Pink Floyd (formed in 1965 in Cambridge, England) is a British progressive rock band, noted for their progressive compositions, thoughtful lyrics, sonic experimentation, album art and live shows. Pink Floyd is one of rock’s most successful acts, having sold 73.5 million albums in the US alone. The group is also believed to have sold an estimated 175 to 200 million albums worldwide.
Pink Floyd enjoyed moderate success in the late-1960s as a psychedelic band led by Syd Barrett. After Barrett’s erratic behavior caused his colleagues to add guitarist David Gilmour (who eventually replaced Barrett), the band went on to record several elaborate concept albums, achieving worldwide success with 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, one of the best-selling and most enduringly popular albums in rock history.
Pink Floyd is renowned for their lavish stageClassic Pink Floyd line-up; early 70s
shows, combining over-the-top visual experiences with their music to create a show in which the performers themselves are almost secondary. In their early days, Pink Floyd were among the first bands to use a dedicated traveling light show in conjunction with their performances, projecting slides, film clips, pyrotechnics (exploding flashpots and the exploding gong and fireworks) and psychedelic patterns onto a large circular screen (dubbed “Mr. Screen”). Their early combination of music and visuals set the standard for subsequent rock tours on both sides of the Atlantic. Later shows featured oversized balloons (notably a giant pig balloon which floated over the audience during performances of Pigs from the Animals album), a plane crashing into the stage at the end of “On the Run”, a giant flowering disco ball a projection screen which could be retracted and tilted, more than 100 multi-colored robotic ‘dancing’ spot lights, and multi-colored lasers.
The lavish stage shows were also the basis for Douglas Adams’ fictional rock group “Disaster Area” (creators of the loudest noise in the universe, and making use of solar flares in their stage show) in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Douglas Adams was a personal friend of David Gilmour and made a one-off guest appearance, on guitar, on the Division Bell tour (October 28, 1994), purportedly as a present for Adams’ 42nd birthday.
Split and reunion
In 1985, bassist Roger Waters declared Pink Floyd defunct, but the remaining band members recorded and twice toured under the Pink Floyd name without him. Waters rejoined the band at the London Live 8 concert on July 2, 2005, playing to Pink Floyd’s biggest audience ever.
Syd Barrett led years: 1965-1968
Pink Floyd evolved from an earlier band, formed in 1964, which was at various times called Sigma 6, The Meggadeaths, The Screaming Abdabs, and The Abdabs. When this band split up, some of its members - guitarist Bob Klose, bass player Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and future keyboardist Rick Wright, who at this point played primarily wind instruments - formed a new band called Tea Set. A short time after their formation, they were joined by guitarist Syd Barrett, who became the band’s primary vocalist as well.
When Tea Set found itself on the same bill as another band with the same name, Barrett came up with an alternate name on the spur of the moment, choosing The Pink Floyd Sound (after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council). For a time after this they oscillated between ‘Tea Set’ and ‘The Pink Floyd Sound’, with the latter name eventually winning out. The word Sound was dropped fairly quickly, but the definite article was still used occasionally for several years afterward, up to about the time of the More soundtrack.
In the early days, the band covered rhythm and blues staples such as “Louie, Louie”, but gained notoriety for their psychedelic interpretations, with extended improvised sections and ’spaced out’ solos.
The heavily jazz-oriented Klose left the band to become a photographer shortly before Pink Floyd started recording, leaving an otherwise stable lineup. Barrett started writing his own songs, influenced by American surf music and British psychedelic rock with his own brand of whimsical humor. Pink Floyd became a favorite in the underground movement, playing at such prominent venues as the UFO club, the Marquee Club and the Roundhouse.
As their popularity increased, the band formed Blackhill Enterprises in October 1966, a six-way business partnership with their managers, Peter Jenner and Andrew King issuing the singles “Arnold Layne” in March 1967 and “See Emily Play” in June 1967. “Arnold Layne” reached number 20 in the UK singles chart, and “See Emily Play” reached number 6, granting the band their first TV appearance on Top of the Pops in July 1967.
