Students Roger Waters and Nick Mason were at the beginning of the British pop explosion when they met in 1963 at the London Polytechnic and enlisted Richard Wright into their Sigma 6 combo. Bumping into Syd Barrett, an art student at Camberwell, sealed their sea change into something musically outgoing. They tested out their long solo jams in London clubs such as Countdown and The Marquee, and soon became a cult item on the underground rock scene, utilising light shows, slides and rudimentary stage effects to the delight of the lysergically refreshed.
Their ambitions outstripped those surroundings when they signed to EMI and released ‘Arnold Layne’, a cross-dressing anthem that suited the times when others such as The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and Small Faces were also dealing with the outré. Pink Floyd’s subsequent debut album, 1967’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (title borrowed from the elegiac chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows) was engineered by Beatles associate Norman Smith. Including single A-side ‘See Emily Play’ (on the US edition) and oddball delights such as ‘Astronomy Domine’, ‘Lucifer Sam’ and ‘Bike’, all from Syd’s prolific pen, the album peaked at No.6 in spring 1967, while the instrumental freak-rock epic, ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ signposted a quite different avenue.
Its 1968 follow-up, A Saucerfull Of Secrets, featured new guitarist David Gilmour, enlisted to fill in for Barrett’s increasing absences. A full-on space-rock delight with ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and the multi-part title track signalling the group’s new direction, … Secrets also includes ‘Jugband Blues’, Syd’s last published work with his old mates. Even further out there, the group’s first full-length soundtrack album, More, was heavily avant-garde, with taped effects and treated keyboards bubbling through the layered guitars and percussion.
The double-set Ummagumma became one of those must-have items, spotted under the great coated armpits of any self-respecting psychedelic student and head in 1969. Though the band have expressed reservations about the affair, its mix of studio and live recordings is still a fan favourite, capturing pristine club and college versions of ‘Astronomy Domine’, ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’, ‘Set Controls…’ and ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’, as well as Waters’ stereophonic panning idyll ‘Grantchester Meadows’, and Gilmour’s spacey modulation on ‘The Narrow Way’, one of those pieces that electric guitarists always hark back to.
Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971) completed Pink Floyd’s transition from Barrett-era psychonauts to 70s progressives. The former’s title track and the latter’s ‘Echoes’, which spread over the entire second side of the original vinyl, took them into uncharted territory as glorious psychedelic overlords whose only real competition was California’s Grateful Dead, with whom they would share stage equipment further down the line.
Their next soundtrack, Obscured By Clouds, helped break the group in the US, while savvy critics took note of such fine songs as Waters’ ‘Free Four’ (one of his many World War II numbers) and the undervalued blues-rock of ‘The Gold It’s In The…’
But nothing prepared for the landslide of 1973’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, whose key songs, ‘Money’, ‘Us And Them’, ‘Breathe’ and ‘Time’, plus an unforgettable moment in soul singer Clare Torrey’s turn on ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’, ushered in a super-slick production sound and went on to sell multi-Platinum. As Mason later acknowledged, “Everyone thought it was the best thing we’d ever done to date… It was not only about being a good album but also about being in the right place at the right time.” That it was.
How to follow that? 1975’s Wish You Were Here was something of a parting shot to Syd via the title track and the conceptual ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. Using 16-track technology, and with Rick Wright increasingly adept at incorporating ARP String Ensemble, Minimoog and EMS Synthi VCS3 equipment, Wish You Were Here was every bit as satisfying as its predecessor and once again involved great soul singers, this time Carlena Williams and Vanetta Fields.
With their albums and legendary live shows ensuring global superstar status – despite each individual band member’s media reticence and lack of public profile outside their work – it was brave of them to tackle the social alienation of Animals (1977), in which where Waters was allowed full rein to vent his spleen on iconoclastic ‘Pigs’, ‘Dogs’ and ‘Sheep’.
Evidently he was warming up for the post-punk diatribe The Wall (1979), probably the most famous concept double-album ever released. Though Waters helmed most of the lyrical material the musical contributions were democratically dealt out between band memebers. Key moments such as ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ (in which Waters railed against the private education system) and Gilmour’s fabulous solos on ‘Comfortably Numb’ were strategic high points, but don’t overlook ‘Hey You’ or the harrowing ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’.
Four years later, The Final Cut told a story in the title, since it was Waters’ last studio stint with the band and the first not to feature Wright. Waters’ concept this time around was the aftermath of The Falklands War, though ‘Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert’ and Wall-era ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’ were wider ranging.
With Waters now pursuing a solo career, Gilmour, Mason and Wright reconvened for A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, with Bob Ezrin (Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Jane’s Addiction, KISS, among many, many others) producing. Any signs of enthusiasm waning in the studio were offset by the success of the band’s accompanying world tour, which culminated in the belated Knebworth Park show in 1990.
Loose ends were tied up on the live double-album Delicate Sound Of Thunder (1988), the first rock album to be played in space, courtesy of Soviet cosmonauts aboard Soyuz TM-7. Guy Pratt was now the featured bassist and the Floyd seemed re-energised. In 1994, The Division Bell signalled their return to the studio, resulting in a No.1 UK and US album, and strong songs such as ‘Take It Back’ and ‘High Hopes’. It’s release was backed by the Pulse tour, captured on album and video in 1995.
Far more than an exercise in nostalgia, the 2000 release of Is Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-1981 was another top seller, with the including of two songs that didn’t make The Wall’s final cut, ‘What Shall We Do Now?’ and ‘The Last Few Bricks’. Further emphasising
the Floyd’s enduring popularity, Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd (2001) did further Platinum business, and, if you needed to catch up, 2007’s Oh, By The Way collected all of their extant studio albums as mini-vinyl replicas.
The remastering campaign of the 2010s saw the release of the 16-disc box set Discovery and another best of, A Foot In The Door, before the group’s 15th – and final – studio album, The Endless River, landed in 2014, with posthumously retrieved contributions from Rick Wright, the quiet and often unsung keyboards maestro who’d passed away in 2008, aged 65. The album was a fitting elegy to the group’s career, bringing that distinct Floyd sound back to life on ‘Louder Than Words’ and ‘It’s What We Do’.
The story didn’t quite end there, though. The Early Years 1965-1972, promoted by the ever affable band archivist Nick Mason, offered fans the chance to lap up a vintage period, from their Cambridge days to hippie-era wondrousness, with excerpts from festival shows at Bath, Rotterdam and Pompeii.
Following the group’s 2005 reunion, for the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park, the bandmates faced their demons and buried the hatchet, though it wouldn’t be long before Gilmour insisted the Floyd was now essentially closed to live performances. Gilmour and Waters did play another charity event, and there was a 2007 Syd Barrett tribute performance at the Barbican, where the remaining quartet delivered ‘Bike’ and ‘Arnold Layne’, but any further shows seem an impossibility.
Fair enough. Theirs was six decades of brilliant work, with classic albums along the way and countless stellar live shows. Thank them for that Technicolor dream.
The title of Pink Floyd's debut album is taken from a chapter in Syd Barrett's favorite children's book, The Wind in the Willows, and the lyrical imagery of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is indeed full of colorful, childlike, distinctly British whimsy, albeit filtered through the perceptive lens of LSD. Barrett's catchy, melodic acid pop songs are balanced with longer, more experimental pieces showcasing the group's instrumental freak-outs, often using themes of space travel as metaphors for hallucinogenic experiences -- "Astronomy Domine" is a poppier number in this vein, but tracks like "Interstellar Overdrive" are some of the earliest forays into what has been tagged space rock. But even though Barrett's lyrics and melodies are mostly playful and humorous, the band's music doesn't always bear out those sentiments -- in addition to Rick Wright's eerie organ work, dissonance, chromaticism, weird noises, and vocal sound effects are all employed at various instances, giving the impression of chaos and confusion lurking beneath the bright surface. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn successfully captures both sides of psychedelic experimentation -- the pleasures of expanding one's mind and perception, and an underlying threat of mental disorder and even lunacy; this duality makes Piper all the more compelling in light of Barrett's subsequent breakdown, and ranks it as one of the best psychedelic albums of all time. Words: Steve Huey
A transitional album on which the band moved from Syd Barrett's relatively concise and vivid songs to spacy, ethereal material with lengthy instrumental passages. Barrett's influence is still felt (he actually did manage to contribute one track, the jovial "Jugband Blues"), and much of the material retains a gentle, fairy-tale ambience. "Remember a Day" and "See Saw" are highlights; on "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," "Let There Be More Light," and the lengthy instrumental title track, the band begin to map out the dark and repetitive pulses that would characterize their next few records. Words: Richie Unterberger
For many years, this double-LP was one of the most popular albums in Pink Floyd's pre-Dark Side of the Moon output, containing a live LP and a studio LP for the price of one. The live set, recorded in Birmingham and Manchester in June 1969, is limited to four numbers, all drawn from the group's first two LPs or their then-recent singles. Featuring the band's second lineup (i.e., no Syd Barrett), the set shows off a very potent group, their sound held together on-stage by Nick Mason's assertive drumming and Roger Waters' powerful bass work, which keep the proceedings moving no matter how spaced out the music gets. They also sound like they've got the amplifiers to make their music count, which is more than the early band had. "Astronomy Domine," "Careful with That Axe Eugene," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," and "A Saucerful of Secrets" are all superior here to their studio originals, done longer, louder, and harder, with a real edge to the playing. The studio LP was more experimental, each member getting a certain amount of space on the record to make his own music -- Richard Wright's "Sysyphus" was a pure keyboard work, featuring various synthesizers, organs, and pianos; David Gilmour's "The Narrow Way" was a three-part instrumental for acoustic and electric guitars and electronic keyboards, and Nick Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" made use of a vast range of acoustic and electric percussion devices. Roger Waters' "Grantchester Meadows" was a lyrical folk-like number unlike almost anything else the group ever did. Words: Bruce Eder
