A fight between the blue you once knew.
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground.
Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda and Titania.
Neptune, Titan, Stars can frighten.
Blinding signs flap,
Flicker, flicker, flicker blam. Pow, pow.
Stairway scare, Dan Dare, who's there?"
The greatest psychedelic prog band with the most experimental styles had honed their techniques in the 70's.
The year: 1971. I'm 15 years old. I've just finished listening to "Beginnings" by Chicago. I'm living in an apartment complex called Cambridge Court in the northern most neighborhoods of lower Portland. The area is predominantly black. White kids are in short supply. An open apartment door is blasting a stereo on a scorching August morning. It's weird, unexplainable, but the guitar work is interesting. I knock on the door and meet my neighbor. And the rest is Pink Floyd history.
THE PINK FLOYD SOUND
The Pink Floyd Sound as they were called in their earliest beginnings were at the root of psychedelic music. The band's then frontman Syd Barrett, is no mystery to any Floyd fans. He slowly lost his mind--some say from incessant LSD use though it hasn't been proven--and was deteriorating to a point where he was no longer a dependable member of Pink Floyd. Therefore, new guitarist David Gilmour was called in to basically serve as a "backup" to fill in for Syd's flights into the unknown whenever, and wherever they struck. Barrett's slow insanity eventually reached a point where the newly formed 5-man Pink Floyd reverted back to a 4-piece band sans-Syd. Their first release "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is a loving tribute to psychedelia in its finest moments and at times is very reminiscent of music by The Soft Machine, another psychedelic band of the latter sixties. You can hear Soft Machine influences throughout Piper. The original studio release of "Astronomy Domine" is great, as is "Interstellar Overdrive."
Born Roger Keith Barrett, Syd became an icon. He was, and has now become one of the most important names in the history of Rock. The word "psychedelic" should have been stamped on his birth certificate. Syd was an artist and innovator like very few others. He created atmospheres through his work and had absolutely no fear of wild interpretation and free-jamming on stage. From the very beginning, Pink Floyd began under various band names such as "The Abdabs", "The Screaming Abdabs", "Sigma 6", and "The Meggadeaths". In 1965, Syd joined the band and they were called "The Tea Set." His influence over the coming music of Pink Floyd as well as over the individual members of the band was legendary. He was well-loved and respected, and quite obviously, missed.
It's my impression that Syd was the type of person that people followed. He had a charismatic method to his madness-no pun intended-and created on the fly, and it's my belief that he encouraged the prog-psyche style of the Pink Floyd that followed his departure from the band. If the word "crazy" ever pops up in a Floyd song, it more than likely refers to Syd. It's my opinion that the word "crazy" never referred to his mental state, but his personality, influence, and wild artistic flair. Syd left us in 2006 from pancreatic cancer.
My first foray into the sublime was with the album "Ummagumma." At the time, Pink Floyd was a difficult band for me to like. I was just coming down off The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Beatles, Stones, you name it. My fifteen year-old ears weren't quite ready for what lay behind the heavy theatre curtains of Pink Floyd's Progressive-Psychedelic Rock style. Though, after a few listens, "Astronomy Domine" seemed an above average piece of work. After truly digesting "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", I was amazed at what a simple four-piece band was capable of. Such audacity was beyond comprehension. How could they just take a slow piece, rip it to extremes in the middle, set fire to it, then explode into an echoing galaxy of listless stars and colored mist?" "Set the Controls" like "Axe", became more than just a song; it was an anthem. By now, I was ready to gobble up any possible Floyd Bootlegs I could get my hands on. "A Saucerful of Secrets" was probably my first real introduction to long songs with individual "chapters". The song is broken down into four main parts ending with a gorgeous conclusion titled "Celestial Voices". Then came the second LP in the two-record set. The instrumental works of each individual member didn't hold my interest with the exceptions of "Grantchester Meadows" and Gilmour's classic "The Narrow Way" which became the "5th" song on Ummagumma to accompany the 4 live tracks.