Released in August 1967, the band’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (originally called “Projection”) is considered to be a prime example of English psychedelic music. The album’s tracks, predominantly written by Barrett, showcase poetic lyrics and an eclectic mixture of music, from the avant garde free form piece “Interstellar Overdrive” to whimsical songs, such as “The Scarecrow”, inspired by the Fenlands, the rural region north of Cambridge, Barrett, Gilmour and Waters’s home town. The album was a hit in the UK where it peaked at #6, but failed to get much attention in North America, reaching #131 in the US. During this period, the band toured with Jimi Hendrix, gaining them further popularity.
As the band became more and more popular, the stresses of life on the road and a significant intake of psychedelic drugs took its toll on Barrett. In January 1968, guitarist David Gilmour joined the band to carry out the playing and singing duties of Syd, whose mental health had been deteriorating for several months. Nevertheless, it was intended that Barret would remain as the band’s figurehead and main songwriter. With Barrett’s behavior becoming less and less predictable, and his use of LSD almost constant, he became very unstable, often staring into space while the rest of the band performed. The band’s live shows became increasingly ramshackle until, eventually, the other band members simply stopped taking him to the concerts.
Once Barrett’s departure was formalized in April 1968, producers Jenner and King decided to remain with him, and the six-way Blackhill partnership was dissolved. The band adopted Steve O’Rourke as their manager, and he remained with Pink Floyd until his death in 2003.
Breakthrough era: 1971-1975
The band’s sound was considerably more focused on Meddle (1971), with the 23-minute epic “Echoes” taking up the entire second side of the LP. Meddle was considered by David Gilmour to be his first “real” Pink Floyd album, as it had the sound and style of the succeeding breakthrough-era Pink Floyd albums and stripped away the orchestra that was prominent in Atom Heart Mother.
Meddle also included the atmospheric “One of These Days”, a concert classic, with Nick Mason’s menacing one-line vocal, “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces,” and a melody that at one point segues into a throbbing synthetic pulse quoting the theme tune of the cult classic science fiction television show Doctor Who.
A glimpse into their humorous side was shown on “Seamus” (earlier, “Mademoiselle Nobs”), a pseudo-blues number featuring lead vocals by a Russian wolfhound called Seamus, belonging to Steve Marriott. Waters’ jazzy “San Tropez” was brought to the band practically completed, requiring minimal help in arrangement from the other band members. Pink Floyd was rewarded with a #3 chart peak in the UK for Meddle; it made #70 in U.S.
Obscured By Clouds
Obscured By Clouds was released in 1972 as the soundtrack to the film La Vallee, another art house film by Barbet Schroeder. This was the band’s first U.S. Top 50 album (where it hit #46), hitting #6 at in the U.K.
Dark Side of the Moon
Despite Pink Floyd never having been a hit-single-driven group (at the time they had stopped issuing singles after 1968’s “Point Me At The Sky”), their massively successful 1973 album, Dark Side of the Moon, featured a U.S. Top 20 single (”Money”). Although the album hit #2 in U.K., it managed to become the band’s first #1 on U.S. charts, a huge improvement over the last albums. The critically-acclaimed album stayed on the Billboard Top 200 for an unprecedent 741 weeks (including 591 consecutive weeks from 1973 to 1988), the world record, and making it one of the top-selling albums of all time. It also remained 301 weeks on U.K. charts, despite never hitting #1 there. Dark Side of the Moon went on to sell over 35 million copies worldwide and still sells around 250,000 copies a year, more than any other album of the 70s.
Dark Side of the Moon, the first of Pink Floyd’s five concept albums, described the different pressures applying in everyday life. The concept (conceived in Nick Mason’s kitchen) proved a powerful catalyst for the band and together they drew up a list of themes: “On The Run” was dedicated to travel; “Time” depicted the encroachment of old age; “The Great Gig In The Sky” (originally named “Mortality Sequence” and “Religious Theme” during development) dealt with death; “Money” satirically spoke of the corrupting influence of money that often comes with fame and power; “Us And Them” entailed violence, and futility of war (a theme to which Waters would return, throughout his career) and “Brain Damage” touched on themes of insanity and neurosis. This was the first Pink Floyd LP to feature lyrics exclusively written by Roger Waters. It was also the first Floyd LP to have lyrics printed inside the sleeve.
