A Perspective on Pink Floyd
Essay Three - A.
By Thane Zander
October 24th 2008
Before looking into the history of this supergroup, it is important to categorise Pink Floyd. With Pink Floyd, one needs to highlight the make up of the group, the influences musically and lyrically, and the climate of the world during their lifetimes. It is easy to start with a bold brush, but much harder to actually pinhole the exact truth of what they are and what they have been through. Even harder is actually stating a definitive genre Pink Floyd fits in.
From the before the start, experimentalist group The Abdabs gave birth to a certain sound, a unique sound, that would carry into the Syd Barrett era. This sound was experimental as one would expect from a bunch of young lads. The actual make up of this band is the key to where it would go, primarily Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, the nucleus of the band through to 1985 and Waters departure. The fact the band known as The Pink Floyd Sound would emerge to create mayhem on the London Club scene is widely reported and with the inclusion of Syd, they found a songwriter that would take them in more than one direction. Though largely a sound experimental group (Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine) it was Syd’s quirky pop tunes that actually gave The Pink Floyd Sound impetus in their new career. Those pop singles today are not avid collectors with modern day Floyd fans, but the enduring quality of the two longer pieces indicates where most fans place the music.
The genre to this point, and also on the follow up Saucerful of Secrets (where they dropped the “Sound” from the bands name), had been catchy pop songs coupled with power experimentalist rock ballads. (“Set the Control for the Heart of the Sun” and “A Saucerful of Secrets") clearly showed that even without Syd, the band could play longish songs and still sound experimental in the process. It also clearly evident that even without Syd, they had enough songwriting firepower to continue on. Most bands that lose their key songwriter would fold, but it showed then that there was more to the soon to be supergroup than met the eye. This could be verified by the fact that the then management of the group left and stuck with Syd on his departure seeing him as the future, making way for Steve O’Rourke, who would stay with Pink Floyd through to his death in 2000.(Wikipedia)
The group’s decision to follow a whim and record a soundtrack for a film (More) paid dividends in that they showed a burgeoning ability to write to more than one genre. This would count for much when the analysis of their latter years unfolds. With Waters writing both Rock and Folk songs, and the start of a smoothness in their playing, The Pink Floyd were about to hit their straps and start into a new genre, Progressive Rock. The album More was closely followed up by the double album Ummagumma. There are both studio tracks and live tracks to be sampled. The Live tracks are largely reworks of favourites from the first two albums, and amount to a good dose of what it was like to see Pink Floyd live in the late 1960’s. But of more interest, especially to Pink Floyd aficionados, is the studio set, often derided as utter rubbish or sheer brilliance.
On the studio version of Ummagumma is an indication that Pink Floyd were headed in a new direction and largely uncharted waters for the time by any group. A wide arrangement of sound of all varieties explodes from the record and gives the listener either a headache, or an indication that a record such as The Dark Side of the Moon was possible. This experimentation continued through the early 1970’s with Atom Heart Mother (I still claim it as an important piece though David Gilmour and Roger Waters beg to differ)(Wikipedia) Musically Atom Heart Mother (the title track) is ethereal and shows a promise to be kept in the much acclaimed Echoes. Some deride the use of horns but as can be seen later in Dark Side of the Moon (saxophone) and other monumental tracks in the future, horns do work in Pink Floyd material. There is also a new facet to the Floyd sound in the use of backing singers, which would become integral in almost all later Pink Floyd works.
It is also important to remember that three other songs off this album also produced similar results later in their careers as musicians, If (Acoustic Guitar – Wish You Were Here), Summer of 68 (Piano -The Great Gig in the Sky), and Fat Old Sun (Gilmour’s song – loosely reworked in Comfortably Numb). All in all Atom Heart Mother, though not a favourite of many fans, still is important enough to include as a watershed album for where Pink Floyd were going.
This was reinforced with the ground breaking Meddle. One of these Days is still one of my all time favourite Pink Floyd songs, a driving beat, soaring keyboards, angry lead guitar and a very strong driving beat from the rhythm section of Bass and Drums. It is a follow on from The Nile Song, the anger and drive born out of the past. It also heralded to the world that a new force was in place, and its name was Progressive Rock. But the album also plays to the whimsical, and the folk feel pervades, as well as Water’s humour (Seamus), which would surface, too, in later albums although in a differing vein. Of course the real highlight on this album is Echoes, a clear indication that a break through album was imminent. Like a lot of previously lengthy Pink Floyd tracks, this offers a lot. It also shows the group was really mastering their instruments and playing with consummate ease, even if still prone to experimentalism. That would never stop, more so as Waters wrestled the writing reins from the others. Even at this early stage, the power of his persona over the rest, creativity wise, was daunting.
I think what really helped the group up to this stage was their constant live shows and presenting new songs long before they were placed on an album, choosing what worked and what didn’t as they saw fit. That coupled with the ability to write and record a new album every year through to Dark Side of the Moon meant they were honing their craft quite quickly. I have seen in research material that other bands of this time were starting to mimic what Pink Floyd (Yes, Genesis) were offering but having listened to both bands I can safely say that Pink Floyd were beyond the both of them, musically and in the quality of songs they wrote.
Then there was another foray into writing a soundtrack for a film (La Vallee). This is the only album of Pink Floyd I don’t have, and I missed it when sourcing research material. There is material (Wikipedia) to suggest that the album was another foray into practised sound. I don’t see anywhere to say what the sound was like, or the effects, or for that matter the overall outcome of the soundtrack. It was during the scoring of this movie that Pink Floyd was also working on their soon to be popular opus, The Dark Side of the Moon.
The Dark Side of the Moon - one could linger here. From the opening bar on this record, to the closing, one is drawn in and as a washing machine would, spin around and spat out feeling a lot better than when you first started. It’s widely known this album is one of the all time greatest albums of all time, and let’s say the progressive rock market is somewhat small. You can almost be assured that at least one of your friends has a copy, be it vinyl or CD (or both in a lot of cases). BUT! Let’s not forget, that Dark Side was born out of a number of factors. The previous albums, education and the willingness to try new things, or rehash old ones. Yes there are no forerunners to this album, song wise, but there is plenty to indicate that this album just had to happen. One of the key points is the groups own collaboration, their willingness to work together to try and improve the material to a state that it would make a good song.
I think at this point, the dynamics of Pink Floyd shifted a little, too. The money they were making from the album made them very wealthy, which would also both be augmented from reissues of their earlier works and with the coming albums. They had not only tapped the genre of Progressive Rock (probably invented it actually), but they were also spilling over into the Rock categories as more radio stations played Money and other songs from the album. I think this might have had an adverse effect on the group, which would surface later on, especially with Animals.
For the first time in their career, they wouldn’t put out an album in a year. Wish You Were Here was released two years after Dark Side of the Moon, but it was also a watershed album in that it explored Syd Barrett. A fitting tribute too made even more fitting by his arrival during recording,(Schaffer and Mason) much to bemusement of the members of the band (yes some still say Syd’s Band). This album is not a Dark Side of the Moon and returns the band to longish songs that had become their forte. Shine on You Crazy Diamond benefits from its predecessors (Echoes, A Saucerful of Secrets, and Atom Heart Mother) and then some. The whole suite is a great tribute to a band that has become very familiar with their craft, and is totally different to Dark Side of the Moon. And it had to be different, to be Pink Floyd material.
Welcome to the Machine is a song that could almost fit in The Wall, but the other two songs, too, make their mark. Wish You Were Here is now an acoustic favourite, from budding guitarists to professional ones. To offer up the fare on this record Pink Floyd must have been well and truly on song. I’m not a huge fan of the album, but I do recognise that it deserves to be in the top five albums from the Floyd catalogue.
Then along comes another album (once again two years between releases) that starts the Roger Waters takeover of the creative element of the band. Animals is purely driven from one man’s perspective, and the band has to go along with it. Before you wonder, I rate Animals as my second most favourite album from the catalogue. And I’m a huge Waters fan. But having read a lot of material on the group, it’s widely known that this is when the cracks started to appear. Though it’s not recorded, but widely supposed, Rick was starting to drop off the radar as far as input to the writing and recording process, David and Roger weren’t talking (made even more evident with The Final Cut) and the whole parcel that is Animals was a Waters driven project.
Sure the band played on this album, and played probably the best they ever had (or ever would?), but the emphasis in the groups’ dynamics had changed. Was it the wealth they were now accumulating off the previous two albums, was it recording contract schedules, or was it plain and simple that members of the band had pretty much had enough of each other? It’s clear all the members of the group were committed to record, and as Roger seemed to be the only one providing creativity, it came down to him to produce the bands footprint for the ensuing years. This came at a cost, and from my own assertion on the Sysyphus essay, Rick was needed to tighten the songs and offered arrangements that the group might be able to use.
