Pink Floyd

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Pink Floyd are a psychedelic/progressive rock band formed in Cambridge, England, United Kingdom in 1965. Pink Floyd is one of rock's most successful and influential acts, having sold over 200 million albums worldwide and with 74.5 million certified units in the United States, making them one of the best-selling artists of all time. Currently the band consists of David Gilmour (vocals, guitar) and Nick Mason (drums).

The band's classic lineup was Roger Waters (vocals, bass), David Gilmour (vocals, guitar), Rick Wright (organ, keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums). Gilmour was brought into the band in 1968 to replace the band's founder, singer, guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett, who had become increasingly erratic and departed from the band a few months after Gilmour's addition. The band became known for their advancements in the genres of psychedelic rock and progressive rock music, philosophical lyrics, avant-garde compositions, sonic experimentation, innovative cover art and elaborate live shows.

Pink Floyd enjoyed modest success in the late-1960s as a psychedelic band led by Syd Barrett. Barrett’s increasingly erratic behavior eventually caused his colleagues to replace him after The Piper at the Gates Of Dawn with guitarist David Gilmour. The band went on to record several elaborate concept albums; achieving worldwide success with 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon (The second best-selling album of all time), 1975’s Wish You Were Here, 1977’s Animals, and 1979’s The Wall, among the best-selling, most critically acclaimed, and enduringly popular albums in rock music history. In 1985, singer and bassist Roger Waters declared Pink Floyd defunct. However, the remaining members continued recording and touring under the name, eventually reaching a settlement with Waters giving them rights to the name and most of the songs.

Pink Floyd evolved from an earlier band, formed in 1964, which was at various times called Sigma 6, The Meggadeaths, The Screaming Abdabs, and The Abdabs. When this band split up, some members — guitarists Bob Klose and Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and wind instrument player Rick Wright — formed a new band called Tea Set, and were joined shortly thereafter by guitarist Syd Barrett, who became the band’s primary vocalist as well. When Tea Set found themselves on the same bill as another band with the same name, Barrett came up with an alternative name on the spur of the moment, choosing The Pink Floyd Sound (after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council). For a time after this they oscillated between ‘Tea Set’ and ‘The Pink Floyd Sound’, with the latter name eventually winning out. The word Sound was dropped fairly quickly, but the definite article was still used occasionally for several years afterward, up to about the time of the More soundtrack. In the early days, the band covered rhythm and blues staples such as “Louie, Louie”, but gained notoriety for psychedelic interpretations, with extended improvised sections and ‘spaced out’ solos.

The heavily jazz-oriented Klose left the band to become a photographer shortly before Pink Floyd started recording, leaving an otherwise stable lineup with Barrett on lead guitar, Waters on bass guitar, Mason on drums and Wright switching to keyboards. Barrett started writing his own songs, influenced by American and British psychedelic rock with his own brand of whimsical humor. Pink Floyd became a favorite in the underground movement, playing at such prominent venues as the UFO club, the Marquee Club and the Roundhouse. As their popularity increased, the band members formed Blackhill Enterprises in October 1966, a six-way business partnership with their managers, Peter Jenner and Andrew King, issuing the singles "Arnold Layne" in March 1967 and “See Emily Play” in June 1967. “Arnold Layne” reached number 20 in the UK Singles Chart, and “See Emily Play” reached number 6, granting the band its first TV appearance on Top of the Pops in July 1967.

Released in August 1967, the band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, is today considered to be a prime example of British psychedelic music, and was generally well-received by critics at the time, and it is now viewed as one of the better debut albums by many critics. The album’s tracks, predominantly written by Barrett, showcase poetic lyrics and an eclectic mixture of music, from the avant-garde free-form piece "Interstellar Overdrive" to whimsical songs such as "The Scarecrow", inspired by the Fenlands, a rural region north of Cambridge (Barrett, Gilmour and Waters’s home town). Lyrics were entirely surreal and often referred to folklore, such as "The Gnome". The music reflected newer technologies in electronics through its prominent use of stereo panning and electric keyboards. The album was a hit in the UK where it peaked at #6, but did not get much attention in North America, reaching #131 in the U.S. During this period, the band toured with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which helped to increase its popularity.