Thanks to the use of new 16-track recording equipment at Abbey Road Studios and the investment of an enormous amount of time by engineer Alan Parsons, the album set new standards for sound fidelity.
It was during this period that the band released the first of their films, “Live at Pompeii”. Film Director Adrian Maben’s film featured footage of the band’s 1971 performance at an amphitheater in Pompeii with no audience present (only the film crew and stage staff), interspersed with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the band in the studio recording Dark Side Of The Moon.
Dark Side of the Moon and the three following albums (Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall) are widely regarded as the peak of Pink Floyd’s career.
Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here, released in 1975, carries an abstract theme of absence: absence of any humanity within the music industry and, most poignantly, the absence of Syd Barrett. This theme is carried by the music as well as the artwork packaged with the album. Originally, the album was sold with a black cellophane wrapping, hiding any indication of what could be beneath. In addition to the classic acoustic title track, Wish You Were Here, the album includes the majestic, mostly instrumental nine-part “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to Barrett in which the lyrics deal explicitly with the aftermath of his breakdown. The album also includes the songs “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” (Roy Harper sang the latter), both of which harshly criticize the music industry. Pink Floyd achieved their first transatlantic #1 album with Wish You Were Here, reaching the top spot in both U.K. and U.S. The album eventually sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
Dark Side of the Moon had made Pink Floyd a major international act. In 1975, the band launched a massive tour after the release of Wish You Were Here, which eventually sold out stadiums. The last gig of the tour was as the headliner of 1975 Knebworth Festival, which also featured The Steve Miller Band, Captain Beefheart and Roy Harper (who joined Pink Floyd on the stage to sing ‘Have a Cigar’). It was the second Knebworth Festival, which featured artists such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Frank Zappa between 1974 and 1979.
The concert featured a large circular screen, lighting towers and great special effects for the time. Despite some technical problems, the band managed to perform a remarkable concert, before an audience of 125,000, their biggest until Live 8. It was the last time the band performed ‘Echoes’ and the entire Dark Side of the Moon with Roger Waters.
Roger Waters-led era: 1976-1984
By January 1977, and the release of Animals (UK #2, U.S. #3), the band’s music came under increasing criticism from some quarters in the new punk rock sphere as being too flabby and pretentious, having lost its way from the simplicity of early rock and roll. However, Animals was considerably more guitar-driven than the previous albums, due to either the influence of the punk-rock movement or the fact that the album was recorded at Pink Floyd’s new (and somewhat incomplete) Britannia Row Studios. Animals again contained lengthy songs tied to a theme, this time taken in part from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, using pigs, dogs and sheep as metaphors for members of contemporary society. Animals was the first Pink Floyd album not to feature any compositions from Rick Wright.
For the cover artwork, a giant inflatable pig was commissioned and floated over Battersea Power Station. This became one of the enduring symbols of Pink Floyd and inflatable pigs were a staple of Pink Floyd’s live shows from then on.
In The Flesh
The 1977 Pink Floyd - In The Flesh tour was the last time Pink Floyd performed a major tour with Roger Waters. The tour featured the famous inflatable puppets, notably a 40 foot pig balloon, and a ‘Nuclear family’ with Mother, Father and two and a half children, later the band added a Cadillac, a television and a fridge. It also had a pyrotechnic ‘waterfall’ and featured one of the biggest and most elaborate stages to date.
Pink Floyd’s market strategy for the Animals tour was very aggressive, filling pages of The New York Times and Billboard magazine. To promote their four-night run at Madison Square Garden in New York City, there was a Pink Floyd parade on 6th Avenue featuring pigs and sheep.
