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Interstellar Overdrive

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"Interstellar Overdrive"
Interstellar Overdrive (Arnold Layne EP - B-side).jpg
B-side label of the French Arnold Layne EP, featuring an edit of "Interstellar Overdrive"
Instrumental by Pink Floyd
from the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Published Magdalene Music/Essex Music
Released 5 August 1967 (1967-08-05)
Recorded March–April 1967
Length 9:41
Producer(s) Norman Smith

"Interstellar Overdrive" is an instrumental composition written and performed by Pink Floyd. The song was written in 1966, and is listed on their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released in 1967, clocking in at almost ten minutes in length.[5][6]

The song originated when guitarist Syd Barrett heard the band's manager Peter Jenner humming a song, which Barrett tried to interpret by playing it on his guitar. Musically sharing the same theme with "Astronomy Domine", the piece was recorded in several takes between March and April 1967. An earlier, longer recording of the song can be heard on the soundtrack to the film Tonite Lets All Make Love in London, which was recorded at Sound Technique Studios in early 1967, and was released in the same year. Other versions of the track appear on various bootleg recordings. The piece has been covered by acts such as T. Rex, Pearl Jam, Hawkwind, the Melvins, and Simon House.

Composition and music

"Interstellar Overdrive" was one of the very first psychedelic instrumental improvisations recorded by a rock band.[3] It was seen as Pink Floyd's first foray into space rock[3] (along with "Astronomy Domine"), although band members would later disparage this term. "Interstellar Overdrive" originated when early Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner was trying to hum a song he could not remember the name of (most commonly identified as Love's cover of "My Little Red Book").[6][7][8] Guitarist and vocalist Syd Barrett followed Jenner's humming with his guitar and used it as the basis for the principal melody of "Interstellar Overdrive". Bassist Roger Waters once told Barrett that the song's riff reminded him of the theme tune from Steptoe and Son (by Ron Grainer).[3] Around the time the song was written, Barrett was also inspired by AMM and their guitarist Keith Rowe, who had a pattern of moving pieces of metal along his guitar's fretboard.[9] The free-form section (and also, "Pow R. Toc H.") was inspired by Frank Zappa's free-form freak-outs and The Byrds' "Eight Miles High".[7]

"Interstellar Overdrive" shares an emphasis on chromaticism with "Astronomy Domine". The main theme descends chromatically from B to G, before resolving to E, all chords major.[10] The opening hook of the piece is a distorted, descending guitar riff, played by Barrett, its composer, with Waters on bass and Richard Wright on organ.[2] Nick Mason's drums then kick in, and after the riff repeats itself a bit, the track turns into improvisation, including modal improvisations, flourishes on the Farfisa organ, and quiet interludes.[11] The song gradually becomes almost structureless and in free-form tempo, punctuated only by strange guitar noises.[2] Eventually, however, the entire band restates the main theme, which is repeated with decreasing tempo and more deliberate intensity.[11] Waters once called the song "an abstract piece".[12] A bass riff in the song later evolved into another Pink Floyd song, "Let There Be More Light", which was written by Waters.[9][13][14]


The stereo version of the song has an organ moving from speaker to speaker; the effect is lost on the mono version of the song, where it simply gains an extra organ and guitar sound.[3] However, the organ is very prominent during the first 50 seconds of the mono version—along with some special effects—but inaudible in the stereo mix until the improvised section. Five takes of the song were originally recorded on 27 February 1967,[15][16] with a sixth later recorded on 16 March 1967, in an attempt to create a shorter version,[17] with overdubs in June of that year, the Piper version also appears on the official compilation albums Relics[nb 1][nb 2] and A Nice Pair.[nb 3][nb 4][6] Despite Smith trying to bring the rest of the album's tracks from a jam-long length to something more manageable,[22][23] Smith relented for "Interstellar Overdrive", as Jenner recalled: "It was definitely the deal that—hey, here you can do 'Interstellar Overdrive', you can do what you like, you can do your weird shit. So 'Interstellar Overdrive' was the weird shit . . . and again, hats off to Norman for letting them do that."[24] A delay effect was created by producer Norman Smith by superimposing a second version of the song over a previous version.[3] Smith played the drum roll on the song.[25] After the drum roll, the opening riff is played with severe stereo panning.

