P is for Pink Floyd

This group went through several changes of personnel, along with several musical phases, the band has earned a place on in rock and roll with the best of them.  Their album sales topped 250 million and The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall were two of the best-selling albums of all time.  Pink Floyd were one of the first British psychedelia groups, and they had four albums that topped US or UK record charts, although only two singles ‘See Emily Play’ in 1967 and ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’ in 1979 made the top 10.  ‘See Emily Play’ along with ‘Money’ and ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part 2’ are included in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll”.  The band was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005.  In 2005, at Live 8, an awareness event where the group except for Barrett reunited for a one-off performance became the biggest global music event in history, the reunion of the four-man line-up that recorded most of the Floyd canon stole the show.

Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett played piano and he won a piano duet competition with his sister.  He got a ukulele at 10, a banjo at 11 and an acoustic guitar at 14.  At 15, he bought his first electric guitar and built his own amplifier.  Syd knew Roger Waters from primary school and he met David Gilmour as a teenager.  From age 10-16, Roger went to the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys which had its own Scout troop, and Roger was very good at mimicking famous people to amuse his friends and he did a great impersonation of the comedy actor Sid James.  Another scout Brian Boydell gave Roger the nickname of “Sid”, for doing this impression when he was 12.  Several years later, he changed the spelling after seeing a bassist, named Sid Barrett.  Roger replaced the “i” with a “y” to avoid confusion.  He was now Syd, but in the 1970s, he reverted to being Roger again and if someone called him Syd, he would say, “Syd doesn’t live here anymore”.

Roger Barrett’s father Max Barrett died when Roger was 15 and his siblings Alan, Don, Ruth and Rosemary left the nest soon after.  His liberal mother decided to rent out rooms to lodgers, because she felt that having more people around the house would help her son recover from his grief that he was feeling about his father’s death.  Barrett played in his first band Geoff Mott & The Mottoes in Cambridge during the spring of 1962.  Barrett’s mother Winifred encouraged the band to perform in their front room, which meant that there would be up to 30 young people in her house to jam and listen to the new music, play guitars and smoke the occasional joint.  After Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, he began playing guitar with The Hollerin’ Blues, who by 1965 had turned into Those Without.

Syd was a notable and popular bohemian figure on the Cambridge scene, swapping guitar chords with David Gilmour and avidly enjoying a wide range of musical influences from jazz to obscure blues combos.  David Gilmour played several times in Cambridge in 1962 and 1963 in his first band, The Ramblers, although only playing a couple of shows with them.  He went on to play more shows with his second band Chris Ian & The Newcomers and later just The Newcomers when Chris Ian departed.  David would then go on to play semi-professionally with Jokers Wild and play quite a few dates around Cambridge as a local hero having taken to the guitar.

English songwriter, singer, bassist, and composer Roger Waters didn’t start playing music until he was on the cusp of his 20th birthday.  In college he was friends with Richard Wright and English drummer Nick Mason.  Roger Waters and Nick Mason met while studying architecture at the London Polytechnic.  Being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people is often the key to success in the music industry and when Waters found out that Mason had a car, he asked him if he could borrow it and when Mason said “No”, Waters then tried to bum a cigarette.  They first played music together in a group called Sigma 6 formed by Keith Noble and Clive Metcalfe with Noble’s sister Sheilagh.  Sheilagh Noble left Sigma 6 late in 1963 and they turned into The Abdabs adding Juliette Gale on vocals.

In 1964 Rado Robert Klose who also attended school in Cambridge, with Syd Barrett and Roger Waters started playing lead guitar in this band as Clive Metcalfe, Keith Noble and Juliette Gale left and they became the Spectrum Five.  With their bass player Clive Metcalfe leaving, Roger Waters’ switched to bass.  In 1964, the Spectrum Five were Roger Waters (bass), Richard Wright (rhythm guitar), Nick Mason (drums), Syd Barrett (vocals) and Robert Klose (lead guitar).  This group changed their name to The Meggadeaths and Leonard’s Lodgers, before becoming the Tea Set.  In early 1965, Barrett became the band’s frontman.  After pressure from his parents and advice from his college tutors, Klose quit the band in mid-1965 and Barrett took over lead guitar.  The group first referred to themselves as the Pink Floyd Sound in late 1965.