In the first half of the show, Pink Floyd played ‘Animals’, with ‘Wish You Were Here’ in the second. Although the ‘Animals’ album had not been as successful as the two previous ones, the band managed to sell out arenas and stadiums in America and Europe, setting scale and attendance records. In Chicago, the band played to an estimated audience of 95,000 and set an attendance record, in Cleveland, of over 80,000 people. They helped set another attendance record on the final night of the tour, in Montreal, where a festival that also featured Emerson, Lake and Palmer drew another 80,000-strong audience. That night, Roger Waters spat in the face of a disruptive fan; The Wall grew out of Waters’ thoughts about this incident, particularly his growing awareness that stardom had alienated him from his audience.
1979’s epic rock opera, The Wall, conceived mainly by Waters, developed themes of loneliness and failure of communication, inspired by Waters’ feelings of having constructed a metaphoric wall between himself and his audience. This album gave Pink Floyd renewed acclaim and their only chart-topping single with “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”. The Wall also included the future concert staples Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell, with the former in particular becoming a cornerstone of album-oriented rock and classic-rock radio playlists as well as one of the group’s best-known songs. The album was co-produced by Bob Ezrin, a friend of Waters who shared songwriting credits on “The Trial” and from whom the band distanced themselves, after Ezrin talked about the album to a journalist relative.
Despite never hitting #1 in U.K. (it made it to #3), The Wall spent an astounding 15 weeks atop the U.S. charts during 1980. It sold well over 20 million copies worldwide and is often regarded as the best-selling double album ever. It has been certified 23x platinum by RIAA, for sales of 11.5 million copies in U.S. alone. The huge commercial success of The Wall made Pink Floyd the only artist since the Beatles to have the best-selling albums of two years (1973 and 1980) in less than a decade.
The Wall Live
Pink Floyd mounted their most elaborate stage show in conjunction with the tour of The Wall. A band of session musicians played the first song, wearing rubber face masks (demonstrating that the individual members of the band were practically anonymous to the public), then backed up the band for the remainder of the show. Giant inflatable characters designed by Gerald Scarfe, including fully mobile giant puppets of a teacher and Pink’s wife, with menacing spotlights for eyes, took the traditional inflatables to a whole new level.
During the first half of the show, a huge wall was built, brick by enormous brick, between the audience and the band. There were 340 white bricks forming a 160 foot wall which stood 35 feet tall. The final brick was placed as Roger Waters sang “goodbye” at the end of the song “Goodbye Cruel World”. For the second half of the show, the band were largely invisible, except for a hole in the wall that simulated a hotel room setting, where Roger Waters “acted out” the story of Pink, and an appearance by David Gilmour on top of the wall to perform the climactic guitar solo in “Comfortably Numb”. Other parts of the story were told by Gerald Scarfe animations projected onto the wall itself (these animations were later integrated into the film version Pink Floyd: The Wall). At the finale of the concert, the specially-constructed wall was demolished amidst sound effects and a spectacular light show.
It was the most ambitious theatrical show seen so far, much more expensive and complex than contemporaneous efforts by artists such as David Bowie, Alice Cooper and KISS. The costs of the tour were estimated to have reached US$ 1.5 million even before the first performance. The New York Times stated in its March 2 1980 edition that “The ‘Wall’ show remains a milestone in rock history though and there’s no point in denying it. Never again will one be able to accept the technical clumsiness, distorted sound and meagre visuals of most arena rock concerts as inevitable” and concluded that “the ‘Wall’ show “will be the touchstone against which all future rock spectacles must be measured”.
The Wall concert was only performed a handful of times each in four cities: Los Angeles, Uniondale (Long Island), Dortmund, and London (at Earl’s Court). The primary ‘tour’ occurred in 1980, but the band performed two more shows at Earl’s Court in 1981 for filming, with the intention of being integrated into the upcoming movie. The resulting footage, however, was deemed substandard, and scrapped; years later, Roger Waters said that he had tried to locate this footage for historical purposes, but was unsuccessful, and he now considers it to be lost forever. There are, however, several unofficial videos of the entire live show in circulation.
Gilmour and Mason attempted to convince Waters to expand the show for a more lucrative large-scale, stadium tour, but because of the nature of the material (one of the primary themes is the distance between an artist and his audience) Waters balked at this. In fact, Waters has reportedly been offered a guaranteed US$ 1 million for each additional stadium concert, but declined the offer, insisting that such a tour would be hypocritical.
Waters later re-created the Wall show in 1990, amid the ruins of the Berlin Wall, joined by a number of guest artists (including Bryan Adams, Scorpions, Van Morrison, The Band, Tim Curry, Cyndi Lauper, Sinéad O’Connor, Marianne Faithfull, Joni Mitchell, and Thomas Dolby). This concert was even bigger than the previous ones. Roger Waters built a 591 foot long and 80 foot high wall. The theatrical features of The Wall concert were increased to gather the attention of a sold-out audience of 200,000 people and of other estimated 500 million, in 35 countries, to whom the show would be broadcast. After the concert began, the gates were opened and an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people were able to watch the concert.
Even more so than during the Animals sessions, Waters was increasingly asserting his artistic influence and leadership over the band, prompting frequent conflicts with the other members, and the eventual firing of Wright from the band. Wright returned, on a fixed wage, for the album’s live concerts. Ironically, Wright was the only member of Pink Floyd to make any money from the Wall shows, the rest having to cover the extensive costs.
A film (essentially a music video for the entire album) entitled “Pink Floyd: The Wall” was released in 1982. The film, written by Waters and directed by Alan Parker, starred Boomtown Rats founder Bob Geldof and featured striking animation by noted British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. It grossed over US$ 22 million at the North American box office. A song which first appeared in the movie, When the Tigers Broke Free, was released as a single on a limited basis. This song was finally made widely availble on the complilation album Echoes and recent re-releases of The Final Cut.
The Final Cut
1983 saw the release of The Final Cut. Even darker in tone than The Wall, this album re-examined many previous themes, while also addressing then-current events, including Waters’ anger at Britain’s participation in the Falklands War (”The Fletcher Memorial Home”) and his cynicism toward, and fear of, nuclear war (”Two Suns in the Sunset”). Michael Kamen and Andy Bown contributed keyboard work due to Wright’s absence.
Though technically released as a Pink Floyd album, the interior sleeve specified “A requiem for the post war dream by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd”: the project was clearly dominated by Waters and became a prototype in sound and form for later Waters solo projects (Roger Waters has since said that he offered to release the record as a solo album, but the rest of the band rejected this idea). Gilmour also reportedly asked Waters to hold back the release of the album by a year so he could contribute material, but was rejected by Waters.
Only moderately successful by Floyd standards (UK #1, U.S. #6), the album yielded one minor rock radio hit, “Not Now John”. The arguing between Waters and Gilmour by this stage was rumored to be so bad that they were never seen in the recording studio simultaneously. Gilmour even had his name removed from the production credits in protest over some of Waters’ decisions. There was no tour.
David Gilmour-led era: 1987-1995
After The Final Cut, the band members went their separate ways, each releasing solo albums to varying degrees of success. Waters announced in December of 1985 that he was departing Pink Floyd describing the band as “a spent force creatively”. However, in 1986 Gilmour and Mason began recording a new Pink Floyd album. (At the same time, Roger Waters was also working on his second solo album entitled Radio K.A.O.S.). A bitter legal dispute ensued with Waters claiming that the name “Pink Floyd” should have been put to rest, but Gilmour and Mason upheld their conviction that they had the legal right to continue as “Pink Floyd”. High Court proceedings went in favor of Gilmour and Mason, much to the chagrin of Waters, and the two camps continued working.
Momentary Lapse of Reason
Gilmour and Mason returned to the studio, along with producer Bob Ezrin in 1986. Richard Wright also rejoined Gilmour and Mason during the final recording sessions of A Momentary Lapse of Reason (UK #3/U.S. #3) album, though he did not officially rejoin the band until the end of the subsequent tour. Gilmour later admitted that Mason had hardly played on the album. Because of Mason’s limited contribution, many critics say that A Momentary Lapse of Reason should really be regarded as a Gilmour solo effort, in the way that The Final Cut can be seen as a Waters solo album. Having usually worked in tandem with Waters in drafting lyrics, Gilmour received further criticism for bringing writers from outside the band to assist him.
