"Roger Waters took it off the album because it was too dark, and it is." The story behind the Syd Barrett song that Pink Floyd considered too disturbing to be released, but The Jesus And Mary Chain recorded for their first single

Syd Barrett, The Jesus Ands Mary Chain
(Image credit: GAB Archive/Redferns | Michael Putland/Getty Images)

In November 1984, The Jesus And Mary Chain released their debut single, Upside Down, on Creation Records. For the single's B-side, William and Jim Reid decided to cover a song by former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett, which had never actually been released by either Pink Floyd or by Barrett himself. In fact, it would be almost 50 years before the original recording of Vegetable Man would see the light of day. 

A love of Syd Barrett's music was actually one of the few things that the always-fractious Reid brothers agreed upon during their teenage years. And, in a roundabout fashion, it was this shared affection for the former Pink Floyd leader's songs which led to The Jesus And Mary Chain getting their first breaks in the music industry.

Back when the band were called The Daisy Chain, they sent a demo of their earliest recordings to a promoter at the Candy Club in Glasgow, hoping to secure a gig at the venue. The promoter wasn't impressed by the demo, which featured Upside Down and Never Understand, a song that would become the first single released from the JAMC's classic debut album Psychocandy, but as the other side of the cassette featured a compilation of Syd Barrett songs, he passed it along to his friend Bobbie Gillespie, who he knew to be a fan of Barrett. Gillespie actually liked the two original songs recorded by the East Kilbride band though, and he passed the cassette along to his mate, Alan McGee, who, in addition to offering The Jesus And Mary Chain their first ever gig at his club in London, also offered the band a record deal with his label, Creation. By the time the Reid brothers' band came to re-record Never Understand for Creation, Bobby Gillespie was their drummer. 

But back to Vegetable Man... The song was originally recorded by Pink Floyd in October 1967 for the band's second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. The group performed it on December 20, 1967, for the BBC's Top Gear radio show, but when A Saucerful of Secrets emerged in June 1968, Barrett's song was not included. Talking to MOJO magazine in 1994, the group's former manager Peter Jenner revealed that Roger Waters had decided to remove it from the record's track listing as he felt it was "too dark."

"It was really stressful waiting for Syd to come up with the songs for the second album," Jenner said. "Everybody was looking at him, and he couldn't do it. Jugband Blues [the album's closing track] is a really sad song, the portrait of a nervous breakdown. The last Floyd song Syd wrote, Vegetable Man, was done for those sessions... He wrote it round at my house; it's just a description of what he's wearing. It's very disturbing. Roger took it off the album because it was too dark, and it is. It's like psychological flashing."

Jenner talked about the song once more in an interview conducted for the 2005 Pink Floyd book Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, mentioning it among Barrett's last songs written for the band.

"I knew that Roger [Waters] would never let them out, or Dave [Gilmour]," Jenner said. "They somehow felt they were a bit indecent, like putting out nude pictures of a famous actress: it just wasn't cricket. But I thought they were good songs and great pieces of art. They're disturbing, and not a lot of fun, but they're some of Syd's finest work."

Much bootlegged, a version of the song was remixed for inclusion on the 1988 Syd Barrett rarities album Opel, but its release was vetoed by the band. Pink Floyd's recording of Vegetable Man was finally given an official release on The Early Years 1965-1972, a box set which emerged on November 11, 2022. Music industry bible Billboard called the song "near-total delirium", yet included it in their 2017 list of the 50 Greatest Pink Floyd Songs.

Listen to the Pink Floyd and The Jesus And Mary Chain versions of the song below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.