Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 57: The Solo Works of Syd Barrett (2023)

The 57th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in November of 2023. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (usually one full-length album and one 7” single) to its members every three months.

The 57th Vault package featured a 3-LP set containing all three of the solo albums of Syd Barrett, the original founding lead singer and guitarist of Pink Floyd, as well as a 7-inch single containing live renditions of two of Barrett's songs by Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. The three 180-gram colored vinyl LP's were packaged in a slipcase with cover art by Greg Ruth.

Syd Barrett was born as Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge, England in 1946. Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason. Barrett was the singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter on the British progressive rock band's 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, as well as the band's non-album singles ("See Emily Play", "Arnold Layne", "Apples and Oranges") from the same year. The psychedelic whimsy of Barrett's original vision was apparently inspired, at least in part, by heavy usage of LSD. Before long, Barrett suffered a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. He then became unable to fulfill his duties in the band. They brought in David Gilmour as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett, and Barrett was soon ousted from Pink Floyd in 1968. Barrett was often regarded as an "acid casualty" of the 1960's, but those who knew Syd best believed that he would have suffered his mental breakdown with or without his drug abuse.

Barrett's first two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, were both released in the U.K. in 1970. Their first American release came in 1974, when they were packaged together as a 2-LP set (Harvest SABB-11314). They were later individually released on CD and cassette in the States in 1990.

The vinyl Madcap Laughs LP in this Vault package is pressed in "golden hair" colored vinyl. The album's title and cover art might cause the listener to expect a freak show. However, most of the 1970 solo debut by the Floyd co-founder does not come across that way at all. The psychedelic elements of the album are very understated compared to the usual sounds of Pink Floyd, before and after Barrett's departure. Syd's likably whimsical compositions are certainly eccentric, but no more so than the works of many other British progressive rockers from the period. His singing is usually gentle, if nervous, and he mostly played acoustic guitar on this album (with some additional low-volume instrumentation added by the 1969 Soft Machine trio of Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt, and Hugh Hopper). Many of the lyrics are innocent declarations of love. However, there is often a hint of sadness; when Syd sings the words "you're different from me" during "No Good Trying", it sounds as though he is acknowledging his abnormal mental state. Despite Barrett's expected quirkiness, much of The Madcap Laughs sounds quite professional. Stories abound about how difficult the album was to make because of Syd's mental condition, but that usually doesn't show much in the finished product. Six of the songs (most of them on Side One) were produced by Malcolm Jones, who was the manager of Harvest Records, the album's original U.K. distributor. Under Jones' guidance, the album could almost be mistaken for solo John Lennon. But Jones did not produce the entire album. Five of the tracks were produced by Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters; those tracks tend to have a comparatively raw and flawed quality, and his former bandmates did less to rein in Barrett's disorders. One unsettling moment: Syd's singing on the second-to-last-track, "If It's In You", is particularly erratic and disconcerting. Surprisingly, the album's most highbrow moment is co-produced by Barrett with Gilmour: "Golden Hair" sets the James Joyce poem "Lean Out Of The Window" to vague music.

The self-titled Barrett, released in Europe later in 1970, was Syd's second and final proper solo album. The Vault LP is pressed in "baby lemonade" colored vinyl. This album was produced by David Gilmour and Richard Wright -- although, oddly enough, this Third Man reissue credits only Gilmour with the production. Gilmour and Wright also respectively played bass and keyboards, and most of the drums were played by Jerry Shirley of Humble Pie, giving this album more of a full-band sound than its predecessor. Barrett played most of the guitars (although the opening intro of "Baby Lemonade" was Gilmour's work), and Barrett again wrote all of the songs. Barrett's former Floyd-mates apparently aimed to make his creations more presentable and consistent, and they often succeeded. Generally possessing more brightness and progressive rock refinement than the previous record, Barrett found Syd singing a few more strangely innocent love songs ("Love Song", "Waving My Arms In The Air"), and sometimes suggesting the quiet life away from the world that he seemingly craved ("Dominoes" and "Wined And Dined" are both given an appropriately dreamy quality by Wright's keyboards). Some of the best tracks -- i.e. "Baby Lemonade", "It Is Obvious", "Effervescing Elephant" -- recall the early songs that Pink Floyd recorded with Barrett, albeit with the psychedelia toned down. A few other tracks, like "Gigolo Aunt" and "Wolfpack", give a hint of what Floyd's full-bodied band efforts may have sounded like if a capable Syd had still been with them in 1970. Of course, no one had any right to expect total consistency from this album. The messy "Rats" sounds every bit like the overdubbed demo that it is, and the lazy "Maisie" is a bizarre blues mumble. Still, Barrett is an often brilliant album from an enigmatic musical legend whose recorded works are too few.

