Lime and limpid green
A second scene
A fight between the blue
You once knew.
Floating down the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground.
Jupiter and Saturn
Oberon Miranda and Titania
Stars can frighten.
Blinding signs flap flicker flicker flicker
Blam pow pow
Stairway scare Dan Dare
Lime and limpid green
The sound surrounds the icy waters under...
Lime and limpid green
The sound surrounds the icy waters
Astronomy Domine, a Gregorian chant set free from Christian context and let loose to float among the stars, sounds almost like an instrumental to my ears. The words, spoken in a tenor monotone, seem to be accents of shooting stars passing by in flight, rather than logical sentences. Astronomy Domine is the first successful launch of psychedelia into outer space. At the same time, the sound (rather than song) appears to be surrounding, as if encapsulating, icy underwater in a second scene...between the blue. The sound is in shades of green. Though different from the other songs from Piper at the Gates of Dawn that have been considered here, there is a twin and longer space exploration in another cut on the album titled Interstellar Overdrive. As Pink Floyd began to shed both Syd Barrett and the psychedelic aesthetic, it was still Barrett’s Astronomy Domine that nourished Pink Floyd’s format for albums to come. The song was given pride of place at the start of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and suggested the breadth of Barrett’s vision, like the Doors’ The End had introduced Jim Morrison’s vision to psychedelic music fans.
The song begins with a voice that sounds as if it comes over an intercom (as the Byrds had done in Lear Jet) that suggests a metallic vehicle. Ironically, though the Byrds and Pink Floyd used such a sound to suggest an aircraft, the Beatles had used the same device to suggest a submarine. Then comes beeps sounding like Morse code. The lead guitar comes with the lyric at about 45 seconds in, and uses a lot of reverb similar to the sound quality of the guitar in Lucifer Sam, though it does not follow a blues riff. To signal the break, a guitar & falsetto voice accompany each other down a descending, falling scale. The break of the song stops everything and starts again to develop into a lengthy rock improvisation on the musical theme. This break lasts 1minute and 45 seconds, which along with the long intro accounts for more than half of a song barely more than 4 minutes. The intercom voice reappears in the break, and there follows a Boom Pow lyric, similar to that found in superhero comic books, when some incomprehensible action occurs before that descending guitar and falsetto voice again deliver us back to the main theme, though its repetition is sung in a higher key. The elaborate architecture of Astronomy Domine makes it feel like a composition twice as long.
Much of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn album makes use of Richard Wright's Farfisa Compact Duo electric organ, and it is featured in Astronomy Domine. Outside of Pink Floyd, this instrument doesn’t have a very distinguished psychedelic history. To be honest, the sound of it may have been unpleasant to my ears in 1967. According to Wikipedia, I was introduced to the Farfisa through Sam the Sham & the Pharaoh’s Wooly Bully and the Swingin’ Medallions’ Double Shot of My Baby’s Love. It is even thought to have been used in In a Gadda da Vida by the Iron Butterfly, a song which is not a credit to the instrument. The Farfisa was used for better effect in some of the soul music of the 1960’s. Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman was played on a Farfisa, an influential soul song on psychedelic music.
George Starostin wrote in an Only Solitaire web page entry that Pink Floyd’s "first album obviously took Are You Experienced? [by the Jimi Hendrix Experience] as a model rather than Sgt. Pepper.” It can also be viewed as an antithesis to [Cream’s] Disraeli Gears: the two albums of Pepper and Piper symbolized the two ends of classic psychedelic music. While Sgt Pepper and Gears took the 'flower power' aspect of psychedelia and developed it into colored, rainbow forms of music, Piper took the 'mind-blowing' aspect. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is not exactly an acid album, although there certainly was a lot of acid dropped on it. Rather it takes up Hendrix's 'cosmic' line, featured in the contemporaneous Third Stone From The Sun, especially in two of their most famous early compositions - the instrumental Interstellar Overdrive, and my personal favorite on this record, Astronomy Domine."