Pink Floyd are one of the most famous and successful bands in the history of recorded music. They have sold more than 250 million records worldwide and have influenced everyone from David Bowie to The Edge of U2. Even if you have never listened to their music, you will probably heard the name Pink Floyd and probably seen the cover for Dark Side of the Moon. But apart from their early singles, they were never a pop band. They had ideas beyond the norm. The music scene was also changing in the late 1960’s. Music fans and people who went to shows didn’t want three minute pop songs anymore. They wanted songs that weren’t really even songs. They wanted half-hour freak outs where they could drop acid and go on a trip. And Pink Floyd gave them that with songs like Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine, usually at UFO where they and the audience got lost in the light show.
As they developed musically and as songwriters, Pink Floyd looked for inspiration outside of themselves. Roger Waters once described Echoes, off the Meddle album as ‘the start of writing about other people.’ As far as I know, Pink Floyd never really wrote a love song. They certainly wrote songs about emotion, but never such a blatant declaration of feelings towards another person. Their songs were far more reflective of personal observations and conclusions they had come to, from their own experiences interacting with the world they were now in. One of stardom and money and success, but also one of isolation, condescension and cynicism. Dark Side of the Moon was a celebration of the weird and the dark and a look at insanity both personally and the world at large in its pursuit of success and riches. Waters once said “When I say “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon, what I mean is if you feel you’re the only one, that you seem crazy because you think everything is crazy, you’re not alone.”
Waters gradually took over as the lyrical and thematic driving force, playing dominant roles in the shaping and recording of Wish You Were Here and Animals. Here, he explored feelings of absence within the band (they would be at the studio but were focused on something else), mourning the loss of Syd Barrett as a friend and band member, disillusionment with the recording business and exploitation within society. By 1978, Waters had taken complete creative control of the band. The experience of playing in stadiums for the first time on the previous tour so enraged and disappointed Waters that he had spat in the face of a fan at the last show in Montreal. This incident and others from the tour inspired Waters so much that he presented the band with two new ideas. The idea the band decided to proceed with would become The Wall.
The album once again focuses on dysfunctional relationships, depression and disillusionment and human compassion and empathy, while telling the story of Pink, a washed up rock star who suffers all these problems and fuelled by this, and drug use, builds a metaphorical wall around himself and his emotions before coming to the realisation that he has to feel something and care for something or someone or else he will go completely mad. After The Wall, Waters became increasingly confrontational and the tension in the band was no longer creative, it was destructive. The Final Cut was again a deeply personal album written and produced in its entirety by Waters with no input from anyone else and it would push a permanent wedge between Waters and the rest of the band, which at this point was just David Gilmour and Nick Mason. Rick Wright had been forced out during the sessions for The Wall due to his lack of contribution, only to be brought back for the tour as a session musician on wages.
For me, the strongest Pink Floyd material was produced when they were collaborating with each other and respecting each other. Roger Waters had the drive to keep the band moving forward and the ideas, but while he is a sensational lyric writer, music is not truly his forte. That’s where he was lucky enough to have musicians like David Gilmour and Rick Wright alongside him. While Waters could focus on the themes and topics that the lyrics would tackle, Gilmour and Wright could write music to go with it. They would come across a chord sequence or a riff that would spark an idea in Waters. The Floyd always decided to be a little out there, both in their experimentation with new technology, new recording methods, new ways of playing their instruments and the themes they were writing and singing about. With that combination they could encourage their fans to think about the state of the world and how society operates and treats various groups of people. It went beyond appreciating the melody and ignoring the lyrics, for me at least. Pink Floyd were the first band I listened to where I properly listened to the words and thought about what they were trying to say and came to my own conclusions about what it meant for me.