Pink Floyd are a progressive rock band formed in 1965 in Cambridge & London, England, active since 1965 through 1983 & 1987 to present. Group’s main members are Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Rick Wright. Pink Floyd originally stemmed from earlier bands whose names included Sigma 6, T-Set, Meggadeaths, The Screaming Abdabs, The Architectural Abdabs, and The Abdabs. The band was again renamed The Pink Floyd Sound and then simply The Pink Floyd (after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council). The definite article was dropped by the time their debut album was released.
Pink Floyd originally consisted of Syd Barrett (vocals, guitar), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals), Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums). They covered rhythm and blues staples such as “Louie, Louie”. As Barrett started writing tunes more influenced by American surf music, psychedelic rock, and British whimsy, humour and literature, the heavily jazz-oriented Klose departed and left a rather stable foursome. The band formed Blackhill Enterprises, a six-way business partnership with their managers, Peter Jenner and Andrew King.
Released in August 1967, the band’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is considered to be a prime example of English psychedelic music. The album’s tracks showcase an eclectic mixture of music, from the avant garde free form piece “Interstellar Overdrive” to whimsical songs, such as “Scarecrow”, a melancholic song inspired by the Fenlands, the rural region surrounding Barrett’s home town of Cambridge. The album was a hit, peaking at #6 in the UK charts.
In January 1968, guitarist David Gilmour joined the band to carry out the playing and singing duties of Barrett, whose mental health had been deteriorating for several months, but nevertheless was intended to remain as the band’s figurehead and songwriter. With Barrett’s behaviour becoming less and less predictable, and use of LSD almost constant, he became very unstable, often staring into space while the rest of the band performed. The band’s live shows became increasingly ramshackle until, eventually, the other band members simply stopped taking him to the concerts.
Once Barrett’s departure was formalised in April 1968, Jenner and King decided to remain with him, and the six-way Blackhill partnership was dissolved. Whilst Barrett had written the bulk of the first record, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, he contributed just one song “Jugband Blues” to the second A Saucerful of Secrets, released in June 1968, reaching #9 at home. After the film soundtrack More, the next record, the double album Ummagumma (part recorded at Mothers Rock Club, Birmingham, and in Manchester in 1969), was a mix of live recordings and unchecked studio experimentation by the band members, with each recording half a side of vinyl as a solo project (Mason’s wife makes an uncredited contribution as a flutist). The album was Pink Floyd’s best performing release yet, hitting UK #5 and making the US charts at #70. 1970’s Atom Heart Mother, is a UK #1 album that is often overlooked today, sounding somewhat dated, and has been described by Gilmour as the sound of a band “blundering about in the dark”. However, the album was a transitional piece for the group, and it hints at future musical territory. The title piece, a 23-minute long work with symphonic leanings, owes much to orchestration by Ron Geesin.
The band’s sound was considerably more focused on Meddle (1971), with the 23-minute epic “Echoes” (in this track the band used the Zinovieff’s VCS3 synth for the first time, as well as a theremin in the spacey middle part). This album also included the atmospheric “One of These Days” (a concert classic, with a distorted, disembodied one-line vocal, “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces” — courtesy of drummer Nick Mason — and a melody that at one point segues into the theme tune of the cult classic sci-fi TV show Doctor Who) and the pop-jazz stylings of “San Tropez”. Their taste for experimentation was expressed on “Seamus” (earlier, “Mademoiselle Nobs”), a pure-blues number featuring lead vocals by a Russian wolfhound. It was about this time that Roger Waters started to lead the musical direction of the band, in both lyrical and musical content. Indeed, “San Tropez” was the first song that Waters brought to the band in a completed state, requiring little work from the other band members. Pink Floyd were rewarded with a #3 peak in the UK for Meddle. A less-well-known album, Obscured By Clouds, was released in 1972, as the soundtrack for the film La Vallee and was the band’s first US Top 50 album, hitting #6 at home.
Despite their never having been a hit-single-driven group, their massively successful 1973 album, Dark Side of the Moon, featured a US number Top 20 track (“Money”), and more importantly remained in the US Top 200 (where it hit #1) for 741 weeks (including 591 consecutive weeks from 1973 to 1988), breaking many records on the way, and making it one of the top selling albums of all time. Dark Side of the Moon was a concept album originally intended to be about the different pressures applying in modern life. It proved a powerful catalyst for the band and together they drew up a list of themes: “On The Run” was dedicated to travel; “Time” depicted the encroachment of old age; “The Great Gig In The Sky” (originally named “Mortality Sequence” and “Religious Theme” during development) dealt with death and religion; “Money” naturally spoke of the money that often comes with fame; “Us And Them” entailed violent conflicts within society; and “Brain Damage” touched on themes of insanity and neurosis. Thanks to the use of new 16-track recording equipment at Abbey Road Studios and the investment of an enormous amount of time by engineer Alan Parsons, the album set new standards for sound fidelity.