Barrett created the name Pink Floyd on the spur of the moment when he discovered that another band, was also called the Tea Set, and they were going to perform at one of their gigs.  Syd Barrett got the band’s name by juxtaposing the first names of Bluesmen Pinkney ‘Pink’ Anderson and Floyd ‘Dipper Boy’ Council who were both singers from Georgia.  He noticed the names on the notes of a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album which read, “Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, Pink Anderson or Floyd Council, these were a few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys.”

There would have been no Pink Floyd without Syd Barrett, who was an innovator and a musical visionary whose interior landscape became too disorienting for him to handle.  Whether he was entirely conscious or in control of his art is impossible to determine, but his work with Pink Floyd still ranks as some of the most expressive, sensational playing recorded by a rock guitarist.  Barrett wrote, “there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”  Barrett was a unique talent who possessed an erratic mind that was on the edge of a different type of existence.  Some of his lyrics can only be attributed to drugs or hallucinatory schizophrenia.  Syd Barrett later lost his mind, probably from doing too much acid and his band mates kicked him out of the group in 1968.

In December 1966, the group found a management team consisting of Peter Jenner and Andrew King which allowed them to transition to being a full-time band.  In 1967, they signed with EMI and recorded and Barrett wrote Pink Floyd’s first single ‘Arnold Layne’ about a real-life underwear thief.  This is the only song about an underwear bandit to ever hit the pop charts and it was released in March of 1967.  The lyrics were inspired by an unknown fetishist who briefly ran amok in Cambridge, snatching women’s undergarments (bras and knickers) from clothing lines, including the clothes line in Roger Waters’ backyard.  Waters and Barrett made up the part about Arnold stealing the women’s clothing because he enjoyed dressing up in them.

In August 1967, they released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.  The album peaked at number 6, and it spent 14 weeks on the UK charts and it went Gold.  It reached #131 on the US Billboard 200 chart.  The album was recorded at Abbey Road and right next door the Beatles were working on Sergeant Pepper.  Of the eleven songs on this album, eight were written and composed by Syd Barrett, two were co-written by him with the group and one was written by Waters.

In 1967, Barrett’s behavior became more unusual, and many attributed it to a psychotic break induced by LSD.  They hoped that his erratic behavior was just a passing phase, but in one concert he slowly detuned his guitar on stage, and in some others, he strummed one chord the entire show or didn’t play at all.  In television appearances, he gave one-word answers to interviewers’ questions or simply stared blankly and remained mute.  During their 1967 tour with Jimi Hendrix, the band had to bring in a substitute guitarist when Barrett didn’t show up or couldn’t perform, and by the end of the year, they hired David Gilmour as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett.

Barrett was frustrated when he introduced the song, ‘Have You Got It Yet?’ to the rest of the group and Syd would change the structure of the performance every time, making it impossible for the other members to follow.  Roger Waters later admitted, “He was our friend, but most of the time we now wanted to strangle him”.  The band wanted to keep their frontman and hoped he would recover, and they thought Barrett might become their off-stage songwriter.  They tried a few gigs as a five-piece, but in the end, they decided they could do without Barrett, and by March 1968 were in their second incarnation and under new management.  On April 6, 1968, Pink Floyd announced that Barrett was no longer a member of the band.

On July 13th 1967, Pink Floyd made their second appearance on BBC Top Of The Pops to promote their new single, that Syd Barrett titled, ‘See Emily Play’, which was released on the American version of the album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.  Pink Floyd’s second single was originally titled ‘Games For May’ and it went on to peak at No.6 on the UK chart.  Barrett originally claimed that he saw a girl named Emily, that was dancing naked in the woods after he took a psychedelic drug, but later he stated that the story about sleeping in the woods and seeing a girl was made up for publicity.  The main inspiration for ‘See Emily Play’ is thought to be a fifteen-year-old girl named Emily Young, who was the daughter of Wayland Hilton Young, 2nd Baron Kennet.  She was nicknamed “the psychedelic schoolgirl” at the UFO Club in London, where Pink Floyd used to play before they went mainstream.  On the track for ‘See Emily Play’ were Syd Barrett (lead vocals, electric guitar, slide guitar), Rick Wright (Farfisa organ, piano, tack piano), Baldwin Spinet (electric harpsichord, backing vocals), Roger Waters (bass, backing vocals), and Nick Mason (drums).  Barrett did the slide guitar work on the song with a Zippo lighter.

