411 Music Hall Of Fame Class of 2009: Pink Floyd
PINK FLOYD’S MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
• 210 million in world wide sales
• Only one of five groups to have two diamond certified albums (Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall)
• The record for longest stay on the Billboard charts (Dark Side Of The Moon: 741 weeks)
• Spearheading the psychedelic movement in music
• The greatest progressive band of all time
Pink Floyd began life through various names, like Sigma 6, the Meggadeaths, and The Screaming Abdabs before settling upon The Tea Sets in 1964. At this point the band featured two guitarists in Rado Klose and Roger Waters, Nick Mason on drums, and Richard Wright on keyboards (and wind instruments). The band had limited local success under this incarnation with a singer by the name of Chris Dennis. Two changes took place at this time that would put the band on the road to conquering the English underground. First, singer Dennis was replaced with a blues and folk singer/guitarist by the name of Syd Barrett (which resulted in Waters moving to bass), and a scheduled performance at a gig with a band sharing the same name. The latter prompted Barrett to rename the band after two blues musicians: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The new name was The Pink Floyd Sound. While the “Sound” was quickly dropped from the title, the “The” would actually stay in the title for writing or producing credits until 1970 on album sleeves. Album covers to the contrary, David Gilmour would actually still refer to the band as The Pink Floyd until 1984.
Local notoriety gained the band the break of recording two songs 1966 for a film project by noted film maker Peter Whitehead. The two tracks (“Interstellar Overdrive” and “Nick’s Boogie”) were actually filmed while recording the tracks in the beginning of ‘67, but somewhere in the final edit most of the band’s music didn’t make it into the film. Still, the project gave the band contacts in the business and after forming a business partnership called Blackhill Enterprises they recorded a few songs to be released as singles. Both would go on to make the charts: “Arnold Layne” (March 1967) would reach #20 while “See Emily Play” (June 1967) would make it to #6. The success of the latter would see the band score a performance on “Top of the Pops” in July, and by that point the band’s momentum was solidified. By the time the band released their first album the very next month, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd was established as leaders of the British psychedelic movement. To this day, Pink Floyd’s debut is considered to be the number one example of that genre.
Having established themselves as leaders of avant-garde music, combining the psych movement with folk elements and free form musings, the band did well in England. Although, gaining a spot on the Jimi Hendrix tour continued to expand the popularity of the band and gained them some U.S press. The increasing popularity combined with the new stress of touring, and the need to produce more music took a deep toll on Syd Barrett and he started to mentally unravel. To make matters worse he became completely dependant on LSD, and as such fell apart to the point of being unable to function. The man would literally walk onto stage and just stand there and the band would play around him for an entire set while Barrett would just stare into space. At one show he just stood there and de-tuned his guitar while the band played. The band found it easier to just not take him to live shows.
This prompted the band to hire David Gilmour to take over guitarist and singing duties. Pink Floyd was, however, a tight band and the addition of Gilmour was only to perform. The band still kept Syd as the chief writer and asked him to do that full time, thus keeping the band together. Sadly, Barrett’s condition continued to worsen. He threw himself into writing for the group but ended up changing the songs after every take, and soon devolved to the point of shutting down in the studio as well. By April of ’68, Pink Floyd had asked Syd to officially leave the band. The band’s two business managers departed with Syd, breaking the Blackhill Enterprise. They reformed with a new manager with Gilmour now a full participating member.
Syd Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd is one of the most amicable in music history, as the band really didn’t want to lose him. Waters, Wright, and Gilmour all would help Barrett with two solo albums, and even wrote the album Wish You Were Here as a tribute to him. Eventually Barrett would seek psychological help and live in seclusion for the remainder of his life.
With the band’s head writer gone, Gilmour, Waters, and Wright would start to contribute equally; this lead to their albums becoming more eclectic as they took turns writing and singing on specific songs. This would be Pink Floyd’s most experimental period, combining many musical styles along with experimentation in new recording techniques. Barrett’s presence was still felt on A Saucerful Of Secrets as he participated in some of the recording before his departure. Slowly the band started by default to move away from the psychedelic sound they spearheaded.
The diverse styles of music and the foundations for the future were further laid by their work on the soundtrack to the film More and the body of work called Ummagumma, which was some live and studio outtakes centered on each of the band members independent output. Ummagumma was originally intended to be a completely new music form – a mixture of sounds from invented instruments – but the projected was shelved and the music was left to stand in it’s original form, thus the sheer lack of cohesion in the album plus the wildly different ideas. For example, the track “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” is nothing more than five minutes of Roger Waters’ voice played at various speeds.
