#52-T - Atom Heart Mother Suite from Atom Heart Mother (1970)
5 ballots (out of 33 . . . 12.1%)
28 points (out of 825 possible points . . . 3.3%)
Top Rankers: @zamboni @Anarchy99 @jabarony @turnjose7 @Ridgeback
: 152 (First Performance
, Full Live Version
, Final Performance
: Alex Bollard
, Pink Tones
The working title for this piece changed a few times during the composing and recording process. When the first main theme was composed, David Gilmour called it "Theme From An Imaginary Western". The first working title for the six-part piece was "Epic". Later it was changed to "The Amazing Pudding." This was used as the title of an independently produced Pink Floyd fanzine which ran from the mid '80s to the early '90s. In July 1970 it was called "Atom Heart Mother". The title was decided when Ron Geesin brought Roger Waters an edition of Evening Standard and told him that he would find the song title in the newspaper. Waters saw an article about a pregnant woman with a pacemaker powered by atoms. The headline was "Nuclear Drive for Women Heart", and Waters then decided to name the song Atom Heart Mother.
The suite was broken into 6 sections: Father's Shout, Breast Milky, Mother Fore, Funky Dung, Mind Your Throats Please, and Remergence. When PF debuted the Dark Side of the Moon for the first time in concert, due to technical issues, they could not complete the DSOTM section of the performance and pivoted to the AHM suite instead. Stanley Kubrick wanted to use this track for his film A Clockwork Orange, but the band refused permission.
After the album's release, reaction varied from one extreme to another, both from the band and the public. Gilmour: "It's funny, Leonard Bernstein came to one of our American concerts and he was bored stiff by Atom Heart Mother [Suite] but he liked the rest." Mason: "Atom Heart Mother is just a piece of music — there really isn't a very strong theme; it's very sectionized and a mood runs through it — it's not the story of the Bible to music or anything!"
Gilmour: "The trouble was, we recorded the group first and put the brass and the choir on afterwards. Now I think I'd do the whole thing in one take. I feel that some of the rhythms and some of the syncopations aren't quite right." Mason: "[It was] a specific exercise... it wasn't entirely successful, but I think some people were frightened we were going to stick with a choir and orchestra... it was just something that seemed like a good idea at the time. We'd all like to do it again. We'd all like to re-record it. It wasn't entirely successful but it was extremely educational."
Years later, when they were far more focused on more traditional rock 'n' roll, both Dave and Roger would be very critical of the Suite. Dave: "It was a load of rubbish, to be honest with you. We were at a real down point. We didn't know what on earth we were doing or trying to do at that time, none of us. We were really out there. I think we were scraping the barrel a bit at that period." And Roger has stated that he wouldn't object if the piece were "thrown into the dustbin and never listened to by anyone ever again."
(out of 165 songs): 163
Ultimate Classic Rock Ranking
(out of 167 songs): 104
(out of 50 songs): 33
(out of 40 songs): NR
(out of 132 songs): 37
(out of 50 songs): NR
(163 out of 165 songs): This was the band’s fifth album. For the record, “Atom Heart Mother” doesn’t mean anything; it was taken from a newspaper headline. And the cow on the cover is a similar piece of absurdism. It’s just a cow. All that you can forgive. But this nonsense begins with faintly recorded horns as an intro into a six-part not-so-magnum opus. Are there passages that are vaguely interesting? Yes, but nothing to excuse the excessive length. These days the term “progressive rock” is generally used to denote ’70s aggregations that proffered hyper-noted assaults with lots of show-offy musicianship, abrupt stops and starts, and all other manner of awfulness. In the mid-to-late ’60s, though, the genre was pioneered by bands like the Nice (which featured Keith Emerson, later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), the Soft Machine, and Pink Floyd, who were basically just poking around with what was possible. (King Crimson came along soon, too. There was even a time Fleetwood Mac, originally a blues band, was a considered a prog-rock outfit.) But truthfully, Pink Floyd guys never had the pure musicality, not to mention the vision, to pull anything like this together. About nine minutes in, in the part that I think is called “Mother Fore,” a stentorian choir comes in. It’s possibly the band’s most Spinal Tap–y moment. And in the next section, “Funky Dung,” the band lays down some hot grooves.
(104 out of 167 songs): This might be the Floyd’s longest (continuous) musical suite, but it’s far from their best. The extra orchestration – brass, cello, choir – adds grandeur, but not style. Sure, it’s big and sweeping, but this kind of thing was better left to the Moody Blues. There’s more excitement in one of Richard Wright’s Dark Side
keyboard flourishes than in all 23-plus minutes of this bad mother.
(33 out of 50 songs): The title track to Pink Floyd’s first Number One album grew out of a chord sequence that Gilmour had written. “It sounded like The Magnificent Seven to me.” When Waters heard it he thought it had a “heroic plodding quality” that was worth pursuing. “We sat and played with it, jigged it around, added bits and took bits away, farted around with it until we got some shape to it,” Gilmour remembers.
At this point the piece was called The Amazing Pudding and the band road-tested it on their British and European dates at the beginning of 1970. They decided it would benefit from orchestral arrangements and a choir, so they brought in Ron Geesin, a classically trained musician who had worked with Waters on the Music From The Body soundtrack. The band played him the basic tape of the rhythms and chords, made a few suggestions and headed off for an American tour, leaving Geesin to it.
“It was a 25-minute piece, which was a hell of a lot of work,” says Geesin. “Nobody really knew what was wanted. And none of them could read music.” The band returned in time for the recording session. But nobody had thought to hire a conductor. Geesin volunteered for the job despite never having conducted an orchestra before. It was, he now admits, a mistake. “They were hard, uncaring types who weren’t going to tolerate anyone green or naïve.” Geesin, of course, ticked both boxes. He was put out of his misery when choirmaster John Aldiss showed up, realized what was wrong and took over.
The piece only got its proper title when it was about to be played on The John Peel Show. Waters saw the headline Atom Heart Mother in the Evening Standard above a story about a pregnant woman with an atomic pacemaker. And when designer Storm Thorgerson
’s “totally cow” cover was accepted, the band gave some of the section titles a bovine twist, like Breast Milky and Funky Dung.