Dark Side of the Moon and the three following albums (Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall) are held up by most fans as the peak of Pink Floyd’s career. The first of those, Wish You Were Here, released in 1975, is a theme album about absence. In addition to the classic title track, “Wish You Were Here” includes the critically acclaimed, mostly instrumental nine-part “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to Barrett in which the lyrics deal explicitly with the aftermath of his breakdown. The album also includes the epics “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar.” Pink Floyd achieved their first transatlantic #1 album with “Wish You Were Here”.
By January 1977, and the release of Animals (UK #2, US #3), the band’s music came under increasing criticism from some quarters in the new punk rock sphere as being too flabby and pretentious, having lost its way from the simplicity of early rock and roll. Animals contained more lengthy songs tied to a theme, taken in part from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, using pigs, dogs and sheep as metaphors for members of contemporary society. However, Animals was considerably more guitar-driven than the previous albums (perhaps as a response to the growing punk movement) as it substantially furthered existing tensions between Waters and keyboardist Rick Wright, who did not contribute any songs to Animals.
1979’s epic rock opera, The Wall, conceived mainly by Waters, gave Pink Floyd renewed acclaim and another hit single with their foray into critical pedagogy – “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” (which took the coveted Christmas Number One slot in the UK singles chart). In addition, while making #3 at home, The Wall spent an astounding 15 weeks atop the US charts during 1980. It also included “Comfortably Numb”, which, though never released as a single, became a cornerstone of AOR and classic-rock radio playlists and is today one of the group’s best-known songs. It is also one of a very small number of songs on Pink Floyd’s first four concept albums not to segue at either the beginning or end. The album also became a vastly expensive and money-losing tour/stage show, although the album’s sales got the band out of the financial hole they were in. During this time, Waters increased his artistic influence and leadership over the band, prompting frequent conflicts with the other members and even leading to the firing of Wright from the band. Wright returned, on a fixed wage, for the album’s few live concerts. Ironically, he was the only member of Pink Floyd to make any money from the Wall shows, the rest having to cover the excessive costs. The album was co-produced by Bob Ezrin, a friend of Waters who shared songwriting credits on “The Trial” and whom Waters then kicked out of the Floyd camp after Ezrin inadvertently talked about the album to a journalist relative.
The Wall remained on best-selling-album lists for 14 years. A film entitled Pink Floyd The Wall starring Boomtown Rats founder Bob Geldof was adapted from it in 1982, written by Waters and directed by Alan Parker, and featuring striking animation by noted British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. The creation of the film saw a further deterioration of the Waters/Gilmour relationship, as Waters came to completely dominate the band.
1983 saw the release of The Final Cut. Even darker in tone than The Wall, this album re-examined many of the themes of that album while also addressing then-current events, including Waters’ anger at Britain’s participation in the Falklands War (“The Fletcher Memorial Home”) and his cynicism toward, and fear of, nuclear war (“Two Suns in the Sunset”). Wright’s absence meant this album lacked the keyboard effects seen in previous Floyd works, although guests Michael Kamen and Andy Bown both contributed keyboard work. Also featuring on the album is Raphael Ravenscroft on saxophone who is perhaps better known for the sax solo on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”. Though released as a Pink Floyd album, the interior sleeve specified “A requiem for the post war dream by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd”: the project was clearly dominated by Waters and became a prototype in sound and form for later Waters solo projects. Only moderately successful by Floyd standards (UK #1, US #6), the album yielded only one rock radio hit, “Not Now John”. The arguing between Waters and Gilmour by this stage was rumoured to be so bad that they were never seen in the recording studio simultaneously. There was no tour, and the band unofficially disbanded in 1983.
After The Final Cut, the band members went their separate ways, each releasing solo albums, until 1987, when Gilmour and Mason began to revive the band. A bitter legal dispute with Roger Waters (who left the band in 1985, or claimed he dissolved it) ensued, but Gilmour and Mason were upheld in their contention that they had the legal right to continue as Pink Floyd (Waters, however, gained the rights to some traditional Pink Floyd imagery, including most of The Wall props and characters and all of the rights to The Final Cut). The band under Gilmour returned to the studio with producer Bob Ezrin. Richard Wright re-joined during the recording sessions of A Momentary Lapse of Reason (UK #3/US #3) first as a session musician, paid a weekly salary, and later reinstated as a full-fledged member of the band for the 1994 release of The Division Bell (UK #1/US #1) and its subsequent tour, which was promoted by legendary Canadian concert impressario Michael Cohl and became the highest-grossing tour in rock history to that date.
