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History of
Pink Floyd
    In my opinion, the most poignant, insightful, and talented band ever to grace the modern musical
landscape. Spanning the years from 1966 to the present day, the Floyd have been riding their own gravy
train for over thirty years. What began as a psychedelic band dominated by the child-like themes and
drug-induced hazes of founder Syd Barret, shifted in focus to images of greed, madness, insanity,
isolation, loss, and the System in the capable hands of Roger Waters. The early era Pink Floyd centered
around Syd Barrett, but included Roger Waters, Rick Wright, Nick Mason, and for a brief time small time
players like Bob Klose and Rick's eventual wife Juliette Gale. The band began playing popular rhythm
and blues songs for college parties and the like at the Regent Street Polytechnic Institute where Waters,
Mason and Wright studied. The creative locus, Syd Barret, was very intrigued by the blossoming
psychedelic culture of the late 1960's and the Summer of Love, and actively engaged in the
mind-expanding drug craze that thrived in London. The Floyd grew in popularity, and made a strong
claim at the pop market due to singles like "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne," and the first album The
Piper at the Gates of Dawn, penned by Barrett. To augment their free-floating and experimental live
performances at clubs like the UFO, the band set about establishing a visual experience that would intrigue
the eyes as well as the ears of the audience. Film projectors and simple lighting techniques began a trend
in Floyd performances that would persist throughout the band's career, culminating in the inflatable pigs,
flying WWII airplanes, full motion pictures, gigantic disco balls, and pyrotechnic displays that characterize
a modern Pink Floyd concert. Riding high on the hippie culture pop market, the Floyd appeared on
programs like "Top of teh Pops" and "American Bandstand," and had conceivably established themselves
by late 1967. Yet, a dark force loomed over the horizon, as Barrett's frequent partaking in the joys of
drug-induced euphoria began to addle his creative ability and especially his public behavior and
performance. It became a slight hindrance when because of acid trips Barret during concerts would
sometimes not play his guitar or sing at all, but rather would stand lifelessly on stage, yielding an especially
memorable appearence on "American Bandstand" where simply stared blankly into the camera.

        The writing was on the wall, so to speak, and the other members of the band became inreasingly
aware of the necessity to do something about their singer and guitarrist. An old school friend on Barrett's,
David Gilmour, who had already had a musical career touring Europe with his band Joker's Wild, was
eventually brought in to support and ultimately supplant Barrett on vocals and guitar in 1968. With the
entrance of the unparalleled guitar talent of Gilmour, the band instantly attained a new character that
would stay with them until present day, with David's guitar work becoming perhaps the most prominent
aspect of the music. But, with the loss of the band's primary creative source, the slack would have to be
picked up quickly both musically and lyrically. Bassist Roger Waters was up to the task, and he assumed
a high degree of control over the group after Barrett's fazing. At this time, the band did enjoy a rather
equality-based songwriting dynamic, but over the years, Waters siezed total creative control lyrically and
wrote the majority of the music as well. But, the musical contributions of Wright, Mason, and especially
Gilmour's ingenious guitar playing cannot be downplayed, and held a much larger stake in the
development of the Floyd's albums than the songwriting credits suggest. With the revamped lineup, the
band was ready to record a second album in 1968, and A Saucerful of Secrets was reflected the band's
new direction most notably in the ten-minute-plus long title track.

        Pink Floyd progressed out of the end of the 1960's and into the 1970's doing soundtrack work and
recording albums like Atom Heart Mother and Ummagumma. While the band even admits that these early
albums lacked a cohesive structure or really reflected a finished product, Meddle, released in 1971, did
have definitive direction and in the words of Nick Mason, "was the first real Pink Floyd album."
Extensive touring typified the Floyd's schedule, which was supported by an ever-expansive and
complicated visual component. Behind the scenes, Waters began to assert himself as the dominant force
in the band. His critical opus of depression, madness, capitalist greed, anonymity, aging, and death was
set to music by the other bandmembers and recorded in superior quality and clarity. Darkside of the
Moon, released in 1973, was perhaps the pinnacle of the entire band's creative prowess before inter-group
fighting and personal disagreement took its effect, and the album reflected a more total group project, with
each member contributing, at least in the writing of the music. Water's lyrics were emblazoned by
Wright's dramatic piano melodies in "The Great Gig in the Sky," Mason's strong drumming and timpani
beats during "Time," and Gilmour's biting, strained solos in "Money" and "Time." Recorded in the early
70's, the ablum was a blend of vintage fuzz-box distortion, swampy reverbs, and primitive VCS3
synthesizers. This otherworldly musical carnival was wrapped up in one of the most enduring and
recognizable album covers ever created, designed by the tandem Hipgnosis team. As a testament of this
album's historic greatness, it was recently certified platinum fifteen times over, denoting sales of over
fifteen million copies worldwide, and if the popular anecdote is true, it is playing somewhere on Earth at
every second of the day. Not bad, huh?

