Welcome to the second installment of Song Musings, a new weekly recurring feature looking at specific tunes. Initially, I had planned to cover another song. Then last Saturday I finally brought my bike, which had languished unused in my garage for a few years, to a local bike store for a tune-up. In turn, this triggered the idea to write about Bike, an early song by Pink Floyd.
Written by Syd Barrett, the group’s initial artistic leader, Bike was the closer on the UK release of Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released in August 1967. Bike was one of two tracks that weren’t included on the album’s U.S. edition – well, American music listeners missed out on what I like to call a weirdly catchy tune!
Bike has two unique features that are worthwhile calling out. About 1:50 minutes in, the tune suddenly seems to stop, before relaunching into an extended noisy collage of oscillators, clocks, gongs, bells, a violin, and other sounds edited with tape techniques, which resemble the turning gears of a bicycle. It fades out with a tape loop of the band members laughing reversed and played at double speed, making them sound like ducks or geese on a controlled substance – quite neat!
Unfortunately, by the time Pipers at the Gates of Dawn appeared, Barrett had developed a serious LSD habit. His behavior on stage became increasingly erratic, forcing a premature end of Pink Floyd’s U.S. tour in November 1967. The following month, guitarist David Gilmour joined the group. Essentially, the idea was that he would play the guitar parts of Barrett who would continue to write music for the band.
Things didn’t work out and Barrett left in March 1968. In 1970, he released two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, before leaving the music industry in 1972. On July 6, 2007, Syd Barrett died at the age of 60 after he had largely lived in seclusion for more than 35 years.
Bike was also included on the compilation albums Relics (1971) and Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (2001). Like on Piper, it is the closing track on each. Here are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:
Pink Floyd guitarist Syd Barrett wrote this for his girlfriend, Jenny Spires. In the song, Syd shows her his bike, which he borrowed. He also shows her his mouse named Gerald, a clan of gingerbread men and a cloak. At the end of the song, Syd takes her to his music room.
Barrett was 18 when he met 15-year-old Jenny Spires in 1964. They started dating the following year, which is when he wrote “Bike.” Barrett would often create artwork and poetry for Spires, and “Bike” was his version of a love song:
You’re the kind of girl that fits in with my world
I’ll give you anything, everything if you want things
Spires recalled him being “very loving.”
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason considers this one of Syd Barrett’s best songs. “The lyrics to this are so very Syd, astonishingly clever,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s fun, but there’s a depth of sadness to them.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube