This month on band of the month, it is time for some Pink Floyd. The Floyd is an interesting case. For a time, in high school, right about the time The Wall came out - and again for a while in college, right when I started, they were right there among my absolute favorites. Looking back, it makes enough sense - the first bout was driven by The Wall, which is a very high school kind of record. (Look at Walt, in The Squid and the Whale - the fact that no one seems to recognize Hey You - that everyone takes for granted that he wrote it - well - it sounds like adolescent angst; the whole record does.) The college bout was centered on Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You were Here and Animals (someone had a tape we used to listen to - people tend to forget Animals, sometimes) - arty, sophisticated, but fairly conventional collections of songs (maybe not Animals so much) - music made for clever boys wanting music that would make them feel smarter than they were - it does that.
It faded, of course. You discover more music, and start thinking Pink Floyd is not that challenging, not really cleverer than their peers, etc. There are harder bands - more virtuosic bands - more sophisticated bands - lots of more melodic bands, rhythmic bands, rawer bands - sooner or later, maybe you discover jazz or more complicated prog (Soft Machine or Can or Van der Graf Generator or King Crimson - to name some of the bands I came to prefer). Or maybe you just discover Syd Barrett Floyd and find all the later stuff bland and overblown. Me - I came to prefer more contemporary music (U2 and REM and so on) on one side, and rawer AOR (Zep, The Who, etc.) on the other and let the Floyd fade. And then started listening to punk, and older, more underground bands (Velvets, Stooges, etc,), and poor Pink and the boys were lost.... Until I got Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which brought me part of the way back.
More than that really - I was completely convinced by that record - by Barrett. No hesitations. Post-Barrett, they're okay - good songs and all - but nothing I would seek out. But Piper really is a fantastic piece of work. They cover everything there - rock out more than they ever did afterwards, the songs are better, the experimentation more experimental - Syd is a way rawer and inventive musician than the rest of them, a more interesting and expressive singer, writer of smart, funny, cool lyrics - what's not to love? The experimental stuff, the jams, are jarring, ragged weird stuff that sticks with you (Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk, say - the end of Bike...) It made the rest of their career seem a lot blander - nice stuff, but still kind of AOR filler - hearing Have a Cigar, after 10 years, it sounds like glorified Supertramp... right?
I suspect readers by now have figured out how these essays go: if I loved someone in high school, abandoned them in college or afterwards, but have decided to write about them - I must have rediscovered them somewhere along the line. Well - correct you are! hypothetical reader mine. I did. I am writing about them now because they fit in the context of the groups I've been writing about the last few months. Radiohead, Mercury Rev - and bands like Tool, Can, Soft Machine, Van Der Graf Generator, Acid Mothers Temple, At the Drive In/Mars Volta, Captain Beefheart - got me listening to prog, and things like prog, and made me hear it with different ears. I heard Pink Floyd with different ears. Though that's only part of it - it's also true that I started listening to different Floyd, in the early 2000s. My first bout of loving the Floyd was rooted in The Wall, and the second one in the mid-70s records - my first rediscovery of them came from the Syd Barrett stuff - and the second rediscovery came from listening to the early 70s records: Ummagumma, Saucerful of Secrets, Meddle - the apologetically artsy stuff. Careful With that Ax Eugene, Set Your Controls for the Heart of the Sun, One of these Days, Echoes, Let There Be More Light - big epic stuff I didn't listen to in 1980, 82, or 88. Again, though, showing something - music sounds different in different contexts - what you listen to conditions how you hear things. Listening to Tool and Radiohead and Mercury Rev made me hear different things in Pink Floyd, just as listening to REM and the Feelies and the Velvet Underground shaped how I heard the Syd Barrett stuff in the 80s.
So there we are. They are a strange case - I have gone through long stretches of near disdain for them (the Syd stuff excepted) - but other periods where I have nearly worshipped them. For all the fluctuations in my taste, I have been listening to them for 35 years, sometimes obsessively - and keep coming back to them. And can't deny that they have helped form me - maybe I like other prog bands more - but I learned to like that kind of music mostly from Pink Floyd. A lot of bands I love have a lot of Pink Floyd's DNA in them... And I can't deny either that they really do sound magnificent when they get going. I have come to respect their musicianship a great deal - there are few more tastefully beautiful guitarists than David Gilmour, and Nick Mason has grown on me as a great drummer. Barrett really was the star of the band - maybe not as good as Gilmour, but a genuinely inventive player - imaginative, surprising, challenging - the real deal. But really - the rest of them hold their own. I can't pretend there isn't a lot of filler on some of those records, but at their best they are really really wonderful.
And here, then, are their best, as I see it:
2. Comfortably Numb
3. Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun
4. Lucifer Sam
6. Interstellar Overdrive
7. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
9. Wish You Were Here
And on to video. Missing, in a way, from this discussion, are the singles - so here is one, See Emily Play - a lovely, cool song, with a very odd promotional film, some of the more awkward forced whimsy you are likely to see...
And a long filmed performance of Interstellar Overdrive - showing the importance of film and light and so on to their act at the beginning. (All through their career really.) With some excellent representative guitar work from Syd:
Moving ahead - Dave Gilmour joins - here's Let there be more Light, live on French TV:
Setting their controls for the Heart of the Sun (with some great stuff from Mason):
And since it's harder than I thought to find live performances from the mid to late 70s on YouTube, hop ahead to the 80s: here's the video for Another Brick in the Wall, with sinister schoolchildren, Gerald Scarfe designed balloons and cartoons, and lots of bricks and hammers:
And Comfortably Numb, live in 1980: