College Writing B 1st Hour
7 May 2013
A Saucerful of Secrets: The Influences on Pink Floyd
There was a song on the radio not but a week ago. Along came the strum of an acoustic guitar, the faint hum of a synthesizer rolls into the ears, a light thump from a bass drum; where did this sound come from? The radio announcer said afterwards that the band was a group named “Pink Floyd.” Who’s Floyd, and why is he Pink? The time scrambles in the head and the eardrums want to move to the rhythm of the song again. Curiosity, as the hands typed in the words, found not only a band, but also a style of art, that moved along with the times; Pink Floyd delved to the depths of psychology via music. What many still do not comprehend is what brought the super group to where they stand today: as one of Britain’s, even the worlds’ most highly acclaimed progressive rock bands. What makes Pink Floyd such a successful band? What influences made the band so successful? How did their music progress since the beginning of their career?
When the name Pink Floyd is heard, many a mind would say they are a rock band. Indeed, they did become one. All bands have their humble beginnings. Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, early blues singers, inspired the band’s name. Dating back to their earliest years, 1966 for example, the group played minor gigs in London playing tributes to the Beatles, or playing the few songs of their own that had little recognition, and gave them the status of a “pop group.” The band, at the time, was formed with the founder, “Syd” Barrett (guitar and vocals), Roger Waters (bass and backing vocals), Richard Wright (organ, piano, and keyboard), and Nick Mason (drums). Their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (the title derived from a chapter of The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame), yielded a more welcomed performance. Poetry in songwriting developed in Barrett’s mix of “psychedelic” rhythms and lyrics. The Beatles, in the spur of the British Invasion (Britain’s movement in music), who made it a new style, influences the psychedelic aspect. The style itself depicts the use of light and sound in performance, giving a “poppy” feel, like dance music. “We are simply a pop group,” said Roger Waters in the New Musical Express, “But because we use light and colour in our act a lot of people seem to imagine that we are trying to put across some message with nasty, evil undertones” (Povey 40). Another influence, written beneath the lyrics, connotes taking LSD’s. Only Syd Barrett, who would smoke dope and take acid, took drugs fervently; the drugs, in the end, would bring him to his downfall. Songs that put the band on the charts included the poppy “Lucifer Sam,” the hippie I-Ching style of “Chapter 24,” and the poetic child’s song “The Gnome.” But what yielded the greatest response was “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive,” their first step into a space-like quality of music, called space rock.
Released a year later, A Saucerful of Secrets became the band’s departure from psychedelic pop, and transgressed into permanent space rock, and splashes of psychedelic rock. Still, some fragments of the psychedelic style bore into tracks like “Corporal Clegg.” Two major events came into play in this album’s creation. Syd Barrett had, by this time, accumulated no future cure for his drug addictions, and was more a weight than a support to the music. Nick Mason remarked concerning Barrett, “Detuning his guitar all the way through one number, striking the strings. He more or less just ceased playing, and stood there leaving us to muddle as best we could” (Povey 45). To replace Barrett, was guitarist David Gilmour, who would serve to be the lead guitarist for the rest of the band’s unity. The band manager, Peter Jenner, makes a statement of Gilmour, “Dave was a great mimic. He could play like Hendrix, and he could also do Syd. What we underestimated was the power of the band name, the loyalty of the fans. We thought it was all down to creativity” (Povey 82). It became known to the band that they needed Gilmour’s ideas and talents to accompany Waters and Mason in the structure, presentation, and concept of the band. Barrett ended up departing to start off anew, working on solo albums. A Saucerful of Secrets contained diverse hits such as the poetic tale in space “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” The Beatles continued to influence them, even in a song called “Let There Be More Light,” depicting a Beatles song character, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” “The servicemen were heard to sigh/For there revealed in flowing robes was Lucy in the Sky” (Waters). This album was meant, as crafted by Waters and Mason, to be an “architectural design” for the future. In more depth Richard Wright explains,
“I suppose much of what gives our music a space-like quality is that it is very free-form—especially on stage…. We spend a lot of time looking for new sounds especially when we’re in the recording studios. A lot of it happens when we’re on a gig—then we remember the sound and use it afterwards” (Povey 86).
Trying to frantically write songs after having no success with other minor albums in between 1968 and 1970, the group had made their cornerstone in the following year with Meddle, an album proving to be their last venture in space rock, in concert and in recording; this album was also claimed by many to be Pink Floyd’s masterpiece. And indeed, the music changed; no psychedelic style left to be heard; acoustic love songs replaced space adventures; and windy sound effects marked a turning point in the talent of Richard Wright. Smoother harmonies and drawn out dynamics shaped what the group’s music would eventually progress into. Rolling Stone magazine reviewed the album in 1972, saying, “Their new album, Meddle, not only confirms lead guitarist David Gilmour’s emergence as a real shaping force with the group, it states forcefully and accurately that the group is well into the growth track again.”
Touring into 1973 lead Pink Floyd into one of the greatest successes in their career. During their tour they crafted a conceptual album depicting the things in society that drive people mad, and how society becomes fragmented after. Wright confirmed,
“At the start we only had vague ideas about madness being a theme. We rehearsed a lot just putting down ideas and then in the next rehearsals we used them…. There was a strong thing in it that made it easier to do” (Povey 154).
They named the album The Dark Side of the Moon, with Roger Waters declaring himself the self-appointed lyricist for the band, knowing his skills overran the other members. They wished they all could get away from the psychedelic writings and create something truly original, exactly what they wanted to say. The album had many styles merging blues with rock. Yielding hits such as the bluesy “Money,” and quotations from the Bible in “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Some of the time’s most advanced techniques of recording involved multitrack recording, tape loops, and analogue synthesizers were used in the production of the album. More than just music was concerned, the iconic album cover (see Fig. 1) portrayed things causing people to go mad (the white light), society being reflected by it (the prism), and the fragmenting and depravity of human life and society afterwards (the rainbow). This madness can be heard in the song written by Waters, “Money”: “Money it’s a crime/Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie/Money so they say/ Is the root of all evil today/But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise they’re giving none away” (Waters). Rolling Stone magazine called this album a “single piece rather than a collection of songs.”
Figure 1. Original album artwork by Hipgnosis and George Hardie.
Had the growth in fame and music stopped there? Not quite so. Another short span of time and the band produced another album, though very underrated: Wish You Were Here. Syd Barrett became the focus of the album’s concept: the takeover of modernizing machinery in the musical world that made him go mad. The tribute had four tracks, all of which became hits, however minor. The tone is set in two of the songs, with a VCS3 synthesizer, a favored instrument of the band; the remaining two were, respectively, a bluesy rendition (“Have a Cigar”), and a happy sing-along, “Wish You Were Here.” The “crazy diamond” in the song, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is referring to Barrett. “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun/ Shine on you crazy diamond” (Gilmour, Waters, Wright). Included in the production of the album was saxophonist Dick Parry, who also played saxophone for The Dark Side of the Moon. In sum, the album continued the theme of style and use of tapes and synthesizers to reach new heights as in the previous album.
Yet they did not soar for long. Their next album, Animals, another conceptual album, was made in another short period of time (a year), and had dispiriting reviews. Pink Floyd used to have albums about space, but in this case a “cacophonous farm” is the setting for the duplicity of human behavior as the theme. Beneath the lyrics, the bands’ use of drugs whilst producing this album became known. Tapes recorded with animal sounds, long, drawn out acoustic solos in between the rambling lyrics, four tracks (almost all over ten minutes long), made up the album’s traits. Not to mention the entire album’s tracks are named after animals! Bitter in lyric, and plain in tune, Pink Floyd lost their growing ideas when they stopped using their favored synthesizers, and stopped using saxophones. At this point, and even slowly growing from previous albums, Waters began to take most of the credit and creation of the music for himself.
“I didn’t really like a lot of the music on the album.” Richard Wright reflects, “…I played on it. I think I played well, but I didn’t contribute to the writing of it but I think that also Roger was kind of not letting me do that” (Povey 201).
Had Pink Floyd gone back to being psychedelic again?
