Phase I - The Rising Star
It was 1965. The Beatles had not yet released Sgt. Pepper. From out of nowhere, a fresh new group was on the scene. London's equivalent of rave parties at the time were "freak out" events, and LSD was openly used just as Extasy is today. Both raves and freak outs were fundamentally about the appreciation of music, and the trend-setting youth that begat such trend-setting talent.
The band that came out of nowhere was a 4-man group calling themselves The Pink Floyd. They were a conventional rock & roll quartet, with drums, keyboards, bass guitar, and lead guitar, but their music was decidedly unconventional. The Pink Floyd's lead guitar player, lead singer, primary song writer, and all around front man was a cute and charismatic lad named Syd Barrett. He was an accomplished guitar player, but the way he played it, and the way he crafted songs, was truly unique. No one had ever done anything quite like it before. Syd was immensely immaginative. Creativity and innovation just came naturally to him.
The keyboard player was another handsome young man named Rick Wright. He didn't have the cute charisma that Syd did, but he was easy on the eyes. He was an adept keyboard player. He was the most formally musical of the bunch, and actually the only one to have ever formally studied music. He was also very comfortable with Syd's off-hand approach to song writing.
The drummer was named Nick Mason. He looked kind of like the guy who, if he wasn't standing with rock and roll stars, that you probably wouldn't have guessed he was one. He was a decent drummer. He was no virtuoso, but he could hold his own. Like Rick, he took to Syd's writing style very naturally.
The fourth member of the group was an odd-looking fellow named Roger Waters. He wasn't ugly, really, but he looked... odd. To look at him in isolation you might not guess rock star, but you'd have a hunch he was something out of the ordinary. Roger was an adequate bass player.
The Pink Floyd soon became the darlings of the Freak Out scene. While most music at these events was about dancing, The Pink Floyd created sounds and experiences that fit particularly well with the LSD trip. People would stand motionless, gape-mouthed and agog, spellbound by the spacey psychadelic sounds. The Pink Floyd soon became the biggest group by reputation, and were always the LOUDEST. They embraced volume. It was part of the experience.
One of the largest parties was held in an old railroad roundhouse. Even Paul McCartney was in attendance. And The Pink Floyd were on the top of the playbill. But this party was the exception, not the rule. Unlike the rave parties of today, the freak outs were rarely held in spacious venues. They were a direct parallel to the "Acid Tests" taking place at the same time in San Francisco, in which The Greatful Dead were the dominant musical presence.
The Pink Floyd played gigs on their own beyond the freak out parties. They teamed up with some guys at the London Free School who were experimenting with lighting effects. Even in that day a good light show was important to any rock and roll performers, and this partnership of convenience gave The Pink Floyd a particularly good light show. The Pink Floyd would give concerts right at the school, where all the lighting equipment was, and they were popular and well-attended from the start. The Free School light geeks were in the same 60's experimental mindframe that The Pink Floyd were, and the light shows were very distinctive by any standards, they fit the music very well, and they were just really, really good. Those must have been amazing concerts to have viewed first-hand back in the day.
Syd was the undisputed front man of The Pink Floyd. He was as instrumental as Jim Morrison would be to The Doors. But that didn't entirely mean that Syd was the leader. Syd was not an original member of the group as it existed before the name The Pink Floyd was used. Roger, Rick, and Nick were all architecture students when they first got together to play rock and roll music. They went through a few earlier incarnations, going by the names "Sigma-6" "The T-Set" "The Meggadeaths" "The Abdabs" and "The Screaming Abdabs." I can't speak with any certainty as to the hierarchy of Roger, Rick, and Nick, but knowing their personalities I would have to speculate that Roger was working in a leadership capacity.
Things finally began to gel when Syd joined the group. He quickly took over creative control. He even came up with the name. It is widely believed that the band named themselves after two Georgia blues men, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The truth, however, lies just beyond that. The fact is that Syd had named his two cats "Pink" and "Floyd" after the aforementioned musicians. When Roger, Rick, and Nick started hanging out with Syd, it was all, "Pink, get off the sofa!" "Floyd, quit clawing the drapeseries!" After constantly hearing "Pink" and "Floyd," they finally came up with the idea of calling themselves, "The Pink Floyd." So the band was actually named after the cats, who were named after the bluesmen. Putting "The" at the beginning of the name made it sound more psychadelic and mysterious.
The name is distinctive in many ways. The two words, random names of largely unknown musicians, taken completely out of context, had an intriguing ring to it. "Pink" of course brings to mind the color. It is a distinctive color from the spectrum of psychadelic colors, and an odd one for a rock band to ally its identity. The other distinctive thing was that their name was not a pluralism. There were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues. The Pink Floyd was singular, as if it was an entity of its own rather than a collection of like things.
That concept was actually quite descriptive of how the band functioned. Syd was the front man. Roger was ready, willing, and able to be the leader when called upon, but he and Rick and Nick were perfectly happy to let Syd do the writing. Syd was on to something, and they knew it. In the early days their music was all very performance-based. They had a number of actual songs that Syd had written (most notably "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine"), but their performances were improvistion-dominated, similar to The Grateful Dead, or of Phish of today. The four, none particularly accomplished musicians, melded together very well and made a fantastic quartet. Roger, Rick, and Nick were not only cool with following Syd's lead, they were good at it. It was Syd's vision, but the others could see it just as clearly. Their music was not only distinctive beyond compare, but their performances were tight and focused. It truly was as if an individual entity called The Pink Floyd was being created every time they played music together.
