On this day in 1967, Pink Floyd recorded their first single, “Arnold Layne,” with producer Joe Boyd at Sound Techniques studio in Chelsea, England. "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.
This is where it all began for Pink Floyd. Spotted by US label Elektra’s UK representative Joe Boyd, at London’s UFO Club, the label couldn’t agree on a deal, so Boyd took them in to his studio of choice, Sound Techniques in London’s Chelsea, and produced “Arnold Layne” himself, with a view to starting his own independent label. However, the recording was paid for by the band’s agent, Bryan Morrison, so Pink Floyd were free to go where they liked, which ended up being EMI.
Joe Boyd was vindicated by the release of his production as Pink Floyd’s first single, their first hit. EMI’s designated producer, Norman Smith, apparently found it difficult to replace the single’s sound, engineered by Sound Techniques' co-owner John Wood, and the band returned to Sound Techniques to cut the follow-up single “See Emily Play,” although this time without Boyd.
Pink Floyd’s debut single and its B side “Candy and a Currant Bun” were recorded between 23 January and 1 February 1967, and shortly afterwards the band turned professional, signing with EMI and releasing “Arnold Layne” on March 10.
Written by Syd Barrett, the song that sealed their pop-psychedelic reputation was inspired by a real-life underwear thief who stole women’s clothes from Cambridge washing lines. Roger Waters stated, “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.” The mystery thief was never caught.
“Arnold Layne” peaked at No. 20 in the UK chart, despite having been banned by some UK stations, including Radio London, due to the supposedly risqué lyrical content. It was released on 24 April 1967 in the US, but the single failed to chart.
A black and white promo clip was filmed on the beach in East Wittering, Sussex, featuring the band members interacting with a tailor’s mannequin, while a further clip has recently surfaced. Filmed for French TV show Bauton Rouge, it shows Pink Floyd cavorting in some woods, beside a lake, and in front of a church.
“Arnold Layne” wasn’t originally included on the band's debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn but it has since been featured on numerous compilation albums, including Echoes, the career-spanning Best Of, and a three-disc version of Piper released in 2007.
David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason played “Arnold Layne” at the Barbican, London as part of the Syd Barrett tribute show, Madcap's Last Laugh, on May 10, 2007.