Has there ever been another band quite like Pink Floyd? Not exactly. Has there ever been another band that was born from the ‘60s psychedelic freakouts in London that managed to grow and adapt from its beginnings and become an altogether different beast of an entirely different color? Not at all. That Pink Floyd even successfully went from an acid soaked psych-folk-pop charmer into a group that dabbled briefly in scoring soundtracks to films many people still haven’t seen to a full-fledged prog and arena rock phenomenon is a testament to the band’s own talent, or genius, or whatever you’d care to call it.
The original group consisted of Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason. It was Barrett’s baby, and his songs formed the foundation of Pink Floyd’s debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It was decidedly different from a lot of the US psychedelic bullshit that was coming out at the time. It was both electric and electronic and seriously trippy. “Interstellar Overdrive” erupted with its menacing doomsday main theme before flipping out into a weird soundscape of freaked-out improv. Of course, there were the vocal songs as well taken from Barrett’s lyric books. He covered everything from the I Ching to childhood fantasies of gnomes and scarecrows and mystical cats. It was a highly original blast of rock from left field that caught many peoples’ attention.
But it wasn’t to last. Syd took too much acid as we all know and started not performing onstage or barely performing at all. So Dave Gilmour, from the band Joker’s Wild, was brought in to take over guitar duties and sing a bit. The story is that the band was on the way to a gig one day and just decided not to pick up Syd. And that was that. He still got to toss in “Jugband Blues” at the end of A Saucerful of Secrets, that also featured another mind-blowing epic (“Let There Be More Light”) and one of Roger’s best tunes (“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”). Some argue that it’s a weaker album than the debut, but without Syd the rest of the group was forced to come up with their own ideas if they were to survive.
It would take them a few albums to really gain their footing. The soundtrack for More was slight, though it did include the insanely hard rocking “The Nile Song.” The band also contributed some tracks to the film “Zabriskie Point,” and doled out a half-live/half-studio double album called Ummagumma. The studio half found each member getting to do his own thing, with Waters’ “Grantchester Meadows” being the best bit, though the bird sound effects are a bit grating. The live half was much better, and showed the Floyd were just as adept at pulling off stunners like “Astronomy Domine” in concert as they were in the studio.
By the time the band released Atom Heart Mother, they were finally getting on the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The side-long title suite of the album has long since been dismissed by the band, though it’s actually quite good. On the second half, Waters, Wright, and Gilmour all had a song of their own, with the album concluding on the bizarre “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.” During live shows at the time, the band would actually cook onstage and have the smells pumped through the audience. Always one step ahead in the concert department.
Meddle broke away from the early experiments by being a solidly cohesive album. At long last, the epic tune (“Echoes”) was fully realized and found the band on the crest of breaking through into something much bigger. One final stop into movie soundtracks (Obscured by Clouds) would be it, and then Pink Floyd would change the world of rock music forever. This, of course, was done with the release of the amazing Dark Side of the Moon. Everything about the album is iconic, from the classic covert art by Storm Thorgerson to the posters inside and the music itself. It’s one of those albums pretty much everyone eventually owns or hears through a friend who owns it. Pink Floyd had blossomed fully into something called “space rock,” but just as quickly abandoned it.
It would have been silly to even try and replicate Dark Side of the Moon, so the band didn’t. Instead, Pink Floyd let the memory of Syd Barrett guide the creation of Wish You Were Here. Only, Syd wasn’t dead then and actually showed up at the studio one day, virtually unrecognizable. The album, while containing some slight elements of the former album, was more of a blues-soaked excursion with Wright’s synthesizers giving it that “futuristic” touch. Again, the album was a huge success and a worthy follow-up.
Around this time, Roger Waters was seizing more and more control of the band, much to the others’ dismay. The next album, Animals, was a hard-rocking affair with extended tunes that featured scorching guitar work by Gilmour. It was a political album, and everyone from government leaders to religion and the corporate machine was attacked and bloodied in the end. While on tour for the album, Roger Waters got into a nasty altercation with a fan in the audience and the event would lead him to create the next Pink Floyd album, The Wall.
It was a grandiose double-album tale, and like most of those types of things, there were enough good songs to make a great single album. But Rog was entirely in control by this point and what he said, went. Rick Wright had pretty much quit the band, and wasn’t even listed with the other three in the main credits, instead having his name being listed with the other musicians who appeared on the album. Still, the album and resulting tour was a success, with the disco-driven “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” charting high and exposing the band to a whole new audience.
But that was basically it. Pink Floyd was a band in name only for The Final Cut, which was basically a Roger Waters solo album. The group then spent many years in litigation over who had rights to the band’s name. Waters lost, and the rest of the group released A Momentary Lapse of Reason, The Division Bell, and Pulse, while Roger had less success with albums like The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and Radio K.A.O.S. Although, to be fair, the Floyd albums weren’t all that hot in retrospect, either.
After years of bitching at each other, the band played together with all the members minus Barrett for the Live 8 show. Shortly after that, on July 7, 2006, Syd Barrett passed away from complications with diabetes. The future of Pink Floyd, as always, is shrouded in a thick patch of fog. While other groups like the Who regularly get back together for live shows from time to time, Gilmour and the rest have seemed content to rest on their laurels after The Division Bell. It might all be very well, anyway. Times have changed, but Pink Floyd has indeed released plenty of timeless music to keep them in the red through future generations.
Pink Floyd on the Web
TV Guide: Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd Videos, Interviews and More on TV Guide's Online Video Guide
Official Pink Floyd site.
Pink Floyd & Co.
"The largest Pink Floyd site in the world!" Definitely includes the coolest layout for a discography ever.
Pink Floyd - Wikipedia
Pink Floyd's Wikipedia entry, chock full of information on the group, with the usual good selection of references and links to explore.
From the Mouth of Pink Floyd
David Gilmour on Syd Barrett:
"I don't know, maybe if he was left to his own devices he might just get it together. But it is a tragedy, a great tragedy because the guy was an innovator. One of the three or four greats along with Dylan."
David Gilmour on the success of The Dark Side of the Moon:
"It hit a chord, obviously. It still doesn't sound dated, it still sounds good when I listen to it. But I can't really say why it should achieve that longevity over some of the other great records which have been out."
Roger Waters on The Dark Side of the Moon:
"It's very well balanced and well constructed, dynamically and musically, and I think the humanity of its approach is appealing."
Nick Mason on The Wall:
"The recording was very tense, mainly because Roger was starting to go a bit mad."
Roger Waters on The Wall:
"The most unnerving neurotic period of my life with possible exceptions of my divorce."
Roger Waters on The Final Cut:
"The future of Pink Floyd dpends very much on me."
David Gilmour on The Final Cut:
"I always made it absolutely clear to Roger that I liked being a Floyd and had every intention of remaining one. Make no bones about it we would carry on."