This became evident when The Wall was released. A lot of good songs, but no lengthy pieces, very little keyboards, and mostly no Rick. It was clear the dynamics of the group were changing, and for the worse. The Wall tours were few and one almost gets the impression when listening to the group members that The Wall was a tiring episode and one that failed to reignite the groups’ ability to play well with each other. It was clear there would be defections, and when The Final Cut came along, Rick was gone, and Dave and Nick pandered to Roger’s whim and produced as studio musicians to Rogers’s directions. This was down to Dave saying contractual obligations meant they had to do the record (Wikipedia), and then finally drop the axe and split the group. But it didn’t quite work that way. Roger went his own way, David went his own way, Nick drove his cars, and Rick sunned it up in the Mediterranean.
Despite Rogers protestations, David, Nick, and Rick reformed the group, produced an album (The Momentary Lapse of Reason) and toured as Pink Floyd. Of course Roger sued and failed, but Pink Floyd went on to record another album (The Division Bell). Although some songs on both albums have a Floyd feel, they generally underwhelm me and I think Roger’s fans might have had it right, He’s Pink.
Where does Pink Floyd sit in the history of rock? Well to start with, they were pop artists (Top of the Pops) with “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”. However, this pop stardom was short-lived (Syd’s departure). Then they were Space Rockers (Interstellar Overdrive, Astronomy Domine, to name a few), then they were Progressive Rockers (Meddle onwards) until they rediscovered radio playable music again (The Wall) By this stage they were and are solid rock stars.
They wrote primarily to appease themselves, to compliment their ranges of style and panache, and they did it as a team, which a lot of rock bands fail to achieve. Let’s not forget, up till Rick’s death, the band members had been in the music business for forty years, a feat only matched by The Rolling Stones, for longevity and continued creativity (although the group failed to put out any new material after The Division Bell.).
A mark of how popular Pink Floyd is the numerous groups out there doing tribute shows across the world. Plus add to that, album sales are still strong and steady. I’ve just turned fifty and have been along for the ride since 1975, yet there is a cleaner where I stay who is only nineteen and she is a total Pink Floyd fan. Yes, they reach across the ages, and will do for years to come.
Where else did Pink Floyd make a mark? Simple answer really, their sound and lighting experimentations and subsequent innovative set ups for their live concerts. They were the forerunner of stadium Rock shows with all the lights, sound, and dry ice, and many bands today work off the Pink Floyd module.
Finally the line ups of the various formations of Pink Floyd. To start with, there was Roger, Nick and Rick (and Bob Klose) as the Abdabs, then they invited Syd Barrett in as guitarist and songwriter, forming the group The Pink Floyd Sound (widely known to have come from artists on Syd’s blues albums). It’s widely known about Syd’s problems with drugs, so the group became a fivesome with the introduction of David Gilmour to cover Syd’s guitar and vocals during the live shows. The “Sound" was dropped off the groups name and The Pink Floyd sailed on, once again as a four piece, this time Syd was gone and David was a full time member. At a stage in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s “The” was dropped.
This line up stood firm through ten years of solid creativity and work (tours) until Pink Floyd decided (well Roger decided really) that Rick wasn’t required anymore, so the new threesome (Roger, David and Nick) completed The Wall and The Final Cut together, before the final culling happened when Roger went solo and the last incarnation of the group reformed as Pink Floyd again, this time with Rick and no Roger. There are a lot of people out there that supported Roger when he filed suit against his former band members. But that’s water under the bridge now. I’m not a great fan of either of the last two albums; they lack certain panache only Roger could have given.
It’s fair to say now what does and doesn’t work for me. Nothing out of the Floyd catalogue disappoints me greatly. I love all their music, feel at home with the lyrics as if they were written for me (a reason for their success – availability) and just love everything they have done as a group. The books written about them give gorgeous insight, and the internet is just flooded with Pink Floyd material (30,200,000 hits on Google) that is so hard to keep up with. In August this year as a tribute, I created eight videos, three from the Pink Floyd catalogue, and five from Roger Waters’s solo material. My legacy to a great group that will never reform and will remain a big part of the music scene for years to come. Each surviving member is lighting a candle for Rick, but also lighting the way for their retiring futures.
And that hanging question – the genre, the true genre they fit into. Yes they were psychedelic rock, yes they were pop rock and folk, yes they were Space rock, and yes they were Progressive rock (or even alternative). But I think for me, the original name of the group all those years ago, The Pink Floyd Sound, stands testament to where they actually fit in. They stand alone outside all genres as the Pink Floyd sound, a unique and never to be matched accomplishment.
Mason N. Inside Out
Schaffer N. Saucerful of Secrets – The Pink Floyd Odyssey
Wikipedia – Pink Floyd retrieved 19th October 2008 from