Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK rock band formed c.1965, became top rock act: Syd Barrett, vocals, guitar, replaced by David Gilmour (b 6 March 1944, Cambridge), guitar; Roger Waters (b 6 September 1944, Cambridge), bass, vocals; Nick Mason (b 27 January 1945, Birmingham), drums; Richard (Rick) Wright (b 28 July 1943, Hatch End, London; d 15 September 2008), keyboards. Barrett and Waters knew each other from their home town; Waters played in the vaguely jazz-rock Architectural Abdabs with Mason and Wright while he was studying in London; Barrett joined, renamed them the Pink Floyd Sound after bluesmen Pink Anderson (b 12 February 1900, Laurens SC; d 12 October 1974, Spartenburg; recorded for Riverside '50, Prestige '60-2) and Floyd Council (b 2 September 1911, Chapel Hill NC; d c June 1976, Sanford; aka 'Dipperboy', 'Devil's Daddy-In-Law'; sides for ARC '37). Barrett also provided Pink Floyd's early repertoire and direction, with a unique mixture of nursery rhymes, blues, music hall and psychedelia. They played a benefit at Alexandra Palace '67 for the underground paper International Times (IT), the first UK band to use light shows and to project slides as they played; their debut single was Barrett's typically quirky 'Arnold Layne', about a transvestite, produced by Joe Boyd, banned by the BBC. The debut LP The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn '67 took its title from a chapter in The Wind In The Willows, with ten of the eleven songs Barrett's; but by early '68 he struggled to cope, perhaps because he was ingesting LSD every day (but see his entry).

Gilmour joined, and the quintet struggled on for a few weeks before Barrett's hospitalization. Barrett subsequently began quietly recording bits and pieces. Waters and Gilmour helped with production of Barrett's solo albums; meanwhile the quartet with Gilmour released A Saucerful Of Secrets '68, marking Waters' ascendance, with only one Barrett song, 'Jugband Blues'. (An unrecorded song from this period allegedly consisted of Barrett strumming chords at random and asking, 'Have you got it yet?') 'See Emily Play' also had chart success '67, but losing Barrett's skill at slices of single-length psychedelia, to say nothing of his sense of humour, the second LP concentrated on hallmark lengthy, spacey epics such as the title track and 'Let There Be More Light'. More '69 was a soundtrack, a direction they wanted to take; their ambition was to score Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but instead they contributed to Antonioni's Zabriskie Point '70. Ummagumma '69 was a two-disc set, half live and half solo work from all four; Waters collaborated on a soundtrack for The Body '70 with Ron Geesin, who worked with Floyd on Atom Heart Mother '70, the title track with the John Aldiss Choir taking an entire side, with experimental brass and stereo effects: it was their first no. 1 LP UK, no. 55 USA. Meddle '71 had 'Echoes' again occupying an entire side; Obscured By Clouds '72 was music from the French film The Valley (Robert Christgau wrote, 'The movie got buried, now skip the soundtrack').
They still lacked focus, but latched on to doom with Dark Side Of The Moon '73, one of the bleakest of all rock albums, no. 2 UK, 1 USA and still in the top 200 USA LPs in 1985 after 566 weeks (it broke the previous record '80, set by Carole King's Tapestry). They spent most of '74 in the studio, trying to make a 'non-musical album' without orthodox instruments (some thought that's what they were already doing); sessions were scrapped and they switched to Columbia (CBS) from EMI's Harvest label with Wish You Were Here '75, with an unusually lyrical Waters title track, guest vocalist Roy Harper on 'Have A Cigar' (a rare example of Floyd humour), marathon 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' for Barrett (who showed up for the recording session), which some interpreted as Floyd's own lack of direction: their second no. 1 LP both USA/UK. By Animals '77 they were a backing band for Waters; another bleak LP sold well despite being totally out of sync during the punk era (top three both UK/USA). They went into hiatus: Gilmour made an eponymous solo LP, Wright made Wet Dream '78; Mason produced albums for the Damned, Gong, and Robert Wyatt while Waters steered them to two-disc The Wall '79, depicting a rock star crack-up: no. 3 UK; no. 1 USA for 15 weeks (though nobody knew anyone who bought it) included no. 1 USA/UK single 'Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)'; it equalled Dark Side Of The Moon in sales. The tour promoting it saw the band performing only 'The Wall', with a real brick wall built between them and the audience during performance, the ultimate 'fuck you'; it was filmed '82 with Bob Geldof giving a better acting performance than it deserved. The band did not appear in the film and there were rumours of conflict between Waters and director Alan Parker.

Wright left, worked with bassist Dee Harris of Fashion in Zee (LP Identity '84). The Final Cut '83 was a Waters solo LP in all but name, damned by critics as another long whine from a rich, jaded rock star, it still made no. 3 USA, no. 1 UK; for all his pomposity and technical whizz-ardry he had the makings of a songwriter, but the evidence was totally lacking in his solo The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking '84, with guest Eric Clapton, castigated for the misogyny of the sleeve and the sprawling 'concept'. He toured to promote it; it was no. 13 UK, top 40 USA. He contributed to the soundtrack of animated anti-nuke Where The Wind Blows '86 with David Bowie and Paul Hardcastle.
At their best, Pink Floyd married acute lyrics with technical innovations; at their worst they were merely pompous. Nice Pair '73 was a reissue of the first two LPs; Relics '71 included the otherwise unavailable 'Biding My Time'; A Collection Of Great Dance Songs '81 and Works '83 were also compilations. Dark Side Of The Moon was still in the USA charts in 1987, sold 19 million copies and started again with the CD edition, a USA best-seller. Wright released Identity '84, Mason did Profiles '85, Waters Radio KAOS '87; Mason, Gilmour and Wright made old-fashioned, ponderous A Momentary Lapse Of Reason '87 as Pink Floyd, Waters trying unsuccessfully to stop them. The tour of that name resulted in live The Delicate Sound Of Thunder '89; just when they seemed to be a dinosaur act the CD era had revived them. The Division Bell album and tour '94 were successful and resulted in live multi-disc P.U.L.S.E. '95 with a winking red light on the packaging, including the first-ever live recording of 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. At least they are no longer Waters's backing group; he released The Wall: Berlin 1990 and Amused To Death '92, with guests including Jeff Beck and Don Henley.

Waters was said to be composing an opera on the subject of the French Revolution '96 with French writer and lyricist Etienne Rhodagil. In 2012 he was on tour with The Wall in eight outdoor stadiums, the set weighing 380 tons, tickets costing $250.