7. Pink Floyd
3rd Place: 1
2nd Place: 1
1st Place: 0
…we came in?
It started and finished with a heartbeat, with 43 minutes of continuous music in between taking us through the gamut of human life and emotions. The year was 1973, the album was The Dark Side of The Moon, and through it its creators – Pink Floyd – became one of the biggest rock acts of all time.
Monumental breakthrough as it was, Dark Side… was in fact ‘Floyd’s eighth studio album and saw the light of day at the end of an astonishingly prolific period in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in which they established themselves as the darlings of London’s psychedelic movement. It was an era rich in unhinged genius and, in Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd had the most gloriously unhinged genius of all. One of the band’s founding members, he was the chief creative force behind ‘Floyd’s wonderful – and wonderfully titled – debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the album’s instrumental highlight “Interstellar Overdrive” encapsulating the “space rock” genre of which the band was at the forefront.
It was all downhill for Barrett from that point on, his mental state becoming increasingly unstable and continuing to decline long after his inevitable departure from the band. The post-Syd Pink Floyd, however, was an evolved and even greater beast. The guitar virtuosity of David Gilmour (who joined after the release of Piper) filled the Barret-shaped musical hole while bassist Roger Waters took over as the bands chief lyricist and creative visionary. Somewhat fittingly, Barrett’s mental illness influenced and inspired the lyrics of some of Waters’ most brilliant songs, and the cult around him continued to grow until his death in 2006.
After ’73, of course, the band could write its own cheques and had the creative license to do what they pleased as they continued to redefine the concept album. Wish You Were Here consists of just four epic tracks (albeit one of them – Waters’ tribute to Barrett entitled “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” – comprising nine movements!), but all of them are simply magnificent, with the title track itself being quite simply one of the very greatest songs of all time. The Wall, meanwhile, rivals even The Dark Side of the Moon as the band’s most celebrated achievement – a Waters-created rock opera of extraordinary power and heartbreaking personal reflection. And Gilmour’s solo at the end of “Comfortably Numb” ranks with the most spine-chilling in rock history.
As Waters’ metaphorical wall crumbled, so life imitated art – the cracks were beginning to show in Pink Floyd. Keyboardist Richard Wright left the band, while Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason were barely more than session musicians on The Final Cut, which while officially a ‘Floyd release was ostensibly a Roger Waters solo album. Internal power struggles degenerated into outright hostility, and then into lawsuits. It was the end, or so it seemed.
But Gilmour had other ideas, and two more albums followed under at his direction despite Waters’ protestations. Stripped of their old leader’s lyrical genius, these new records had a more staid AOR sound about them and lacked the stark atmosphere and emotional impact of ‘Floyd’s finest efforts. That said, both records feature their share of highlights, and The Division Bell in particular features some superb songs. And let’s face it – even a moderate Pink Floyd offering kicks seven (division) bells out of the very best output of 99% of bands who’ve ever taken to the stage.
Then in 2005, after more than 20 years of acrimony, the classic Pink Floyd line up – Roger Waters included – reformed to play Live8, giving hope to those of us that never saw them in their prime that we might just get another chance. They’ve continued to tease us – the odd surprise performance here, the odd interview there, but that’s as far as it has gone, and Wright’s death in 2008 put paid to any chance of a full reunion. The overriding feeling now is that we’ll probably have to be happy with what they’ve already given us. Which is a hell of a lot.
I’ll keep dreaming though.
Isn’t this where…
Syd Barrett – Vocals, Guitars – 1965-68
Dave Gilmour – Vocals, Guitars, Bass Guitar, Keyboards – 1967-96, 2005, 2007
Nick Mason – Drums and Percussion, Special Effects – 1965-95, 2005, 2007
Roger Waters – Vocals, Guitars, Bass Guitar – 1965-85, 2005
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals – 1965-79, 1987-96, 2005, 2007
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Soundtrack from the Film More (1969)
Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Obscured by Clouds (1972)
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Wish You Were Here (1975)
The Wall (1979)
The Final Cut (1983)
A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
The Division Bell (1994)
3 Live Albums, 10 Compilation Albums
Download these songs:
Interstellar Overdrive; Wish You Were Here; Shine On You Crazy Diamond; Comfortably Numb; Another Brick In The Wall; Money
Write-up by The Sean