Posted in Music, Prose

Pink Floyd: The Gilmour Waters era


-Parth Saurabh

Pink Floyd, in three finite words, was a Progressive Rock Group. They were one of the pioneer bands of Psychedelic music but they reside in our memories for the works they turned up with later. Pink Floyd was formed in 1963 at the London Polytechnic School on Regent Street by Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, then known as The Tea Set when the practised and performed cover versions of The Searchers’ songs. They had oodles of talent within them, but to bring it forth they found the vessel in the greatest psychedelic musician, bar none, Syd Barrett, through whom they created many hit singles. They commenced, became supremely popular and faltered at the brink due to Barrett’s LSD addiction after having released a critically acclaimed psychedelic album in Piper at the Gates of Dawn. That was the time when David Gilmour was recruited. He had attended the Cambridgeshire high school with Barrett and Waters. Syd was getting worse every day but the crowd was hysterical for him, hence, initially Gilmour’s job was to play Barrett’s parts on the stage while Barrett stood at the forefront, high on acid. Slowly, the fans accepted Pink Floyd as a group that was further above than just Syd Barrett and the new lineup began its course. The departure of Syd had put upon the onus of the spiritual leader of the band on Waters and he accepted it in lieu of the talent that was lost.

Lime and limpid green, a second scene
A fight between the blue you once knew.
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground.
-Astronomy Domine

The Gilmour-Waters sound
If you listen to Pink Floyd, you, no doubt, believe in ‘The Pink Floyd Sound’, an abstract concept, but the precise one that furnishes the band with its popularity. The sound was achieved courtesy of Richard Wright and Nick Mason as well, but Waters and Gilmour were the ones that gave the sounds a beating heart. Richard Wright and his contributions as a keyboard player to the sound are at times unjustifiably ignored, but if you have heard ‘The great gig in the Sky’ even once, you would put Wright on a pedestal equal to Ray Manzarek or Jon Lord. Nick Mason shines in a light of his own. He is always there, drumming his way through album after album, in sheer perfection. His work in ‘Live at Pompeii’, especially in ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ and ‘Careful with that Axe, Eugene’ are consecrated words of the Drums God, if there is any.
Waters and Gilmour are in a space of their own. Fans often argue over the fact that Gilmour is better and vice versa because of the manner in which the events unfolded later but if you really, really love Pink Floyd, you love both Waters and Gilmour with equanimity, none of them greater than the other and none the worse. The effervescent vocals of Gilmour contrast with the poignant scales of Waters. Gilmour’s infinitely long notes on the guitar provide a carpet for Waters’ ‘toppy’ bass playing. If music was Gilmour’s forte, lyrics were Waters’. Sometimes you can’t differentiate one from the other and one is all and all is one.

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me.

The Albums
The reason Pink Floyd’s popularity endures is due to their repertoire and reinvention. Whenever you thought, “Oh! This is the best Floyd can do; music doesn’t get any better than this!” they turned up with an album that far exceeded your expectations, left your imagination ablaze. You can do several things in your life but thou shalt never condescend upon the holy church of Floyd, during the Gilmour-Waters era, at least, it would never suffice to say that their best was behind them. If the transparent lunacy of ‘The Dark Side of the moon’ was the pinnacle they had set, they reached the Zenith with ‘Wish You Were Here’, possibly the most flawless Music Album ever created, till date the highest rated album on Sputnikmusic. The guitar passages and the passion driven fervor of ‘Animals’ came next only to be surpassed by a magnificent turn of music by Roger Waters by creating a Rock Opera Album in ‘The Wall’. Some people often call ‘Quadrophenia’ the greatest Rock Opera, I am a fan of ‘The Who’ but trust me it, even at its best moments, they get nowhere close to ‘The Wall’. Such was its majestic conquest of music.

A Saucerful Of Secrets
The very first album of the Gilmour-Waters epoch. The time when they were searching for a new sound; psychedelic music without Syd was easier said than done. The progressive elements make an appearance though the music still contains shades of psychedelia. ‘Let there be more light’ and ‘Set the controls for the heart of the sun’ resemble earlier composed tracks by the band but with longer passages and more complexity in the music. ‘Remember a day’ is the best song on the album, though; the vocals by Wright keep it clear from other tracks of the band. (I wish he had sung more often)

More & Zabriskie Point
This was the time when Pink Floyd took a hiatus from composing studio albums to work on soundtracks. Both feature a few decent songs. ‘Come in number 51, your time is up’ featured on Zabriskie point is a masterpiece of psychedelia. ‘Green is the Colour’, and ‘Cymbaline’ are songs that Gilmour would go on to recreate as solo works, and they have that velvety Gilmour-ish touch to them. The album has subdued brilliance in ‘Cirrus Minor’, ‘Crying song’ and so many other tracks.

Ummagumma, the Cambridge slang for sex, is the only studio album from this period. Ummagumma had all four of the band members composing separate tracks and conjoining them to complete the album. All tracks are worth it if you are really into Floyd. The Narrow Way (part 1-3) are all beautiful compositions of Gilmour, but ‘Grantchester Meadows’ composed by Waters takes the cake, with its whispered lyrics and audible sounds emanating from the meadows.

Atom Heart Mother
Atom Heart Mother could be called trash, even by huge fans of the band, even the band members themselves refer to it as their worst work till date. To summarise the band’s opinion in Roger Waters’ words, “If somebody said to me now – right – here’s a million pounds, go out and play Atom Heart Mother, I’d say you must be joking.”
Despite such harsh criticism and mixed reviews, it stands alone as the album that initiated the sound by which we recognize the band today, it was more like red tape that you need to get through before reaching the final virtuosity. The title track is enough to bind you for 25 minutes, for example. Fat Old Sun is another great song with a majestic solo by David. ‘Summer ’68’, ‘if’ and ‘Alan’s psychedelic breakfast’ are all tracks worth listening to: they kind of illuminate the path taken by the band.

You ask any Pink Floyd fan about the most under-rated album ever created and this is the word that would escape their lips. Meddle gets neglected way too often in greatest album charts and media praise. True, it didn’t quite create a furor when it was released, but it has some delightfully pleasant songs. For instance, Side two is just ‘Echoes’, the grandest, most complex and most resonant song in their catalogue. The layered vocals of Wright and Gilmour add a certain panache to the track. ‘A Pillow of Winds’ is arguably, their best love song, and ‘One of these days’ is a fated return to the ‘saucerful of secrets’ days. ‘Seamus’, a song full of a dog howling, is often voted as the worst Pink Floyd song ever, though it is pleasant to the ear.(I would probably go with ‘One Slip’ from ‘A mmomentary Lapse of Reason’ as my worst song) This album, all in all, forms the bridge between the direction and the destination. The sound had been found, perfected and implemented. The sound of winds blowing, first used in this album, inspired songs on ‘Wish you were here’. It is a milestone, in their discography.

Live At Pompeii
You could wonder the why I mentioned this album when I ignored all other live albums. Well, this isn’t quite a live album. It was recorded at the Roman amphitheatre without a crowd. The songs that appear on this album have already featured in one or the other album of Pink Floyd, but this album contains some serious renditions. The songs are perceptibly dissimilar. A Saucerful of Secrets suddenly commences to give you nightmares and as for ‘Careful with that Axe, Eugene’, the Waters’ scream is immortalized in this track. One of the best albums ever created. The concert film that was released along with the album is fun to watch, with songs from the upcoming The Dark Side of the Moon playing in the background.

Obscured by Clouds
Returning to soundtrack composition, Pink Floyd created a gem of an album that no one heard at the time. This album is another one that received mixed reviews. It wasn’t exactly a step ahead for the band, but a time for experimentation with the kind of music that they wanted to create. It is more pop than progressive in that sense but with some beautiful tracks in ‘Wot’s…uh, the deal’, ‘Mudmen’ and ‘Stay’. ‘Stay’ is the song which makes you feel sad about the fact that Wright composed such few tracks.

