The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
John Cavanagh.

review by W. Gillespie

If the Spring 2005 Sampler from Continuum Press’s 33 1/3 series—small monographs dedicated to albums deemed worthy of scholarship (such as the boring OK Computer, the atrocious Aqualung, the vomitous [Four Symbols]/“Zoso”/Led Zeppelin IV, some Abba record, and the authentic masterpiece Electric Ladyland)—is any indication, then half of these pretentious and overwritten books about pretentious and underwritten albums will contain little information about music. I mean, if a professional writer can gush for 25 pages about a band I’ve never heard of and leave me with no interest in listening to their music, indeed no idea what the music even is, then I must conclude that the series is driven more by commercialism than criticism.

But Cavanagh’s book, at least, is an exception. Except for a few pages near the end, he dutifully follows through on his promise not to write another tragic, hyperbolic, and inconclusive book about “Mad Syd.” Instead, he dwells on the optimism of the wonderful rise to aesthetic maturity (although not virtuosity) of what would eventually become “the world’s most expensive blues band,” digesting Pink Floyd’s wonderful first record track by track, and focusing on the social context, the work in the studio, and arrangements, rather than on tiring psychoanalytic readings of the songwriter.

I am one of those who consider Piper at the Gates of Dawn to be Pink Floyd’s only album, and I find Cavanagh’s focused analysis compelling, fair, insightful, informative, and a genuine pleasure to read. And it did make me want to listen to the music again. The only problem is that now I need to find a copy of the mono mix, which he claims is superior to the stereo version. Drat.

Just in time, they have released a box set dedicated to that one album. We need to publish a Continuum book so we can afford to buy it.

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