Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett is best known as the founder and original guitarist and vocalist of Pink Floyd. He appeared on their first two albums but was forced out of the band due to problems with drugs and deteriorating mental health. Despite these struggles, Syd Barrett went on to release two solo albums of original work, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Both albums were released in 1970. Neither album was particularly commercially successful but in the following years they became cult classics. Unfortunately Barrett’s struggles with mental illness caused him to leave the music industry entirely by the mid seventies.
Syd lived out the rest of his life in seclusion, rarely agreeing to see anyone or to speak to the press. Since then his solo work has gone on to influence other famous musicians such as The Damned, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M. and Soundgarden. Barrett’s solo work was especially influential on late 80’s and early 90’s alternative and grunge bands. This article will focus on Syd Barrett’s solo career post-Pink Floyd.
10. It’s No Good Trying
This upbeat folk rock song appears on Syd Barrett’s first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. “Its No Good Trying” was released by Harvest Records in 1970. “It’s No Good Trying” features a mix of acoustic folk and electric slide guitar. “Its No Good Trying” took only a couple of takes to record. Syd’s slide guitar was played backwards to give it a more psychedelic feel. After going through multiple producers Syd’s old bandmate Roger Waters and Pink Floyd’s replacement singer and guitarist David Gilmour were brought in to finish the album.
Kicking off Barrett’s first album, The Madcap Laughs “Terrapin” is a folk and blues influenced love song. “Terrapin” has a catchy chorus and mellow tempo. “Terrapin” features sparse instrumentation with Barrett accompanying himself on acoustic and slide guitar only. The lyrics and title of “Terrapin” invoke aquatic imagery like fish and sea turtles. Barrett’s whispery, whimsical vocals give “Terrapin” an almost otherworldly feel to it.
8. Baby Lemonade
The first track on his final release, 1970’s Barrett. “Baby Lemonade” starts off with a slide guitar solo expertly executed by Syd. Barrett was simply warming up but producer David Gilmour managed to record it for the intro to “Baby Lemonade” There was little animosity between Barrett and his former Pink Floyd bandmates and they played a large role in the production and music of Syd’s solo work. “Baby Lemonade” features Syd on guitar and vocals, David Gilmour on the organ, bass and twelve string guitar and Pink Floyd organ player Richard Wright on piano, hammond organ and production. Barrett’s friend Jerry Shirley of the hard rock band Humble Pie played drums on “Baby Lemonade.”
7. Late Night
The final track on The Madcap Laughs. “Late Night” was produced by Peter Jenner and Malcolm Jones, both of whom quit before finishing the album due to Syd’s erratic behaviour. “Late Night” was one of Barrett’s earliest recorded solo tracks. The lyrics of “Late Night” feature themes of absence which often appear throughout Barrett’s solo work such as the line “Inside me I feel/Alone and unreal” giving a rare glimpse into Syd’s mental condition as he felt it. “Late Night” closes the album with a slow, tender and melancholy sound.
This unusual psychedelic folk rock song was released in 1970 on Syd’s second album, the eponymous Barrett. “Wolfpack” has surreal lyrics about a wild pack of wolves with lines such as “electricity eyes” and “magnesium proverbs.” The instrumentation on “Wolfpack” mixes folk rock and psychedelia. “Wolfpack” focuses on Syd’s vocals and the complex interplay between the acoustic rhythm guitar and Barrett’s trademark idiosyncratic electric slide guitar.
Released in 1970 as the first single from Barrett’s first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. “Octopus” uses a folk rock style mix of instruments. The acoustic and electric slide guitar is especially prominent on “Octopus.”Syd sings in a completely different style in the second verse than in the first verse and chorus, making it sound as though “Octopus” had two singers rather than one.
The surreal lyrics talk about merrily tripping, mad cats laughing, an octopus shaped ride at the fair and the peace of being in the forest. “Octopus” was one of Barrett’s most successful singles, reaching number forty on the UK charts and selling 20,000 copies in a few weeks. “Octopus” was Barrett’s only single as a solo artist. “Octopus” features production by former Pink Floyd bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour as well as Syd himself. Gilmour plays drums and bass on “Octopus” while Syd himself plays acoustic and electric guitar.
4. No Man’s Land
This highly underrated track is from The Madcap Laughs. “No Man’s Land” features Syd on vocals and guitar, Jerry Shirley of Humble Pie on drums and Willie Wilson, David Gilmour’s old bandmate from Joker’s Wild on bass. “No Man’s Land” makes heavy use of distortion and noise in this track. “No Man’s Land” has a hard rocking, dirty sound that predated the punk movement by seven years. First wave Punk band The Damned tried unsuccessfully to get Barrett to produce their second album. The end portion of “No Man’s Land” features a long noise rock jam with Barrett speaking seemingly random words over distorted electric guitar such as “heavily spaced.”
Though it was recorded and produced by Malcolm Jones in 1968 “Opel” didn’t make it on to either of Syd Barrett’s studio albums and wasn’t released until the 1988 compilation album, also called Opel. “Opel” is a minimalist folk style song with only Barrett playing chords on acoustic guitar and singing. “Opel” has dark, mysterious lyrics about misty beaches with black sand. Barrett’s guitar playing is very textural and his low voiced, near monotone vocal delivery add to the overall mysterious, otherworldly atmosphere of “Opel.”
This somewhat jazzy psychedelic rock tune came out on Syd’s second release, 1970’s Barrett. “Dominoes” has catchy, surreal lyrics about playing dominoes and wasting time. “Dominoes” focuses on Syd’s guitar playing and Richard Wright’s organ. The slide guitar solo in “Dominoes” shows off some of the best guitar work of Barrett’s entire musical career. The solo was recorded and played backwards for even more of a disorienting, psychedelic effect. “Dominoes” was produced by Roger Waters and David Gilmour.
1. Dark Globe
This melancholy song was originally released on The Madcap Laughs. “Dark Globe” is a folk song with dark and very personal lyrics. Barrett sings about eskimo chains that tatter his brain, likely referencing his struggles with mental illness. The chorus of “Dark Globe” is “wouldn’t you miss me at all?” Which could be interpreted as a reference to Barrett’s short career with Pink Floyd or as an oddly prescient prediction of his own eventual seclusion from society. “Dark Globe” is one of Barrett’s most personal songs and one of the saddest, showing the theme of absence often present in his work. “Dark Globe” has been covered by major bands such as R.E.M. and Soundgarden.