Definitely one of the most original and haunting rock songs ever produced, Pink Floyd‘s “Astronomy Domine” is the stunning opening track from the group’s first full-length record, 1967′s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Every time I hear it, it makes me think that this is what space “sounds” like. Or how it sounds to an acid-soaked experimental rocker.
Written by founding member and original band leader Syd Barrett, the lyrics to “Astronomy Domine” are as mysterious and obtuse as the music.
That weird internal rhyme scheme: “Lime and limpid green, a second scene/A fight between the blue you once knew.”
What does it mean? Who knows, but it certainly paints a picture. Hell, you don’t need to be on acid to see things when you’re listening to this song; just close your eyes.
Sure, you can peg this pretty easily as late 60s British psychedelia, but there’s something about this song that’s just plain strange: An intermittent beeping sound, an echo-filled Fender guitar fading in and out, a muffled voice in the background mumbling something about stars or constellations, loud bursts of feedback, a Farfisa organ, a numbingly repetitive Rickenbacker bass line, jumpy drum fills, and a two hypnotic voices that sounds as if they are close to flatlining.
It’s not your typical, blues-based rock n’ roll.
In a wider sense, part of it is the chord progression: E, E-flat, G, A. WTF?
Altogether, the end result, despite all its weirdness, ends up being a pretty catchy little pop tune. This was Barrett’s gift. It was short-lived of course (he was kicked out in 1968 after just four years, recorded two troubled solo albums and became a recluse), but man oh man, did his creativity produce some singularly incredible material. This song proves it. Nothing recorded before or since sounds like “Astronomy Domine.”
The song embedded above is the studio version with Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright singing that I’ve written about above, but the video is the band miming that version with David Gilmour lip-syncing Barrett’s vocals. A live version of the song with Barrett from 1967 is right here.
The Great Songs Series so far: