In 1967, dozens of psychedelic rock and roll bands on both sides
of the Atlantic emerged with a one-hit-wonder that filled FM radio
airwaves for a handful of weeks during the Summer Of Love. Most of
those bands contentedly enjoyed their moment in the sun, and
subsequently melted away into the acid-lined haze of history.
English quartet Pink Floyd, however, would not be one of those
Founded in the mid-'60s by college friends Roger Waters, a
bassist, Richard Wright, a keyboardist, and drummer Nick Mason, the
Pink Floyd originally cut its teeth playing nondescript blues
material on the London club scene before bringing aboard guitarist
Syd Barrett in 1966. Barrett led the band headlong into the
flowering psychedelic scene of the era, and the group actively
pioneered a new, spaced-out kind of rock. Unfortunately for Pink
Floyd, Barrett himself was also spacing out far too much at
important performances and diminished the potential impact of the
band's first full-length album, The Piper At The Gates Of
Both the Floyd and Barrett were a hit in England in the late
'60s, but remained a curiosity in America during its formative
years. While Piper and the group's string of
follow-ups through 1970 (A Saucerful Of Secrets,
More, Ummagumma and Atom
Heart Mother) all charted Top Ten on England's album
charts, all of those discs sold modestly in the US, and yielded no
significant radio tracks for the American progressive music
audience. That changed with the release of Meddle
in late 1971.
By that time, Syd Barrett was long gone, having been booted out
of Pink Floyd because he was seemingly a mental casualty of the
late '60s drug culture. His de facto replacement,
guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour, more or less came into his own on
Meddle. The album's most-recognizeable track ("One
Of These Days") was a driving instrumental with a creepy
spoken-word monologue at its crescendo. The record exhibited more
focus than the group's previous efforts; even the 23 minute
marathon "Echoes" meandered with a discernable purpose. In short,
Meddle served to capture the atmospheric essence
of the band that was dominate rock radio for the rest of the
Hailed as one of the greatest rock and roll albums of
all time, Dark Side Of The Moon appeared on
the US album chart in 1973 and remained there for over fourteen
years -- a feat that no other album has ever come close to
matching. Based upon Waters' exploration of the subject of human
madness, Dark Side combined slow, ethereal mantras
("Breathe", "Us And Them", "The Great Gig In The Sky") with
majestic anthems ("Time", "Brain Damage / Eclipse") to craft
perhaps the most convincing example of imagery-as-music ever
created. Not to be outdone (or understated), the hit single "Money"
featured the band starkly ringing a cash register over and over.
Released at the height of the art rock / progressive rock era, Pink
Floyd's crowning aural achievement -- capped off by the iconic
refracting prism light LP cover -- forever cemented the act's
position as twentieth century music legends.
Their industry status secured, the band began to grudgingly
defer its internal control to Waters, whose personal philosophical
drift led him to venting his vitriol at the notion that Pink Floyd
was now an operation contributing to the music business
"establishment". 1975's Wish You Were Here
alternated between that theme ("Have A Cigar", "Welcome To The
Machine") and the lingering poignancy of the absence of Barrett
("Shine On You Crazy Diamond", "Wish You Were Here"), who actually
visited the band one day during the recording of the album.
Underneath all but maybe "Cigar", the subtext of the record
uncannily captured an overwhelming sense of loneliness, not unlike
the pairing of Bernard Herrmann's score with Martin Scorcese's
greatest film, Taxi Driver, released one year
Waters further exerted dominance over Pink Floyd on its next
effort, 1977's Animals, a vicious commentary on
disillusionment with humanity, nakedly inspired by author George
Orwell's Animal Farm. This LP featured no
radio-friendly material and -- outside of the acoustic,
flowery-sounding bookends titled "Pigs On The Wing" -- is
unapologetically brazen in expressing its anger against human
society's failing systems. Couched within the hedonism of disco and
the nihilism of punk, Animals illustrated the
isolation of a band that could care less about being completely out
of touch with the day-to-day realities of its audience. Despite
this strange dynamic, the record still sold in the millions...
After Animals, their bassist's unchecked rage
began to grind down the other members of Pink Floyd. During the
final show of the tour supporting Animals, Waters
had vented his frustrations by actually spitting on fans in the
front row. This event would prove a foundation for Waters'
cathartic masterpiece, but simultaneously cost him the camaraderie
of his bandmates. The Wall (1979) reduced founding
member Wright to the status of a hired hand, and all but drove
Gilmour and Mason completely out of Pink Floyd. Under these
strained conditions, the group produced Waters' misanthropic
testimonial to perfection. Sterility reigned throughout: from the
slow "Comfortably Numb" to the spare "Goodbye Blue Sky" to the
massive Number One chant "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2".
Bombastic tracks like "Hey You" and "Run Like Hell" acted as
virtual sledge hammers, driving home the double-LP's sermon of
Like Dark Side, rock fans completely ignored
Waters' dire visions and ate up The Wall beyond
all expectations. With the fragmentation of the band, however, Pink
Floyd ceased being an effective force with Waters at the helm. A
long delay in releasing a follow-up to The Wall
resulted in the mediocre The Final Cut (1983),
which was little more than a Waters solo album with uninspired
contributions from Gilmour and Mason. Waters left the band shortly
thereafter, and Gilmour subsequently chose to challenge Waters
during the mid-'80s on the ownership of the band's name, converting
his own solo album into a Floyd record with Mason and Wright on
board. 1987's A Momentary Lapse Of Reason was a
huge success; the album retained the essence of the Pink Floyd
sound, minus Waters' seething rage. Anthems "The Dogs Of War" and
"On The Turning Away" accompanied radio hits "Learning To Fly" and
"One Slip" on various US charts.
Pink Floyd's late-'80s success translated into a long layoff.
During the band's break, Waters filled the void by regularly
touring and occasionally releasing solo albums. Gilmour and company
released one more LP as Pink Floyd in 1994, The Division
Bell. Both it and the accompanying tour were again huge
successes, and following their final live dates, Pink Floyd
effectively ceased to exist.
The band's legacy has only grown in the years since, during
which time Wright died of cancer in 2008. Despite the loss, fans in
the 2010s were encouraged by the thawing in relations of David
Gilmour and Roger Waters, and that the book on Pink Floyd may close
on a positive note.
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