By this time, Pink Floyd was my favorite band, hands down. My second Floyd acquisition was with the album "Meddle" The song "Echoes" became a timeless classic, and one of the first 25-minute songs I ever became acquainted with. It was during this "Meddle" period that I became more and more interested in unique black light posters, and I now acquaint most of my memories of this tune with purple-glow basement rooms and smooth stereo. In our area, we called ourselves "heads". If you smoked weed, tripped out, hung out, or otherwise fit the classic 70's hippie mold, "head" was a relative term. Pink Floyd was indeed a "head band". "Meddle" featured the timeless classic "Echoes" which takes up one entire side of an album. I feel that "Echoes" is probably one of the most important pieces ever composed and performed by Pink Floyd. The lyrics to this song are just as fascinating as the musical interludes and journeys.
Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant tide
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine...
...Cloudless everyday you fall upon my waking eyes
inviting and inciting me to rise
And through the window in the wall
Come streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning...
The other side of the album has some very interesting works such as the other timeless classic "One of These Days." Translated the warbled and distorted vocal at the climax is: "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces." I always found it interesting that this phrase, plus "Careful, with that axe, Eugene," echoed madness and murder, and fit well into, (what I reckoned to be), a schizophrenic theme that seemed present in their earlier works. In 1972, I was extremely proud of my knowledge of Floyd music, history, and as much info as could be gathered from such a secretive, clandestine group of musicians. They avoided the public and media like us "heads" avoided the "straights". I was a serious fan, follower, disciple, and a floydian lieutenant. I was actually quite indignant after the release of "Dark Side of the Moon" when newer "heads" were now saying "Have you ever heard of Pink Floyd?" Of course I had! "I'd been listening to Floyd while you were still in diapers!"
"Atom-Heart Mother" was next up. Though it suffered horrible reviews from both "Cream" and "Circus" magazines, I still loved it. I thought it was a bit soft, and had an unusual quietness to it, but Atom-Heart was an easy piece to learn on guitar. It had absolutely beautiful passages and was in total, a very listenable track of music. Of course, the other side suffered greatly with the exception of Roger Waters' beautiful tune "If." Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun" was lackluster and bland. However, when played live, this song was a monster. On stage, Gilmour treats the tune to his trademark guitar thunder, and blows out screaming solos to a point where you just don't want the song to end. Rick Wright's "Summer '68" is okay, but was not overly impressive to me. I always felt then-and still do now-that works like "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast", and "Several Small Species of Furry Animals," were dynamic wastes of time and talent. In a word: b-o-r-i-n-g. Now come the bootlegs; This was the way to hear "Atom-Heart Mother", straight, with no orchestra, but only four guys making this piece live with what they had. The difference was like day from night. Live Atom-Heart was the only way to go. The next album was "Obscured by Clouds" which was a serious deviation from the psychedelic-prog-spacey departures of earlier releases. Reportedly, "Clouds" is their favorite LP and was done quickly and on the fly. It's a bad album at all, it just didn't have that spacey psychedelia that we'd all come to know and love from PF.
In 1972, I began working in reverse, going back to the earlier albums that I hadn't heard before. "More" was "more" like it. I really loved this record. I truly believe that this was some of their best works ever with a few tunes that translated extremely well to live stages. Masterpieces like "Cirrus Minor", "The Nile Song", and "Cymbaline" were absolutely stunning. "Ibiza Bar" could have easily been the pre-cursor to heavy metal rock. The "Main Theme" and "Quicksilver" were trippy and ambient, and very reminiscent of their earlier days.
The "Five-Man Floyd", Barrett, Waters, Wright, Mason, & Gilmour, was an interesting assemblage, but a bit bland and jumbled for my tastes. This is why the "A Saucerful of Secrets" LP wasn't a strong favorite for me. I never gave it much stereo time because my favorites "Axe", and "Saucerful", were so great on the live record of "Ummagumma."