        By the time 1975 rolled around, the band had already written a chart-topping album, achieved
moderate wealth, and secured a huge fan base. After Dark Side of the Moon, Waters wrote an often
under-appreciated album that hearkened back to long lost friends (Barrett?) and his band's venture into
the musical machine. Full of anguish, remorse, tongue-in-cheek social criticism, longing, and even grief,
the lyrics of the next album were bolstered by a backdrop of near musical perfection in painful guitar
solos, sweeping keyboard dronings, and effective sparce percussion. Taken on its own or for any other
band, Wish You Were Here would easily have been greeted as a major triumph, yet it settled in the vast
shadow of the amazing commercial success of Dark Side. Consequently, this album is a true musical
gem, espousing perhaps the most universal lyrics Waters has written with top-notch musicianship that
brings the words to new levels of meaning. David Gilmour's mournful guitar phrase that forms the
backbone of the "Shine On" suite articulates the entire scope of Water's emotional lyrics in a mere four
notes. His blues-infected solos during the suite and througout the album are perhaps his most lyrical and
subtle, outdoing even his own high standards set on Dark Side. The album artwork done again by
Hipgnosis was a sheer triumph. This album fundamentally marks the end of the group effort songwriting
ethic, as the albums that followed, Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut were obviously dominated by
Water's increasingly socialist social criticism, his growing sense of personal isolation, and his very
idiosyncratic views of the post-WWII dream and the death of his father.

        Lamentably, the late 1970's and early 1980's were riddled with contempt, disagreement, and anger
among the members of the band. Waters, exhibiting what Gilmour refers to as "megalomaniacal control,"
realized of course that the focus of the band rested firmly in his control, and he had no problem making
his views be known, including when he informed Rick Wright that his services would not be required in
the band  after the brief Wall tour because Waters determined that his role in the band was negligable. The
Final Cut, with a frighteningly portending title, was basically nothing more that a Waters solo album
simply under the heading of Pink Floyd, or as the album sleeve states, was a work "by Roger Waters and
performed by Pink Floyd." When the unavoidable conclusion was reached in 1985, Waters told the other
band members that he was leaving, and he assumed that the band would simply crumble without his
creative presence holding them together. Gilmour and Mason figured differently, however, and after a
nasty legal battle, earned the right to continue under the name Pink Floyd without their songwriter. For  A
Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987 and The Division Bell in 1994, Gilmour and Mason reunited with
Wright and recorded two very complete and strong albums, if somewhat lacking in the depth and
supremacy of the Waters-era albums. The reigns of creative control were grasped firmly by Gilmour, who
had long been the most competent musical architect in the band in support of Waters unbelievably
exquisite lyrical power. To assist him in the songwriting beyond Wright and Mason, Gilmour looked to old
friends and fellow musicans and even his eventual wife, Polly Sampson. Although the character of the
lyrics and the music is somewhat of a departure from the classic mid-Seventies Floyd, the modern day
Pink Floyd controlled by the capable hands of Gilmour is still a welcomed modern oasis in the cesspool of
modern "alternative rock," techno, and pseudo-classic rock bands that dominate pop music. Waters has
pursued a fairly successful solo career, though not nearly to the magnitude of his Pink Floyd days. As any
serious Pink Floyd fan, I can only wonder about and speculate on the hope of a possible reunion, but if
Waters' recent refusal to accompany the other members at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
ceremony is typical of his mindset regarding his former mates, I don't think a full-fledged "Pink Floyd
Reunion Tour 2001" lies in store for Pink Floyd fans. I suppose we'll have to wait and see, however, as
stranger things have happened, a runaway giant inflatable pig from an album cover shoot flying over
Germany, for example.
                                                                       -1998 By Joseph O'Donnell
 


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