As the band became more and more popular, the stresses of life on the road and a significant intake of psychedelic drugs took their toll on Barrett, whose mental health had been deteriorating for several months. While Barrett’s behavior has often been attributed to his drug use, there are many who think that a pre-existing condition, possibly schizophrenia, was equally to blame. In January 1968, guitarist David Gilmour joined the band to carry out Syd’s playing and singing duties. With Barrett’s behavior becoming less and less predictable, and his almost constant use of LSD, he became very unstable, often staring into space while the rest of the band performed. During some performances, he would simply strum one chord for the duration of a concert, or simply begin detuning his guitar. The band’s live shows became increasingly ramshackle until, eventually, the other band members simply stopped taking him to the concerts. It was originally hoped that Syd would write for the band with Gilmour performing live, similar to how the Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson. However, due to Barrett’s increasingly difficult compositions, such as "Have You Got It Yet?”, which changed melodies and chord progression with every take, eventually made the rest of the band give up on this arrangement. Once Barrett’s departure was formalized in April 1968, producers Jenner and King decided to remain with him, and the six-way Blackhill partnership was dissolved. The band adopted Steve O’Rourke as manager, and he remained with Pink Floyd until his death in 2003.

Musically, this period was one of experimentation for the band. Gilmour, Waters and Wright each contributed material that had its own voice and sound, giving this material less consistency than the Barrett-dominated early years or the more polished, collaborative sound of later years. Waters mostly wrote low-key, jazzy melodies with dominant bass lines and complex, symbolic lyrics, Gilmour focused on guitar-driven blues jams, and Wright preferred melodic psychedelic keyboard-heavy numbers. Unlike Waters, Gilmour and Wright preferred tracks that had simple lyrics or that were purely instrumental. Some of the band’s most experimental music is from this period, such as "A Saucerful of Secrets", consisting largely of feedback and atonal screeches and loops, “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict”, which is a series of sped-up voice samples resembling rodents chattering that reaches its climax in an incomprehensible Scottish dialect monologue, and “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” (performed under different names during this period), a very Waters-driven song with a bass and keyboard-heavy jam culminating in crashing drums and Waters’s primal screams.

Whilst Barrett had written the bulk of the first album, only one Barrett composition, the Piper outtake “Jugband Blues”, appeared on the second Floyd album. A Saucerful of Secrets was released in June 1968, reaching #9 in the UK and becoming the only Pink Floyd album not to chart in the U.S. Somewhat uneven due to Barrett’s departure, the album still contained much of his psychedelic sound combined with the more experimental music that would be fully showcased on Ummagumma. Hints of the epic, lengthy songs to come are in its centerpiece, the 12-minute title track, but the album was poorly received by critics at the time, although critics today tend to be kinder to the album in the context of their body of work. Future Floyd albums would expand upon the idea of long, sprawling compositions, offering more focused songwriting with each subsequent release.

Pink Floyd were then recruited by director Barbet Schroeder to produce a soundtrack for his film, More, which premiered in May 1969. The music was released as a Floyd album in its own right, Music From the Film More, in July 1969; the album achieved another #9 finish in the UK, and peaked at #153 in the U.S. The band would use this and future soundtrack recording sessions to produce work that may not have fit into the idea of what would appear on a proper Pink Floyd LP; many of the tracks on More (as fans usually call it) were acoustic folk songs, although critics tend to find the collection of the film’s music patchy and uneven. Two of these songs, “Green Is the Colour” and “Cymbaline”, became fixtures in the band’s live sets for a time, as can be heard in the many available bootleg recordings from this period. The latter was also the first Pink Floyd song to deal with Roger Waters’s cynical attitude toward the music industry explicitly. The rest of the album consisted of incidental music with a few heavier rock songs thrown in, such as “The Nile Song”.