After the release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987, Pink Floyd embarked on what was initially meant to be an 11-week tour to promote the album. The two remaining members of the band, David Gilmour and Nick Mason, along with Richard Wright, who was not an official member of the band at the time, had just won a legal battle against Roger Waters and the future of the group was uncertain. Following the band’s tradition, the tour was huge: 45 trucks were needed to carry the equipment necessary to build the biggest outdoor stage to date, 85 feet high and 98 feet wide.
The tour proved to be much more successful than the album. Initially scheduled just to promote the album, it lasted until almost two years later, in 1989, after playing around 200 concerts, including 3 dates at Madison Square Garden and 2 nights at Wembley Stadium, to about 5.5 million people in total. The numbers of the tour speak for themselves: it made Pink Floyd the second highest grossing act of 1987 and the highest grossing of 1988 in the U.S. Financially, Pìnk Floyd was the biggest act of these two years combined, as it grossed almost US$ 60 million from touring, about the same as U2 and Michael Jackson, their closest rivals, put together. Worldwide, the band grossed around US$ 135 million. A further concert was held in 1990, at the Knebworth Festival in 1990, a charity event which also featured other Silver Clef Award winners. Pink Floyd was the last act to play, to an audience of 125,000. The £60,000 firework display that ended the concert was entirely financed by the band.
They released a double live album taken from their 1988 Long Island shows, entitled Delicate Sound of Thunder. They later recorded some instrumentals for a classic-car racing film La Carrera Panamericana, set in Mexico and featuring Gilmour and Mason as participating drivers. At one part of the race Gilmour and Steve O’Rourke (his map-reader in the race) crashed. O’Rourke suffered a broken leg, but Gilmour walked away with just some bruises. The instrumentals are notable for being the first Floyd material co-written by Wright since 1975.
The Division Bell
The band’s next recording was the 1994 release The Division Bell (UK #1/U.S. #1), which was much more of a group effort than A Momentary Lapse of Reason had been, with Wright now reinstated as a full and contributing band member. The album was generally received more favorably by critics and fans alike than Lapse had been, sounding more like the timeless Pink Floyd of old. Saxophonist Dick Parry, a contributor to the mid-70s Floyd albums, also returned to the fold.
The ensuing “Division Bell Tour” was promoted by legendary Canadian concert impresario Michael Cohl and became the highest-grossing tour in rock history to that date, with the band playing the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon in some shows, the first time they had done so since 1975. The concerts featured a very large stage, a large round screen, incredible special effects, quadrophonic sound and powerful lasers. All in all, the tour required 700 tons of steel carried by 53 articulated trucks and an initial investment of US$ 4 million. It paid off. The tour was the first to gross over US$ 100 million in the U.S. with only 59 concerts and is still one of the top-grossing tours in the country. Worldwide, it played to 5.5 million people and grossed over US$ 250 million. More than 10 years later, and despite the ticket price inflation, the Rolling Stones remain the only act which managed to outgross Pink Floyd in worldwide terms.
The group reunited in 1994 for another world tour. The Division Bell tour was much shorter, lasting less than a year, but was even more elaborate. Three stages leapfrogged around North America and Europe, each 180 feet long and featuring a 130 foot arch modelled on the Hollywood Bowl, incorporating 700 tons of steel. This required 53 articulated trucks and a crew of 161 people. The round screen, the dancing lights and lasers, and the quadrophonic sound were Pink Floyd’s most technologically advanced yet. The show cost US$ 4 million, plus US$ 25 million of running costs, to stage.
This tour played to 5.5 million people in 68 cities; each concert gathered an average 45,000 audience. At the end of the year, the Division Bell tour was announced as the biggest tour ever, with worldwide gross of over £150 million (about US$ 250 million). In the U.S. alone, it grossed US$ 103.5 million from 59 concerts. However, this record was short-lived; less than a year later, The Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour finished with a worldwide gross of over US$ 300 million. The Stones remain the only act ever to achieve a higher worldwide gross from a tour.
1.Another Brick In The Wall
2.Wish You Were Here