new relics

When EMI’s budget label Starline released the 1971 Pink Floyd retrospective Relics the sleeve featured artwork by drummer Nick Mason. For reasons that are not clearly discernible, EMI’s American subsidiary, Capitol Records (by then infamous for meddling with releases from its European counterpart) substituted a David Coleman cover comprised of photographs of compellingly grotesque bottle openers for its release of Relics on Harvest. A later Australian reissue (which became a collector’s item when EMI Australia released it on CD before obtaining the necessary clearance from the band) utilised a third cover, a nondescript photo of ancient coins. When it was decided to remaster the early Pink Floyd catalog in the mid 1990s, a model based on Nick’s drawing was commissioned to be the centrepiece of a new cover; this beautifully redesigned sleeve and disc comprise the new, definitive version of Relics. All versions bear the subtitle “A Bizarre Collection of Antiques & Curios.” The track selection is curious, but Relics is all the more notable for the compelling way the collection fits together.

Relics is comprised of half of the Pink Floyd’s 1960s singles (the first two A-sides and the last three B-sides), 2 tracks from the 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a Richard Wright track from A Saucerful of Secrets, two selections from More and what was at the time a previously unreleased Roger Waters composition — a perhaps deliberately selective documentation of the band’s pre-Atom Heart Mother existence. Even though Relics was presented as an LP of collectors items, 4 single sides were omitted (and were not available internationally for many years):

“Candy and a Currant Bun” (the B-side to “Arnold Layne”)
“Apples and Oranges” (the A-side to “Paint Box”)
“It Would Be So Nice” (the A-side to “Julia Dream”)
“Point Me At The Sky” (the A-side to “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”)
(The B-side of “See Emily Play” was “Scarecrow,” subsequently released on Piper).

(The 1968 A-sides are included in the Shine On box; regrettably, EMI hasn’t done a followup to its limited edition The First 3 Singles EP and Relics was not expanded for this rerelease. Incidentally, the 1982 B-side “Bring The Boys Back Home” also remains commercially unavailable on compilation.)

Pink Floyd had given up on releasing singles after 1969 so there was probably some desire to preserve them on an LP, and there was likely a feeling that the later B-sides fit in more comfortably with their contemporary work than the respective A-sides. There may have been a further impetus to organise such a representation: the first three Pink Floyd LPs had been released in the United States on Tower Records, a Capitol subsidiary run by Mike Curb, who had by then moved on to MGM Records (where he became infamous for firing 18 groups who had supposedly advocated the use of drugs in their songs). The Tower imprint disappeared, and the first two Pink Floyd releases weren’t reissued in the US until 1973’s double LP A Nice Pair. (A completely intact Piper at the Gates of Dawn and a restored Saucerful of Secrets would not see release in the US until the first series of compact discs were issued.) It’s reasonable to conclude the US market provided an incidental incentive.

Relics sequences better than it should considering the chronological selections were never intended to make a cohesive whole. The transition from “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” to “Cirrus Minor” is almost seamless, as if intended to be a continuation.

Relics, track by track:

1. “Arnold Layne” (1967 A-side)

The Pink Floyd’s debut single, a slightly cynical tale of a crossdressing misfit. Unlikely subject matter for a hit single even now, probably unthinkable then.

2. “Interstellar Overdrive” (stereo, from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)

The first of two instrumentals on Relics, the end slightly faded in comparison to the original issue.

3. “See Emily Play” (1967 A-side)

One of the quintessential pop singles; a chart success not eclipsed until 1979’s “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2).”

4. “Remember A Day” (1967, from A Saucerful of Secrets)
5. “Paintbox” (1967, B-side to “Apples and Oranges,” stereo)

Two of Richard Wright’s more surrealistic vocal compositions. “Remember A Day” was completed for A Saucerful of Secrets, but its recording commenced more than a week prior to “See Emily Play,” so the theme of adult longing for the innocence of childhood coincided with Syd’s fairy tale structure.

6. “Julia Dream” (1968, B-side to “It Would Be So Nice”)

Featuring David Gilmour on guitar and vocals (with Roger Waters singing on the chorus and playing a Rickenbacker bass guitar), “Julia Dream” is an adult version of Syd’s dreamy songs, with a moodier, introspective quality in place of Barrett’s brightness and innocence.

7. “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” (1968, B-side to and continuation of “Point Me At The Sky”)

The instrumental is reminiscent of Funkadelic’s 1971 magnum opus “Maggot Brain,” countering Gilmour’s falsetto vocal with Waters’ piercing screams.

8. “Cirrus Minor” (1969, from More)
9. “The Nile Song” (1969, from More)

Two songs from the More soundtrack that show the blueprint for the Gilmour Pink Floyd ever since: “Cirrus Minor” is the dry, calmly enunciated vocal over a dreamlike background; “The Nile Song” is emphatic and hard. The latter was released as a single in Europe, New Zealand and Japan.

10. “Biding My Time” (1969)

At the time a previously unreleased Roger Waters composition, used as the “Rest” segment from the live show The Man and The Journey. An extraordinary, underrated track in which Waters plays all the trumpet parts.

11. “Bike” (1967, from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, stereo)

Relics closes exactly as The Piper at the Gates of Dawn does. (The truncated Tower version never contained “Bike,” so it was “new” to the US in 1971.)

©2000 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.