The Madcap Laughs  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Madcap Laughs is Syd Barrett's first solo album after being replaced in Pink Floyd by his old school friend David Gilmour. The title of the album comes from a line in the song Octopus. After leaving the group, Barrett began recording sessions with former Pink Floyd-turned-Syd Barrett manager Peter Jenner in May 1968. Although the sessions were brief, and they produced some fine material, the project was abandoned for almost a year while Barrett spent much of the year as a recluse.

In April 1969, Malcolm Jones took over the project and Barrett began working on newer material, while reworking the 1968 recordings. Session musicians, namely, members of The Soft Machine, as well as Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley were also called in to augment Barrett's songs. It is still a mystery why Jones abandoned production responsibilities, at the end of May, so soon after having assumed them. Jones' recollections of the sessions are that he and Barrett got on well together and had in fact completed half of the album before the new producers took over. Roger Waters and David Gilmour were in the process of completing Pink Floyd's ambitious Ummagumma album when they got involved with The Madcap Laughs that July and helped Barrett finish his album, "in a two-day sprint" according to Rick Sanders author of Pink Floyd (Futura Publications, 1976).

The album featured a rather unorthodox recording process, in which Syd would provide a backing track of his own singing accompanied by acoustic guitar, over which the session musicians would overdub the rest of the arrangement. However, Syd's playing and singing were highly erratic and unpredictable—he skipped or added beats and bars seemingly at random, or otherwise he would strum on a single chord for a long time before unexpectedly reverting back to the main portion of the song. This was all much to the frustration of the session musicians; a close listen to several tracks [in particular "No Good Trying" and "Love You"] will reveal the backing band hovering uncertainly here, or being caught off-guard by a chord change there (during an interview, Robert Wyatt recounted that musicians would ask "What key is that in, Syd?" and Barrett would reply "Yeah", or "That's funny"). Syd would not allow the musicians to rehearse or re-record their overdubs, insisting that they sounded fine. After several months of intermittent recording, the album was finally deemed complete.

"Octopus" was released as a single in November 1969 and the album itself followed in January 1970. It reached #40 in the UK at the time and was fairly well-reviewed.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Madcap Laughs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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