With the release of Echoes in 2001, one would think that all previous Pink Floyd compilations would be instantly fated for the Op Shop. But there is one such collection for which I still have a fondness for, and that is Relics. Now why that is so I cannot easily say. Maybe it has something to do with the song selection or, as I suspect, the strange album cover (there have been a few different covers by the way). When released back in 1971 this was the first time some of the Syd Barrett era singles, along with their assorted b-sides were available on long player, hence its ‘essential’ status amongst fans. But there is also another reason to own this album, and that is for the inclusion of Roger Waters’ “Biding My Time”, which to my knowledge can’t be found on any other release (not that it’s one of those “must hear before you die” numbers, but for any completest, and those who haven’t much of a life, it’s an important consideration to make).
Included are two of Barrett’s finest, and most accessible compositions (by his standards), “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”. Both can be heard on the 40th Anniversary edition of The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, an album which I have previously written about. Syd was such an eccentric writer. Neither song should really work, as far as pop tunes are concerned, yet somehow they do, and to be honest, I have no idea as to why. Yet they are a joy to be sure, and a part of Floyd’s legacy which cannot be ignored. Two tracks from Piper… appear, the instrumental psychedelic freak-out “Interstellar Overdrive”, and “Bike”, a childish, Edward Lear inspired piece of English nonsense. The Richard Wright penned “Paintbox” was originally the b-side to “Apples and Oranges”, which can also be found on the deluxe edition of Piper. It’s not a great song by any stretch, but it does contain some of the basic elements Floyd would revisit and recycle in their later years, as hard as that might be to discern at this early stage of their career. “Remember a Day” was originally off their second LP, 1968’s “A Saucerful of Secrets”, and is another Wright tune, concerned with memories of childhood (a popular theme amongst English groups throughout the 60s). At the time it was recorded, Barrett was beginning to drop off the band’s radar; however he did manage to contribute some slide guitar, making it one of those all-important compositions to own by anyone fanatical enough about the late singer-songwriter. “Julia Dream” is another harmless rarity, and one I don’t mind. It has a supple, ambient quality to it, and for some reason reminds me of Elizabethan England. “Careful with that Axe Eugene” is another b-side rescued from obscurity, and an intriguing one at that. Although the band would issue a superior live version on 1969’s double LP Ummagumma (yes, I’ve often thought the title was pretty dumb), this recording is still worth listening to, and a nice little slice of space-rock. “Cirrus Minor” originates from the movie soundtrack More, an album many later fans have probably never heard of. The song is dominated by Hammond organ (there are no drums at all), along with various bird noises, and is full of dreamy pastoral textures. So what exactly is it doing on here? Don’t even ask. “The Nile Song” is also from More, and one I’m not all that big on. In my mind, hard rock was never really Pink Floyd’s forte, and comes across as a bit of a shock to the senses after the rather bucolic pleasantries of the last number. The previously unreleased “Biding My Time” is a bluesy, jazzy, mostly instrumental piece. The brass arrangement fits the song well, while Dave Gilmour plays a heavy extended guitar solo that is quite out of character for him, though is probably about the best thing here.
The album ends with “Bike”, another wacky, utterly unconventional Barrett composition, with lyrics that seem like they could have been written by my seven-year old cousin (“I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like/It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and/Things to make it look good”). Maybe that was the intention (Syd loved his children’s books after all). Actually the whole thing is pretty mad, with all manner of weird and wonderful sounds, including bells, clocks, gongs, and other noises which I’m unable to identify. At least the decision was made to give Barrett the final word, something also done on Echoes.
This is an album no Pink Floyd obsessive can be without. Sure, most of what’s on here can be found on other releases, but there are just enough rarities and curios to draw most Floyd fans out of the shadows to get some sunlight on their way to the record store. (But just beware; nothing on Relics bears even a passing resemblance to anything on Dark Side of the Moon, or any of their post 1972 output.) Most of these tunes work surprisingly well together, and you should be able to pick up the remastered version (with new artwork) for the price of a pint of Guinness, which is probably less than what you’d pay for a Mariah Carey album.