Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Various Artists—
Zabriskie Point


Released 1970 on MGM
The Seth Man, July 2000ce
Issued right before newly-hired label head Mike Curb dropped MGM’s “druggy” acts the likes of The Mothers of Invention and The Velvet Underground (oddly retaining Eric Burdon, a man who consumed his weight in psychoactive drugs at the time), the “Zabriskie Point” soundtrack feels like an mix tape put together by a Californian country/western acidhead, and not the direct result of Italian director’s Michelangelo Antonioni self-defeating perfectionism. In its initial stage, the soundtrack was to be executed in full by The Pink Floyd, selected by Antonioni for his enthusiasm with their recent B-side, “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” as well as for their previous experiences with soundtracks (“Tonight, Let’s All Make Love In London,” “The Committee,” and more recently, “More.”) But once in Rome, The Floyd were soon experiencing Antonioni’s persistent re-requests for re-takes and changes in feel, tempo or emotion, as well as breathing down their necks in the studio. This hampered progress to such an extent that the resulting two weeks’ worth of studio tapes yielded hours worth of material--but only in the form of multiple versions of the same half-dozen or so tracks. Pre-recorded material was frantically collected elsewhere: From the faded country/western nostalgia of Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz”; the 1964 acoustic instrumental “Dance of Death” by John Fahey; the post-David Lindley Kaleidoscope (“Brother Mary” and the instrumental “Mickey’s Tune”); a Youngbloods track sounding all the world like a more earnest and countrified “Time Between” by The Byrds; and the Appalachian eunuch-holler of banjo man Roscoe Holcomb’s “I Wish I Were A Single Girl Again.” The Grateful Dead are represented not only by a mere two and a half minute excerpt of “Dark Star” from “Live Dead”, but also by Jerry Garcia’s solo picking instrumental, “Love Scene.” At a tad over seven minutes, it’s the longest track on the album, and his unaccompanied and untampered-by-effects SG guitar gently ambles in and out of canyons and valleys, sometimes double-tracked but always with an understated and peaceful gait.

The remaining album is comprised of three songs by Pink Floyd that managed to pass Antonioni’s stringent aesthetic requirements: “Heart Beat, Pig Meat”, “Crumbling Land” and “Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up”. “Heart Beat, Pig Meat” begins the album as wailing and lyric-less vocals dodge the debris of Wright’s organ hide and go seek and late sixties kitsch-cliché radio/TV news, advertisements and snatches from Mantovani or some such square, classical un-gas. And through it all, Waters’ Binson Echorec-fed bass line pulses like a primitive “One Of these Days,” concocting a stupor-dupor trip out as freaky as the title. “Crumbling Land” is where Antonioni starting putting the pressure on Mason, Waters, Wright and Gilmour to issue forth something more country in feel -- done with late summer evening sun organ swells, acoustic guitar and cymbals. Mason’s huge tympani rolls resound near the end, when they begin to cross fade into overdubbed sound effects begin to form a reckless Rome street party with accordions, high spiriting yelling and cars blowing by.

“Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up” is a remake of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, and it’s far more unrestrained than the “Point Me At The Sky” flipside: during the climatic scream and subsequent rock-out build, they’re kicking it out for all it’s worth at 4:00am in their deserted Rome studio in an effort to drive out their bothersome patron. And Waters’ seldom mentioned bass playing is some of the best throttling he ever laid down on tape, and even Wright is Jon Lording it up to best of his laid-back persona. To watch it in the film superimposed over slow-motion shots of exploding consumer goods is so extreme, especially when the table of food goes up, that to watch a newly-exploded chicken carcass dance in the air a fraction of its actual speed behind this track is indescribably disgusting, but rather spellbinding to behold with a full head of smoke.

The above three tracks are not found on any other record. And the unreleased legacy of The Floyd’s fortnight in Rome has been growing ever since the release of “Omayyad,” a seventies Floyd bootleg that holds four outtakes from the “Zabriskie Point” sessions: an extended version of “Crumbling Land”, the near “Nile Song”-like roar out instrumental “Fingal’s Cave,” a slide guitar-embroidered instro “Rain In The Country” and the beautifully languid “Oenone” -- a distant sister track to The Floyd’s epic “Quicksilver” trance out from “More.”

To further add to the riches from this session is a recently reissued 2-CD set, disc two featuring four more previously-unissued Pink Floyd tracks: “Country Song”; a different take and mix of “Rain In The Country” (entitled as “Unknown Song”); the bloozy “Love Scene-Version 6” and a melancholic, solo Wright piano piece, “Love Scene-Version 4.” Then there’s the film itself: the three appearing tracks are either completely different takes or mixes (except for the recent video version, which doctors the ‘slight return’ of “Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up” with, bizarrely, a snippet of “So Young” by Roy Orbison.)

If this seems a bit much to take in, it’s even more perplexing to think this immediately preceded Pink Floyd’s first of many nonconsecutive missteps: Namely, the turgid and wristwatch glance-inducing “Atom Heart Mother.” But The Floyd’s prolific and original contributions to “Zabriskie Point,” along with too many other of their rarities/ oddities from the late sixties and early seventies is the REAL DEAL post-Barrett Pink Floyd legacy, which could combine into a ‘real’ “Relics” that could make reassessing the Pink Floyd of this time essential, as opposed to downright expensive.