Alternative versions and live performances

The studio recording on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the one that most listeners are familiar with, yet several other versions survive from both the recording studio and the stage. It was first recorded as a demo on 31 October 1966,[6][26] recorded live-in-studio at Thompson Private Recording Company.[27] This version was used as the audio sound to the film San Francisco, which was made by a friend of Barrett's, Anthony Stern.[28] While filmmaker Peter Whitehead and his secondhand Stern were having a discussion, the topic about Pink Floyd was brought about by Stern, to which Whitehead told him, "yeah, terrible music".[29] Stern said that "they're successful now", and suggest the pair go watch Pink Floyd, at their gig at the Royal College of Art.[29] Whitehead recalled that they "went to UFO and I liked them. Not connected to pop music, a long improvisatory quality, ideal for what I wanted."[29] Whitehead convinced Pink Floyd to record "Interstellar Overdrive" for a film he was working on.[30] Before turning up at the recording studio, the band held a rehearsal,[30] and the next day, 11 January 1967,[6][31][32] went to Sound Techniques studios.[31][32] The studio, which was originally a dairy factory, was run by engineers Geoff Frost and John Wood.[30]

For the session, which was booked for two hours, Wood and Joe Boyd operated the mixing desk, while Whitehead and Stern were filming.[30] This recording of the song lasted nearly 16-minutes in length,[31][32] recorded onto a 4-track recorder[33] in one take, as the band didn't want to have to play through the song again.[30] The band then played another original instrumental, titled "Nick's Boogie".[30] While 5 seconds of the band playing[30] was included in Whitehead's Tonite Lets All Make Love in London film, edits of the recording was included on the film's respective soundtrack.[6][31][32] The soundtrack (released in 1968)[nb 5] includes an edited version of the song and two reprises of it.[32] The full version is available on the album London '66–'67.[nb 6][31][32] While attempting to get the band a record deal, Boyd returned with the group to Sound Techniques studios.[36][37] There, Boyd and the band recorded a demo tape which was to be given to various record labels, one of the songs that features on the tape was "Interstellar Overdrive".[37] An early, unoverdubbed, shortened mix of the album's "Interstellar Overdrive" was used for a French EP released in July 1967.[nb 7][2] The 40th anniversary edition of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn[nb 8] contains two different, five-minute-long versions of the song,[6] one of them being take 6 from 16 March.[17]

Despite its encapsulation of their concert repertoire under the leadership of guitarist and composer Barrett, the long, improvisational, freeform structure of the piece is not particularly representative of the group's recorded output. As drummer Mason states in his book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, live versions of the song featured many sections that did not appear on the album, and would often last more than 20 minutes. During the band's days playing in residence at London underground clubs such as the UFO (Underground Freak Out), the song usually opened their show. It occupied other positions, including the encore, until it was retired from the band's setlist in 1970.[6] The song had first appeared in live performances in the autumn of 1966.[7] During one performance of the song, at a gig organized by Hoppy Hopkins, Pink Floyd managed to blow out the power of a venue. Hopkins called it "Very cold, very dirty but very nice."[26] After recording session for Piper were over, Pink Floyd played a 30-minute version of "Interstellar Overdrive".[41] Pink Floyd were filmed performing the song for Granada Television's Scene Special documentary, in January 1967 at the UFO Club.[9] A late-Barrett era rendition was recorded live in Rotterdam in November 1967, at the Hippy-Happy Fair.[42] The song was later replaced by "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" as the main part of the band's set lists, after Barrett left the band.[43][44] A version of "Interstellar Overdrive" was cut from the Ummagumma live album.[45]

Covers and legacy

"Interstellar Overdrive" has been covered by many artists, including Teenage Fanclub[46] and Kylesa.[47]

The album version was ranked number 36 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.[64] While the song did feature on their compilation Relics,[65] it was under consideration for—but ultimately left off–their career-spanning "best of" retrospective, Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd.[66]

"Interstellar Overdrive" was used in the 2016 film Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.[67][68]


Personnel per The Piper at the Gates of Dawn liner notes.[69]



