In 1967, Syd Barrett was the feudal lord of the new bohemian world in London that spawned David Bowie and the likes. “Syd was a major inspiration for me,” Bowie declared in the wake of his death back in 2006. “He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter.”
Around this time, Bowie also started hanging out with the photographer Mick Rock who had worked extensively with Syd Barrett. “We started hanging out,” Mick once said. “And he loved hearing all my stories about Syd Barrett.” Everyone else was in the same boat as Bowie. Barrett was an alluring numen taking art in a strange new direction and artists were clamouring to cling to his coattails.
Tragically, by 1968, Barrett could no longer function in Pink Floyd. He would sometimes stand on stage without moving a muscle, just standing stock still while the others tried their best to function as a three-piece. However, the summer before that he was odd but not yet odious and he took to reviewing the singles of the summer for Melody Maker.
Below we’ve collated his reviews of no other than David Bowie, Tom Jones and a smattering of long-forgotten singles that Barrett himself even predicted would be lost to the sands of time.
Syd Barrett’s 1967 singles reviews:
‘Love You Till Tuesday’ by David Bowie
As you will soon see, Barrett has an interesting reviewing mode. Clearly, conducted in an interview-style with a Dictaphone, he keeps things short and snappy. When it comes to his take on his very own fanboy, David Bowie, it is hard to know what is genuine and what is sarcasm, but it is a peculiar take all the same.
“Yeah, it’s a joke number. Jokes are good. Everybody likes jokes, the Pink Floyd likes jokes. It’s very casual. If you play it a second time it might be even more of a joke. Jokes are great, I think that was a funny joke. I think people will like the bit about it being Monday when in fact it was. Tuesday. Very chirpy but I don’t think my toes were tapping at all,” Barrett concluded.
‘One by One’ by Blues Magoos
The Blues Magoos were an American group who hailed from The Bronx. Although time may have let them drift into obscurity, for a while they were at the forefront of the psychedelic movement. Naturally, Barrett had an interest in their music as a result.
He mused: “It’s got a message, but it didn’t really seem to branch out anywhere. It’s nice and I dug it but it won’t do anything. No idea who it was. You’re going to tell me it’s The Byrds. I really dig The Byrds, The Mothers of Invention, and The Fugs, we’ve drawn quite a bit from those groups. I don’t see any reason for this record being a big flop or a big hit, it was a nice record.”
‘The Sunday Song’ by Alex Harvey Band
Before they became The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and sported glam-inspired outfits they were simply Alex Harvey Band and the most befitting prefix would’ve been cheesecloth. Barrett’s review fluctuates wildly despite only being a few sentences long, I think he liked it though.
Barrett opined: “Nice sound, yeah, wow! Lots of drums but it avoids being cluttered. The people in the background seem to be raving a bit more than the people in front. Is it English? Maybe it’s one of those young groups like Johns Children. It moved me a little bit but I don’t think it will be a big hit. Very snappy.”
‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ by Tom Jones
The playfulness of Barrett was in full swing when the unmistakable timbre of Tom Jones was pumped out. As it happens, the song written by Lonnie Donegan and Jimmy Currie did sell a lot of records, peaking number two in the UK charts. Whether or not Barrett bought one is unknown.
As Barrett humoured himself: “I detect a Welsh influence on the strings. I believe it’s one of those numbers you should play as slow speeds, or backwards, or upside down. It’s Sandy McPherson, everyone knows who it is. It won’t be a big hit because it’s too emotional. It will sell a lot but I won’t buy one.”
‘A Little Piece of Leather’ by Gene Latter
The second Welshman to grace Barrett’s list is Gene Latter who found himself swirled up in the Northern Soul scene sadly suffered as a result owing to the fact that anonymity was almost part of the game for the genre.
Barrett placed it in the zeitgeist nicely, musing: “It’s great. That’s nice. It’s on the soul scene and I think people will go on digging the soul scene. I hope that the people who listen to us will listen to this as well. The new wave of music is all-embracing, it gets across and makes everybody feel good. I don’t think this will do well in the charts, but it will be okay for the clubs. I nearly guessed who it is, is it Gene Latter?”
‘For What It’s Worth’ by Art
These days you google ‘For What It’s Worth’ by Art and you find a slew of articles along the lines of ‘Who decides the value of art?’ but back in 1967, a band going by such an unsearchable name wasn’t as problematic.
Barrett was somewhat turned on by their take on the Buffalo Springfield classic. “Good. I don’t recognise it and I have no idea who it is, but it drives along. I like the instrumental sound. A medium hit. I suspect it to be American. I dig it,” he said.
‘Trying to Forget’ by Jim Reeves
Who could forget good old Jim Reeves? Certainly not Barrett. Released three years after the classic songsmith’s passing, ‘Trying to Forget’ is a bit more a cash-in than an unearthed classic, and once more, Barrett displays his strange take on playing tracks at different speeds.
“Very way-out record. I think I tap my foot to that one. I don’t know who it is. Well, let me think, who is dead? It must be Jim Reeves. I don’t think it will be a hit. It doesn’t matter if an artist is dead or alive about records being alive, but if you’re trendy this isn’t going to fit the bill. It’s a number that would sound better at 33.”
‘When the World is Ready’ by Vince Hill
“When the world is ready men will fight wars with the pen,” Vince Hill croons over the sound of an orchestra and a prominent sitar. It is an odd mix indeed sonically, but it is the lyrics that Barrett takes issue with.
He concise summarised the track as follows: “Fade it out. Vince Hill. I didn’t understand the lyrics at all. It is very well produced and well sung. It may be a big hit, but I shouldn’t think so because the lyrics are so unconvincing.”
‘Nothing Today’ by Barry Fantoni
The only single that Barrett outright slams is ‘Nothing Today’ by Barry Fantoni. This long-forgotten song release by Columbia is an unknown entity and perhaps Barrett put his finger on the problem from the very start.
He condemned the track stating: “Very negative. The middle jazzy bit was nice. Apart from the saxophone bit it was very morbid. I don’t know what it was all about. It seemed to be about somebody kissing somebody’s feet. I don’t want to hear it again, maybe it should be played at 78.”