Monday, April 25, 2011

David Bowie & David Gilmour: Arnold Layne

I got thinking about early Pink Floyd this weekend because I stumbled upon a comedic video on YouTube that satirized the late Syd Barrett – the originator and genius behind the band. Due to increasing mental problems which were exasperated by the use of hallucinogens, Barrett’s actions became radically unpredictable. He would participate in weird behavior during concerts and at times not even show up for the show.

While not officially fired by the band, they elected to not pick him up for a gig and he was phased out of Pink Floyd being replaced by his friend David Gilmour. Previously, Gilmour had substituted for the missing Barrett on a number of occasions and finally became the band’s official fifth member prior to Barrett's departure. Pink Floyd was in the midst of recording their second LP, “A Saucerful of Secrets” and a handful of singles when Barrett was relieved of his responsibilities with the band.

Although recorded in the same sessions that produced their debut LP, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” “Arnold Layne” did not show on a Pink Floyd album until the release of the compilation “Relics” in 1971. As the band’s initial single, it failed to chart in the US, but gained some momentum in the UK and The Netherlands where it charted at #20 and #30 respectively.

In 2006, David Gilmour began reprising “Arnold Layne” during his tour that year. Two live recordings of the song were captured from the Royal Albert Hall performances. One featured Gilmour on vocals and was released as a single. Gilmour’s version did slightly better than the original as it charted at #19 in the UK.

A second version featured David Bowie on vocals and is our Monday Cover tune today. Bowie previously covered Pink Floyd’s second single, “See Emily Play” in 1973 for the album “Pin Ups.” This LP featured Bowie recording covers of music by The Pretty Things, Them, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Easybeats, The McCoys, and Pink Floyd.

While Bowie did a good job on “See Emily Play,” I like his rendition of “Arnold Layne” much better. David Gilmour joins on harmony vocals. If the keyboard parts sound strangely familiar, it is the late Richard Wright who as a member of Pink Floyd played on the single.

The Original by Pink Floyd

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