“Open your heart. I’m coming home.”
– Hey You, The Wall, Pink Floyd
That line precisely describes what Pink Floyd tells its listeners. Pioneers of psychedelic and progressive rock, this enigmatic band introduced the world to a new realm of consciousness – The Subconscious. With an array of experimental and innovative compositions, combined with profound lyrics and an arsenal of weird sounds and noises, the band created music that reached far and wide and touched millions at the very core- the inner self and the heart.
Pink Floyd, initially consisting of Syd Barrett (lead vocals and lead guitars), Roger Waters (bass), Richard Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums), broke the underground music scene in London with their avant-garde music and live light shows. Barrett, “a mad genius” as Waters put it, was the visionary leader of the group. His out of the world, spacey guitar playing at the backdrop of melodic, trippy soundscapes brought psychedelic music from cult status to worldwide fame. They found recognition with their debut album, ‘The Piper At the Gates of Dawn’ (1967) as is evident by the brilliant and astral “Interstellar Overdrive”. Barrett’s heavy use of hallucinogens affected his already fragile mental health, and his erratic behaviour was hampering the band’s music and progress, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for the others to work with him, especially onstage. The second album ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ (1968), notably consisting of the eerie and chaotic title track and the mystic “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, saw the replacement of Barrett by David Gilmour, a virtuoso guitarist, and the emergence of Waters as a songwriter. Barrett’s only (and his final) contribution to the album was the haunting “Jugband Blues” where a marching band provided part of the music. Barrett came up with a song which wasn’t actually a song but a concept – “Have You Got It Yet?”. The song had an ever-changing composition where the other band members played the original composition, whereas Barrett played a different one, and the others tried to change and play along with what Barrett was playing, in the midst of the song! In the chorus, Barrett would shout “Have you got it yet?” having the rest answer “No! No!”. This preposterous concept, being absolutely impossible to play, saw Barrett being permanently removed from the band he had created.
The remaining four continued the journey with ‘More’ (1969), a soundtrack album for the movie by the same name directed by Barbet Schroeder followed by ‘Ummagumma’ (1969). The name of the album is supposedly a Cambridge slang for sex, and it included a live set in one part and solo compositions by all four members in the other part.
Floyd ushered in the ’70s with ‘Atom Heart Mother’ (1970), containing another majestic title track – an orchestral saga, as well as Gilmour’s first lyrical contribution on “Fat Old Sun”. ‘Meddle’ (1971) was perhaps the most important of all Floyd albums, as it was through this album that they transcended into the progressive from the psychedelic genre. The result was the phenomenal epic, “Echoes”. An astonishingly queer part of the album was “Seamus”, where a dog (by the same name) provided the howling part of the vocals. Barbet Schroeder made a French film ‘La Vallee’ (The Valley), where Floyd again provided soundtracks, which went on to be produced as ‘Obscured By Clouds’ (1972).
What followed made them gods in the rock music scene! ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ (1973), a concept album with an iconic cover, dealing with the darker side of the human spectrum- isolation, insanity, death – was envisioned. A remarkable album from start to finish, it is a wonder to the senses. Very rich and very famous, they then made ‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975), a tribute to Barrett. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and the title track showed that even gods have deep and heartfelt emotions. ‘Animals’ (1977), a powerful album inspired by George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, was a satirical outcry against political exploitation and corruption. The genius vision of Roger Waters showed its full potential in the next project, ‘The Wall’ (1979). Partly autobiographical, it also dealt with dark themes, showing a troubled rockstar and how isolation engulfs him leading to madness, from which he finally breaks free. This album is another masterpiece, consisting of the anti-authoritarian “Another Brick In The Wall” and the wistful “Comfortably Numb” with the heights-soaring guitar solo, among others. Another brainchild of Waters, aptly named ‘The Final Cut’ (1983), saw his departure from the band after the ongoing creative tensions and rifts in the band, especially between Waters and Gilmour, finally went through the roof.
A dismal effort lacking Waters’ flair, ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ (1987) was more than compensated by ‘The Division Bell’ (1994), which indeed made the band “come back to life” besides starring “High Hopes”. The last album ‘An Endless River’ (2014) was a nostalgic collection of various old materials.
Other noteworthy works are various compilation albums, the EP ‘London ’66-’67’ (1967), the documentaries ‘San Francisco’ (1968): a 15 minute film with “Interstellar Overdrive” playing in the background; and ‘Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii’ (1972): a concert documentary sans audience shot amongst the archaic ruins of the Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii, Italy. Concerts such as ‘Pulse’ (1995), the reunion at ‘Live 8’ (2005) and others at Hyde Park and the one held in Venice on a floating stage are legendary. The surreal movie ‘Pink Floyd-The Wall’ (1982) deserves special recognition, as it is based on the album with screenplay being done by Roger Waters. They also provided music for ‘Zabriskie Point’ (1970), ‘La Carrera Panamericana’ (1992), and were featured on the soundtrack album ‘Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London’ (1968).
I, Shaswata, think that they are the best band in the world! I started listening to them from the first album itself, as Syd Barrett was a huge influence on the rest, and his mark can be found throughout their works. (At the end of the song “Julia Dream”, Waters can be heard whispering ‘Syd’.) I would suggest you do the same.