The band continued to write independently and together, at times piecing together long sprawling epic songs that would soon be their trademark. While the psychedelic was falling away, Pink Floyd was still considered on the front of avant-garde music. This evolved in 1970 on Atom Heart Mother which saw the band perform with an orchestra. One side of the album realized the band’s push into long collaborative epics with the title track clocking in at 23 minutes. Side two returned to each of the three members writing one piece while the final track is nothing more than a sound collage of a man cooking, eating, and commenting on breakfast. The album was panned by critics and even later by the band, but would ironically be their first number one album.
From here, the band purposefully started to move away from the psychedelic music and also into greater collaborations as a group. 1971 saw the release of Meddle. This is considered the beginning of the classic Pink Floyd era, with the band collaborating on each song and the album structured around a central theme. The album did well in Britain, but thanks to poor label support went largely unnoticed in America until the band’s huge success later. This was quickly followed up with another soundtrack to art house film La Vallee, Obscured By Clouds, which would be the first album by the band to break the American Top 50. Another interesting fact of the albums development were the themes of loneliness, loss, and isolation which would become trademarks of the coming Waters led era of the band. In fact, this is the last album Gilmour would contribute lyrics on until after the band’s split with Waters in ‘84.
Continued success and more attention to writing and production led the band to their greatest collaborative effort to date, 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Even though Waters was now the lyricist of the band, the group as a whole contributed throughout the album to varying degrees per track. Despite the fact the band had stopped issuing singles in 1968, “Money” became a Top 20 hit. The album was the band’s first to hit number one in the US and at 40 million albums sold worldwide, it is one of the greatest selling albums in music history. Dark Side Of The Moon stayed on the Billboard 200 for an unprecedented 741 weeks (including 591 consecutive weeks from 1976 to 1988), a record which has never been topped. The album’s concept is no less than the staggering musical rendition of exploring human empathy though various themes, from aging and death (“Time”), religion (“The Great Gig In The Sky”), greed (“Money”), conflict (“Us And Them”), mental illness (“Brain Damage”), and finally free will (“Eclipse”). In addition, the album contains the overriding theme of these conflicts suppressing the ability of the individual to grow as a person, a nod to the band’s take on the decline of their friend Syd Barrett.
The huge success, critically and in sales, of Dark Side of the Moon would prove to be daunting for the band however. Floyd decided to get back to their avant-garde roots with another experimental album, one that would feature “played” with everyday household items. Like the earlier attempt, the idea looked good on paper but organizing it became problematic, and the band returned to writing standard music. It is unknown if any actual recordings from this time still exist, but some samples did become recorded effects for their next full album, 1975’s Wish You Were Here.
This new release would be the first Pink Floyd album to hit number one both in the U.S. and the U.K. and would carry the abstract theme of absence, including Waters’ high criticism of the music industry in “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” – both having what Waters considered a lack of humanity in the business. But the centerpiece of the album was the nine-part epic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a song about the absence Syd Barrett. It has been described as a tribute and a eulogy, the band remembering their fallen comrade but also picking that moment to fully move on. While also a collaborative effort by the entire band, at this point Roger Waters had become more than the band lyricist and slowly started having more influence over the music as well. The decision to split the epic track into two parts and the inclusion of the central songs had been his.
Roger Waters’ influence continued to grow and by 1977, with the release of Animals, he was in control of the band. Richard Wright does not have a single writing credit to his name and Gilmour only shared writing duties on one track, which was a reworked song from the Wish You Were Here sessions (“Dogs”). The album was another concept album, this time dealing with Waters’ issues with capitalism, but using the anti-communist references of George Orwells Animal Farm as a metaphor. Ironically, the album is most well known for the famous incident involving an accident during the photographing of its cover. The band had a giant inflatable pig floating above London’s Battersea Power Station for the picture, and it broke free and floated away. It became an event when police helicopters failed to successfully pursue the runaway pig and local airports had to be notified to inform planes to watch out for a giant floating pink pig (the pig eventually safely landed in a farmer’s field).
For tax reasons, the band took a vacation with no internal contact in 1978. When they returned to start recording again, Waters came with two projects he had been working on: “The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” and “The Wall”. The band voted for The Wall project, which would then become the album of the same name. Waters exercised control of the band by firing Wright due to conflicts, but eventually rehired him as a session musician. The Wall is a concept album that explores the divide (i.e. the wall) that builds between musicians and their audience due to the success of the artist. It was built upon a real incident when Waters felt alienated from the audience at a show when he spat on a fan that jumped on stage. Again, the band with no singles topped the singles charts (“Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”) as well the album charts.
