Atom Heart Mother (suite)
"Atom Heart Mother" is a six-part suite by the progressive rock band Pink Floyd, composed by all members of the band and Ron Geesin. It appeared on the Atom Heart Mother album in 1970, taking up the first side of the original vinyl record. At 23:38, it is Pink Floyd's longest uncut piece (the later "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", though longer, was split between two sides of Wish You Were Here). Pink Floyd performed it live between 1970 and 1972, occasionally with a brass section and choir in 1970–71.
|"Atom Heart Mother"|
|Song by Pink Floyd|
|from the album Atom Heart Mother|
|Studio||Abbey Road, London|
Recording and composition
Recording began with the drum and bass parts, recorded in one take for the entire suite, resulting in an inconsistent tempo throughout the song. Roger Waters and Nick Mason had to play for twenty-three minutes straight.
The song was the last Pink Floyd composition that was credited as being co-written by someone outside the band prior to 1979 (not counting Clare Torry's contribution to "The Great Gig in the Sky", for which she has been retroactively given credit due to a settlement with Pink Floyd).
Attempted film use
Stanley Kubrick wanted to use this track for his film A Clockwork Orange; however, the band refused permission. Kubrick did, however, include the album cover in the film. It can be seen on a shelf in the music shop scene. Years later, Kubrick refused Roger Waters permission to use audio samples from his film 2001: A Space Odyssey on Waters' solo album Amused to Death.
The band were initially enthusiastic about performing the suite. An early performance was taped for the San Francisco television station KQED, featuring just the band, on 28 April 1970. Two major performances were at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music on 27 June and the "Blackhills Garden Party" in Hyde Park, London on 18 July. On both occasions the band were accompanied by the John Alldis Choir and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. Later, the band took a full brass section and choir on tour just for the purpose of performing this piece. However, this caused the tour to lose money, and the band found problems with the hired musicians, which changed from gig to gig as they simply took who was available, which, combined with lack of rehearsal and problems miking up the whole ensemble, made a full live performance more problematic. Reflecting on this, Gilmour said "some of the brass players have been really hopeless". According to Mason, the band arrived at one gig in Aachen, Germany, only to discover they had left the sheet music behind, forcing tour manager Tony Howard to go back to London and get it.
A later arrangement without brass or choir, and pared down from 25 minutes to fifteen by omitting the "collage" sections and closing reprise of the main theme, remained in their live repertoire into 1972. The first live performance of The Dark Side of the Moon suite in Brighton was abandoned partway through; after a break, the band played Atom Heart Mother instead. Pink Floyd's last live performance of the suite took place on 22 May 1972 at the Olympisch Stadion, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The number was performed live without the involvement of any members of Pink Floyd for the first time in 36 years on 14 and 15 June 2008 by The Canticum Choir, with the Royal College of Music on brass, Caroline Dale on cello, Ron Geesin on piano, Andrea Beghi on drums, Nadir Morelli on bass, Federico Maremmi on guitar and Emanuele Borgi on the Hammond organ. David Gilmour joined the gig on the second night at Cadogan Hall playing his black Stratocaster for most of the track and lap steel guitar for the slide parts. It had been previously performed by a number of ensembles including the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris (CNSMDP) in March 2003 and the Seamus Band on 14 October 2005. Nick Masons Saucerful of Secrets have performed a version of the track on their 2018 European tour.
Father's Shout (0:00–2:50) (Gilmour, Geesin)
Opening with a low Hammond organ note, a brass section swoops in, creating a suspenseful note to it, similar to 1960's murder mystery/suspense films. The band then enters with the brass continuing, before the music calms down. Being reprised several times, this part may be seen as the main theme of the piece. This section, as well as the next two sections, are in the key of E minor.
Breast Milky (2:50–5:23) (Wright, Geesin, Mason, Gilmour)
After this, a cello solo begins, accompanied by bass guitar and organ, with drums joining later. This is followed by a double-tracked slide guitar solo. The choir soon joins in at the end of this section.