The Dark Side of the Moon
Moving on to the biggies, the album that cemented the band’s place in rock music and ensured their legacy, the greatest progressive rock album ever created. (I would lay a period down after that line if this was a blog) The only argument that critics found against this album was that it took a little time to start. ‘Speak to me’, ‘Breathe’ and ‘On the Run’ are no giants but they do give the album the start that it needed; they kinda set the tone for things to follow. Then comes ‘Time’ and blows you away with lyrics that read, ‘Plans that either come to naught, Or half a page of scribbled lines.’ Every word profound, a piece of poetry left behind. It would not be an exaggeration to say that ‘Time’ has one of the greatest lyrics ever put down on paper. The follow up to ‘Time’, ‘The great gig in the sky’, a Rick Wright composition, with Clare Torry pretending to be an instrument, is my favourite song by the band. She just flows through the song, as you feel desolation, exultation and anguish all at once. Then starts side two with ‘Money’ with the bass line that has been hummed by millions of people over all continents for the past forty years, and is succeeded by ‘Us and Them’ a powerful and moving track with Dick Parry on the saxophone. Now, if you thought it couldn’t get better, now comes ‘Any colour you like’ with those slow tones. The album ends with the song-writing brilliance of Waters in ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Eclipse’. Before ‘Brain Damage’, one could find the album rather abstract but this song pumps meaning into the entire album, all at once. Themes of alienation and lunacy abide throughout the album along with answers by studio audience to the questions posed by the band members. There are a few audible answers in ‘The great gig in the sky’: someone answering the question, “Are you afraid of death?”
The tenderness of this album moves you close to tears by the time it ends. No one, despite whether he likes the band or not, would ever care to berate this album: it is so beautiful. On Sputnikmusic, this album is the second-highest rated album of the 70s, outranked by only the album that followed it.

Wish You Were Here
The highest rated rock album of all time on Sputnikmusic, words can hardly express the brilliance of this work. First of all, the band were unsure of the direction to proceed in after their sudden fame with ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, so they worked this album in the style of many of their previous works, a long track with a few short tracks to accompany it. If you like ‘Shine On you Crazy Diamond’, you will love this album, though, everyone likes ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ rendering the ‘if’ useless. The song commences and ends the album, a 26 minute musical expedition, touched up into two parts. The first one a slow, expressive one, the mood setting track, the kind of song one wants to listen to when drinking wine. The second part a bluesy overture with the same lingering, ghostly quality to it. The three songs about media and fame sandwiched between the two halves of ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’, to complete an album about and in memory of Syd Barrett. ‘Welcome to the machine’, an attack on the music industry as an exploitative environment with no artistic value, with heavy use of synthesizers and the absence of drums sets in a melancholy tone. It is followed by ‘Have a Cigar’, another critique of the music industry, sung by the legendary folk singer Roy Harper, which unearths a different quality to the band’s music while ‘Wish you were here’, a tribute to Syd flows through the vials of your mind and releases you. Whenever you replay the song, it always reminds you of the time when you first heard it and the things that you were going through, such are its nostalgic powers. The band never ceases to amaze you throughout the album, creating the musical work that comes closest to perfection.

This was around the time trouble started within the band, with Waters assuming all the creative powers due to the lethargy of the band members. All songs were composed by Waters with Gilmour co-composer of Dogs. It has three longer tracks sandwiched between two short guitar pieces in ‘Pigs on the Wing’. Adapted from the George Orwell classic ‘Animal Farm’, the album symbolizes ‘dogs’ as the upper class, ‘pigs’ as the politicians and ‘sheep’ as the common mass which overthrows the dogs and pigs in the end. ‘Dogs’ contains, arguably, Gilmour’s finest guitar work to go along with his explosive vocal performance. ‘Pigs (three different ones) contains elaborate bass lines and lengthy solos whereas ‘Sheep’ is an angry, powerful work demonstrating the power of the masses. Pigs on the wing, both the tracks are hopeful, delicate songs to border the anger contained in the other three tracks. All in all, it makes for a great album, though Waters’ political feelings get a hold on the lyrics and they don’t manage to stay as universal in feeling as that of the other albums.