A Saucerful of Secrets was their second studio album, released in June of 1968.  Syd Barrett wrote and sang lead vocals on ‘Jugband Blues’.  The title song ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ was a collaboration between Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason and David Gilmour.  Richard Wright wrote two songs and Roger Waters wrote three.  The album peaked at #9 on the UK charts and it went Gold, but it made it to #158 on the US Billboard 200 chart.

More was their third studio album released in 1969 and their first album without former leader Syd Barrett.  The soundtrack is for the film of the same name, which was primarily filmed on location on Ibiza and was the directorial debut of Barbet Schroeder.  The film was about a young hitchhiker who uses heroin and meets a group of hippies doing drugs in Ibiza, Spain.  More reached #9 in the UK, and when it was re-released in 1973, it went to #153 in the US.

The moon landing inspired Pink Floyd’s most overlooked instrumental song ‘Moonhead’.  This is a bluesy, atmospheric piece that the band improvised live on the air during the Apollo 11 which was covered live by BBC as the US astronauts landed on the moon.  British citizens were wondering if Neil Armstrong was going to find green cheese.

In November, they released the double-album Ummagumma, a mixture of live and studio tracks which reached #5 in the UK charts and #74 in the US, marking the first time the band reached the top 100 there.  The first disc consists of live recordings from concerts at Mothers Club in Birmingham and the College of Commerce in Manchester that contained part of their normal set list of the time, while the second was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and it contains solo compositions by each member of the band where they each had half an LP side to create a solo work without involvement from the others.  The Syd Barret song ‘Astronomy Domine’ was on the live recording along with the eerie ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ song.

Pink Floyd played ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ for Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 cult film Zabriskie Point. The soundtrack to Zabriskie Point also included music from The Youngbloods, Kaleidoscope, Jerry Garcia, Patti Page, Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, John Fahey and Roy Orbison.

Atom Heart Mother was their fifth studio album released in 1970 and it reached #1 in the UK charts and #55 in the US.

Meddle was their sixth studio album, released in 1971 and it reached #3 in the UK and went to #70 in the US.  The band devised a series of novel experiments which eventually inspired the album’s signature track ‘Echoes’.  The Pink Floyd sessions would often begin in the afternoon, and end early the next morning, during which time nothing would get done as they spend long periods of time working on simple sounds, or a particular guitar riff.  Following these early experiments which they called Nothings, the band developed Son of Nothings, which was followed by Return of the Son of Nothings as the working title of the new album.  One of these early works involved the use of Richard Wright’s piano.  Wright had fed a single note through a Leslie speaker, producing a submarine-like ping.  The band tried repeatedly to recreate this sound in the studio but were unsuccessful, and so the demo version was used on what would later become ‘Echoes’ which took up side two of this album.

Obscured by Clouds was their seventh studio album, released in 1972, it reached #6 in the UK and #46 in the US. Four of the ten songs were instrumentals.

The Dark Side of the Moon was their eighth studio album, released in 1973 and it was hailed by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time.  It reached #2 in the UK and it went all the way to #1 in the US.  In the UK it was certified (BPI) British Phonographic Industry 14× Platinum and in the US it was certified (RIAA) Recording Industry Association of America 15× Platinum, so they sold a lot of records and made a lot of money.  The album included two singles that charted, ‘Money’ reached #10 in Cash Box magazine and #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and ‘Us and Them’ peaked at # 72 on the Cash Box Top 100 Singles chart.