"The Dark Side of the Moon" obviously was a spectacular LP. First off, it was engineered by the great Alan Parsons, yes, the very same of the Alan Parsons Project. My first reaction to this album was a bit apprehensive; I didn't like the idea of female singers and saxophone. That meant "pop" not "pink." But, after only a few listens, I reconciled myself to that fact that Pink Floyd had recorded their own "Abbey Road", a masterpiece, a résumé, and a cultural phenomenon that would hold a respectful position on the FM charts for decades to come. The album is dark and melancholy--not because of the theme or the lyrics, but the tonal paintings and luscious landscapes of piano and steel guitar. The whole thing is smooth, like glass, and glides like gossamer wings on an invisible current. "Darkside" reaches out, expands, and pulls the listener inside, deep within the catacombs of a beautiful new universe. Though madness seemed to be the underlying theme, and moreover, Syd's presence was once again heralded by an invisible highlighter, the album didn't feel "mad" at all. Quite the opposite, it felt extremely "normal" and calming.
I always felt that not enough credit went to Rick Wright whose influence on the record is as strong as a tropical hurricane. His piano work and compositions are saintly, sweet and completely unforgettable. Though it's a Roger Waters brainchild which claims to follow a theme, I could never assign "Darkside" a particular topic. It didn't feel like a "suite" or even a theme album. It was just a collection of tunes that ran together. Even though the themes were tied in, Anxiety, fear, insanity, greed, and power, it wasn't for me as dramatically thematic as "The Wall."
The two gems on this album are "Us and Them" and the sexually super-charged "The Great Gig in the Sky." This was something new for me entirely; a female using her voice as pure instrument, wailing near-orgasmic vocals in such a manner that I still get goosebumps to this day whenever I hear it. Claire Tory was the contract singer who performed this original masterpiece, again guided by Rick Wright's heavenly, yet simple keyboard elegy joined in by church-organ bliss. "Darkside" is definitely a night time album, a concert for blacklight and poster.
"Wish You Were Here" was a masterpiece. At the time it felt like a struggle to compete against "Dark Side." Everyone seemed to be comparing it, but I never felt it should have to compete. As a stand-alone LP, "Wish You Were Here" was highly charismatic and pleasing. It only had one throw-away track (in my opinion), and that was "Have a Cigar". The operatic "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" once again tributes Syd Barrett. The outstanding guitar work and structure was supreme. The title track with its hound dog blues slide guitar and early-70's chord structure is concert gem, and on the LP was harmonic and light. "Welcome to the Machine" was a futuristic nightmare piece, very well performed, and it became one of my favorites. "Wish You Were Here" was a great album.
Years later, "Animals" came on the scene. My nose smelled trouble just like it did with the last days of The Beatles. There was anger in the band, you could feel it, and it almost felt like a collection of solo works. "Animals" divides humans into 3 categories: Pigs, Sheep, and Dogs. Uh-oh, another Roger Waters social assault. Though there are great performances, I could have easily tossed this album aside. However, the haunting opening guitar strums of "Dogs" are some of the most enchanting I've ever heard. The song became my only favorite, with "Sheep" a runner-up. Again, I felt Rick Wright all over "Sheep." I think the reason I disliked "Animals" was because I felt a breakup coming.
Finally comes Pink Floyd's "White album"; A Pink Floyd album that never was: "The Wall." I say this because of the dis-crediting of Rick Wright on the album. In my mind, Pink Floyd had already broken up, they just forgot to tell the world about it. This was definitely Roger Waters' finest hour as far as following and actually establishing a theme. One could feel the isolation just as if watching a Stanley Kubrick film. "The Wall" remains my favorite Pink Floyd album simply due to the fact that it was such a presentation with highly memorable tunes from Roger and David. The guitar work was furious and beautiful, and the lyrics were top notch. Roger Waters was always a great lyricist, but this one was his novel on vinyl. "The Wall" also features moods like very few other Floyd albums. This is a 2-record telling of one man's descent into complete isolation and disenfranchisement of the world in general. The themes were lashing: Teacher, leave those kids alone, Goodbye, to blue skies forever, you are now comfortably numb to the world, and let's pound on the girlfriend on a Saturday night. Like the Beatles' "White Album", "Wall" is wrought with anger and interpersonal discord within the band. Perhaps it was apropos that the album was released near the end of the decade; an end to a great era, an end to a great band.
