Relics is an early Pink Floyd compilation album, originally released in mid-1971. Despite being the second in a total of six Pink Floyd compilations, Relics is highly-regarded among Floyd fans, who remember it nostalgically as the only compilation for many years (and, arguably, still) to properly highlight Pink Floyd's early strengths.

Relics is an excellent introduction to the 1967-1969 period of Pink Floyd's recorded output. After the band's initial creative navigator Syd Barrett left the band in early 1968 (replaced by David Gilmour), the remaining members shuffled around for the next three years, gradually finding their own musical vision. Relics chronicles the progress of the band as they totter away from English psychedelia ("Arnold Layne", "See Emily Play", "Paintbox", "Bike") and freak-out ("Interstellar Overdrive", "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"), trying on for size English whimsy ("Remember A Day", "Julia Dream"), cabaret ("Biding My Time"), heavy metal ("The Nile Song") and pastoral atmospherics ("Cirrus Minor"), all steps on the path to "Echoes" and Dark Side of the Moon.

Many commentators have disparagingly singled out these years as a 'wandering' period in the history of the Floyd, but I disagree; Relics (subtitled "A Bizarre Collection of Antiques and Curios") ably demonstrates the group's developing versatility and willingness to explore different avenues of expression, as opposed to accepting defeat in the aftermath of Barrett's departure, or mindlessly churning out facsimiles of their first psychedelic hits.

As a result, Relics is a compilation that is eminently listenable, one that definitely bears repeating. The roughly chronological track listing (there are a couple of exceptions) flows well, and includes not only the hits, but also significant b-sides and album tracks, included with regard to their strengths. Furthermore, the requisite 'previously unreleased' track stands up easily alongside the rest of the cuts. As such, this is not a 'greatest hits', but truly a 'best of...' for the period.

Motivation for release

Pink Floyd's fifth album, Atom Heart Mother, released on October 10, 1970, was their first to reach the UK #1 spot (on October 24, 1970). Commercially, the Floyd had spent the previous three years in the wilderness, with the last three of their first five singles failing to make an impression in the charts (the band subsequently released no singles until 1979's Another Brick in the Wall, Part II). Their second, third and fourth albums were also far from flawless, being a hodge-podge of experiments, live jams and soundtrack vibes. Atom Heart Mother, the side-long title track of which has not dated well at all, was similarly patchy.

The only explanation for the album's unexpected success is their burgeoning reputation on the live circuit. Pink Floyd had been focusing their main efforts on their live performances, and this is what paid off by the time of the release of Atom Heart Mother: fans purchased the album on the basis of the artist (always a watershed moment in any artist's career).

In any case, Pink Floyd's record company, EMI, took the band's new-found success and fame and ran with it, compiling Relics as a budget-priced cash-in on the Floyd's earliest output (some of which, such as the singles Arnold Layne and See Emily Play, had been deleted by the time of Relics' release).

The Pink Floyd compilations

Relics is the second of six Pink Floyd compilations to date, and the one which enjoyed the highest profile until the sixth was released in late-2001. Here's a quick recap of what went before and after…

Anyway, back to Relics...

Statistical information

Tracklisting:

  1. Arnold Layne
  2. Interstellar Overdrive
  3. See Emily Play
  4. Remember A Day
  5. Paintbox
  6. Julia Dream
  7. Careful With That Axe, Eugene
  8. Cirrus Minor
  9. The Nile Song
  10. Biding My Time
  11. Bike

Running time: 48 minutes, 60 seconds

Pink Floyd:

Relics takes a fairly democratic approach to Pink Floyd's earliest releases, featuring ten tracks from the band's first five singles and first three albums, as well as one previously unreleased track. The source material for the compilation is as follows:

  • Arnold Layne (first single; Columbia DB 8156; released 1967, UK #20 in April 1967)
  • See Emily Play (second single; Columbia DB 8214; released 1967; UK #6 in July 1967)
  • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (first album; Columbia SCX 6157; released August 5, 1967; UK #6 in August 1967)
  • Apples and Oranges (third single; Columbia DB 8310; released 1967)
  • It Would Be So Nice (fourth single; Columbia DB 8410; released 1968)
  • A Saucerful of Secrets (second album; Columbia SCX 6258; released June 29, 1968; UK #9 in June 1968)
  • Point Me At The Sky (fifth single; Columbia DB 8511; released 1968)
  • More (third album; Columbia SCX 6346; released July 27, 1969; UK #9 in July 1969; US #153)

