One of the most popular bands in the history of rock music, Pink Floyd transcended from an R&B cover band to "a highly inventive, technically gifted space rock band" (Rolling Stone). Their albums have sold billions of copies worldwide, and their stage shows are categorised among the most elaborate on earth. How did Pink Floyd reach such a height of international fame? Let's take a look at their history and figure out how.
Pink Floyd was founded in the early 1960s by Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright, three art school students in Cambridge, England. The band started out playing R&B covers under various names and lineups. Some of the names they called themselves included the T-Set, the Abdabs, and Sigma 6. In 1965, the general Floyd lineup was settled when a guitarist named Syd Barrett joined the band. Roger was demoted from lead guitar to bass; Nick continued to play drums; and Rick switched from rhythm guitar to keyboards. They eventually settled on the name Pink Floyd, made by combining the names of blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Only a year later, Pink Floyd was a popular band in London clubs, performing weird, original psychedelic music. Due to their growing success, the band signed professionally with EMI Records on 1 February 1967. Their first two singles soon followed: "Arnold Layne" in March, which debuted at #62; and "See Emily Play", which reached #6 and stayed on the charts for almost two months.
The Floyd's debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released on 5 August 1967. Despite its sucess on the charts, the band was beginning to have problems with its chief songwriter and guitarist. Syd Barrett's addiction to LSD was so strong that he often missed recording sessions and concerts. On many occasions, when he did show up for a gig, Syd ended up staring off into space while the rest of the band struggled to fill the void in the music that he had created.
Eventually, this became too much of a problem, and in January of 1968 David Gilmour was hired to cover for Syd whenever Syd spaced out. (The band had originally considered Jeff Beck but settled on Gilmour due to his skillful reputation with the local band Joker's Wild). David's first concert with Pink Floyd was 13 January 1968. They performed as a five-piece for a while but it became more and more apparent that Syd was no longer able to perform. One day, on the way to a concert in Southampton, the band decided not to pick up Syd; he was officially fired from the band in April of 1968. In June of the same year, the album A Saucerful of Secretswas released. It expanded on the original Pink Floyd sound but was slightly less bizzare because of Syd not appearing on the album.
1969 featured 2 Floyd albums: More(far left), the soundtrack to a French film of the same name; and Ummagumma (left), a double album that was half live and half new material. It was around this time that Roger Waters established himself as the leader of the band, writing most of the songs from then on. Also, the band featured the first quadrophonic sound system in their live shows. In 1970, Atom Heart Mother, which featured the long orchestral "Atom Heart Mother Suite" was released. Three songs were also contributed to the film Zabriskie Point. On 11 November 1971, Pink Floyd released their "turning point" album, Meddle. It consisted of five songs on one side of the record and the 23:30 dreamscape "Echoes" filling the entire other side. "Echoes" became an early Floyd classic and Meddle is considered the first "real" Floyd album for some fans. It was followed in 1972 by Obscured by Clouds, another soundtrack to a French film. Dark Side of the Moon was released on 24 March 1973. It hit #1 in America and spent 741 weeks on the Billboard charts, for which it still holds the world record today. This album features the hit single "Money" and is considered one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time. After the release of this album, Pink Floyd was instantly transported to "rock superstar" status. As their popularity grew and Dark Side continued to be played on radio stations everywhere, tension between the members of Pink Floyd slowly began to grow.
1975's Wish You Were Here is a tribute to Syd Barrett, coinciding with the title track's theme of missing someone that is absent. In fact, Syd showed up at a recording session for this album. Upon being asked how he was, Syd replied: "I've got a very large refridgerator, and I've been eating a lot of pork chops." Needless to say, this event was devastating to the band.
Pink Floyd's 10th album, Animals, was released on 23 January 1977. Through its lyrics, the album expresses Roger Waters' view on politics. During the cover shoot for this album, the inflatable pig broke loose from its moorings at the Battersea Power Station and floated across the English countryside, to eventually be captured by a Kent farmer. Imagine the reports that came in from pilots that were flying at the time!
On the "Animals In the Flesh" tour that followed, Roger Waters spit on a crazed fan in Montreal, Canada. The fan was screaming his head off in the middle of a song and trying to claw his way across the barrier that separated the band from the audience. Apalled by this action, Roger wondered what it would be like if there was a real, live wall separating him from the crazy fans. Inspired, Waters began to create his magnum opus.
The Wall, released on 30 November 1979, is called Pink Floyd's greatest moment by many fans. Through a combination of Waters' biography and fiction, it tells the story of Pink, a successful, suicidal rocker who builds a psychological wall between himself and the outside world. This album is great not only because of its musical content but because of the huge amount of work that was put into it. Tension between Gilmour and Waters grew so huge that they had to call in a third producer (Bob Ezrin) to supervise things and settle disputes that were happening. During the recording of The Wall, Waters did not feel that Rick Wright was contributing to the band any longer. He gave Rick a choice: finish making the album and leave quietly or fight over production credits. (Waters decided not to list Wright and Nick Mason as producers on the album, contrary to what had happened on previous albums. He believed that they actually did not do any production. Mason agreed to this, but Wright refused to not have his name listed.) Consequently, neither Nick's or Rick's names were listed on the original album sleeve- anywhere!
Hit songs on this album include "Run Like Hell", the classic rock touchstone "Comfortably Numb", and "Another Brick in the Wall part 2". The latter was banned in South Africa after students took it up as an anthem, boycotting school.
The tour for The Wall was brilliantly executed and stands as one of the most elaborate stage productions ever. The show was only performed 29 times in four cities: Los Angeles; New York City; London; and Dortmund, Germany. It was hailed as one of the earliest examples of rock theater, as Roger played the part of Pink onstage. A film version of the album was released in 1982.
1983's The Final Cut was recorded without Rick Wright. It is entirely Waters' work and is his tribute to his father, Eric Fletcher Waters, who was killed at Anzio, Italy, in World War II. The relationship between Roger and the rest of the band at the time can be expressed in the liner notes for this album, which read: "Written by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd." Also, there was not a tour to support this album.
Following The Final Cut, Roger had had it with his bandmates. In his view, all they cared about was the money that they raked in as they played numerous shows to bigger and bigger audiences. Also struggling with David over creative differences, Waters left the band in 1984.
It seemed like this was the end for Pink Floyd. Both Waters and Gilmour released solo albums in 1984 and toured in 1985; Mason and Wright also attempted solo projects but were barely heard from. In 1986, upon hearing that his former colleagues were beginning work on a new album, Waters sued Gilmour and Mason for the rights to the name Pink Floyd. He stated that it was an insult to the work done before if his former bandmates continued to use this name without him. Roger lost, and Gilmour kept the name.
In 1987, the Gilmour/Mason Floyd, along with Rick Wright, released A Momentary Lapse of Reason. This was closely preceded by Waters' concept album Radio KAOS. The fans became confused. Some thought that the Pink Floyd album wasn't Pink Floyd because Roger Waters wasn't on it. Some thought that Roger's album wasn't good because the rest of Pink Floyd weren't on it. These two albums were followed by tours that happened at the same time, treating fans to twice the Floyd they were entitled to. Waters responded to this by printing the slogan "Which One's Pink?" on tour shirts. The Pink Floyd tour was followed by the 1988 live album, Delicate Sound of Thunder.
Over the next few years, Pink Floyd remained inactive. Roger, however, presented a gigantic performance of The Wall at Potzdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany, on 21 July 1990. He also released his third solo album, titled Amused to Death, in 1992. 1994 featured Pink Floyd's most recent studio album, The Division Bell. This album is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd music but lacks the lyrical input of Roger Waters. In fact, Gilmour had such a hard time writing lyrics that he had to get his second wife (who happened to be a writer)to help him out. Consequently, there is only one song on the album that David wrote by himself. A massive stadium tour encompassing 110 shows in 77 cities was presented to over 5.3 million people in late 1994. A live album titled p·u·l·s·e documents this amazing tour. The next few years were stale for all members of the Floyd, past or present. In 1999 and 2000, Roger Waters toured North America. The December 2000 live release In the Flesh (above right) documents the 2000 leg of the tour. In April of the same year, a live version of The Wall was released.
As of the present, both Pink Floyd and Roger Waters are inactive. David Gilmour performed a solo gig in London on June 22nd, 2001 and several gigs in London and Paris in January of 2002. Unfortunately, he has recently stated that those were one-off shows and there will not be a tour to follow. Pink Floyd are rumoured to release another album and tour in 2003; however, doesn't this happen every year?? In November of 2001, the long- awaited album Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd was released. Amazingly, it soared up to #2 on the Billboard charts! In December, Roger Waters released a DVD of his 2002 tour, rightfully titled In the Flesh. Upcoming projects from him include a studio album (which is now projected for release in 2003); and a rock opera that he has been working on since 1992.