Pink Floyd

Arnold Layne

Song Review by

Pink Floyd has never been thought of as a singles band. Yet at the very beginning of their career, they not only put out a number of singles that were not intended for use on albums, but actually had a couple of British hits. "Arnold Layne" was their debut 45, and made number 20 in England, enduring as one of original Floyd leader Syd Barrett's most charming and tuneful bursts of psychedelic whimsy. "Arnold Layne" was, in the style of much British 1960s psychedelia, a playful story, though the protagonist was much stranger even than many of the characters found in material by other U.K. psychedelic acts. The Arnold Layne in the song had a hobby that was, even by the standards of today, risqué, and by the standards of 1967, very controversial: wearing women's clothes, going to the point of stealing them off clotheslines. The instrumentation was as weird as the lyrics, the principal hook being strange bursts of un-sustained guitar reverb that jumped out at the listener, as well as what would become the band's trademark creepy descending organ riffs. For all that, the song was quite catchy, the band coming together for more conventional British pop harmonies on the chorus. Syd Barrett gave a great vocal, combining an apparently innocuous kiddie storytelling mode with hints of something far more foreboding and demented. The sympathy the vocalist betrayed for the main character was belied by the disproportionate viciousness of his punishment (a prison sentence) for stealing women's clothing, amplified by the surprise, almost mocking merry taunt of the final line: "Arnold Layne, don't do it a-gayne!" The instrumental break was the section that made it most evident why Pink Floyd were already considered one of the most far-out bands on the planet, its swirl of organ and accelerated tempo braking to a stop to allow the verses to resume. In an odd reversal of the usual way things worked on British radio, pirate radio thought it too naughty to play given the subject matter, leaving it for the BBC to bring it into the Top 20. "Arnold Layne," incidentally, was one of the few Pink Floyd sides to be produced by noted producer Joe Boyd before he was edged out and Norman Smith took over. Regrettably, the song was hard to acquire in the United States for a long time, and still remains unfairly underexposed there (though now easily available on CD) given its classic status.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Relics 1971 Capitol / EMI Records / Parlophone 2:56