Atom Heart Mother, for all its glories, was an acquired taste, and Pink Floyd wisely decided to trim back its orchestral excesses for its follow-up, Meddle. Opening with a deliberately surging "One of These Days," Meddle spends most of its time with sonic textures and elongated compositions, most notably on its epic closer, "Echoes." If there aren't pop songs in the classic sense (even on the level of the group's contributions to Ummagumma), there is a uniform tone, ranging from the pastoral "A Pillow of Winds" to "Fearless," with its insistent refrain hinting at latter-day Floyd. Pink Floyd were nothing if not masters of texture, and Meddle is one of their greatest excursions into little details, pointing the way to the measured brilliance of Dark Side of the Moon and the entire Roger Waters era. Here, David Gilmour exerts a slightly larger influence, at least based on lead vocals, but it's not all sweetness and light -- even if its lilting rhythms are welcome, "San Tropez" feels out of place with the rest of Meddle. Still, the album is one of the Floyd's most consistent explorations of mood, especially from their time at Harvest, and it stands as the strongest record they released between Syd's departure and Dark Side. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
By condensing the sonic explorations of Meddle to actual songs and adding a lush, immaculate production to their trippiest instrumental sections, Pink Floyd inadvertently designed their commercial breakthrough with Dark Side of the Moon. The primary revelation of Dark Side of the Moon is what a little focus does for the band. Roger Waters wrote a series of songs about mundane, everyday details which aren't that impressive by themselves, but when given the sonic backdrop of Floyd's slow, atmospheric soundscapes and carefully placed sound effects, they achieve an emotional resonance. But what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music, which evolves from ponderous, neo-psychedelic art rock to jazz fusion and blues-rock before turning back to psychedelia. It's dense with detail, but leisurely paced, creating its own dark, haunting world. Pink Floyd may have better albums than Dark Side of the Moon, but no other record defines them quite as well as this one. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Pink Floyd followed the commercial breakthrough of Dark Side of the Moon with Wish You Were Here, a loose concept album about and dedicated to their founding member Syd Barrett. The record unfolds gradually, as the jazzy textures of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" reveal its melodic motif, and in its leisurely pace, the album shows itself to be a warmer record than its predecessor. Musically, it's arguably even more impressive, showcasing the group's interplay and David Gilmour's solos in particular. And while it's short on actual songs, the long, winding soundscapes are constantly enthralling. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Wall was Roger Waters' crowning accomplishment in Pink Floyd. It documented the rise and fall of a rock star (named Pink Floyd), based on Waters' own experiences and the tendencies he'd observed in people around him. By then, the bassist had firm control of the group's direction, working mostly alongside David Gilmour and bringing in producer Bob Ezrin as an outside collaborator. Drummer Nick Mason was barely involved, while keyboardist Rick Wright seemed to be completely out of the picture. Still, The Wall was a mighty, sprawling affair, featuring 26 songs with vocals: nearly as many as all previous Floyd albums combined. The story revolves around the fictional Pink Floyd's isolation behind a psychological wall. The wall grows as various parts of his life spin out of control, and he grows incapable of dealing with his neuroses. The album opens by welcoming the unwitting listener to Floyd's show ("In the Flesh?"), then turns back to childhood memories of his father's death in World War II ("Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1"), his mother's over protectiveness ("Mother"), and his fascination with and fear of sex ("Young Lust"). By the time "Goodbye Cruel World" closes the first disc, the wall is built and Pink is trapped in the midst of a mental breakdown. On disc two, the gentle acoustic phrasings of "Is There Anybody Out There?" and the lilting orchestrations of "Nobody Home" reinforce Floyd's feeling of isolation. When his record company uses drugs to coax him to perform ("Comfortably Numb"), his onstage persona is transformed into a homophobic, race-baiting fascist ("In the Flesh"). In "The Trial," he mentally prosecutes himself, and the wall comes tumbling down. This ambitious concept album was an across-the-board smash, topping the Billboard album chart for 15 weeks in 1980. The single "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" was the country's best-seller for four weeks. The Wall spawned an elaborate stage show (so elaborate, in fact, that the band was able to bring it to only a few cities) and a full-length film. It also marked the last time Waters and Gilmour would work together as equal partners. Words: Rovi Staff