The next record, the double album Ummagumma, was a mix of live recordings and unchecked studio experimentation by the band members, with each member recording half a side of a vinyl record as a solo project (Mason’s first wife makes an uncredited contribution as a flautist). Though the album was realized as solo outings and a live set, it was originally intended as a purely avant-garde mixture of sounds from “found” instruments. The subsequent difficulties in recording and lack of group organization led to the shelving of the project. The title is slang for sexual procreation, and reflects the attitude of the band at the time, as frustrations in the studio followed them throughout these sessions. Wildly experimental on the studio disc (except for Waters’s pure folk “Grantchester Meadows”), with atonal and jarring piano pieces (“Sysyphus”), meandering folk guitar (“The Narrow Way”) and large percussion solos, the live disc featured excellent performances of some of their most popular psychedelic-era compositions and caused critics to receive the album more positively than the previous two albums. With fans, the album was Pink Floyd’s most popular release yet, hitting UK #5 and making the U.S. charts at #74.

1970’s Atom Heart Mother, the band’s first recording with an orchestra, was a collaboration with avant-garde composer Ron Geesin. One side of the album consisted of the title piece, a 23-minute long rock-orchestral suite. The second side featured one song from each of the band’s then-current vocalists (Roger Waters’s folk-rock “If”, David Gilmour’s bluesy “Fat Old Sun” and Rick Wright’s psychedelic “Summer ‘68”). Another lengthy piece, “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, was a sound collage of a man cooking and eating breakfast and his thoughts on the matter, linked with instrumentals. The use of incidental sound effects and voice samples would thereafter be an important part of the band’s sound. While Atom Heart Mother was considered a huge step back for the band at the time and is still considered one of its most inaccessible albums, it had the best chart performance for the band so far, reaching #1 in the UK and #55 in the U.S., although it has since been described by Gilmour as "a load of rubbish" and Waters as suitable for "throwing in the dustbin and never [being] listened to by anyone ever again." The album was another transitional piece for the group, hinting at future musical territory such as “Echoes” in its ambitious title track. The popularity of the album allowed Pink Floyd to embark on its first full U.S. tour. Before releasing its next original album, the band released a compilation album, Relics, which contained several early singles and B-sides, along with one original song (Waters’s jazzy “Biding My Time”).

This is the period in which the Floyd shed their association with the “psychedelic” scene (and its association with Barrett) and became a distinctive band that are difficult to classify. The divergent styles of Gilmour, Waters and Wright (Mason’s writing contributions to the group were minimal) were merged into a unique sound. This era contains what many consider to be two of the band’s masterpiece albums, The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. The sound became polished and collaborative, with the philosophic lyrics and distinctive bass lines of Waters combining with the unique blues guitar style of Gilmour and Wright’s light keyboard melodies. Gilmour was the dominant vocalist throughout this period, and female choirs and Dick Parry’s saxophone contributions in the studio became a notable part of the band’s style. The sometimes atonal and harsh sound exhibited in the band’s earlier years gave way to a very smooth, mellow and soothing sound, and the band’s epic, lengthy compositions reached their zenith with “Echoes” from Meddle (although “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” exceeded it in total length, it was split in two pieces as the opening and closing of Wish You Were Here). This period was not only the beginning but the end of the truly collaborative era of the band; after 1975 Waters’s influence became more dominant musically as well as lyrically. Wright’s last credited composition and last lead vocal on a studio album until 1994’s The Division Bell were in this period, and Gilmour’s writing credits sharply declined in frequency until Waters left the band in 1985. The last ties with Barrett were severed in musical, as well as literal, fashion with Wish You Were Here, whose epic tracks “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)”/"Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)" were written both as a tribute and elegy to their friend.

