The Final Indulgence
Why the Waters-led Pink Floyd Self-Destructed
By the point at which they were recording "Dark Side of the Moon," the Pink Floyd were operating as a team. Although the term "well oiled machine" would be inaccurate, all members of the band were making significant contributions in the writing and producing of Pink Floyd material. But just a few short years later, "The Final Cut" was released to a disappointing reception, and shortly thereafter the band that had created some of Rock & Roll's most intense and enduring works completely fell apart. Why did this happen? What caused this vital and successful creative force to self-destruct?
The beginning of the end of Pink Floyd can be traced to the aftermath of DSotM's unexpected and overwhelming success. The Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Nick Mason lineup that had produced no fewer than seven albums over the course of six years, suddenly found itself facing sophomore jynx. Something happened during the writing of that follow-up that would change the band forever, and set it on an unalterable course for disaster.
The fact is that up to and including the recording of DSotM, the creative force behind Pink Floyd had been a full group effort essentially since Gilmour joined the band after Syd Barrett's premature departure. Irrespective of officially recored writing credit, the four shared a common vision of what the Pink Floyd sound should be and how to achieve it. The result was a unique sound and thematic integrity that is virtually unrivalled in contemporary music.
But since officially recorded writing credit is the only objective metric available, let us assume for the moment that it is a reasonable approximation of individual contribution. Consider the relative contribution of each member of the band for all albums from "Saucerful of Secrets" through DSotM.
If for each album you count the number of tracks on which each member was given a writing credit and divide that into the total number of tracks for that album, you'll determine a percentage "saturation factor" for that member. Below is a matrix of saturation factors for each band member listed chronologically by album release.
The numbers fluxuate across the board, but Waters consistently had a greater saturation factor than any other member of the band. He even managed to hit 100% saturation on Meddle. Gilmour and Wright were basically on par, with Gilmour a little behind on the earlier albums, but a little ahead on the later. Nick Mason was always a little behind everyone else.
While this illustrates how wide-spread each member's contributions were on each album, consider the quantity of their contributions relative to eachother. If you count the total number of credits that are given for all tracks on an album, and divide that by the number of times each member is credited, you'll have a figure for what percentage of each album was contributed by whom. While these numbers are mere approximations of what has been acknowledged to be a group effort, it does help to indicate trends of contribution for each member. Below is a matrix of contribution percentages for each band member listed chronologically by album release.
"Saucerful of Secrets" was Pink Floyd's first album in the absense of Syd Barret, and it's interesting to see how Wright, and especially Waters stepped up to the plate. Waters was already establishing his steadfast sonofabitch attitude, and he would be good and God damned before he'd let Pink Floyd fail just because Syd lost his ability to contribute.
Waters' contribution percentage actually drops down to a low point at the writing of "Atom Heart Mother," where he, Gilmour, and Wright all contributed equally. But from then on, Waters' contribution percentage increases steadily and strongly while Gilmour and Wright were going back and forth. Mason, again, thended to lag behind the others.
But with the writing of DSotM, they hit on something really special. It was essentially the culmination of their work to date, wrapped up seamlessly and completely into one of the most entirely complete albums of all time. Many consider it to this day to be thematic and audiophonic perfection.
The problem was that they were now expected to create a follow-up to perfection. It's unfathomable the degree of pressure that the men must have felt while striving to top a masterpiece like DSotM. When Captain Kirk asked how the men can be expected to perform under adversity, Mr. Spock replied, "Like all living things, each according to his gifts." Waters' gift was his steadfast, sonofabitch attitude. In the wake of DSotM's success, Waters emerged in a position to make the band what will be forever labeled the "Waters-led" Pink Floyd.
Gilmour, on the other hand, was still was not to be discounted. His contributions by this time were second only to Waters'. More than just a masterful guitar player, Gilmour was emerging as a talented song writer and a major player in the making of what was the Pink Floyd sound.
Rick Wright's contributions to DSotM included material of the quality of "The Great Gig in the Sky," hailed to this day by virtually everyone who's ever heard it, as the best song in history to make love to. But in the attempt to top it, Wright was in danger of becoming Pink Floyd's George Harrison. His contributions were vital, but periferal.
Pink Floyd faced a turning point during the recording of the follow-up to DSotM. The album was originally planned to consist of "Gotta Be Crazy" and "Raving and Drooling," on side one (early versions of "Dogs" and "Sheep" respectively), with all of side two being "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Waters wasn't happy with how things were going, and he brought in "Welcome to the Machine" and "Have a Cigar," two totally new pieces that he had developed on his own.