  1. ^ UK Starline SRS 5071/EMI IE 048 o 04775[18]
  2. ^ US Harvest SW-759[19]
  3. ^ UK Harvest SHDW 403[20]
  4. ^ US Harvest SABB-11257[21]
  5. ^ UK Instant INLP 002[34]
  6. ^ UK See for Miles SFMDP 3[35]
  7. ^ France EMI Columbia ESRF 1857[38]
  8. ^ Two CDs: Europe EMI 503 9232;[39] three CDs: Europe EMI 50999 5 03919 2 9[40]
  1. ^ Pinnock, Tom (July 24, 2015). "Pink Floyd's 30 best songs". Uncut. p. 11. Retrieved March 25, 2016. “Interstellar Overdrive” was avant-garde rock music. 
  2. ^ a b c d Palacios, Julian (2010). Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe (Rev. ed.). London: Plexus. p. 296. ISBN 0-85965-431-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Manning, Toby (2006). The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd (1st ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 180. ISBN 1-84353-575-0. 
  4. ^ TeamRock (November 6, 2016). "The History Of Prog In 50 Albums". Team Rock. 
  5. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2004). The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Edinburgh: Canongate Books. p. 1177. ISBN 1-84195-551-5. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Mabbett, Andy (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of Pink Floyd. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-4301-X. 
  7. ^ a b c Manning 2006, p. 26
  8. ^ Chapman 2010, pp. 125–6
  9. ^ a b c Carruthers, Bob (2011). Pink Floyd – Uncensored on the Record (E-book ed.). Cooda Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-908538-27-7. 
  10. ^ Reisch, George A. (2007). Pink Floyd and Philosophy: Careful With That Axiom, Eugene! (illustrated ed.). Open Court Publishing. p. 104. ISBN 9780812696363. 
  11. ^ a b Palacios 2010, p. 189
  12. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 129
  13. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 200
  14. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 319
  15. ^ Palacios, Julian (2010). Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe (Rev. ed.). London: Plexus. p. 188. ISBN 0-85965-431-1. 
  16. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 187
  17. ^ a b Palacios 2010, p. 195
  18. ^ "Pink Floyd - Relics (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "Pink Floyd - Relics - A Bizarre Collection Of Antiques & Curios (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "Pink Floyd - A Nice Pair (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  21. ^ "Pink Floyd - A Nice Pair (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  22. ^ Manning 2006, p. 34
  23. ^ Blake, Mark (2008). Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-306-81752-7. 
  24. ^ Cavanagh, John (2003). The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. New York [u.a.]: Continuum. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-0-8264-1497-7. 
  25. ^ a b Chapman 2010, p. 170
  26. ^ a b Manning 2006, p. 28
  27. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 136
  28. ^ Palacios 2010, pp. 136–137
  29. ^ a b c Palacios 2010, p. 156
  30. ^ a b c d e f g Palacios 2010, p. 157
  31. ^ a b c d e Manning 2006, p. 31
  32. ^ a b c d e f Chapman 2010, p. 123
  33. ^ Gordon, Kylee Swenson, ed. (2012). Electronic Musician Presents the Recording Secrets Behind 50 Great Albums. Backbeat Books. ISBN 9781476821368. 
  34. ^ "Various - Tonite Let's All Make Love In London (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  35. ^ "Pink Floyd - London '66 - '67 (CD) at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  36. ^ Manning 2006, p. 29
  37. ^ a b Manning 2006, p. 32
  38. ^ "Pink Floyd, The* – Arnold Layne (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 24 December 2012. 
  39. ^ "Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  40. ^ "Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn at Discogs". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  41. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 232
  42. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 299
  43. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 275
  44. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 301
  45. ^ Schaffner, Nicholas (2005). Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey (New ed.). London: Helter Skelter. p. 156. ISBN 1-905139-09-8. 
  46. ^ "The King - Teenage Fanclub : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  47. ^ Sullivan, Patrick. "Like Black Holes in the Sky: The Tribute to Syd Barrett - Various Artists : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  48. ^ "The Mars Volta with John Frusciante". YouTube. 25 September 2006. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  49. ^ Palacios 2010, p. 418
  50. ^ Goldman, Rich. "Electroretard - Melvins : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  51. ^ "Pearl Jam Music". Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  52. ^ Johnson, Zac. "Live: 8-18-00 - Indianapolis, Indiana - Pearl Jam : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  53. ^
  54. ^ Jacobetz, Steven. "Live: 10-27-00 - Fresno, California - Pearl Jam : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  55. ^ Leahey, Andrew. "Dr. Stan's Prescription, Vol. 1 - moe. : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  56. ^ Manning 2006, p. 286
  57. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Hawkwind Family Box - Hawkwind : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  58. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. p. 147. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  59. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Camper Van Beethoven - Camper Van Beethoven : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  60. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Discoballs: A Tribute to Pink Floyd - Rosebud : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  61. ^ Bush, John. "Saucerful of Pink: A Tribute to Pink Floyd - Various Artists : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  62. ^ "Solar Wind - Spiral Realms : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  63. ^ "Death Grips I Want It I Need It (Death Heated)". Whosampled. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  64. ^ "Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time". Stereogum. 30 May 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  65. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Relics - Pink Floyd : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  66. ^ Guthrie, James. "James Guthrie: Audio: Building A Compilation Album". Pink Floyd. Archived from the original on 2 June 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^ The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Media notes). Pink Floyd. EMI. 1967. SCX6157. 

External links

  • AMG song review
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