Track information:

  1. "Arnold Layne" (2:52), composed by Syd Barrett, was the a-side of Arnold Layne.
  2. "Interstellar Overdrive" (9:40), composed by Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, was track 7 on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
  3. "See Emily Play" (2:51), composed by Syd Barrett, was the a-side of See Emily Play.
  4. "Remember A Day" (4:24), composed by Rick Wright, was track 2 on A Saucerful of Secrets.
  5. "Paintbox" (3:26), composed by Rick Wright, was the b-side of Apples and Oranges.
  6. "Julia Dream" (2:29), composed by Roger Waters, was the b-side of It Would Be So Nice.
  7. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" (5:42), composed by Roger Waters, Rick Wright, David Gilmour and Nick Mason, was the b-side of Point Me At The Sky.
  8. "Cirrus Minor" (5:00), composed by Roger Waters, was track 1 on More.
  9. "The Nile Song" (3:21), composed by Roger Waters, was track 2 on More.
  10. "Biding My Time" (5:11), composed by Roger Waters, was previously unreleased. It was originally titled "Work", when it was the second song in The Man suite of songs, which comprised the first half of the live extravaganza, The Massed Gadgets of Auximines, often performed at concerts in 1969.
  11. "Bike" (3:19), composed by Syd Barrett, was track 11 on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Release and chart information

Relics (SRS 5071) was originally issued as a vinyl LP on May 14, 1971. EMI released the album on its subsidiary label Starline. By August of that year, it had reached its respective chart peaks (UK #32 and US #152).

The album has been reissued a few times over the years, and while I don't want to get so pedantic as to list every distinct release, I would like to briefly make mention of its CD releases, this being the day and age, etc.

Basically, the CD edition of Relics was notably absent from the roster of releases when Pink Floyd's oeuvre was first released on CD. However, EMI Australia sneakily released it on CD (EMI CDAX 701290) without the band's consent. Before too long, therefore, this release was hastily withdrawn, and Relics on CD became a rarity. Happily, though, the album was again released on CD in 1996, this time worldwide and, crucially, with the band's consent. It actually entered the charts again at this point, and made it as high as #48 on the UK charts on March 9, 1996. It remains on record store shelves to this day.

Sleeve design

The artwork commissioned for various issues of Relics has universally been inspired by the subtitle ("A Bizarre Collection of Antiques and Curios").

The front cover of the original UK release of the compilation featured a black and white ink pen line drawing, doodled by none other than Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason (later releases had the band name and album title shaded pink, apparently the decision of some bright spark throwing subtlety to the wind). The drawing was of some sort of old-fashioned whiz-bang machine, straight out of Nick's imagination. I'm not really going to describe it any further, because it doesn't look like anything else.

As record companies do sometimes, overseas releases featured different artwork on the various covers. In the US, there was a weird-looking bottle opener so constructed as to appear to be a head sporting two sets of eyes. In Australia, meanwhile, the theme was centred around a jumble of old Spanish coins.

When the time came for the CD release of Relics, long-time Pink Floyd sleeve designers Storm Thorgerson and Peter Curzon took a leaf out of John Robertson's book. Robertson collaborated with Thorgerson and Curzon on Pink Floyd's 1994 album The Division Bell by constructing the Easter Island look-alike metal heads that grace that album's cover. Thorgerson and Curzon, their fancies tickled, contemplated the idea of reproducing Nick Mason's original drawing as a three-dimensional sculpture – a real life relic. The project was given the nod, and was duly constructed (impressively faithfully to the original), mostly out of wood. It was designed by Jon Crossland, and photographed by Tony May. The actual sculpture now resides in Nick Mason's office, appropriately.

Parting thoughts

So that's it. I've probably come up with more information than any one person really wants to know, but hopefully I have provided all relevant details to satisfy every idly curious reader.

Go listen!

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