Don’t let the Holstein dairy cows on the cover fool you. Even if you’re lactose intolerant, Pink Floyd’s 1970 album, Atom Heart Mother, is easy to digest, especially when you’re coming around the final lap for “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.” The title-track opus is a sprawling, 23-minute vamp. Accompanied by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the John Alldis Choir, the ambitious instrumental, incorporating orchestral elements, is driven by David Gilmour’s emotive guitar work, Roger Waters’ commanding bass lines, Richard Wright’s ethereal keyboards, Nick Mason’s syncopated drumming. Defying easy categorization, it was a departure from the band’s earlier, more psychedelic aesthetic and a shift towards a more mature and sophisticated musical direction.
Reassembled as a special double-disc package in a nifty seven-inch sleeve, the 2023 reissue of Atom Heart Mother features the original album remastered on CD and a Blu-ray disc with a 16-minute film from the Hakone Aphrodite Festival in Japan, August 6th And 7th, 1971. The audio track of “Atom Heart Mother” on the Blu-ray is from the same gig, though the performance clips don’t quite match up with the soundtrack.
It’s an intriguing clip, despite plenty of other, more cohesive, and complete live performance clips of “Atom Heart Mother” available — all of which stray from the theme. The extra goodies that come in the Special Edition set — photo books, cards, a poster — are squarely built around Floyd’s time in Japan. The Hakone Aphrodite Festival footage does look better than the version on The Early Years boxset, plus there’s a short mini documentary on the Blu-ray that focuses on the band’s roadies. Nothing too controversial there, aside from manhandling gear and driving through rain.
Turning back to Atom Heart Mother, let’s not forget the other songs and how they resonate with some of Floyd’s earliest forays into introspective lyricism over intricate musical arrangements. “If” features a delicate acoustic guitar and vocal performance by Waters, while “Summer ’68” highlights one of Wright’s strongest moments with a melodic, feel-good arc, horns, piano and a confident vocal. There may not be a better representation of why Wright’s place in Pink Floyd was vital to the creative spirit and output of the group at the time.
Gilmour’s beatific “Fat Old Sun” equally ranks with “Fearless” and “Wish You Were Here” when it comes to the guitarist’s gift for handling melodies with grace before applying the finishing histrionics. It became a live showcase, working its way into early 70s Floyd shows, as well as popping up on Gilmour’s setlists during solo shows and tours as recently as 2016. To finish it all off is “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” a surreal jam lined with a pastoral feel, kitchen noises and snippets of dialogue. In effect, the idea centers on the eggs, bacon, and toast equation for a good 13 minutes.
A lot of Floyd fanatics speculate that Atom Heart Mother was indeed a grand leap for the band in creating their stylish avant-garde tone and larger-than-life vision that would later result in The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall. It became the band’s first chart topper in the UK, and went Gold in the States. If you have The Early Years box, you can experience an early quad mix that will set your world spinning. The Special Edition might have benefitted from including it on the Blu-ray. Still, the remastered stereo mix, a little historical footage, and a few curios with the seven-inch recreation of the famous Hipgnosis cover is enough to make any fan on your list (yourself included) go “moo-moo” with delight.
~ Shawn Perry