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Music / The Madcap Laughs

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"I'm only a person with Eskimo chain/I tattooed my brain all the way/Won't you miss me?/Wouldn't you miss me at all?"

The Madcap Laughs is the debut studio album by Syd Barrett, released on Harvest Records in 1970. Recording commenced immediately after Barrett's departure from Pink Floyd in 1968, lasting for well over a year. Apart from Barrett, the album went through four different producers: Peter Jenner (Barrett's manager) for the 1968 sessions, Harvest label head Malcolm Jones for the early-to-mid 1969 sessions and former band-mates Roger Waters and David Gilmour for the mid-1969 sessions. Gilmour also played bass, guitar and (on "Octopus") drums.

The Troubled Production behind the album was colourful enough that an entire book has been written about it: "The Making Of The Madcap Laughs" (2003) by Malcolm Jones. Barrett's mental problems were so bad that he had to persuaded at times to work on his own album. His musicians would ask him questions to which he gave little to no helpful responses. As a result the recordings crept on for over a year. Barrett also didn't allow the musicians to rehearse or re-record their overdubs, which explains why a lot of tracks sound improvised, full of amateurish mistakes and moments where Barrett is out of tune. But there is an overall charm to the innocent fantasies he describes in his lyrics and the absence of too much Executive Meddling gives the music actually a genuine authenticity and spontaneity lacking in many other Psychedelic Rock recordings of the time.


Still, upon release, this album was a modest commercial success, enough for a second solo album (Barrett) to be recorded and released. Critically it was relatively well-received, and like Barrett has a strong cult following. It is seen as one of the earliest Outsider Music albums.


Side One

  1. "Terrapin" (5:04)
  2. "No Good Trying" (3:26)
  3. "Love You" (2:30)
  4. "No Man's Land" (3:03)
  5. "Dark Globe" (2:02)
  6. "Here I Go" (3:11)

Side Two

  1. "Octopus" (3:47)
  2. "Golden Hair" (1:59)
  3. "Long Gone" (2:50)
  4. "She Took A Long Cold Look" (1:55)
  5. "Feel" (2:17)
  6. "If It's In You" (2:26)
  7. "Late Night" (3:10)


Bonus Tracks (1993 Reissue):

  1. "Octopus (Take 1 & 2)"
  2. "It's No Good Trying (Take 5)"
  3. "Love You (Take 1)"
  4. "Love You (Take 3)"
  5. "She Took A Long Cold Look At Me (Take 4)"
  6. "Golden Hair (Take 5)"

No Man's Tropes:

  • Album Title Drop: "Octopus"
    "Well, the madcap laughed at the man on the border"
  • Cover Version: "Golden Hair", a poem by James Joyce.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover was shot by famed rock photographer Mick Rock and designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell (Hipgnosis). Barrett painted the floor of his bedroom in orange and purple, specifically for the album cover. The inside gatefold is apparently a simulation of an LSD trip.
  • Epic Rocking: "Terrapin" is just over five minutes long.
  • Face on the Cover: Barrett seen sitting on the floor of his apartment. He is seen in the far distance, with his hair covering his eyes.
  • Hidden Eyes: Barrett on the cover.
  • Improv: "Terrapin", "Dark Globe", "Long Gone" and "Feel" were recorded in one take.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "If It's In You":
    Yes I'm Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnking
  • Love Triangle: "Here I Go". The song tells the story in which the narrator's girlfriend leaves him because "a big band is far better" than himself. He attempts to win her back by writing her a song, but when he goes to her house to show it to her, he instead finds himself falling in love with her sister.
  • Miniscule Rocking: Most songs are only two to three minutes long, except for "Terrapin" (5:04) and "Octopus" (3:47). "She Took A Long Cold Look" is even Cut Short at the 1:55 mark.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The naked woman on the back cover was an acquaintance of Barrett, nicknamed "Iggy the Eskimo".
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Terrapin", although the title does fit the song's mood of underwater fantasy.
  • One-Word Title: "Terrapin", "Octopus" and "Feel".
  • Outsider Music: Irwin Chusid calls this one of the earliest albums in the genre. And it's understandable why. Barrett's lyrics are bizarre and he is sometimes heard stumbling over his lines or playing. During songs like "Dark Globe" he even sings out of tune. In "She Took A Long Cold Look" we can him hear pausing for a brief moment to turn pages from his lyric sheets.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: "Late Night":
    When I woke up today
    And you weren't there to play
    Then I wanted to be with you
    When you showed me your eyes
    Whispered love at the skies
    Then I wanted to stay with you
    Inside me I feel alone and unreal...
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Golden Hair" is based on a poem by James Joyce.
    • "Octopus" quotes some lines from Henry Newbolt's poem "Rilloby-Rill".
    • "Dark Globe" was covered by R.E.M. and appeared as a B-side to "Orange Crush".
    • "Late Night" was covered by This Mortal Coil on their album Blood.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: The engineers and musicians had a tough time trying to make something out of what Barrett gave to them. In the end it was decided to keep everything according to his wishes, no matter what mistakes he made during recording.
  • Silly Love Songs: "Terrapin", among others.
    The sunlight's good for us
    'Cause we're the fishes and all we do
    The move about is all we do
    Well, oh, baby, my hair's on end about you...
  • Special Guest: Willie Wilson from David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)'s old band Jokers Wild and Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine) contribute to the album.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Barrett starts mumbling during the performance of "No Man's Land".
  • Stop and Go: During the opening track Barrett is heard saying "O.K.", whereupon the music briefly interrupts, then goes again.
  • Studio Chatter:
    • Near the end of "She Took A Long Cold Look" Barrett mumbles: "That's short". The studio engineer then says "Take One". Halfway through "If It's In You" he suddenly interrupts and says he wants to start over again. After some responses from the studio he starts over, but sings even more out of tune than before.
    • The producers speaking to Barrett are David Gilmour and Roger Waters, with the latter saying "Syd, what about tuning your guitar down?"
    • It's not just "If It's In You". Nearly all the tracks produced by Waters and Gilmour features studio chatter, which they lazily left in. Malcolm Jones was horrified when he heard it.
  • Ur-Example: The album might be one of the earliest examples of "Lo-fi" in terms of production.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Barrett's lyrics tend to be quite surreal.


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