After 1970, Barrett began to leave the music world behind. In 1972, he briefly fronted a band called Stars, featuring ex-Pink Fairies drummer Twink, who played a few gigs in small venues in Syd's hometown of Cambridge before splitting up. One more attempt was made to record a Barrett solo album in 1974, when his manager Peter Jenner persuaded him to attend three sessions at Abbey Road Studios, but those ill-fated sessions failed to produce new material due to Barrett's increasingly withdrawn mental state. Barrett lived a reclusive life from that point forward, refusing to even acknowledge his musical past, until his death in 2006 at age 60. During that period of permanent musical inactivity, Barrett acquired a cult following, particularly in alternative music circles. In 1988, two more recordings by Barrett were finally released: the five-song Peel Sessions EP (Strange Fruit SFPS043) recorded in 1970, and the full-length album Opel, which consisted of 14 tracks recorded between 1968 and 1970.

The Opel LP in this Third Man Vault package is pressed in "Milky Way Opel" colored vinyl. This album contains alternate takes and other previously unreleased tracks from Syd's solo period. Opel opens impressively with the title track, an epic Madcap Laughs-era recording that achieves artistic grandeur with minimal instrumentation. There are remarkable alternate versions of three Madcap tracks. "Clowns And Jugglers", a Malcolm Jones-produced version of "Octopus", has a more distant and trippy sound. "Wouldn't You Miss Me" is a less intense take on "Dark Globe". The alternate take of "Golden Hair" sounds purely acoustic, without the finished version's electric organ additions; although the Madcap version is the better one, the Opel version is almost its equal. The album also contains the original 2-track demo versions of two songs from Barrett: the "Wined And Dined" demo is not as good as the finished version on Barrett, but it does stand alone well as an acoustic ballad; the "Rats" demo is preferable to the overdubbed version on Barrett, showing a more natural Madcap-like directness. And there are five solo acoustic tracks from the Barrett sessions which have no other released versions. Three of them -- "Milky Way", "Dolly Rocker" and "Birdie Hop" -- are quintessential Syd tunes, while "Word Song" is a bit too freeform, and "Let's Split" is basically a recorded mistake. The earliest recordings, from May of 1968, find Syd still steeped in the psychedelia of his work with Floyd. "Swan Lee" is something of a psych-country hybrid; the even trippier "Lanky (Part One)" is a Floyd-like instrumental jam. (There was a "Lanky Part Two" recorded, but the album's liner notes tell us it "runs for over seven minutes and consists of two drum tracks only"). Opel is a more-than-welcome addition to Barrett's too-short oeuvre. Although it served as Syd's swan song, it is ironically as good a place as any to begin discovering his work.