The success of The Wall prompted the band’s biggest tour yet, but the elaborate and expensive stage show literally made the tour a loss for Floyd that ended up footing the bill. The set included the album being played in full with a wall being built through the set, separating the band from the audience until the end when the wall was blown apart. Ironically, since Wright had been removed from the band by Waters and given a paid salary, he was the only band member to not lose money on the tour. The tour was scrapped for something more traditional, and the album would not again be performed in full until the concert when the Berlin Wall came down.
The band did make another stab at new artistic territory by releasing the album as a concept movie as well and in 1982 The Wall hit theatres with most of the original album’s tracks intact. The Wall did well and re-solidified Pink Floyd as leaders of the art rock movement. This was followed up in ‘83 with the release of The Final Cut, which is effectively a tribute by Waters to his father. Darker in tone and revisiting themes from the band’s earlier albums, this album had sole writing credits to Waters despite it being a Pink Floyd album and is considered the prototype for Roger Waters’ solo career.
At this point, the band had become embroiled in inner disputes with Wright wanting to contribute while Gilmour also complained about his creative input despite receiving writing credit. Gilmour openly stated he wanted to get back to the band working together on rock albums and accused Waters of putting music secondary to prop up social lyrics. Reportedly, the arguments got so bad neither would appear in the studio together by the end of recording the album. The bad blood resulted in no tour of the album and Waters called it quits soon after. He publically called Pink Floyd “a spent force”.
While Roger Waters went to work on his solo projects, David Gilmour and Nick Mason started working together to continue Pink Floyd and release a new album. A legal dispute broke out between the band and Roger Waters, who insisted the band’s name should be put to rest. The suit was eventually settled out of court and the terms are not known. With the dispute cleared the band released A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987. Without Roger at the helm, outside writers were asked to contribute much to criticism from fans. Further, while putting it together Wright did not have a chance to participate in most of the recordings, thus fueling critics to charge the album was more of a Gilmour solo project. In order to show unity, Gilmour had Wright reinstated as full band member for the subsequent tour and all future material. The band would go on to play a successful world tour, the first in over a decade thanks to the Wall tour debacle, and release a double live album of the tour
After a few solo and side projects, the band finally returned to the studio for 1994’s The Division Bell. This was the first album that was a band effort in almost two decades and even featured a song with Wright singing. The album was received well by fans and critics, and resulted in a full world tour and subsequent live recording of that tour as well. The tour and album became famous due to the band performing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. This would also see Pink Floyd finally receive a Grammy for an instrumental (“Marooned”), and the following year the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Roger Waters did not attend the ceremony, so Gilmour received the award for him and also asked for another for Syd Barrett.
This would, however see the end of Pink Floyd as a band. From here, each band member started working on their own respective solo projects, the only official output from the band coming in the form of box sets or the occasional live album highlighting a classic performance. Hopes have been high for a reunion, since Floyd has never been officially disbanded. After the band (including Roger Waters) reunited in 2005 at the London Live 8 concert, they shared a group hug at the end of the set. This has caused speculation to run rampant as to the possibilities a full reunion. Gilmour has acknowledged the he and Waters have buried old grievances and have an understanding, and Waters has recently stated that doing more shows would be “fun”. Gilmour however has indicated that at this point in his life he’s more interested in his solo work and helping with occasional charitable projects like Live 8.
Sadly, hopes for a reunion have been dashed recently with the death of Richard Wright on September 15, 2008 at the age of 65. The future of Pink Floyd at this time is silent, as the surviving band members continue to work on solo efforts.
Why Pick Floyd Was Selected:
Pink Floyd was born of an age when rock music was expanding beyond its humble roots into new frontiers. Not only did Pink Floyd join the legends of the period in pushing the boundaries of music outward, but also pushed the idea music inward to create the definition of a whole new form of art; at once reaching new heights of sonic territory while unlocking the uncharted character of introspection. It was as much the discovery of new worlds as it was the exploration of the human element. Pink Floyd is a band that could write music that was epic while still being uniquely personal, which is the ultimate secret behind a sound that was so singularly them; music that was a moment in time but timeless in its reach and application. Perhaps that is the ultimate legacy of Pink Floyd – that they had no boundaries and we all got to see the world as they did. For that reason, Pink Floyd is being inducted into the 411 Music Hall of Fame.