Classic Rock History: The Story and Music of Pink Floyd


Early formation

The seeds of classic rock band Pink Floyd originated in London, England. The initial lineup consisted of Syd Barrett (guitars/vocals), Roger Waters (bass guitar), Rick Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums). All were architecture students with the exception of Barrett, who was an art student and Waters’ childhood friend, who would be Pink Floyd’s first leader. Unlike many of their British peers, the band played purely R&B and blues, which were their initial repertoire. Because of their penchant for the blues, the band named themselves Pink Floyd in homage of their blues idols Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, adopting each of their first names.

Pink Floyd, in particular Barrett and Waters, employed sonic effects into their performances, which would make up their famous sound not much later. Soon, Pink Floyd became a sensation of London’s vibrant underground rock scene, and this led to their first recording contract with EMI in 1967. In April that year, Pink Floyd released their first single “Arnold Layne,” which peaked at #20 on the UK singles chart.

In August of that same year the band released their first full-length album, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, which also released the psychedelic rock single, “See Emily Play,” which went on to the Top 10 of the UK charts. On this album, the band was veering toward the experimental and avant-garde, which would build up and culminate on their following releases.

Pink Floyd was on the verge of national stardom, but along with it came problems within the band. Syd Barrett was showing signs of mental illness that rendered him unable to carry out his performances on stage. Despite adjustments by the band, it came to the point that Barrett’s mental condition and depression took a serious toll on them. Because of this, the band was forced to include another musician, David Gilmour as the co-lead vocalist and guitarist. Barrett’s condition made it almost impossible for Pink Floyd to continue with him, and so he finally left the band. Despite Barrett’s brief association with Pink Floyd, music journalists even now still continue to praise his contributions to the band.

Pink Floyd becoming progressive rock superstars in the 70s music era

Soon after Barrett left, Pink Floyd returned to recording their sophomore effort A Saucerful Of Secrets, which included Barrett’s final song contribution “Jugland Blues.”. Waters, by default, was made the band’s new leader. He began to develop his own songwriting skills as well. A Saucerful Of Secrets found the group heading to the repertoire that the group would be known for – spacy, ethereal, otherworldly, punctuated by lengthy instrumental passages. It was also the first of the Pink Floyd albums that was designed by Hipgnosis, a group of art designers headed by Storm Thorgerson who were responsible for the band’s iconic cover art on their albums.

The band moved to EMI’s progressive rock subsidiary label Harvest, and issued their first release there, the double album Ummagumma in 1969. With that they had become Harvest’s bellwether artist. The album was a success on the UK album chart, and further helped gain a cult following in the US.

Pink Floyd’s next album, Atom Heart Mother, witnessed contributions from composer Ron Geesin who provided orchestrations for the album’s material. Atom Heart Mother ended up as the band’s first #1 UK album. After an extensive tour to support the album, the band returned to the studio to spend lengthy sessions filled with seemingly endless experimentation. This resulted in subsequent album Meddle, which garnered a double platinum certification from the US; and Obscured by Clouds, which was also their soundtrack of the French motion picture La Vallee. The band continued to experiment in the studio and play live performances until their efforts were paid off with Dark Side Of The Moon. The album was evidence of their deep musicianship as well as their improved and matured songwriting, helped by the notable sonic effects.

Helped by its single “Money,” Dark Side Of The Moon became a success on both the UK and the US, where the album peaked at the top of the Billboard 200 chart in 1973. The album’s longevity on the chart was its most striking achievement, having stayed a total of 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. The album established Pink Floyd as bona fide superstars.

The band followed this up with 1975’s Wish You Were Here, which was partly dedicated to their former bandmate Syd Barrett. It was also a big hit, peaking on both US and UK album charts, thanks to its title track. The band toured extensively to promote the new album, while foraging new ideas along the way for their next record. This resulted in their 1977 LP Animals, which sold four million copies in the US alone.

Pink Floyd followed this up again with 1979’s The Wall, another concept album like its previous efforts. This was based on Waters’ frustrating experience with rough and rude fans the band had encountered in their live performances, so he thought up of an imaginary “wall” that would divide the space between the band and the fans.

The Wall became Pink Floyd’s most ambitious album to date, yielding the band’s most known single yet “Another Brick In The Wall,” which topped on both US and UK singles charts. The success of the album inspired the band to do a film Pink Floyd – The Wall which was directed by Alan Parker and released in 1982.

Later career

Pink Floyd released their final album with the original lineup, The Final Cut, in 1983. Waters departed from the band soon after the album’s release, to concentrate on his solo career. In 1984 Gilmour and Mason decided to continue, carrying on with the Pink Floyd name. And this resulted in a legal tussle between Waters and his former band, claiming the rights of the name. In the end, Gilmour and Mason won, and used the name Pink Floyd for their subsequent release, 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, their first album without Waters on it. The album became another commercial success. The band’s sold-out tour supporting the album resulted into the release of Delicate Sound Of Thunder, a live album chronicling those events.

In 1994 Pink Floyd released another album The Division Bell which also became a global success. Tours that promoted the album also became instant smashes as well. The following year, Pink Floyd withdrew from the limelight, this time for good, it seems.

Ten years later, differences between the bandmates had been patched, and this led to an unexpected reunion starting from their performance at Live 8, a charity concert in 2005. There were rumors swirling around that the band might get back for good, but Waters dismissed these. However, Waters, Gilmour and Mason continued to perform songs from Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, signaling that all was finally ok among the band members.

One of the band’s original founders, Syd Barrett died in 2006; Rick Wright passed away in 2011. Also in 2011, EMI released an exhaustive project called “Why Pink Floyd…?” that contained the band’s entire back catalogue which was recently remastered, as well as other few new unheard-of exclusive tracks.

Pink Floyd’s contributions to the music scene have influenced a lot of musicians coming from different generations and even extreme spectrums – from the guitar-driving metal heads to the laid-back ambient electronic junkies, from oldies music fans to recent rock fans. The band has sold over 250 million records worldwide, and won several awards and honors. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996, placing the progressive/art rock group into the annals of rock music immortality.

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