Gilmour didn't want to include the new material, but Waters was insistant. The only way to settle the matter was to put it to a vote. It was in effect a vote of confidence in what had become the struggle for creative dominance in what had once been a true synergy. The vote went with Waters, and from that moment on he never lost his dominance in the Pink Floyd creative effort until there was nothing left to lose.
To support that assertion, consider the same metrics applied to the albums that were released after DSotM. The matrix below indicates the saturation factor.
After the release of DSotM, Waters had 100% saturation until the end. This speaks volums. Everything that was written after DSotM had Water's name on it. Mason never made a writing contribution again, Wright dropped out quickly, Gilmour hung on for a while, but by the end, no one but Waters was being given any writing credit at all.
During this fatal transition, Pink Floyd continued producing albums that were commercially and critically successful, and have proven to be exceptionally enduring. Whatever one has to say about the justice of the Waters domination, it's difficult to discredit the results. No one can argue that they met the challenge of following up DSotM, and they met it well.
The above numbers approximate the degree to which members other than Waters were contributing, but they also indicate the degree to which Waters was willing to acknowledge the contributions of anyone other than himself. The more successful the band became, the more he became obsessed with claiming credit for it. He had a falling out with Storm Thorgeson over who would get credit for the cover design for the album Animals, and the two have never worked together since. If one defines "ego" as an overwhelming tendency to take credit for everything one touches, Waters could be described as having quite a healthy ego.
The next turning point came with "The Wall." The album was another career masterpiece for the band, and it was received as such. Like DSotM, it was seamless and complete, and many consider it to have surpassed DSotM in presentation and scale. The story was inspired from the paradox of the success the band had achieved with its audience, and the alienation it felt from its audience due to the success itself. Additionally, it was a story about how the pressures of stardom can break a man's grip on reality. But pervasive throughout it was the very intimate story of Waters' own personal tragedy and his attitudes towards the civilization that bore it.
Waters' ego had incubated in the pre-DSotM years, was born and grew after DSotM, but reached maturity during this time. His claim to credit had become so strong that for the first time writing credit was not itemeized by track. The credits read "all compositions by Roger Waters, except..." with the few instances cited where he couldn't deny credit to Gilmour or Bob Ezrin. Despite the fact that the inspiration for the album was a story in which ALL members of the band were vested, and that the central character who was the vehicle for the story was based directly on Syd Barret, and that Gilmour and Ezrin had a major affect on the sound and overall composition, Waters has always contended that this work was his creation.
The filming of the movie "The Wall" was extremely difficult for Waters because he was in an environment where he didn't have dictatorial privledge. His fights with director Alan Parker were legendary, and Waters was eventually banned from the set. Perhaps it was his frustration with this situation that caused his claim to credit to go over the top. The opening credits to the film read "The Wall by Roger Waters. Performed by Pink Floyd." It was this conceipt that was the first nail in the coffin for Pink Floyd.
The next nail in the coffin was Wright's departure from the band. By the time they were in the studio working on their follow up to "The Wall", Rick Wright was no longer in the lineup.
The final nail in the coffin was total creative control on the part of Waters. During the recording of The Final Cut, all efforts to contribute to the music were thwarted by Waters. In the end he achieved a 100% contribution ratio.
"The Wall" was an overwhelming commercial success. People bought it, and bought it big time. Since Waters considered himself to be responsible for the entire album, he perceived that people were buying his tragedy and his political views. This unleashed a self-involvement that now pervaded his work. TFC was composed of material relative to Roger Waters, not relative to the "group" Pink Floyd.
The absense of Gilmour's influence on the music is conspicuous. With few exceptions, the songs are entirely in Waters' neo-minimalist style. Rarely can a drum beat be discerned, and in fact much of the music is nothing more than some tinkling piano keys behind Waters' gravely vocals. The music clearly takes a back seat to the lyrics. The album as a whole merely served as a vehicle for Waters' message.
Waters' claimed that he was responsible for the success of Pink Floyd. The statistics would seem to support this, as the more control he gained the more successful the band became. But if this was true then TFC should have been the most successful album of all. In reality it was rejected by critics and consumers alike.
What killed Pink Floyd was the fact that there was no collaboration. During the recording of TFC the collaboration was put to rest, and with it the success of the band. No one could argue that TFC was a Pink Floyd album in name only. The same could be said for the Gilmour-led "Momentary Lapse of Reason." Although it was commercially successful, it had no more validity as a Pink Floyd album than TFC did. Pink Floyd was then more a commercial entity than a creative force. "The Division Bell," on the other hand, was a collaborative effort between Gilmour and Wright, with Mason's fringe contributions. Some would argue that this is still not a "Pink Floyd" album, but it's difficult to argue that it has more credibility as such than MLoR did. It was that collaboration that gave it the credibility. Without collaboration, there is no "Pink Floyd."