Roger Waters is rejoining Pink Floyd to perform for Live 8 on 2nd July 2005, the first performance of the full quartet since 1981. All of the members of Pink Floyd have released solo albums which have met with varying degrees of commercial and critical success. Waters’ Amused to Death was the most praised of these albums, though it was met with mixed reviews.
Pink Floyd are renowned for their lavish stage shows, combining over-the-top visual experiences with their music to create a show in which the artists themselves are almost secondary. In their early days, Pink Floyd were among the first bands to use a dedicated traveling light show in conjunction with their performances, projecting slides, film clips, and psychedelic patterns onto a large circular screen (dubbed “Mr. Screen”). Later, additional special effects were added to the show, including lasers, pyrotechnics, and oversized balloons, notably a giant pig balloon which floated over the audience during performances of “Pigs” from the Animals album.
Pink Floyd mounted their most elaborate stage show in conjunction with the tour of The Wall, in which a band of session musicians played the first song, wearing rubber face masks (proving successfully that the members of the band were not known for their individual personalities). Later in the show, a huge wall was built between the audience and the band, being demolished, explosively, as the finale. This show was re-created (by Waters) and a number of guest artists (including Bryan Adams, The Scorpions, and Van Morrison) assembled around Roger Waters in 1990 amid the ruins of the Berlin Wall. The lavish stage shows were also the basis for Douglas Adams’ fictional rock group “Disaster Area” (creators of the loudest noise in the universe, and making use of solar-flares in their stage show) in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Douglas Adams was a personal friend of David Gilmour and made a one-off guest appearance, on guitar, on the Division Bell tour (October 28, 1994).
Pink Floyd have not released any new studio material since 1994’s The Division Bell, and there is no sign of new material. The only band activity since The Division Bell has been the 1995 live album P*U*L*S*E; a live recording of The Wall, compiled from their 1980 and 1981 concerts, titled Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 2000; a two-disc set of their greatest hits called Echoes, in 2001; the 30th Anniversary reissue of Dark Side of the Moon (2003); and a re-release of The Final Cut with the single “When the Tigers Broke Free” added (2004). Because the band members have gone on to work on various projects (drummer Nick Mason has written a book on his days with the band named “Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd”), and because of the death of longtime manager Steve O’ Rourke on October 30, 2003, the future of the band is uncertain.
The album Echoes caused some controversy because, on the album, songs segue into each other continuously in a different order than on their original albums and some (“Echoes”, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” “Marooned” and “High Hopes”) have had substantial parts removed from them.
David Gilmour released a solo concert DVD called David Gilmour in Concert in November 2002 which was compiled from shows on June 22, 2001, and January 17, 2002, at The Royal Festival Hall in London. Richard Wright and Bob Geldof (Pink in The Wall film) make guest appearances. In 2002 Q magazine named Pink Floyd as one of the “50 Bands To See Before You Die”.
In 2004, it was announced that contracts had been signed for a Broadway musical version of The Wall, with extra music to be written by Waters. The broadway version will feature all of the music written by Waters. It is not known whether the songs co-written by Gilmour (“Young Lust”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Run Like Hell”) will feature. The show is scheduled to be completed by mid 2005. Mason’s book, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, was published in 2004. To promote it, Mason made public appearances in a few European and American cities, giving interviews and meeting large crowds at book signings. The book is not a definitive biography of the band, rather a personal view of Mason’s experiences.
On June 12, 2005 it was announced that Pink Floyd would be performing at the Live 8 concert with Roger Waters rejoining David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright. It will be their first concert together in over 24 years, the band’s last show with Waters being at Earls Court in London in 1981. Live 8 is due to take place in London’s Hyde Park on July 2, 2005. In a statement, David Gilmour said: “Like most people I want to do everything I can to persuade the G8 leaders to make huge commitments to the relief of poverty and increased aid to the third world. It’s crazy that America gives such a paltry percentage of its GNP to the starving nations. Any squabbles Roger and the band have had in the past are so petty in this context, and if re-forming for this concert will help focus attention then it’s got to be worthwhile.”
Integral to the music is the artwork which comes with it. The album covers and sleeve artwork add to the emotional impact of the music with vivid and meaningful imagery. Throughout the band’s career, this aspect was mainly provided by the talents of photographer and graphic artist Storm Thorgerson and his erstwhile graphic studio Hipgnosis. Many of these images have acquired fame in their own right; notably the famous picture of a man shaking the hand of his burning alter-ego for Wish You Were Here and the refracting prism for Dark Side of the Moon. In fact, Thorgerson was involved in all the artwork for every album except The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the front cover of which was a photograph by Vic Singh and the back cover a drawing by Syd Barrett; The Wall, for which the band employed Gerald Scarfe; and The Final Cut, the cover of which was designed by Waters himself, using photography made by his then brother-in-law, Willie Christie.