lead vocalist. As a recording, “Vegetable Man” had to wait until 2016’s release of The Early Years 1964-1972 Box Set. Written by Barrett, this song humorously described himself while sitting in Peter Jenner’s home. Jenner was one of Pink Floyd’s band managers at the time. The song also took a little stab at the music industry, perhaps one of the reasons why “Vegetable Man” was kept out of Pink Floyd’s second studio album when it was ready for release in 1968.
#5 – Astronomy Domine
“Astronomy Domine” was the opening track belonging to Pink Floyd’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This sci-fi-themed song featured the musical instruments behaving like falling stars while Syd Barrett’s spaced-out vocals turned this song into one of the most popular fan favorites. Even long after Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd, they continued playing this as it became a staple for them. For Barrett, this became one of his solo signature numbers. Even David Gilmour had this played in his solo concerts. For a truly trippy experience that allows the mind to wander as if on a spiritual journey, “Astronomy Domine” would be it.
#4 – The Scarecrow
The theme behind “The Scarecrow” is what technically began Pink Floyd’s venture into psychedelic rock music that would define the group’s career for years to come. Syd Barrett’s vision of “The Scarecrow” came across as a sad entity that had to come to terms with his own fate. In many ways, this song served as Barrett’s biography. It was one of the gems featured on Pink Floyd’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Before appearing on the album, it was released as a non-album single on the same record that featured “See Emily Play.”
#3 – Arnold Layne
As a single, “Arnold Layne” was originally recorded while Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd was doing business with a certain UFO Club promoter named Joe Boyd. It was Boyd who suggested the group produce an improved recording of the song, which they did for their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. However, the Boyd-recorded version was released before the album was. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number twenty. The fact it was able to do this despite a ban on this song by Radio London was no small feat. The song, “Arnold Layne” was based on a real person whose lifestyle included stealing women’s clothing and wearing them as a transvestite.
#2 – Jugband Blues
Released in 1968 with the album, A Saucerful of Secrets, “Jugband Blues” was a song written and sung by Syd Barrett. This was the only song from him that appeared on this particular album. His time with Pink Floyd was officially over as the state of his mind at that time was not in the right place. There was the intent to release “Jugband Blues” as a single but the band members felt it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so. Loaded with humorous cynicism, “Jughead Blues” was a song that had Barrett make fun of himself and those closest to him. It also suggested he was aware of his own predicament as someone dealing with schizophrenia that was headed for a nervous breakdown.
#1 – See Emily Play
On the UK Singles Chart in 1967, “See Emily Play” peaked as high as number six. It also became a number ten hit on the Irish Singles Chart and a number twenty-five hit in Germany. Sung by Syd Barrett, this Pink Floyd classic became Barrett’s signature song. The inspiration for this song came to Barrett after seeing a girl named Emily Young while he was in a drug-induced dream state. This was the same schoolgirl whose reputation was psychedelic by nature, at least according to Barrett. The legacy of “See Emily Play” includes its place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Its influence inspired upcoming artists such as David Bowie and Grapes of Wrath.
Top 10 Syd Barrett Pink Floyd Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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