There were so many titles I could’ve used for this post… and I went with that one.
When I was about 14 I went to the local record store (which was, by the way, tiny) and bought my first copy of The Wall. When I brought it home, my mom saw it and said “Pink Floyd? Are you crazy??”
I can appreciate why she’d say that, at least form the perspective of over 20 years in the future. It’s really the same reason that The Wall is my second least favourite album of a band that I think is phenomenal.
Pink Floyd had recorded and released many, many albums prior to The Wall, ranging in quality from pretty darn good to friggin legendary. Rather than write half a dozen essays about each and every one of them, I’ll just do a Brief Summary.
This is complicated by the fact that their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded when the main guy in the group was still Syd Barrett. Poor, poor Syd Barrett, who’s dreams of stardom actually drove him insane. Well, that and the drugs. The first album has a lot of child-like innocence mixed in with the psychedelic, but Syd would not last much more than one album. Luckily they brought in Dave Gilmour to cover for him… and eventually just stopped picking him up on the way to performances. He was quite far gone by then. This was in 1967, and haunt them for the rest of their lives.
They released several albums after that which, while pretty darn good, I don’t have a lot to say about.
One I will mention, though, is 1969′s Ummagumma. This was a double album, half of which was a collection of live performances, and the other of which was recordings made by the individual members of the group.
This is important mostly because there have been practically religious wars over who’s responsible for the Sound of Pink Floyd (mostly between two members of the band, really), but if you listen to the individual efforts of the band members it’s quite clear that it was all of them working together which really make it work. I’ll get back to that in the future.
They also released two albums (Atom Heart Mother in 1970 and Meddle in 1971) which are notable for having an entire side devoted to a single track. This is back when albums had sides. Nowadays people probably wonder what’s with the random 22-minute track. They also recorded a couple of movie soundtracks.
Then, in 1973, they released Dark Side of the Moon.
There are a lot of interesting facts (and a LOT of interesting “facts”) about this one. It spent an insane amount of time on the Billboard Top 200 chart (before they changed how they count that). There was a factory in Germany that did nothing but produce Dark Side of the Moon CDs. It was estimated that one in five people in the entire world has a copy of this album in one format or another. And it syncs up with The Wizard of Oz. Distinguishing between facts and “facts” is left as an exercise for the readers. This one’s real (thought it might not make sense if you’ve never heard the album) – Clare Torry was paid a mere £500 for her vocal performance. Her unbelievable and completely improvised vocal performance (although they did give her a bonus when they heard it).
Wish You Were Here was released in 1975, and was basically a big tribute to Syd Barrett. Rather than a single track taking up an entire side, Shine On you Crazy Diamond was split into two parts which open and close the album. There’s a now famous story where, despite none of them hearing anything from him in years, Syd showed up at the studio while they were recording this track. Just to say hi. They barely recognised him. He wandered around for a while and then left. The band members all pretty much said they were in tears after that.
I’m going to diverge for a minute to mention some (well, all) the members of the band.
Nick Mason was the drummer, Rick Wright was the keyboard player. They both contributed to the compositions, and I suppose vocals (though Nick Mason’s amount to one garbled line).
Dave Gilmour was the lead guitarist and vocalist. He contributed to lyrics and did a lot of compositions. Being a guitar-lead band, he’s responsible for a lot of the most recognised sounds.
Roger Waters was the bass player (kinda), and would occasionally sing. He wrote a large amount of the lyrics. He also decided he’s the band leader after Syd left, and tried to take over and enforce his view more and more.
The first time this was really obvious was with 1977′s Animals, where Dave Gilmour refused to sing some of the lyrics Roger Waters had written because they were unnecessarily harsh. The vocals actually switch from Gilmour to Waters mid-song.
Which leads us to The Wall, which is basically Roger Waters’ fictionalised autobiography performed by Pink Floyd. Waters was apparently being so crazy that Rick Wright quit the band.
And it also contains what is sadly the most iconic Pink Floyd line ever. The line where, if you yell “PINK FLOYD!” at people, this is what will inevitably and immediately pop into their mind. The line that made our parents thing Pink Floyd are Bad People. And (as if I really have to tell anyone) this line is, of course:
We Don’t Need No Education
Also one of the stupidest lines that anyone ever tried to work into what he considered a serious work.
Not only is that line just plain dumb because dammit, if there’s anything the entire world does need, it’s education, it’s also completely contrary to the rest of that track. The song is basically about how schools shouldn’t be stifling, brain-washing robot factories, and how teachers shouldn’t be plain mean and abusive. I’m fairly sure everyone, including our parents, would agree with that. But what line do people remember? Yeah, that one.
Anyway, after The Wall, Waters wanted to make an album with all the songs that were rejected from that album. Nobody really wanted to do that, so he went and wrote an album about how the Falkland War sucked. At least this album was honest and was labelled as a work by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd.
After that they pretty much broke up and sued each other over who gets to use the name “Pink Floyd” and, believe it or not, who gets to use the giant inflatable pig.
Gilmour, Mason and Wright recorded a few more albums and toured under the name Pink Floyd, and Waters went around doing giant The Wall concerts on the Berlin wall. Oh and he recorded some albums I guess. Oh and he’s doing another huge The Wall thing right now.
The other three also released some solo albums. I will say that Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports and Rick Wright’s Broken China are both, at the least, pretty interesting. Wright’s album also features one of the best performances I’ve heard by Sinaed O’Connor, by which I mean I don’t want to hurt myself when I hear it.
Oh, Syd Barrett also recorded some solo albums. Dave Gilmour helped on some of them. They’re… I don’t know if I can find the words, really. If you know his history, you can listen to them and pick out the glimmerings of genius and the glimmerings of madness. I don’t know that I’d recommend them, but I love them. Syd Barrett died in 2006; the best thing I can say is that he was always well cared for and didn’t really lack for anything.
Rick Wright also passed away, in 2008. The remaining band members have said that that’s pretty much it for ever reviving the band.
Well that’s a bit of a down note to end on, so I’ll tell a Personal Anecdote.
When I was 18, I got to go to Germany. This was an unexpected work trip, and in the two weeks I was there I had about half a day to actually walk around Hanover and look around. Naturally at some point I went into a record store and found what at the time seemed like a rare Pink Floyd CD (it was Obscured by Clouds, one of the aforementioned movie sound tracks).
Nothing much happened after that till the flight back home. Security at the airport was insane, and I mean INSANE. All the taking off shoes stuff we have now is nothing. This was like a big warehouse-like area where everyone’s luggage got opened and searched, and I mean the checked luggage, not just the carry-on.
This worried me a little since my method of packing at the time involved tossing everything in the suitcase and jumping on it till it closed, and I figured if they mess around in there too much there’d be a dirty clothes explosion.
Anyway, my turn comes around, the guy opens my suitcase and that CD is sitting right on top of everything.
Guy looks at me and goes “Oh, Pink Floyd, very good, very good,” closes my suitcase right back up, and passes me through.