Today, the man is more like David Gilmour, Inc., touring solo, and re-inventing Pink Floyd. He has a stylish, but directed presence, one that tends to reassure that the band is under control. Gilmour has always been one of prog's most gifted and experimental guitarists of all time. As of recently, (The Gdansk, Poland concert is definitely worth a listen.) Nobody, not even Hendrix, could come close to his strange edges. David Gilmour. are two words that re-defined my guitar vocabulary. He never played fast and furious, but instead, made the absolute most out of what was truly inside of him. In my opinion, he was always superior to most guitarists simply for his willingness to go beyond. Gilmour employs a pattern of pleasingly repetitious scales that are almost so elementary they couldn't be considered serious guitar work. But it is indeed serious guitar! When he stitches them altogether, the end result is so dynamically pleasing that you just want his solos to last forever. David's techniques are alarmingly simple, yet exacting like so few other guitarists can resign themselves to. The end result is dynamite. The "Comfortably Numb" solo is a perfect example of what can be accomplished through simplicity, raw emotional performance, dramatic flairs and flourishes, and a mechanical drive to see it all through. Fact: nobody uses a whammy bar with such orchestral precision as Dave.
I always felt that Gilmour was born to dissolve into Pink Floyd. He gave them such presence, and true musical integrity. The latter 70's Floyd compositions have so much more meaning than mere song writing content. Gilmour creates and adheres to mood. This is his gift. In essence, you get more than just a song; you get an entire painting, a landscape of mood and intensity. Consider as an example, the song "Dogs". The piece begins with a hauntingly beautiful series chords told to us by quick guitar strums. The song builds, it floats, and in a span of many minutes, the listener has traveled great distances over musical valleys and mountain passes. The guitar solos are simple, but guiding. They are purely emotional. The song changes colors,pace, and then rejoins itself in the end as it passes into the nothingness of the run-out groove. This is the genius of David Gilmour--and Rick Wright whose synthesizers accompany us on this weird odyssey. It's no wonder that "Dogs" is a hands down live favorite.
Along with Rick Wright, I feel that the majesty of their earlier works were largely because of this duo. David Gilmour was, is, and always will be a guitar phenol. He did more for psychedelic music than just about anybody I can think of. David's array of pedals became a signature. At times I couldn't believe what he could produce with six strings. I believe that G could be carrying his guitar case walking down the street; it would come open and his guitar would fall out hitting the concrete; it would indeed make music.
As I see it, Waters always seemed to be the Conscious Floyd. He was the thinking member of the band, always looking for ways to expand the Floyd universe while at the same time, conforming to no applicable rules of the business. Waters always seemed to be the outsider, and if there was a protocol to any form of songwriting, production, or performance, he was going to break it. A person can get a feeling for thing, perhaps like a forewarning that a certain door should not be opened, or a room should not be entered. Roger Waters was my forewarning. Something about him always disturbed me, and I could never put my finger on what it was. Conversely, he was a solid Floyd figure, and I loved his output. There were some very decent works from him, and I thought--and still do think--that the "More" soundtrack had some of his best pieces on it. "Cirrus Minor" is an absolute classic, as is "The Nile Song".
But as the years moved forward, Roger Waters seemed to be moving backward. It was as if he was trying to infect our minds with his troubled past put into lyrics (much like John Lennon), and his political views of the world (much like John Kay of Steppenwolf). Waters just seemed to have a different spice, and obviously, a completely different agenda. As Pink Floyd grew older--closer to the "The Dark Side of the Moon"--he seemed to be morphing into a different person completely. He was never one of my favorites, in fact, he ranked at the very bottom. There was just something in his presence and affect that seemed so apart, so separate, that I just couldn't negotiate his presence with the rest of the band. I always thought that the born-again Floyd of Gilmour, Wright, and Mason, and numerous session players, was creatively replicant of their past. I almost feel like they were the better for it.
