Pink Floyd

***1/2In London '66-'67 (See for Miles, 1999)
****1/2The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967; Capitol, 1994)
****A Saucerful of Secrets (1968; Capitol, 1994)
***Ummagumma (1969; Capitol, 1994)
**1/2Music From the Film More (1969; Capitol, 1994)
*Atom Heart Mother (1970; Capitol, 1994)
****Relics (1967-71; Capitol, 1995)
***1/2Meddle (Capitol, 1971)
**1/2Obscured by Clouds (1972; Capitol, 1995)
*****Dark Side of the Moon (1973; Capitol, 1994)
*****Wish You Were Here (1975; Capitol, 1992)
****Animals (1977; Capitol, 1994)
***The Wall (Capitol, 1979)
***1/2Works (Capitol, 1983)
***A Collection of Great Dance Songs (1971-81; Capitol, 1997)
**The Final Cut (1983; Columbia, 1997)
**A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Columbia, 1987)
**1/2Live: The Delicate Sound of Thunder (Columbia, 1988)
**1/2The Division Bell (Columbia, 1994)
**1/2Pulse (Columbia, 1995)
***The Wall Live 1980-81: Is There Anybody Out There? (Columbia, 2000)
****1/2Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (Capitol, 2001)
Nick Mason:
****Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (Sony, 1981)

Pink Floyd's 1973 album, Dark Side of the Moon, sold so well and so consistently that it stuck on Billboard's album chart for a record 741 weeks, an all-time record. While its lyrics were bleak, the message was so oblique that the music could feel inspired and soothing and hopeful even, tapestries of sound punctuated with alarm clocks and soaring gospel and cash registers and casual bar talk. Pink Floyd had experimented with light shows and videos long before, but with their success they tried to scale their stage show to match the huge arenas their popularity filled, and they cut a series of albums, Wish You Were Here and Animals and The Wall, each more ambitious and more despairing than before, until they literally bricked themselves into oblivion. They were the golden age of arena rock, commerce masked as art, art aggrandized as spectacle.

But Pink Floyd wasn't always like that. They go back to 1965, when three architecture students (Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason) hooked up with crazy Syd Barrett. Like so many late '60s English rock bands, they were into blues and psychedelics, and tended towards odd songs and long, spacey instrumentals. They cut a single about a transvestite, "Arnold Layne," and had a minor hit. They had another minor hit with "See Emily Play," but it was their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which set a new standard for odd songs and spacey instrumentals: especially the second side, which started with the romping "Interstellar Overdrive" and ended with the psychedelic nursery rhyme "Bike." (The EP London '66-'67 offers a longer take of "Interstellar Overdrive" along with the lankier "Nick's Boogie.")

However, as Barrett fell apart, the others kept in business with substitute guitarist David Gilmour. A Saucerful of Secrets was transitional, with one odd Barrett song ("Jugband Blues"), more odd songs by Waters ("Corporal Clegg") and Wright ("See-Saw"), and more spaceyness ("Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"). But with Barrett out of the picture, the odd songs gradually gave way to longer pieces and suites. On Ummagumma, one disc is evenly divided among the four band members, but produced little memorable beyond Wright's synthesized sound effects, while the other disc was filled with live versions of their space operas. They went on to dabble in soundtracks: Music From the Film More and Obscured by Clouds mix quaint songs with atmospherics. And the studio albums Atom Heart Mother and Meddle each have a side-long suite opposite a side of shorter pieces. But while "Atom Heart Mother" was 23:44 of classical-sounding horns and vocal choruses, Meddle's "Echoes" was a major step toward achieving the sort of flow that made Dark Side of the Moon so successful.

Then came huge success with Dark Side of the Moon, and with that a bit of reflection: the next album, Wish You Were Here, memorialized Syd Barrett in its elegiac title song and the sparkling "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," split into two parts to open and close the album. In between were two Roger Waters songs, the ominous "Welcome to the Machine" and the scathing "Have a Cigar." As Pink Floyd grew huge, Waters was developing into a trenchant satirist of big business, while Gilmour's guitar became more prominent. Animals spun political allegories of "Dogs" and "Sheep" around their hardest rock, while the "Pigs on the Wing" yielded balloons for their arena show. The Wall pushes the envelope further: while it has its attractions ("Mother," "Comfortably Numb," the repeated "Another Brick in the Wall" theme), it's longer, more obscure, and more melodramatic. In their live rendition they built a wall across the stage, hiding the band (and perhaps protecting the audience from Waters). Is Anybody Out There? recycles the same material as it was performed in concert: it has a nice booklet of pictures, legal threats, and crowd noise, but it also has more presence (compare "Run Like Hell"), a fairly even tradeoff.

While Waters was working on The Wall, the others worked on their own largely unsuccessful solo projects -- although Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports, a closet Carla Bley album with Robert Wyatt vocals is a hoot. Then Waters cut his own solo album, but after that didn't sell he crawled back and tried to palm off The Final Cut as a Pink Floyd album (with Wright absent). Subtitled, "a requieum for the post war dream" -- that refers to Thatcher's glorious recapture of the Falklands -- he didn't offer much in the way of music to go with his words, which were barely recited. Then the broke up again, and sued each other; the result was that Gilmour and Mason got to keep the Pink Floyd brand and the flying pigs, while Waters got whatever was left of the Wall. However, the next Pink Floyd album (with Wright and a huge cast of session hacks), A Momentary Lapse of Reason, wasn't much more than a Gilmour solo album, meaning denser, richer music, but fewer ideas. The Division Bell was again mostly Gilmour songs, but Wright co-wrote several, and his instrumental pieces "Cluster One" and "Marooned" are quite lovely, on a par with earlier work. The live Delicate Sound of Thunder recycles to little purpose, while the live Pulse's has little more going for it than the flashing LED in the box.

Of the compilations, Relics does a good job of rescuing the early non-album singles and putting them in the context of an interesting late '60s English art-rock band, which is what Pink Floyd was before they metamorphosed into a spectacle. Works stretches the story forward to include parts of Dark Side of the Moon, which makes it less integral, while A Collection of Great Dance Songs only goes back to Meddle, a mere afterthought to albums which stand on their own. Echoes, however, strives mightily to not only pull their whole checkered career together, but to orchestrate it in a way that makes for deep and varied listening: it's an impressive piece of editing, maybe even mythologizing.


Other albums:


Early singles:

  • Arnold Lane/Candy and a Currant Bun (1967)
  • See Emily Play/Scarecrow (1967)
  • Apples and Oranges/Paintbox (1967)
  • It Would Be So Nice/Julia Dream (1968)
  • Point Me at the Sky/Careful With That Axe, Eugene (1968)
Note that Pink Floyd has several cuts on the soundtrack to Zabriskie Point: "Heart Beat, Pig Meat" (3:11), "Crumbling Land" (4:13), "Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up" (5:01), "Country Song" (4:37), "Unknown Song" (6:01), "Love Scene [Version 6]" (7:26), "Love Scene [Version 4]" (6:45).