Things continued to go well for The Pink Floyd. In late 1966 things started to go even better when they were discovered by London record producers Peter Jenner and Andrew King. Together they formed Blackhill Enterprises, and started holding studio sessions. The Pink Floyd graduated from performance artists to recording artists. Their first single was a peppy little number called "Arnold Layne" (B-Side: "Candy and a Current Bun" (originally titled, "Let's Roll Another One")). It was an odd piece about a guy who stole ladies under-things from clothes lines. The genre was what could best be described as psychadelic pop rock. The single hit the scene at just the right time, and actually sold very well, making it into the top 20 of the U.K. charts.
The Pink Floyd quickly followed it up with a single called "See Emily Play" (B-Side: The Scarecrow"). It was inspired by a popular festival called "Free Games For May," and had a little more of a hippy-dippy sound, still preserving their signature psychadelic style. This single did even better than the first, making it to #3 on the U.K charts. This got them TV appearances on the hugely popular BBC program "Top Of The Pops."
The boys immediately followed up that single with an LP, entitled "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn." Most of it was more of Syd's psychadelic pop singles, including the re-release of the B-Side "The Scarecrow." It also contained studio recordings of some of their performance staples. The record sold rather well, making it to #6 on the U.K. charts. It was also well-received by the critics, giving The Pink Floyd credibility as a distinctive new band in the sea of late 60's British pop rock groups.
The interesting thing about the psychadelic pop singles was that the style, while innovative and commercially viable, bore little resemblance to the free-flowing performance pieces that got them noticed in the first place. Such lengthy, improvisational trips didn't fit well with the limited capacity of the 45RPM format. After the success of the two popular singles, The Pink Floyd began to tour more regularly and play to larger audiences. The problem was that the audiences came to hear Arnold Layne and See Emily Play, but they wound up with Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine. Their heads weren't in the same place as the attendees of the freak out parties before, and the performances were not appreciated, and frankly didn't go over that well.
The Pink Floyd's follow-up single, "Apples and Oranges" (B-Side "Paintbox") didn't get nearly the attention of the previous two. There's no small wonder, as it simply wasn't as good as their previous material. Musically it was awkward, and thematically it was simplistic and contrived. They were able to successfully follow up a couple of hit singles with a good album, but interestingly they weren't able to follow the album up with another hit single. Apples and Oranges was rather simplistic and contrived conceptually, and more than a little awkward musically. It was as if they were a pale immitation of themselves. Ironically Paitbox was a much better song, but it wasn't written by Syd and it didn't have that classic Syd sound. Apples and Oranges didn't really have that classic Syd sound either, but everyone still vested the band's sucess with Syd, and were either unwilling to acknowledge that the news song wasn't up to snuff, or were in dinial about it.
The diminished quality of Apples and Oranges can also be attributed to the fact that Syd Barrett was changing. He had become distant and esoteric. He'd always been an eccentric artist type, but he was becoming disconnected from the world around him. His writing was neither as prolific nor as good as before, as was evidenced by the fact that the B-Side had been written by keyboardist Rick Wright.
Syd's performances were also changing. His guitar playing became more and more abstract until it could barely be recognized as a performance anymore. He got to the point where he merely strummed untuned guitar stings in a perpetual 4:4 rhythm. In one legendary incident he had over-applied hair gel to his generous, rock and roll quaff, and the gel melted all over his face under the hot lights of the stage. What a sight he must have been, playing unintelligible music, totally zoned out, and his visage a mess of drooping hair and dripping gelatine. Eventually he became so cavalier about performances that he would just remain sequestered in the dressing room when he was supposed to be on stage. On one occasion the stage manager kept knocking on his door saying, "Time to go... Time to go..."
It got to the point that Syd wasn't writing at all anymore. The Pink Floyd's fourth single was "It Would Be So Nice" written by Rick Wright, with a B-Side of "Julia Dream" written by bassist Roger Waters (although Rick did the vocals). It didn't do any better than the pervious record. Their music wasn't charting, they were losing their front man, and their star was falling like a stone.
Syd Barrett's demise is one of the all-time legends in the history of rock and roll. The scenario is generally explained as Syd simply having done too many drugs, and it turned him into a vegetable. While drugs did play a role in Syd's fall, I believe that it is simplistic and short-sighted to simply write him off as a casualty of drugs.
I believe that what first caused Syd to come unglued was simply the pressure of success. Syd was a very young man. He was two years younger than the other guys, and only 21 when The Pink Floyd hit the big time. He was just a kid, but as the front man of the band it was entirely up to him to sustain their commercial success. Clearly that put enormous pressure on him, and it started to crack him.
This was coupled by the fact that Syd was an artist. I mean, he was a true artist. The term is generally used to label anyone who makes a living by creating things, but in a formal sense I see a true artist as being something different. Artisthood is a state of mind. It is a way of seeing the world that is akimbo from that of the population at large. When Syd's guitar playing became more and more abstract, it was not because he became less and less capable of playing. Syd was an authentic guitar innovator, and through his true artist sensibilities, abstraction was to him a valid route to take. And from an artist's perspective there is validity in this approach. In another world, Syd Barrett could have become the Jackson Pollach of rock and roll. In this world, however, his abstract playing went over like a fart in church.
Then there were the drugs. While I don't think they caused Syd's downfall, it is undeniable that they played a big part. Syd was seeking shelter from the pressure, and he increased his already healthy drug consumption as a way of coping. It was the worst thing he could have done. While the drugs may have given him comfort, they robbed him of any chance he may have had to get control of the situation and turn things around. Instead, his drug use caused him to withdraw more deeply into the alternate reality of the artist. The situation he was in, the whole world around him, became nothing more than the paint on the pallet of the artwork that was creation.
Whatever the true cause of Syd's downfall, it left the remaining members in BIG trouble. The Pink Floyd was very much Syd's band. Or at least that's how their audience perceived it. Without Syd there was no Pink Floyd. This was every bit the catastrophe that Jim Morrison's death would be to The Doors. I believe that this is when Roger Waters' leadership skills took over. Roger's personality was, in breif, that he was a determined, willful, stubborn sonofabitch. He'd be good and God damned if he was going to let this success slip away from him just because Syd was falling off his rocker.
While Syd took the worst possible course of action, the other guys took the best. They approached a hot young guitar man named David Gilmour, an old school chum of Syd's who'd been kicking around Europe with his band Joker's Wild, making barely enough money on gigs to buy one decent meal a week for each of them. David was an accomplished guitar player, he could sing and write material, and he looked damn good. While Syd was cute and impish, Dave had male model looks. The camera loved him. Dave jumped at the chance, and The Pink Floyd had a plan. Dave was hungry for work, and being a part of The Pink Floyd was a dream come true. The plan was that Dave would come on for performances, and Syd would remain a creative force in a sort of Brian Wilson capacity.
The reality, however, was that Syd just wasn't performing in any capacity whatsoever. It turned out to be a mistake to keep Syd involved at any level. After a while the other guys just stopped picking him up, calling him, or otherwise involving themselves with him.
The guys put out one last single. It was called "Point Me At The Sky," credited to R. Waters, D. Gilmour, with vocals by Gilmour. The B-Side was "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," a watered-down studio version of a new piece they had been performing under the title "Murderistic Women," credited to R. Waters, D. Gilmour, R. Wright, N. Mason. It was an instrumental. To no one's surprise, the record tanked. This should have been the death rattle for The Pink Floyd. But before they would roll over and die, they had one last trump card to play.
The people from the original freak out scene were still around. They had been there the whole time, but had been eclipsed, as it were, by the "Top Of The Pops" teenie boppers who first embraced and quickly discarded the band. In fact, during these years, even during the awkward period of Syd's questionable performances, The Pink Floyd had been building an engaged and loyal following of fans who had an acute appreciation for The Pink Floyd's performance music.
The band made some major changes. In March of 1968 they officially asked Syd to leave. Peter Jenner and Andrew King resigned as the band's managers and dissolved Blackhill Enterprises on the presmise that The Pink Floyd had no future without Syd. The remaining members hired a man named Steve O'Rourke to be their new manager. They dropped the "The" from the band name. They were now simply, "Pink Floyd." And finally, they gave up any hope of commercial success through singles. They were now going to become purveyers of "album rock," and continue to focus on performances, for which there remained a small but healthy and consistent market. This was a huge turning point for the band. Their future was unclear, but they had a plan, and they were prepared to give it their best shot.
Phase II - The Foundation
Roger, Dave, Rick, and Nick went on touring and holding studio sessions for the album that was already in the works. Syd continued to enjoy a certain level of celebrity around London. He'd been Pink Floyd's front man, after all, and was still recognizable even without the rest of the group behind him. While he wasn't performing anywhere, he remained a popular personality in the 60's scene, and a sought-after party guest. He also started recording for his own solo album under the teutiledge of none other than Peter Jenner.
With the distraction of Syd behind them, the remaining members of Pink Floyd were able to get down to some serious work. Their second album, "Saucerful Of Secrets," was released a mere 3 months after Blackhill Enterprises was dissolved. The title track was a new instrumental piece they had been performing under the name "The Massed Gadgets of Hercules." Unlike the earlier releases of their concert standards, which deviated little from their performance versions beyond being somewhat reduced in length, they set out to make this song a true studio creation. They employed recording techniques like over-dubbing, and added sound effects and other elements that were impractical on stage. The process greatly developed their craft as recording artists, and the song became a prototype for what would become their root style in the post-Syd era.
The song itself was interesting in another way. It played out in successive movements, the way classical pieces did, creating essentially a song of songs. These movements would later be identified as a) Something Else, b) Syncpated Pandemonium, c) Storm Signal, and d) Celestial Voices. These formed a unified collection of individual works that flowed together seamlessly to create a greater whole. While it didn't employ classical instrumentation, it did embrace the classical methodology, further asserting itself as a prototype for their new style.
The other stand-out track from that album was "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun." It would become a performance staple. Where Saucerful flowed from one movement to the next, Set The Controls followed one complex rhythm repeatedly throughout its five and a half minute duration. I call this an "epic" style, as in the epic songs medieval bards memorized as a means to preserve an oral tradition unaltered by subsequent tellings. Musically these epic songs were utterly repetitive. There were no refrains. It was just verse after verse after verse. Other rock and roll songs that I feel fall into this category include Traffic's "John Barleycorn," The Grateful Dead's "Jack-a-roe," and the ultimate rock and roll epic song and one of my top 5 favorite songs of all time, Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald." In the case of Set The Controls, there were three verses, and although there were no refrains there was a significant instrumental jam between the second and third verse. It wove a vague tapestry of life, evoking images of dawn (birth), the course of a day (passage of time, aging), and sunset (pining for immortality, reflection of one's life). It became one of their most enduring performance pieces.
Of the other new material, some were vestiges of their single-oriented past, but the rest of it was more forward-looking. And the final track was Syd Barrett's swan song. It is a track called "Jugband Blues," and it was the last work published under the name "Pink Floyd" for which he was credited. Syd's studio antics had already become intolerable, but this was the legendary occasion when he brought a Salvation Army band into the studio and told them to play "whatever." There were phrases in the song that were essentially Syd's epitaph to his own career. He may have been detached and isolated, but he knew this was the last "Pink Floyd" music he'd ever create. He sang his own goodbye.
The album managed to reach #9 in the U.K. charts. This was lower than their first album, but still beyond expectations. These sales, together with the steady concert income the band was generating, meant that they were a profitable entity despite the absense of Syd Barrett. But their future was far from secure.
Their next move was to produce a movie soundtrack. The film was Barbet Schroeder's "More." It was a depressing tale of addiction and endless longing. But for Pink Floyd, scoring the soundtrack was a shrewd move. They published the soundtrack album under their own name. It was their first release that they produced themselves. Production credit went solely to "Pink Floyd." The film increased their recognition, they had enough album sales to fund future studio work, and now they had the ability to be fully independent while in the studio. The stage was set.
The record peaked at #9 in the U.K. charts. This was not an improvement over their previous offering, but neither did it lose ground.
They quickly followd up More with the release of an album called "Ummagumma" (said to be slang for "sex"). While it was a double album, it was not a terribly ambitous outing for the group. The first record was live concert recordings of their four most popular perfromance songs. The second record was divided into four segments with each band member having a half an album side to write and produce whatever he wanted. It was an interesting experiment, but revealed that the real genious of Pink Floyd was in the collaberation of the four individuals. The first record captured the magic that was a Pink Floyd performance, but the second record contained little enduring material. The real benefit of the experiment, however, was in honing their craft as record producers. With each member being on his own, each member had to function independently with the studio equipment. That meant that each member of the band was able to hold his own during recording sessions, thus furthering the collaborative nature of their music.
The album actually sold quite well, based mostly on the live recordings. In fact it reached #5 in the U.K. charts, making it their best-selling album to date. But the real news was that it reached #74 in the U.S. While this might not sound significant compared to their U.K. sales, it was the first time they broke into the top 100 in the states. Pink Floyd had been practically unknown in the U.S., but now they had their foot in the door. Ummagumma actually stayed on the U.S. charts for a total of 27 weeks.
Pink Floyd's reputation, both at home and abroad, was growing. But beyond that, the nature of their reputation was solidifying. The decade was about to roll over from the 60's to the 70's. The British Invasion was in full swing, and there was no shortage of groups vying for attention. There was also no shortage of drugs being consumed in this epic era, and Ummagumma went a long way towards making Pink Floyd the "drug music" of choice. The prolonged, sonic explorations of outer and inner space punctuated with piercing flashes of madness were the perfect fit for LSD trips and the marijuana high. For better or worse, Pink Floyd was becoming inexorably linked with drugs and drug culture.
All in all things were looking good for Pink Floyd. They remained very much a cult band, but their footing was becoming more and more solid all the time. But they were finding themselves stalled cratively. More had given them a few new songs to play live, but they largely felt like they were just playing the same material over and over again. One reason the released the live half of Ummagumma was to satiate the crowd and allow them to move on. Unfortunately it had the opposite effect, and people just wanted to hear them all he more. They needed new material, but it just wasn't coming.
Syd Barrett hadn't been faring all that well himself. He'd been ambling about London taking all kinds of drugs and not doing much else. Progress on his solo album had been moving at a snail's pace. He was dreadfuly unfocused in the studio to the point that it wasn't clear he really understood what he was doing there. He would play his songs differently on each take, often making careless blunders, and sometimes just stopping for no reason. Peter Jenner was relieved by Malcolm Jones as producer, and eventually by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. His old chums seemed to be the only one's who had the patience to deal with him anymore.
Finally the bits and pieces from his recording sessions were bodged up to form an album. It was released in early 1970 under the name "The Madcap Laughs." They were all short songs, ranging in time from 1:56 to 3:44, and mostly just Syd and his guitar. In spite of all the trouble getting it recorded there was actually some very interesting material on it. The quality of his playing ranged from borderline to downright poor, but in a way that did not detract from the music. True Syd fans weren't all that conerned with the production quality to begin with, focusing more on the content itself.
The songs were totally different from his original psychadelic singles, but they had other qualities that were perhaps even more interesting. At times it was as if raw madness was flowing directly out of Syd, unfettered by rational thought or any vestiges of self-consciousness whatsoever. In this way they were oddly sincere. Rather than being contrived and forced like "Apples and Oranges," which came out of an uncomfortable and pressured atmosphere, these songs were just Syd doing what Syd wanted to do.
The lyrics had a dream-like quality in that dreams seem to make sense at the time, but on closer inspection turn out to be random and nonsensical impressions that are actually rather disquieting, together as a whole forming a shattered mosaic of halting incompleteness. Pink Floyd was trying to capture madness in their music. Syd's music was madness. It was the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of an artist lost in his artisthood. But, to those who could appreciate it, it was beautiful.
With nothing better to do, Pink Floyd collaborated on another movie soundtrack. This time they would not do the entire soundtrack themselves. The film was Michelangelo Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point," and it would feature music from Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, and others. For Antonioni the film was a huge disappointment, but it gave Pink Floyd a framework in which to create. They wound up proposing seven distinct songs (one of which was a clone of "Careful With That Axe Eugene" specifically requested by Antonioni), three of which were used. The remaining four, as well as the other three, are available on the Zabriski Point original motion picture soundtrack 2-CD set. I highly recommend it. It's like discovering a long lost Pink Floyd album.
Working on the movie soundtrack got Pink Floyd's creative juices flowing again. They came up with a lenthy instrumental piece they called "The Amazing Pudding." Like Saucerful, it was a collection of distinct movements (Father's Shout, Breast Milky, Mother Fore, Funky Dung, Mind Your Throats Please, and Remergence), but this time there was a melody that was established in the first movement, and reprised in the segues between the subsequent movements. This gave the piece a level of cohesion missing from Saucerful, and essentially created a twenty minute rock and roll symphony.
The song worked great on stage. But to fully realize it in the studio it they accentuated the symphonic nature of the piece with symphonic instrumentation. They turned to Ron Geesin, Roger Waters' mentor in tape recorder techniques, to see to the instrumentation. The boys laid down the track as an extended, polished version of the performance piece. Geesin and keyboardist Rick Wright then scored the classical instrumentation and mixed it with the boy's original studio recording. The result was stupendous. It was released under the name "Atom Heart Mother," and remains an underappreciated gem in the genre of symphonic rock. Geesin's hard work gave him what would wind up being a rare writing credit for an outsider, along with credit to the four members of Pink Floyd. The song was the title track of their next album, and took up the whole first side of the record.
The second side was very even divided. Whether by design or not, Roger, Dave, and Rick each got a track of his own. Each was a collaborative effort with the band, unlike on Ummagumma, but each was written solely by one member. While Nick did not have a track of his own, he did collaborate on the final track, "Alan's Psychadelic Breakfast," which was credited to all four members. It was an experimental piece in three acts, each unto itself a very delightful little tune. But the segues were sound effects of a person peparing and eating breakfast. The band were never very fond of it, but veteran fans tout it as a success of experimental rock.
The album hit #1 in the U.K. charts, which was a big first for the band. It got up to #55 in the U.S., which was an improvement over Ummagumma, and no small feat. The album was followed up with a world tour, including dates in Japan, and they sometimes played the title track with brass ensemble, 20-voice choir, or even a full orchestra. Also played live was "Fat Old Sun," which was Dave Gilmour's song from side 2.
While Pink Floyd had been working on the Atom Heart Mother album, Syd Barrett was putting together his second solo album. Dave Gilmour did most of the producing with some help from Rick Wright. The two also played bass guitar and keyboards respectively with Jerry Shirley on drums. The music was more polished than on his first album, or, more accurately, not quite as rough. With considerable help from Gilmour, Wright, and Shirley the instrumentation was not nearly as barren.
This was also a collection of rather short songs, ranging in duration from 1:52 to 5:47. The lyrics, while pretty far out there, but not nearly as far out as on The Madcap Laughs. It seemed as if Syd was circling back around towards a more conventional level of normalcy. In fact, this would be Syd's last creative outing ever.
Atom Heart Mother broke Pink Floyd out of their creative rut, but they quickly wound up right back in another one. With a #1 album under their belts they were now feeling the pressure to follow it up. They spent a lot of time in the studio, but wound up with little to show for it. All they could come up with were meandering, aimless, abstract bits that went nowhere. Their working title for the amorphous mess was "Nothing - Parts 1 to 24."
The spark that finally got the four going again came out of nowhere. Rick worked up a sound effect that was reminiscent of a sonar ping, like in a submarine movie. That got them on an underwater, evolutionary, other-wordly kind of theme, and before they knew it they had another lengthy song. They performed it under the name "Return Of The Son Of Nothing." It was like Saucerful and Atom Heart Mother in that it played out in movements. Compositionally it was a cross between Saucerful and AHM. There was no unifying musical phrase running through it, but it was bookended with matching musical themes, creating a cohesive but linear whole.
Now out of their creative rut, they pumped out a number of other songs. The stand out track was "One Of These Days," a driving instrumental with a spooky voiceover in the middle. There were some other gems in there, including some great acoustic guitar work by Dave Gilmour. In fact, this album marked the point when his guitar playing begam to come into its own. When Dave first took over for Syd he had been accused, falsely I'd say, of mimicking Syd's style. In the years that followed, Dave's playing became accomplished enough to step out of Syd's shadow. But by the time Meddle was released, David was begining to show the potential to become a virtuoso.
Before they could release the album they were distracted by another film project. This one was a film *of* the band. They set up in the collesium of the preserved Roman city Pompeii, and played a concert to no one but the film crew. The concert was typical of their contemporary playlist, including material that would be released on the forthcoming album. It is perhaps the only concert film in the history of rock and roll where the band is playing to an empty house. But seeing them playing their fucked up space music in the center of an ancient Roman colleseum was just *so* Pink Floyd.
Soon Pink Floyd's next album was released under the name Meddle. Their lengthy song was called "Echoes." It, like Atom Heart Mother, took up an entire album side, but, in contrast, was the second side rather than the first. The first side was taken up with their shorter pieces.
Meddle reached #3 in the U.K. charts, and #70 in the U.S. This was a step back from Atom Heart Mother, but still nothing to be ashamed of. The released was followed up by an ambitious world tour that went on for months.
In the midsts of their world tour, they still managed to find time to write new material. While they had now produced two album-side-lengthed works, and a number of otherwise extended pieces, they aimed for the ultimate goal: one song that lasted for an entire album. They came up with a 45 minute performance piece they called "Eclipsed." It was, in essance, an album's worth of individual tracks, but there was a lyrical theme that pervaded the entire piece, and the music was woven together seamlessly by a variety of segues. The songs did not particularly work out of order, thematically or musically. The final effect was, for all intents and purposes, one single 45 minute work.
After a short break, Pink Floyd continued with the second leg of their world tour. They performed this new piece as they refined and perfected it. Before they could tackle it in the studio, however, they went off to do another film soundtrack. This movie was called "The Valley," and Pink Floyd released the soundtrack album under the name "Obscured By Clouds." No particularly memorable work came out of this album, but it was a good soundtrack for the movie, and it exercised the band's skills as song writers. The album got up to #6 in the U.K. and #46 in the U.S.
Once Obscured By Clouds was released they got back into the studio to work in earnest on their Eclipsed project. The director of the Pompeii film weaseled his way into the studio to get some footage of the guys at work on this project. But before much time had gone by, the band was back the road for more touring.
In the midst of all this touring, the movie was released in England. It was called "Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii." It really was the first time any face was put on the band. The creative entity Pink Floyd had remained the star of the band all this time. Dave Gilmour was not the front man that Syd was. He was not intended to be. Since they had not been pursuing the Top Of The Pops crowd, they didn't really need a front man. And they didn't particularly want one. The fact that few people really even knew what the individual members looked like afforded them the luxury of being able to walk about in public undisturbed.
The other interesting thing about the film was seeing up close how these guys made their music. While Pink Floyd truly embraced synthesisers and other electronic goodies, it was in the way they played their instruments, especially Dave Gilmour's increasingly distinctinve and sophisticated style, that the true quality of the music lay.the kinds of sounds they made, and how they wove it together into the kinds of songs they played. They used the same instrumentation as any standard rock and roll quartet, yet their sounds were so entirely different. Part of it was in the equipment.The "concert" footage was actually shot before Pink Floyd got back in the studio. But while the film was being put together, more footage inside the studio was taken. Movie goers got a sneak peak at Pink Floyd's new project. Some months later it would be released under the name "Dark Side Of The Moon."
Phase III - Be Careful What You Ask For...
Pink Floyd released Dark Side Of The Moon like any other album, expecting moderate sales and hopefully increasing their audience. They were wholely unprepared for the stunning sales that would follow. Dark Side was an instant legend. And Pink Floyd had something they hadn't had in a long time: a hit single. "Money" was released with "Any Colour You Like" as the B-Side. It was far and away the most popular song on the album, and it received massive air play.
All this was well and good, but it wasn't easy on the band. They had grown comfortable in their niche as an underground psychadelic rock band. Their sales were such that their record company afforded them plenty of studio time to do whatever they wanted. Now they were a hot commodity to be exploited.
The odd thing, was that their collective identity as Pink Floyd remained intact. The fans still weren't very familiar with the individual personalities within the band. Many people actually thought that "Pink Floyd" was a person. That was a misconception that would stick with them for years.
A couple months after the release of Dark Side, the band packed up and took it on the road. If they had been unprepared for success before, this concert tour would kick them right on their asses. Until this time, Pink Floyd concerts were atypical in that the crowd actually listened to the music. The band had gotten extremely good at it, employing "sound in the round" in the arenas, and treating the audience to stunning audio effects. When Cymbaline was performed live, there was a segment in which echoing footsteps would walk around and through the space. It was an amazing experience. Their concerts were more like philharmonic performances, where the crowd remained quiet and attentive.
The Dark Side Of The Moon tour, however, was jam packed with rowdy teens, jumping about and hollaring at the top of their lungs. While this must have caused annoyance and dismay among old and loyal fans, the band just couldn't handle it. They had worked so hard to hone their performance craft, and most of the audience wasn't listening to it. The few who wanted to listen couldn't hear it over all the ruckus.
The first set began with a full-length performance of "Echoes." The brilliance of the long, flowing, sonic instrumental was lost on the kids who primarily came to hear "Money." It was followed by some of their older live staples. The second set was Dark Side in its entirety, complete with sound effects played from tape. Many concert-goers didn't like this, complaining that if they wanted to just listen to the album they could have stayed home and played it for themselves. Others were aghast that pre-recorded material was being used in a live performance. All in all, this concert didn't go over well.
What was also largely overlooked was the stage show itself. The success of the album brought major sponsorship, and that brough an increased budget. Pink Floyd had used a large circular screen as their backdrop for some time, but with this tour it came into its own. It was much larger than before, and was used as a rear-projection screen. Strange and interesting footage was shown during key songs. The light show was also beefed up. For Pink Floyd, the stage wasn't just a set for them to stand on. It was in integral part of the performance experience. The lights and film weren't just ornaments draped over the performance. They were coordinated with the music in an integrated fashion. A Pink Floyd concert was truly multi-media experience.
The band suffered through the rest of the tour, which went on through the rest of the year. The following Summer they toured France, and in the fall toured England again. Finally it came to an end and they retreated into the studio.
Now Pink Floyd were faced with the greatest challenge of their career. After 8 albums and 8 years in the business, they were truly faced with the sophomore jynx. How on Earth could they follow up on a success like Dark Side??? Tension had been building in the band as they struggled to come to grips with their new-found success.
Roger Waters, who had always maintained a slight lead in the ratio of song-writing credit, really stretched his wings on Dark Side. I assume that it was his idea to create a cohesive album-length work, but it was surely his lyrics that tied it all together and wove such a deep and textured tapestry of nuance and meaning. Assessed purely as poetry, Dark Side is quite amazing. There is a seemingly limitless supply of memorable phrases, and the complexity of the issues explored by the individual songs, and how they so well construct the overriding concept (birth, life, death, and all the insanity inbetween), was unparalleled.
Overall, Roger had writing credit on 70% of the material on the album. In his mind, I'm sure he took 100% credit for the album's success. Roger's ego, tempered by the absense of his role as a front man, and perhaps by a deep-seeded yet overriding insecurity about his worth as an artist, became a force to be reconned with.
Still, these recording sessions did commence as a group effort. The process of creating new material remained a strongly collaborative one. But gone were the days when an individual could write an individual piece. Roger was involved on every track. While it was common for them to quibble over details, it must now have been all-out battle. The one remaining member who was up for that battle was guitarist Dave Gilmour. He was the closest thing to a front man the group had (he was conspicuously shirtless during scenes in Live At Pompeii), and his guitar-playing was now being heralded on the virtuoso level.
Things came to a head at one particular point. They had been struggling with the content for the new album. The first side was to be two fairly lengthy songs co-written by Roger and Dave: "Wish You Were Here" and "Gotta Be Crazy," along with a Roger song called "Raving and Drooling." All of of side two would be an ode to Syd Barrett, penned by all four members, called "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," perhaps inspired by a sudden and unexpected visit from Syd to the boys in the studio (at first they didn't even recognize the fat, bald man). While they had an album's worth of material, they weren't happy with it. It just wasn't coming together. It wasn't ready to be released.
As they struggled, Roger snuck off by himself and came up with a couple other songs, one called "Have A Cigar" and the other "Welcome To The Machine." They were two cynical pieces inspired by the band's disdain for the success they suddenly found themselves burdoned with.
Roger presented the new material to the group, suggesting that they add them, drop "Gotta Be Crazy," and split Shine On between the first and second sides, bookending the album as a whole. Dave said no, he wanted to keep the album the way it was. Neither backed down. It was a stalemate. They decided to put it to a vote. In the end, Rick and Nick sided with Roger, the album went forward his way, and his position as the leader of the band was solidified.
The album came out to largely positive reviews. It certainly had credibility as an apt follow-up to Dark Side. Musically it was profoundly intricate and interesting. They cynical lyrics about the record business may have stuck in the ribs of a few record executives, but the fans loved it (the album was released in opaque blue shrink-wrap as a statement of their feelings towards the industry). They way Sine On bookended the whole album gave it a continuity, even if the pervasive theme (ire, sorrow, and regret in the face of success) wasn't as cohesive as the one on Dark Side. While it didn't sell as well as Dark Side (which was still in the charts), it sold better than anything else they'd done previously. It ensured their role as the preeminent psychadelic album-rock band of the 70's.
The guys went right back into the studio without touring. They just couldn't face those screaming kids again. They immediately went to work on the songs that had been dropped from the previous album, under the names "Dogs" and "Sheep", along with another new Roger song, "Pigs." The animal theme was completed by two short Roger pieces, "Pigs On The Wing" parts 1 and 2, to once again bookend the album. It came together comparitively quickly.
Pink Floyd did it again. The album was very well received. It was just what the fans wanted, and it was just the right piece for the band as a creative entity. The album again fell short of a cohesive theme, but it was a collection of facets of a central theme, and was intended to be experienced as a contiguous piece. It was a brilliant follow-up to a brilliant follow-up.
This time there was no way they could get away without touring. They were among the very top bands at the time with respect to both sales and reputation. In 1977 they embarked on a massive world tour.
This time the experience for them as performers was even worse. The fans had become even more boisterous and ill-behaved, and since the band was playing to sold-out crowds in huge arenas, there were even more of the unruly monsters to contend with. The late 70's was they heyday of the big, brawling rock concert experience. It went completely unchecked until fans were stampled to death at a Who concert.
Pink Floyd's fans weren't much better. The marathon tour took a huge toll on the band. From almost the beginning, Roger was counting down the number of shows left in the tour. He would announce the number at each show, without explanation. On bootleg tapes between songs you can sometimes hear Roger's voice simply stating, "twenty seven," or some such number. By the time the tour finally ended in Olympic Stadium in Montréal, Roger was ready to lose it. It was reported that Roger stopped performing Pigs On The Wing Part 2 to stop a couple irchins from lighting fire crackers, and that he later spat on a fan up front who was spraying him with a squirt gun. I can just imagine Roger on stage, saying to himself, "If only we could build a wall between us and the audience -- hey... that gives me an idea."
After the '77 tour was over, the band members retreated individually. Guitarist Dave Gilmour and Keyboardist Rick Wright each produced solo albums. All the while Roger was working on that wall idea. The band members reconvened and Roger presented them with the concept. They decided to go ahead with it. Except for two tracks that were based on outtakes from Dave's solo album, and one song that Dave helped write specifically for the album, Roger had 100% writing credit.
The album took a very long time to record. At this point Pink Floyd had carte blanch in the studio. It was ready in late 1979. It was released just in time for Christmas, and was simply called "The Wall." It was a double-album opus chronicling the birth and upbringing of a rock star who was ultimately broken by his own success and excessive lifestyle. While there were clear elements from Roger's life present, it was Syd's story. It may have been heavily fictionalized, but it was Syd plain and simple.
The album sold immediately. Few people knew of Syd or his story, Christ, a lot of people still thought that Pink Floyd was a person, but they loved it. Never had such a vivid portrayal of madness been crafted in the rock and roll milieu. It was Pink Floyd's signature theme, and they out-did themselves this time.
Musically it was brilliant as well. While most fans grabbed onto the "We don't need no education" chant of "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2," other tracks like "Comfortably Numb" and "Run Like Hell" remain classic rock standards.
The band did tour briefly. They concocted an elaborate stage presentation, including the gradual construction of an actual wall between the band and the audience, and single-handedly invented Rock Theater. The production was so complex, however, that they were only able to stage it in four venues. They played multiple performances each in LA, New York, London, and Dortmund Germany.
Phase IV - The Sun Is Eclipsed By The Moon
The Wall was another megga success for Pink Floyd. While still the preeminent psychadelic album rock band of all time, they so thoroughly out-did themselves that their legendary status in the history of rock and roll increased by an order of magnitude. It seemed as if nothing could stop them.
Unfortunately, they were already starting to fall apart. Rumors are that Roger had become brutal in the studio, and that he was emotionally abusive to Rick and Nick. Rick actually dropped out of the band after the release of The Wall. He toured as a hired session musician, and, ironically, was the only one of the four to actually make any money on that tour.
Roger was now in complete control of the band. I'm sure that in his mind he was Pink Floyd. He wanted to do a movie of The Wall. He, with animator Gerald Scarfe, wrote up a screen play and some conceptual drawings, and shopped it around. They landed a deal and the movie was green-lighted.
Director Alan Parker was hired, and the lead role, originally to be played by Roger until it became clear that he couldn't act, would be played by Boomtown Rats' front man Bob Geldof. Geldof originally didn't want to do the movie, as Pink Floyd was the exact kind of grandiose music that his punk rock band rebelled against, but his mamager talked him into it. Roger caught wind of this, as he tells it, because his brother was a taxi driver and happened to have Geldof and his manager in the cab when they were discussing it. The interesting thing is that this kind of frankness was exactly what Roger respected. He got along fine with Geldof, who gained a new appreciation for Pink Floyds music as he became familiar with The Wall.
Roger, however, didn't get on so well with Alan Parker. Stories of on-set shouting matches are legendary. It's not so much that each had a big ego as each was a control freak. Roger didn't want his concept messed with in any way. Parker, who was under constraints to produce something that worked as a film, as well as having his own interpretive vision of the work, was in charge as director and was going to do the project his way. It's said that Roger was ultimately banned from the set. One way or the other, the film was made.
Critics weren't entirely sure what to make of the movie. It was described as a feature-length rock video (MTV was still in its infancy at the time). But good or bad, it got their attention. Fans loved it. It remains a midnight movie house classic to this day. It was a stunning success. It was also the final nail in the coffin of the distinct creative entity that was Pink Floyd.
Opening credits of the film read,