Roger Waters stated that the song ‘Brain Damage’, included insanity-themed lyrics that were based on Syd Barrett’s mental instability, especially the line, “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”  The line “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” is a reference to Syd Barrett’s behavior towards the end of his tenure with the band, as his mental problems caused him on more than a few occasions to play a different song from the rest of the band in the middle of a performance.  The famous opening line, “The lunatic is on the grass”, is where Waters is referring to areas of turf which display signs saying, ‘Please keep off the grass’ with the exaggerated implication that the disobeying such signs might be an indication of insanity.

The dark side of the moon, became a metaphor of human irrationality, expressing that madness which is always present, is invisible but it is waiting to be exposed.  ‘Brain Damage’ leads directly into the song ‘Eclipse’ and many people thought these were just one song.  Radio stations usually played them together.  Roger Waters played bass guitar, sang lead vocals, and provided some tape effects, while David Gilmour played electric guitars and sang harmony vocals.  Richard Wright played the Hammond organ and the VCS3 synthesizer and Nick Mason played drums, tubular bells and he also did some tape effects.  Lesley Duncan, Doris Troy, Barry St. John and Liza Strike all provided backing vocals on this song.  Peter Watts, Pink Floyd’s then-road manager went unaccredited with the manic laughter that is on this song.

Wish You Were Here was their ninth studio album, released in 1975 and it went to #1 in both the UK and the US.  This was their second concept album which reflects Roger Waters feeling that the camaraderie that had served the band was, by then, largely absent.  The album included a double A-side single ‘Have a Cigar’ / ‘Welcome to the Machine’.  Guest singers included Roy Harper, who provided the lead vocals on ‘Have a Cigar’, and Venetta Fields, who added backing vocals to ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’.  ‘Welcome to the Machine’ begins with a door opening (which Waters described as a symbol of musical discovery and progress betrayed by a music industry more interested in greed and success) and ends with a party, the latter epitomizing “the lack of contact and real feelings between people”, which is similar to what we are going through today with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The members of Pink Floyd saw Syd Barrett visit them unannounced on June 5, 1975 while they were at Abbey Road Studios recording this album.  He gained a lot of weight which he said was from eating lots of pork chops and they had trouble recognizing him.  He shaved his head and eyebrows, and was clutching a plastic bag that contained his toothbrush.  Wright and Walters were both shocked and in tears when they realized that it was Syd, as they were recording the song ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ which was a tribute to him.  This was the last they ever saw of him.

Animals was their tenth studio album, released in 1977, it reached #2 in the UK and #3 in the USA, but no singles were on it.  On this Progressive Rock album, the band indulged in numerous lengthy jams that contained far more instrumental songs than vocal tracks and it remains in the top five of Pink Floyd’s best records.

The Wall was their eleventh studio album, released in 1979, it topped the US charts for 15 weeks, and reached #3 in the UK.  It is a rock opera that explores Pink, a jaded rockstar whose eventual self-imposed isolation from society is symbolized by a wall.  ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ is a three-part composition on this album, all hovering around the same theme.  The narrator systematically reveals the major events in his life that cause him and many other people to detach themselves mentally from the outside world.  He uses those reasons as ‘bricks’ to build a wall.  This wall separates and at the same time protects him from being hurt by the rest of the world.  Part 2 is about his school years and it is the most popular of the three parts, being ranked at number 384 on Rolling Stone’s list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Part 1 is centered on the Second World War era, where the narrator’s father leaves him to go and fight the war.  His father gets killed and never returns, which leaves this little child in pain feeling like he was abandoned as he has nothing but a memory, and an old photo in his family album.  His father becomes the first brick that he builds up to allow him to face people as he grows up.

Part 2 examines his school days where his evil teachers tried to control him to do things their way.  He does not like the teachers, feeling that they gained some kind of gratification from mentally abusing and punishing children.  The chorus urges a protest by kids against this kind behavior which immaturely impedes creativity in young children.  Children were only served the extra pudding attached to their lunch if only they finished their lunch first and this had an adverse effect on the singer, who eventually qualifies it as another brick in the wall.

Part 3 becomes the last straw, as the narrator can’t deal with his sadness/depression anymore.  He takes a defensive stance not wanting to have anything more to do with people.  Having no arms around signifies that he is denying himself of any sort of comfort.  He concludes that he does not need anything at all and justifies his motives for isolating himself with the wall he has built.