The band’s sound was considerably more focused on Meddle (1971), with the 23-minute epic “Echoes” taking up the second side of the LP. “Echoes” is a smooth progressive rock song with extended guitar and keyboard solos and a long segue in the middle consisting largely of synthesized whale song produced on guitar, along with samples of seagull cries, described by Waters as a “sonic poem”. Meddle was considered by Nick Mason to be “the first real Pink Floyd album. It introduced the idea of a theme that can be returned to.” The album had the sound and style of the succeeding breakthrough-era Pink Floyd albums but stripped away the orchestra that was prominent in Atom Heart Mother. Meddle also included the atmospheric “One of These Days”, a concert favorite featuring Nick Mason’s menacing one-line vocal (“One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces”), distorted and bluesy slide guitar, and a melody that at one point segues into a throbbing synthetic pulse quoting the theme tune of the cult classic science fiction television show Doctor Who. The mellow feeling of the next three albums is very present on “Fearless”, and this track displays a country influence, as does the prominent pedal steel guitar on “A Pillow of Winds”. The latter track is one of the Floyd’s very few acoustic love songs. Waters’s role as lead songwriter began to take form, with his jazzy “San Tropez” brought to the band practically completed. Meddle was greeted both by critics and fans enthusiastically, and Pink Floyd were rewarded with a #3 album chart peak in the UK; it only reached #70 in U.S. charts, partly because Capitol Records had not provided it with enough publicity support. Today, Meddle remains one of their most well-regarded efforts.

Obscured by Clouds was released in 1972 as the soundtrack to the film La Vallee, another art house film by Barbet Schroeder. This was the band’s first U.S. Top 50 album (where it hit #46), hitting at #6 in the UK. While Mason described the album years later as “sensational”, it is less well-regarded by critics. The lyrics of “Free Four”, the first Pink Floyd song to achieve significant airplay in the U.S., introduced Waters’s ruminations on his father’s death in World War II which would figure in subsequent albums. Two other songs on the album, “Wots…uh, the Deal” and “Childhood’s End”, also hint at themes used in later albums, the former focusing on loneliness and desperation which would come to full fruit in the Roger Waters-led era, and the latter hinting much at the next album, fixated on life, death and the passage of time. “Childhood’s End”, inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke book of the same name, was also Gilmour’s last lyrical contribution for 15 years. The album was, to an extent, stylistically different from the preceding Meddle, with the songs generally being shorter, often taking a somewhat pastoral approach compared to the atmospheric use of sound effects and keyboard on sections of Meddle, and sometimes even running into folk rock, blues rock and piano-driven soft rock (“Burning Bridges”, “The Gold It’s in the…” and “Stay” being the best respective examples for each).

The release of Pink Floyd’s massively successful 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon, was a watershed moment in the band’s popularity. Pink Floyd had stopped issuing singles after 1968’s “Point Me At The Sky” and was never a hit-single-driven group, but The Dark Side of the Moon featured a U.S. Top 20 single (“Money”). The album became the band’s first #1 on U.S. charts, a huge improvement over its previous recordings. The critically-acclaimed album stayed on the Billboard Top 200 for an unprecedented 741 weeks (including 591 consecutive weeks from 1976 to 1988), establishing a world record and making it one of the top-selling albums of all time. It also remained 301 weeks on UK charts, despite never rising higher than #2 there, and is highly praised by critics. Saxophone forms an important part of the album’s sound, exposing the band’s jazz influences, and female backing vocals play a key role in helping to diversify the album’s texture. For example, straight rock songs such as “Money” and “Time” are placed on either side of mellow pedal steel guitar sounds (reminiscent of Meddle) in “Breathe” and female vocal-laden song “The Great Gig in the Sky” (with Clare Torry on lead vocal), while minimalist instrumental “On the Run” is performed almost entirely on a single synthesizer. Incidental sound effects and snippets of interviews feature alongside the music, many of them taped in the studio. The album’s lyrics and sound attempt to describe the different pressures that everyday life places upon human beings. This concept (conceived by Waters in a band meeting around Mason’s kitchen table) proved a powerful catalyst for the band and together they drew up a list of themes, several of which would be revisited by Waters on later albums, such as “Us and Them“‘s musings on violence and the futility of war, and the themes of insanity and neurosis discussed in “Brain Damage”. The album’s complicated and precise sound engineering by Alan Parsons set new standards for sound fidelity; this trait became a recognizable aspect of the band’s sound and played a part in the lasting chart success of the album, as audiophiles constantly replaced their worn-out copies.

Seeking to capitalize on its newfound fame, the band also released a compilation album, A Nice Pair, which was a gatefold repackaging of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets. It was also during this period that dir...