The 7-inch single features two live tracks by David Gilmour performing a pair of Barrett solo songs, the original versions of which he was the co-producer. Gilmour's performance of "Dark Globe" on the A-side was recorded during the summer of 2006, shortly after Barrett died at age 60 from pancreatic cancer. It's poignant to hear the Floyd guitarist sing and acoustically play this song solo in tribute to his departed friend and visionary. It's a faithful rendition, although Gilmour's personality is clearly more lucid than Syd's was, and his musicianship more refined. The B-side contains Gilmour's cover of Syd's "Dominoes", recorded a few years earlier at a January 2002 concert at London's Royal Festival Hall. The mood is not so somber for this one, as Gilmour and his backing band give the song an appropriately gentle treatment. It's a good cover, with a touch of jazz-fusion flavor, and is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to a live Syd Barrett performance of the song.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these discs. Side B of the Gilmour single has the words “ crazy diamond” carved in the dead wax. The triple-LP has the following messages etched in the runout grooves: “there's a little man”, “in a little house”, “with a little pet dog”, “and a little pet mouse”, “I know where he lives”, and “and I visit him”. One amusing misprint: the back cover of The Madcap Laughs LP jacket lists both sides of the record as "Side One". And a not-so-amusing misprint: the late Richard Wright's name was removed from the production credits of the Barrett album. Can anyone explain the reason for that?

Syd Barrett "The Solo Works of Syd Barrett" (Third Man Records) 2023

The Madcap Laughs (Third Man/Legacy TMR-944)

Track Listing:

1. Terrapin *
2. No Good Trying *
3. Love You *
4. No Man's Land *
5. Dark Globe **
6. Here I Go *
7. Octopus ***
8. Golden Hair ***
9. Long Gone **
10. She Took A Long Cold Look **
11. Feel **
12. If It's In You **
13. Late Night *

* -- produced by Malcolm Jones
** -- produced by David Gilmour & Roger Waters
*** -- produced by Syd Barrett & David Gilmour

Barrett (Third Man/Legacy TMR-945)

Track Listing:

1. Baby Lemonade
2. Love Song
3. Dominoes
4. It Is Obvious
5. Rats
6. Maisie
7. Gigolo Aunt
8. Waving My Arms In The Air
9. I Never Lied To You
10. Wined And Dined
11. Wolfpack
12. Effervescing Elephant

Opel (Third Man/Legacy TMR-946)

Track Listing:

1. Opel * -- Recorded 4/11/69 (Take 9)
2. Clowns & Jugglers *** -- Initial session 7/20/68. Overdubs recorded 5/3/69.
3. Rats ¹ -- Original 2-track demo version. Recorded 6/5/70. This version, with overdubs, used on Barrett
4. Golden Hair ² (Remake, Take 6) -- Recorded 6/12/69 (Take 6). Take 11 was used on The Madcap Laughs
5. Dolly Rocker ¹ -- Recorded 7/14/70, during Barrett sessions. This take was the only one made.
6. Word Song ¹ -- Recorded 7/17/70, during Barrett sessions. This take was the only one made.
7. Wined And Dined ¹ -- Original 2-track demo version. Recorded 6/5/70.
8. Swan Lee (Silas Lang) *** -- Initial session 5/28/68 (Take 5). Overdubs added 6/8/68. Final session 4/25/69.
9. Birdie Hop ¹ -- Original 2-track demo version. Recorded 6/5/70.
10. Let's Split ¹ -- Recorded 7/14/70, during Barrett sessions. This take was the only one made.
11. Lanky (Part One) ** -- Recorded 5/14/68. First and only take.
12. Wouldn't You Miss Me (Dark Globe) ³ -- Recorded 7/26/69 (Take 1)
13. Milky Way ¹ -- Recorded 6/7/70 (Take 5)
14. Golden Hair (Take 1) ** -- instrumental recorded 5/14/68

* -- produced by Malcolm Jones
** -- produced by Peter Jenner
*** -- produced by Peter Jenner and Malcolm Jones
¹ -- produced by David Gilmour
² -- produced by Syd Barrett and David Gilmour
³ -- produced by David Gilmour and Roger Waters

David Gilmour "Dark Globe" (b/w "Dominoes") (Third Man/Legacy single TMR-949) 2023

a. Dark Globe (Live from Europe, Summer 2006)
b. Dominoes (Live From The Royal Festival Hall, January 2002)

Reviews of other Third Man Records Vault releases

See also "Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett" (1987)