Mother Fore (5:23–10:13) (Gilmour, Wright, Geesin, Waters)
Picking up directly after the last note of the guitar solo, the organ (with quiet bass and drums) takes over for a five-minute ostinato sequence, playing chords based on E-minor, gradually joined by soprano voices and then a choir. The voices swell in a dramatic crescendo, before finally dying down.
Funky Dung (10:13–15:28) (Wright, Waters, Gilmour)
Introduced by a key change from E minor to G minor, this section features a simple band jam session. It contains a second, much bluesier guitar solo. With the introduction of a sustained note on a Farfisa organ, and grand piano, this section changes into a chanting section by the choir. The song then changes key back to E minor, slowly building to a reprise of the main theme from "Father's Shout".
Mind Your Throats Please (15:28–17:56) (Wright, Gilmour, Mason, Waters)
The "noise" piece in the song, divided in two parts:
Part one (15:28–16:42) is composed mainly of electronic noises. Furthermore, it is the only section on this album to feature the Mellotron; Wright uses the "3 Violins" and "Flute" registration in order to create the dissonant chord clusters throughout this sound collage. A distorted voice says "Here is a loud announcement!" about 10 seconds before the next part starts. This section ends with a sound effect from the EMI archive of a steam train passing.
Part two (16:42–17:56) uses various instruments fading in and out, many of which are recognizable from earlier in the suite, and also features a Leslie speaker used on a piano, an effect that is used again in "Echoes". The same brass part that opens the song is heard over this section, culminating with Nick Mason's distorted voice shouting, "Silence in the studio!" before exploding into the next section.
Remergence (17:56–23:44) (Gilmour, Geesin, Wright)
This part begins with a reprise of the Father's Shout main theme, which then quietens into an abridged reprise of the Breast Milky cello solo, followed by a double layered guitar section reminiscent of the first slide solo. This all leads into a climactic final reprise of the Father's Shout theme with the entire brass section and choir, ending with a very long resolve to E major from the choir and brass.
Alternative section divisions
Vinyl and most CD editions of the album do not split the suite into physical tracks, and the matching of titles to sections as shown above is not universally accepted. One of the CD editions on EMI has different track divisions as shown below, but this has not been proven to be officially sanctioned, and other divisions have been proposed as well.
- Father's Shout (00:00–05:20)
- Breast Milky (5:21–10:09)
- Mother Fore (10:10–15:26)
- Funky Dung (15:27–17:44)
- Mind Your Throats Please (17:45–19:49)
- Remergence (19:49–23:39)
The working title for this piece changed a few times during the composing and recording process. When the first main theme was composed, David Gilmour called it "Theme from an Imaginary Western". The first working title for the six-part piece was "Epic", written in Ron Geesin's handwriting at the top of his original score. The work was introduced at the 27–28 June 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music as "The Amazing Pudding".
In July 1970 Ron Geesin pointed Roger Waters to the 16 July 1970 edition of the Evening Standard and told him that he would find the song title in the newspaper. Waters saw an article about a pregnant woman who had been fitted with a heart pacemaker. The headline was "Atom Heart Mother Named".
An edited version of this song was considered for the album Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd, but did not make the final track listing. Several live recordings and early versions of the track appear in the box set, The Early Years 1965–1972 in audio and video formats.
While the band themselves have expressed negative opinions of the album in recent memory, others, like Irving Tan of Sputnik Music enjoyed the track. Tan has described the suite as "an incredibly focused and well-written piece of lounge music – despite the band's claims to the contrary".
- David Gilmour – electric guitars, slide guitar; vocals on most live performances
- Roger Waters – bass guitar, tape edits
- Richard Wright – Hammond M-100 spinet organ, Farfisa Compact Duo organ, Mellotron, grand piano, Leslie piano; vocals on most live performances
- Nick Mason – drums, percussion, distorted voice, tape edits
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