I can remember at the tender age of 11 putting a very enigmatic looking LP that I’d found in my parents’ record collection on to listen to. It seemed to have a picture of an underwater nose on it for some reason I couldn’t fully fathom. Meddle was the first Pink Floyd album I ever listened to by myself.
Now I already knew of Pink Floyd, they were the band with the sound effects that always made me perk up my ears; dogs, sheep, planes, telephones ringing and my mum had played me listen to See Emily Play when we spent an afternoon going through all of her singles*, maybe that was my motivation. I remember loving just how mean ‘One of These Days’ was and liking that really long track, until it got too sinister-sounding and thinking the rest of it was a bit pants.
I rather like Meddle. You can’t go around hurling the phrase ‘forgotten gem’ at Pink Floyd LPs, but it is a bit of a one anyway. Meddle sits at a point of flux between the not-very-listenable Atom Heart Mother** and the, rather good but very-soon-to-be-ironically-obscured, Obscured By Clouds, a transitional threesome maybe before Pink Floyd all got thrown into prism.
I always play the second-side of Meddle first because I taped it the wrong way around by mistake and played it that way so many times that it just sounds all wrong if I start with Side 1^, which means it all starts with a ping. Rick Wright amplified a grand piano through a speaker and the, wonderfully named, Binson Echorec to go all sonar-tonal on us and it just starts the side-long ‘Echoes’ perfectly, its’ evocation of water is probably why that nose on the cover is underwater. I love Gilmour’s gentle guitar flights on this track, with hindsight you can see the foundations for every single one of those later Floyd glories being laid here; no ‘Echoes’ no ‘Shine on…’, no ‘Echoes’ no ‘Breathe’. The whole track is a melodic tour de force, dignified, noble-sounding and inspiring, sad of course, Floyd are always sad when they’re being great and then …
… it all goes a bit funky, a mere seven minutes in. Some great funky, organ work and guitar wailing take place over a tough strut laid down by Waters and Mason who I think never really get their dues as a rhythm section. That’s when it all starts to go VERY WEIRD and really sinister, terrifying seagull-like noises wheel around overhead against a backdrop of nightmarish ambient textures, I remember feeling trapped when I first heard this track, it always summons up a vision of a body at the bottom of a cliff to me. And then …
… around the quarter-hour mark, the band take mercy upon us, resurrecting the beginning of the track – Ping Floyd, if you will. This time though they inject a real sense of urgency, more great work by Nick Mason here and we’re off and flying again, the first of many such flights in their canon. When the vocals crest the horizon we are safe again, the band play us out gently setting us back on our feet again by the close, before zooming off again. Easy.
What I think is really admirable about ‘Echoes’, along with the sheer joyous invention of it all and the fact that you can hear the band they were to become hatching out, is that for a song timed at 23:32 it isn’t a second too long – no mean feat.
Next up is one of my very favourite Floyd songs, then and now, ‘One Of These Days’. I just love how incredibly mean Floyd sound here and the opening where double-tracked basses played by Gilmour and Waters emerge out of, yet more sinister wind sounds is supreme. Nick Mason’s vocal is my fave Floyd lyric ever, of course:
One of these days
I’m going to cut you into little pieces!
If particularly vexed I here myself saying that to people in my mind’s ear, strange accent and all^^. I used to put it on teenage rock mixtapes for all my friends, none of whom could believe it was Pink Floyd. I remember one drunken outdoor party when I was 18, someone who I’d introduced to it playing it over and over and over again, whilst I was lying on my back staring at the stars and watching the flickering shapes of the fire. Happy memories.
That’s where my plays of Meddle usually ended, the other tracks were a bit too soft for my tastes back then. Even when I bought my copy back in 1999, I don’t think I’d bothered with the other tracks more than once. Oops.
Okay so ‘Pillow of Winds’ is très wussy, but rather restful too. For once the winds that stalk Meddle are benign, ruffling fields of corn prettily on a sunny day. The lyrics are particularly anodyne by Floyd standards but overall it has a lovely sound and feel to it, Gilmour plays some gorgeous, gentle country-tinged guitar figures here and there – pre-figuring some of his later solo work. Next track ‘Fearless’ is one of the reasons why Pink Floyd in general and Roger Waters in particular are so reverenced in my adopted city of Liverpool, the song ends with a field recording of Liverpool football fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on the terraces which is also cleverly teased throughout the track. The tune is great too, built around a really interesting Eastern-tinged ascending riff, sounding like a mellow Zeppelin number. I really like it and it sounds like nothing else the band ever tried again.
So far so I’ve-been-wrong-all-these-years but … I have very little time for the easy listening stroll of ‘San Tropez’, although Rick Wright’s piano part is a bit of a joy it fails to save the whole thing – should have been a B-side. As for ‘Seamus’, I’m torn between loving the bluesy music and thinking very uncharitable thoughts about a dumb animal, a very dumb, very noisy one by the sounds of it! Two to skip, methinks, but at least these tracks marked the death throes of the novelty side of their English whimsy, it never suited them.
I’ve written far more than I meant to about Meddle and I still haven’t explained the post title. Well, Hipgnosis founder, Storm Thorgerson wanted to use a picture of a baboon’s anus as the LP cover for Meddle, but the band told him on a phone call from Japan that they would rather have a picture of an ear underwater. Pah! Some bands just ain’t got no class. Just think how much greater this LP could have been.
PS. For a total geek out here’s the live version of ‘Echoes’ (from Pompeii) with a video of 2001: A Space Odyssey:
*’Rubbish’ was my verdict then and now.
**and I say that as someone who has never, ever listened to it – so it must be true. For some reason my folks never owned it and I’ve never bothered with it, which of course doesn’t stop me holding self-righteous opinions about it.
^see also: Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker.