Pink Floyd is a rock band from London, England. Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason met in architecture school, and started playing in local bands. The trio added Syd Barrett, Waters’ younger friend from Cambridge, who was attending art school in London. Though they played primarily rhythm and blues covers at the beginning of 1966, by the end of the year they were incorporating Barrett’s original and unusual songs into their repertoire. By 1967, Barrett had become the de facto leader of the band, and they were a popular and influential band in the underground London music scene. But Barrett soon descended into mental illness, with psychedelic drugs playing a significant role in his demise. Fellow Cambridge guitarist David Gilmour was added to the band in early 1968, and within weeks permanently replaced the ailing Barrett. The band then spent years developing their music, before catapulting into stardom with Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973. Pink Floyd is one of the most commercially successful artists of all-time, with over 250 million albums sold worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996.
Roger Waters (b. 1943), bass, vocals, songwriter
David Gilmour (b. 1946), guitar, vocals, songwriter
Richard Wright (1943-2008), keyboards, vocals, songwriter
Nick Mason (b. 1944), drums, percussion, vocals
Syd Barrett (1946-2006), guitar, vocals, songwriter
The original Pink Floyd created quite a stir in Britain with their psychedelic music. London and San Francisco were the two cities most responsible for the psychedelic renaissance in music, with the Beatles and Grateful Dead anchoring the movement. Jimi Hendrix also played a role, taking London by storm that year. Pink Floyd was a big band in Britain — The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was a top ten album, and is still considered a classic of the genre.
Here’s a private dance party for perhaps twenty lucky friends dancing to the wild “Interstellar Overdrive”, followed by an endorsement from Paul McCartney.
In this clip, the interviewer is rude and aggressive towards the band, stopping short of saying “your music is terrible”. Think how tough it would be to handle this sort of syndicated criticism.
After Syd Barrett dropped out, the band evolved into their familiar sound. Would most music enthusiasts agree that Gilmour is a powerful, unique voice in rock music history? Rolling Stone Magazine rates him as one of the top twenty guitarists in rock history. Let’s skip ahead to 1972, and the quartet breaking through with their best extended jam to date, “Echoes” from the film Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii.
There are few good videos documenting their most famous music. Plenty of good sound recordings, but no video. This recording of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)” gives a good idea of their concert sound:
Some David Gilmour Videos
A serious rift developed between bassist Roger Waters and his band mates; perhaps the band’s great popularity compelled them to stay together far longer than their creative lives would dictate. The next two videos feature David Gilmour performing Pink Floyd classics; Waters has his own acclaimed performances of these songs. Regardless, the band remained intact for a full thirteen years before keyboard player Richard Wright left in 1979.
Gilmour plays “Wish You Were Here”, inspired by the loss of Syd Barrett, is perhaps my favorite Pink Floyd song.
Finally, a fine performance of “Comfortably Numb”, with Richard Wright on keyboards and vocals, originally from The Wall:
Pink Floyd’s music is gentle, and meant to be savored at a slower pace. They were important in a transitional era, as popular music drifted from dance rhythms to forms best suited for quiet listening. In a sense, this is closer to classical music. I rarely listen to their music anymore; in middle age I prefer the old dance rhythms, and I choose more complex and improvisational jazz numbers for contemplation.
The four albums to own are:
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Dark Side Of The Moon
Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here came at an important juncture in my life, a year spent between high school and college, where I hung out with older friends and developed bad habits that would haunt me in following years. Dark Side Of The Moon is the strongest and most coherent album. Only one song from Meddle misses the cut; it was the third of three Pink Floyd albums I embraced as a young man. After that, I lost interest and turned my attentions elsewhere. I discovered Piper At The Gates Of Dawn much later in life. As a result, my collection centers around the first ten years of the band’s development, and this unbalanced collection feels right. The band does not succeed without the early contributions of Syd Barrett, and no significant stylistic or lyrical breakthroughs were made after Wish You Were Here.
The studio version of “Echoes” is twenty-three minutes long, the third longest song in the collection. Ultimately, a song is best rated on how it sounds when selected in a random shuffle. Short songs work well; if they don’t, they get skipped and often eliminated. Long songs have to be good to hold one’s attention for so long, and are passed over more often than not. The video above of “Echoes” is an outstanding look at the band in its prime.
Many of the songs feature long instrumental excursions which compare unfavorably to the jazz masters. Syd Barrett’s contributions were essential; the others learned the lessons of his demise and made the most of it. Dark Side Of The Moon is their masterpiece, but I am drawn to the daring music of their early career. In the grand scheme of music innovation, Barrett’s songs are the ones that changed the course of popular music.
Pink Floyd Song Notes:
1. “Lucy Leave” is Pink Floyd’s first demo recording from 1965. Written by Syd Barrett, this song sounds like typical garage band and British Invasion style rockers from its era, and much different than their music of just a year or two later. I like “Lucy Leave” and am rather surprised it was never officially released.
2. “Astronony Domine (Live)” and “Careful With That Axe Eugene (Live)” from the album Ummagumma. “Lucy Leave” is a tough get.
3. “Money (Live)” can be found on Dark Side Of the Moon (Deluxe Edition).
Pink Floyd Songs:
Money, Pink Floyd ✭✭✭✭
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd ✭✭✭✭
Us And Them, Pink Floyd ✭✭✭
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V), Pink Floyd ✭✭✭
Money (Live), Pink Floyd ✭✭✭
Time, Pink Floyd ✭✭✭
Astronomy Domine, Pink Floyd ✭✭✭
Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Lucy Leave, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Brain Damage, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Astronomy Domine (Live), Pink Floyd ✭✭
Speak To Me/Breathe, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Fearless, Pink Floyd ✭✭
San Tropez, Pink Floyd ✭✭
One Of These Days, Pink Floyd ✭✭
See Emily Play, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Lucifer Sam, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Seamus, Pink Floyd ✭✭
Have A Cigar, Pink Floyd ✭
The Great Gig In The Sky, Pink Floyd ✭
Eclipse, Pink Floyd ✭
Echoes, Pink Floyd ✭
Any Colour You Like, Pink Floyd ✭
Arnold Layne, Pink Floyd ✭
Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2, Pink Floyd ✭
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX), Pink Floyd ✭
Welcome To The Machine, Pink Floyd ✭
Cymbaline, Pink Floyd ✭
Interstellar Overdrive, Pink Floyd ✭
Careful With that Axe Eugene (Live), Pink Floyd ✭