Although their album and concert sales proved to be their greatest source of revenue, Pink Floyd had teamed up with city brokers Norton-Warburg who handled their financial affairs and invested enormous sums on new, risky schemes for capital. The company, however, crashed, and investments were lost, managing to lose some 2.5 million pounds—Pink Floyd now had lost it all, and were nearly bankrupt. Waters devised a plan to bail the band out on one last album to bring back money to continue the career. Debt even took them out of England, and led them to record in France. The chosen idea, a conceptual album called The Wall, tells the story of a rock star named Pink, who, after his divorce, begins to reminisce his past, and builds a wall around himself, each brick a symbol of his suffering. In the end, as he becomes a dictator in his imagination, he fends off his suffering and the wall is torn down. Waters, naming himself Pink, and giving all the credit to himself for almost every song, hoped the initial release could be made not just into an album, but a eventually a tour and film. Waters brought some of the band’s history into the mix of the lyrics, even events that had taken place in his life, such as the death of his father. Not knowing what would occur next, unbelievable success ensued. Waters’ prediction came true, in a short time, even; the album release to the premier of the film took two years. Their music truly became rock in this cornerstone album. Almost every song provided a tape recording involved in it; “Another Brick in the Wall” sent them to the top of the United Kingdom’s number one album list. If the band could achieve such fame and glory, what would they come up with next? David Gilmour, the only other to receive any credit in the band, explains further,
“There was at one time a great spirit of compromise within the group. If someone couldn’t get enough of his vision on the table to convince the rest of us, it would be dropped. The Wall album, which started off as unlistenable and turned into a great piece, was the last album with this spirit of compromise” (Povey 230).
Tensions only were to keep building up and up during the next few years that yielded minor albums and solo albums, until 1986, when Roger Waters defected from the band, in hope the name “Pink Floyd” were to never be used again.
When the band did wish to continue the career, Waters sued them, but failed in doing so. So time went on, and from there on out the albums had lost much of their original sustenance; the few albums made between 1986 and 1994 had little to no fame, Rogers being the main factor of their misfortune. Alan di Perna, author of a Pink Floyd bibliography called “Shine On,” states, “While Waters was Floyd’s lyricist and conceptualist, Gilmour was the band’s voice and its main instrumental focus” (di Perna 59). The remaining members had difficulty working together, but they made, what they believed, to be a genuine, better working album after the years with Waters at the top. One album, The Division Bell, made the most progress. Its title was taken from the bell in the U.K.’s House of Commons. It was a tribute to the members who had left the band, Barrett and Waters. The style turned around, for it sounded much like the traditional sound of The Dark Side Of The Moon. The production of new albums ceased by the year 2000, with the release of Is There Anybody Out There: The Wall Live. By that time, however, the band had all but split up, to stop touring, and either release solo albums individually, or spend time with family. Whatever followed next, bringing few band members together, were reunions and thus, one-time concerts, some for charity. Had the fame and glory of what was once Pink Floyd faded away?
Anyone who would believe such a thing would be wrong. In 2005, the entire band reunited for a concert, bringing them all together for the first time in 24 years. Television spread their reunion across the globe, a historical event it was deemed to be. Afterwards Waters reflected, “It was more fun than I can remember having with Pink Floyd twenty-five years ago. I was there to enjoy myself. I was very happy, I definitely felt warm and cuddly toward everyone in the band” (Povey 267). Nonetheless, the members stated that night that Pink Floyd was over.
Pink Floyd’s roaming captivation circumnavigated the globe as one of the greatest bands in the world, their music flourishing as it was in the height of their career. Aside from all problematic events and mishaps, Pink Floyd stands out rather than stands atop all other rock bands. From psychedelic pop, to space music, to psychedelic rock, and finally finishing off with art rock, considers how much change their style made in their 40 yearlong professional career. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 1996. According to Rolling Stone Magazine,
“With the release of 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd abruptly went from a moderately successful acid-rock band to one of rock music’s biggest acts. The recording, in fact, remained on Billboard’s Top 200 chart for 741 weeks, longer than any other album in history.”
Success, as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary describes is a “Favorable or desired outcome,” or “The attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence” (Webster 1247). Influenced by bands before them, by the influence of drugs, by new instruments, by writing lyrics about their own frustrated lives, by financial problems, by tensions between members—these all led the band to create a theme of art for future bands to look up to. Today cover bands play their renditions of famous Pink Floyd songs. Many bands also are influenced by Pink Floyd’s development of art rock. Indeed, they may have been misunderstood and their success was to many a strange thing, however, many saw the group as a new wave for the growing popular culture for the future to behold.
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Rose, Frank. "Review of Animals." Rolling Stone. 24 Mar. 1977. Web, 30 April 2013. http://www.pink-floyd.org/artint/116.htm
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Nov. 2001. 8 May 2013.
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