Richard Wright their keyboardist was fired after this album because of a rift between him and Roger Waters due to his lack of contribution and his heroin addiction may have also had something to do with this.

The Final Cut was their twelfth studio album, released in 1983 and it was the last Pink Floyd album to feature founding member Roger Waters, who departed in 1985.  It reached #1 in the UK and #6 in the USA.  The rivalry between Gilmour and Waters grew due to their creative differences.  In ‘84 Gilmour released a solo album in which he expressed his relationship with Waters.  Waters also released his first solo album and began touring.  He may have realized that that he was better off on his own.  He declared Pink Floyd “a spent force” and dragged them to the court for royalty payments and use of band’s name.  But Gilmour carried on with the group and commented “Roger is a dog in the manger and I’m going to fight him.”  Wright later rejoined the band when David Gilmour took over the reins after Waters left the band.

The title song from this album ‘The Final Cut’ is pretty much an epilogue to The Wall, continuing the story of Pink while he was behind the wall.  It describes what it’s like to alienate yourself from the world.  Pink tells us about his young life, and how hard it was for him to socialize with humanity while he was behind his wall.  The final part of the song tells us how he almost killed himself.

Gilmour recorded his second solo album About Face, in 1984, and he used it to express his feelings about a variety of topics, from the murder of John Lennon to his relationship with Waters.  Waters began touring his first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.  Wright formed Zee with Dave Harris and recorded Identity, which went almost unnoticed upon its release.  Mason released his second solo album, Profiles, in August 1985.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason was their thirteenth studio album, released in 1987.  It went straight to #3 in the UK and the US.  It contained three singles, the double A-side ‘Learning to Fly’ / ‘Terminal Frost’, ‘On the Turning Away’, and ‘One Slip’.  Richard Wright was listed as an additional musician on this album, as Pink Floyd was reduced to the duo of David Gilmour and Rick Mason.

The Division Bell was their fourteenth studio album, released in 1994 and Pink Floyd was again a trio with Wright back on keyboards.  It went all the way to #1 in both the UK and the US.  Their legal problems were behind them now, but without Roger Waters their chief songwriter, the band had to seek outside help.  Many of the lyrics on this album deal with a lack of communication.

The Endless River was their fifteenth and final studio album, released in 2014.  It went to #1 in the UK and it reached #3 on the US Billboard 200 chart.

Barrett died of pancreatic cancer on July 7, 2006, at the age of 60, in Cambridge, England.  Richard Write died of lung cancer on September 15, 2008.  Roger Waters, David Gilmore, and Nick Mason are all still alive.

Pink Floyd played four songs at Live 8, ‘Breathe’, ‘Money’ ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’.

21 thoughts on “P is for Pink Floyd

    1. Those two albums were their best stuff, but they did have a lot of other really good songs. I think that when you know more about a group, that you can enjoy their music even more.


  1. I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd and I have a sizeable collection collection of LP’s, cd’s and singles.
    The original drummer, Nick Mason formed a band; ‘Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets’ and they play early Pink Floyd songs. A dvd/cd has only recently been released and is well worth looking out for.

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  2. So many good songs and so little time to play them. There is never enough for me. Thanks Jim for another amazing selection with a marvellous write up. I always find it very sad when hearing of Syd’s unannounced visit to the Abbey Road studios in 1975 during the recording of Wish You Were Here when nobody recognised him.

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  3. First time hearing Arnold Layne. Excellent lyrics and a creative video that was quite brilliant. Interesting about them playing live on BBC while Apollo 11 had the moon landing. How many bands can say they did that. One of my favorite DVDs is Roger Waters’ “In the Flesh — Live” where Doyle Bramhall II plays and sings Gilmour’s parts as many of their biggest hits are done. Well worth a watch if you ever get a chance. Another good keeper post that I saved.

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  4. I really enjoyed that Jim. I tried to read it all day and got interrupted. Some what ifs with this band…If Syd would have been stable things could have turned out different. What a long long history they have. Thanks Jim.

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