The Wall
Now, as a disclaimer, I would like to state that this isn’t exactly a progressive rock album, rather a rock album in the manner of an opera, a story envisaged via songs. The story of Waters’ life, an idea which came to Waters during the Wish You Were Here tour while playing in a stadium. From his father leaving for the army and his death to the disillusionment of being a music God and the spaces between, it is a magnificent tale of misery and melancholy, of highs and lows all within the range of a double album. A complete review of this album would take a complete article in itself, so summarizing, it begins with ‘In the Flesh’ which contains probably the best riff in Pink Floyd’s body of work. Everyone has heard ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part II’ but I assure you that the 1st and 3rd parts are just as brilliant. ‘Mother’ is what you expect a Gilmour song to be, great vocals, brilliant guitar work, a beautiful ending. ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’, ‘Empty Spaces’, ‘Don’t Leave me now’ and ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ are the most dismal songs in their entire catalogue, they make you feel hollow inside. ‘One of my turns’ reflects Waters’ anger once he had broken down from all the pressure that surrounds rock stars. ‘Hey you’ and ‘Nobody’s home’ are two more sad, depressing tracks with ‘Hey you’ containing a great guitar solo by Gilmour. ‘Vera’, which forever goes unmentioned, is a sad, moving work about Vera Lynn’s songs that formed the backbone of the masses during World War II. The trio of ‘Bringing the boys back home’, ‘Comfortably numb’ and ‘The show must go on’ form the best part of the album, with initiation, fall and revival rolled into one to create a complete package. There is a slightly different rendition of ‘In the flesh’ which is one of the best songs on the album. The album has two more brilliant tracks in ‘Waiting for the Worms’ and ‘The Trial’ in which the mental state of the character is very evident in court where the judge asks him to tear down ‘the wall’. ‘Outside the Wall’, the final song on the album offers an outsider’s perspective to the album, where the wall also refers to the phrase breaking the fourth wall. Around this album, Roger Waters had become a dictator within the band to such an extent that he proceeded to fire Richard Wright from the band on ‘The Wall’ tour. He and Gilmour fought over comfortably numb and by the time the album ended, the epoch that started with A Saucerful of Secrets also drew to a close.

What has become of you
Does anybody else in here
Feel the way I do ?

The Break Up
Though The Wall was followed up by The Final Cut, it is more of a Roger Waters solo work than a Pink Floyd album, the reverie, the magic had come to an end with Gilmour just playing on one of the tracks and Nick Mason’s parts dubbed by other drummers. Soon Waters quit Pink Floyd as an exhausted force and fought with Gilmour and Mason over the rights of the band. Gilmour won and they brought back Rick Wright to create two more albums in ‘A momentary Lapse of Reason’ and ‘The Division Bell’, the Pink Floyd sound wasn’t there anymore, the lyrics weren’t that thoughtful, the solos remained, but long-lost was the aura. Pulse, a live album was Pink Floyd’s coda as they never created any more studio albums. It lived up to an encore with Gilmour’s passion, Wright’s talents and Mason’s perseverance. Pink Floyd did have a few reunion performances over the years and time did seem to stand still again to watch the enchantment being conjured up again.

We are just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl
year after year.
Running over the same old ground, what have we found?
Same old fears.
-Wish you were here.

The Order
Now, most of you might have heard of Pink Floyd or you wouldn’t have gone through the arduous journey that this article was, but there, I believe is an order in which you listen to Pink Floyd, maybe you are stuck on one album and are wondering where to go next. This is the best way to sweep through the band’s huge catalogue of songs.

  1. Begin with ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, a pretty obvious choice.
  2. Try ‘Wish you were here’ and float in the breeze.
  3. Want to try out something more, watch ‘Pink Floyd the Wall’ and then listen to ‘The Wall’ for weeks; hours at an end.
  4. Loved ‘In the Flesh’, ‘One of my turns’ and other angst ridden songs on ‘The Wall’, listen to ‘Animals’.
  5. Now that the ‘Big Four’ are done with, you are free to feel your way through, though advisably, try ‘Meddle’.
  6. Loved the soft sound of Pink Floyd, go for ‘Obscured by Clouds’.
  7. Oh, they are so beautiful, Gilmour is enchanting. Next ‘The Division Bell’.
  8. Wouldn’t hurt to delve into psychedelia. ‘Live at Pompeii’.
  9. Wonder what Syd Barrett was like. ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’.
  10. More of the psychedelic stuff, please! ‘A Saucerful of Secrets.’
  11. Ah, could psychedelic music be better. ‘Ummagumma’
  12. ‘Grantchester Meadows’ was a heck of a solo work by Waters. ‘The Final Cut’
  13. By this time you must be sufficiently famished. Go through all the other studio and live albums.
  14. Listen to the early Pink Floyd singles.
  15. Listen to ‘Embryo’ and search for the Holy Grail.