The High Priests of what became known as progressive rock, Pink Floyd started their life in sleepy academic Cambridge, England playing strange psychedelic songs about a transvestite washing line thief, "Arnold Layne" and long improvised noisescapes like "Interstellar Overdrive." They were Rick Wright, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Syd Barrett.Their name was taken from bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Pink Floyd topped the bill in 1967 at the 14-hour long Technicolor Dream at London's Alexandria Palace - an infamous psychedelic event. They were also regulars at the UFO club. June 1967 saw them make the top 6 in UK with "See Emily Play," another unique slice of British acid.
Sadly, Barrett's mental condition deteriorated due to excessive use of LSD and a predisposition to mental instability. Old school friend Dave Gilmour was drafted by the band to help out in performance and in the studio, the hope being that Syd could at least continue to contribute to the songwriting. David ended up staying for ever. Syd left and after a couple of solo albums, and a losing struggle with crippling mental illness, became a recluse. However, his quirky musical vision continued to inspire the band.
The first two albums Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Saucerful of Secrets are quintessential English psychedelia. November 1969's part live and plain weird double album UmmaGumma made #5 in UK and was their first US chart entry at #74. Atom Heart Mother followed and was their first UK chart topper. It was also their first excursion into the Pink Floyd signature visual of a farm animal, in this case a Friesian cow.
When the band came to America, they hit it big immediately. Their concerts moved into the larger 15,000-20,000 seat venues, and in a masterstroke of promotion, for the entertainment of the crowds lining up outside the halls, Pink Floyd management wisely played Floyd music over the loud speaker systems, flashed overhead lights, and employed various sound effects to get the crowd into a Pink Floyd frenzy.
With 1971's Meddle album, a new Floyd sound was emerging. Gilmour's epic guitar sound began to predominate, and Floyd explored the studio's capabilities to their fullest extent. The side long "Echoes" was a classic of its era.
They had also begun writing and playing parts of the magnum opus that was to become Dark Side of the Moon in 1971, although it was 2 years before it would come to fruition. Dark Side, an extraordinary discourse by Waters on themes such as lunacy, depression and materialism, was brought to life by Gilmour's incandescent guitar playing and Wright's authoritative keyboard. The album sounded fantastic, even on 1973's clunky record players. It was intelligent, raw, moving and thoughtful; in short, unlike any other record ever released, before or since. To this day it has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. One of the biggest selling albums of all time, it stayed on the US charts for nearly 300 weeks.
Pink Floyd withstood the challenge and pressure of following a huge success like Dark Side with Wish You Were Here. Released in September 1975, it was every bit the equal of its predecessor, and an aural delight from start to finish. For a band to produce two such astonishingly original and brilliant albums within two years was an awesome achievement.
"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" was a breathtakingly sparse sonic trip, the title track featured a wistful and evocative vocal by Roy Harper, and "Welcome To The Machine" was simply 25 years ahead of it time. Wish was a phenomenal work of musical genius.
Animals was released as punk-rock was declaring bands like Floyd redundant; still, although a great record, it couldn't musically match its two predecessors. However, what Pink Floyd's next released proved indisputably that this was a band of extraordinary inspiration, as Roger Waters came up with The Wall.
The album, although it sold astonishingly in America, was thematically an obvious sign that all was not well within the charmed circle of Pink Floyd.
Roger Waters and David Gilmour were both willful and opinionated musical super-talents, each convinced that only they were right on almost everything, and unable to compromise. The end was in sight. The Final Cut marked the end of Waters' relationship with the band.
After the split, Gilmour took some time off to reflect on his next move, then returned at the helm of Pink Floyd with Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987. It was greeted warmly by fans. Ironically, Gilmour's vocals were notably influenced by Waters. With a much more guitar-oriented sound, Pink Floyd embarked on a successful world tour, with a stage show featuring more inflatable pigs.
Momentary Lapse reached #3 in the UK and USA, and Delicate Sound of Thunder, the live album from the tour, reached # 11.
There was one last hurrah with 1994's Division Bell, and a live album, Pulse, in 1995.
Floyd is now effectively Gilmour's band. His relationship with Waters continues to be non-existent, but both seem disinclined to resurrect it. Now a wealthy and successful man, Gilmour recently donated a £4 million London house to a homeless charity, and he also received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) from Queen Elizabeth II, in honor of his services to music. At 57, he is well at the top of his game, and Pink Floyd are still writing their own remarkable chapter in the history of rock. The impact of their extraordinary music remains undiminished with the passage of time.