“Arnold Layne” was the first single released by British psychedelic rock band The Pink Floyd (later simply Pink Floyd), shortly after landing a recording contract with EMI. The song was written by Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s co-founder and original front man. Although not originally included on the band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, “Arnold Layne” is featured on numerous compilation albums of the band.
David Bowie sings lead vocals on this great version from the “Remember That Night” concert at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the “On An Island” tour in 2006.
The song’s title character is a transvestite whose primary pastime is stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines. According to Roger Waters, “Arnold Layne” was actually based on a real person. Waters: “Both my mother and Syd’s mother had students as lodgers because there was a girls’ college up the road so there were constantly great lines of bras and knickers on our washing lines and ‘Arnold’ or whoever he was, had bits off our washing lines.”
However, despite finding a place in the Top 20, the song’s unusual transvestism theme attracted the ire of Radio London, which deemed the song was too far-removed from “normal” society for its listeners, before eventually banning it from radio airplay altogether.
Producer Norman Smith wanted the band to re-record the Joe Boyd produced song after they had signed up with EMI. While Waters and keyboardist Richard Wright were willing to do this, Barrett, on the other hand, wasn’t entirely satisfied with the existing studio cut, and argued against recording another version. Attempts were made to re-record the song at the insistence of EMI (who at the time only wanted to use in-house producers) but, perhaps due to Barrett’s indifference to doing so, the re-recordings never got very far and the Boyd-produced session was used.
Boyd mentioned in several interviews over the years that “Arnold Layne” regularly ran for 10 to 15 minutes in concert (with extended instrumental passages), but the band knew that it had to be shortened for use as a single. Boyd has also said it was a complex recording involving some tricky editing, recalling that the middle instrumental section with Richard Wright’s organ solo was recorded as an edit piece and spliced into the song for the final mix.
The song was mixed into mono for the single. It has never been given a stereo mix though the four-track master tape still exists in the EMI tape archive.
Edited from Arnold Layne