What can I say, or not say about Nick Mason? He never impressed me in the slightest. He was just there. I never thought he was a strong drummer or contributor. Instead I saw him as a Floyd icon. His presence was probably more valuable to me than anything else because I would never have wanted to see a replacement. As a drummer, there was just nothing there except for the fact that he did know how to orchestrate their music with his kit. Simple rolls, soft cymbal work and a thumping bass drum were trademarks. Though his style did help to further Floyd masterpieces toward the great beyond of where they were always heading, he just wasn't a favorite.
Richard Wright was a horse of another color. In my opinion, he was the silent champion. Nobody ever seems, or seemed to mention him. With Pink Floyd, Wright was a pure creative energy. I can pick up immediately on his contributions, and know that they were strong. He was probably the quietest, most shadowed figure of the band, and certainly one of the most prolific in terms of input. The album More had so much Wright in it that it brings back the sweetest of Pink Floyd memories. Richard Wright always fascinated me. He was the one I wanted to know the most about. He was the one who was always the least mentioned, or credited. (The Wall). He was the one that kept a pulse behind the performances, or went wild on Vox keyboards during a firestorm of pedal effects from Gilmour and drums from Mason. Waters would bang a gong and get it on, but Wright had the gift. He was the color, the paint swirl, the flavor you couldn't put your finger on, but was highly agreeable.
Rick, rest in peace my friend.
Live in concert at Porland's Memorial Coliseum, September 28th, 1972.
The Concert Set:
- "One of These Days"
- "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"
- "Eclipsed" (Introduced on stage as "Eclipsed". The entire Dark Side of The Moon set 6 months before its release)
- "Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun"
It was on a Thursday evening, a school night for me. But there would be no going to school after this concert. The next day was spent trying to figure out just what had happened. Something remarkable, truly life changing had taken place. Pink Floyd was not only a show, but a major sociological event. I would not come to understand its importance until many years later. The concert cost $4.50. I went with three of my best friends. Pink Floyd in 1972 were still fairly underground-or so we thought. Nobody really knew who they truly were yet-or so we thought. The concert was sold out, and multitudes of desperate beggars were willing to pay way over the top for a ticket.
This was something that we all found surprising. Nobody really knew about Pink Floyd except for us. Then, there was the city of Portland, Oregon, sold out to the Max to see them.
There was no introduction. A few colored lights came on, and the floyd took the stage performing "One of These Days." It was great! We were finally watching our heroes on stage. Immediately after the song-which seemed a robust beginning, all of the house lights went out with the exception of a soft purple glow. This was freaky. Smoke and mist began to envelope the stage-freakier yet. A soft orange glow began to rise on a tower from behind. The sphere was very wide, and very large. It was like a planet or something. We couldn't make sense out of what was happening. Still, weirdness was going on. Towers like the ones at baseball stadiums rose, adorned with hundreds of lights. Just then, the Floyd began to vaporize, appearing out of the mist like apparitions. A soft, Roger Waters voice muttered the title of their next song into the microphone "This is called 'Echoes'." And the rest, as they say, is history.
At one point during the performance of "Echoes", the stage disappeared! Yes, believe it or not, in 1972, the Floyd had a stage behind what appeared to be the actual stage that worked like an elevator. Again, fog and smoke enveloped the stage and when it cleared again, Pink Floyd was no longer there. The music continued, but the band was gone, as was all of their equipment! At this point, it seemed that anything goes with this band. We could hear "Echoes" playing, drums, keyboards, guitar and bass, but there was no band, and no equipment. As the song finally wound down to an end, the stage was once again enveloped by smoke until all lights went down and the audience was left alone in the darkness.
"Careful with that Axe, Eugene" began as a moody pulse, then built to a blustery climax with the giant red planet exploding as Waters blasted his death screams into the the microphone. The flash momentarily blinded the entire audience. Smoke and sparks and debris were falling from the ceiling. The lights were bright, Waters was screaming his head off, Gilmour was going nuts on guitar, and Pink Floyd made their live mark on Portland forever. Later, they played a song that they introduced as "Eclipsed" that was in fact, the entire "Dark Side of the Moon". I remember that the entire performance of this one "song" took almost an hour. This was indeed, a fantastic show.