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Pink Floyd Buyers Guide

Uniquely amongst their peers, Pink Floyd has survived – thrived on, almost – what for anyone else would have been insurmountable setbacks. Losing not just one but two of the most enigmatic front-men in rock – Syd Barrett and Roger Waters – even overcoming the apparent dissolution of the band itself, its fans still treating the Floyd as a living breathing entity even as its current leader, David Gilmour, has spent the past decade declaring it to be emphatically over. Partly, this is because there has never been another band remotely like Pink Floyd. Partly, because their best music is so timeless – as evidenced by the enduring popularity across the generations of Dark Side Of The Moon, still sounding as fresh and innovative today as it did when it was first released in 1973. The following list is an essential guide to the Pink Floyd back catalogue.

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)

Hailed as a pioneering psychedelic band from Cambridge even before they became properly famous with the success of the ‘See Emily Play’ single, the release of the first Pink Floyd album at the apex of the Summer of Love propelled them even further into the emerging pantheon, with The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn seen, alongside the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, as the most potent symbol of the counterculture’s imminent triumph over the ‘straights’. A situation the band seemed more than happy to embrace while it guaranteed chart success, but one which their leader, vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter, Syd Barrett, appeared to take far too literally, ingesting so many tabs of LSD on a daily basis that by the end of the year the rest were already considering replacing him. A tragedy as Barrett’s unique talent as a songwriter – later emulated but never surpassed by everybody from Bowie to Blur – turned his one full-length album with the Floyd into a rock version of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, replete with whimsical tales of scarecrows, gnomes, bicycles and other fairytale creatures, singed by swirling psychedelic instrumental passages. With his emphatically English-accented voice and eccentrically exaggerated guitar, songs like ‘Matilda Mother’, ‘Lucifer Sam’ and ‘Bike’ remain masterpieces of the psychedelic era. While the title of the album was taken from Chapter 7 of The Wind And The Willows, where Ratty and Mole, searching for a lost friend, undergo a ‘spiritual’ experience. "This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispers Ratty. Or as Barrett once dreamily told an interviewer: "I am full of dust and guitars.” Both signature and swan-song, Barrett would be gone from the group by the time they released the follow-up to Piper…, though their future direction is also hinted at here in the nine-minute-plus instrumental Interstellar Overdrive.

TRACKLIST: 
Astronomy Domine / Lucifer Sam / Matilda Mother / Flaming / Pow R. Toc H. / Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk / Interstellar Overdrive / The Gnome / Chapter 24 / The Scarecrow / Bike 

Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

Ostensibly a meditation on death and madness – hardly the catchiest of subjects for a bunch of hit tunes – Dark Side Of The Moon remains one of the most unlikely yet biggest-selling albums of all time. Furthermore, a concept album, in which all the songs flowed into one long continuous piece, it obeyed almost none of the conventional rules of commercial success, which of course became one of its greatest strengths, and the most obvious reason why it still sounds so good, so relevant, today, nearly 35 years after its release. The aural wash of spoken word fragments ("I know I’m mad, I’ve always been mad…”), gospel piano, grainy sax, zinging early VCS3 synths, chiming clocks, door-pounding heartbeats, swooning vocals and occasionally surging guitars all add up to perfect headphone music, whether in its original stereo vinyl form, or via today’s pristine digital chip. From the morose grandeur of ‘Time’ and the strangely affecting yet wordless vocalising of guest session singer Clare Torry on ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ to the juddering finger-pointing of ‘Money’ (‘Share it fairly / But don’t take a slice of my pie…’) via the almost ectoplasmic embrace of the climactic ‘Brain Damage / Eclipse’, you didn’t have to be a Pink Floyd fan to be fatally attracted to the stately appeal of Dark Side…, you just had to have ears. As such, Dark Side… became the album that transformed Pink Floyd from a British ‘art rock’ band with a loyal cult following into one of the most sought after rock giants on the international stage, particularly in America, where ‘Money’ gave them their first US hit single and the album would stay glued to the Top 40 for nearly 15 years. Indeed, if you don’t already have this album in your collection you’re probably the only person you know that doesn’t.

TRACKLIST: 
Speak to Me/Breathe / On the Run / Time / The Great Gig in the Sky / Money / Us and Them / Any Colour You Like / Brain Damage / Eclipse 

The Wall (1979)

The years that separated Pink Floyd’s two great post-Barrett masterworks – The Wall and Dark Side… – had seen the band undergo radical changes. With Roger Waters increasingly stamping his authority on every aspect of their creative output – from their reluctance to tour regularly due his avowed contempt for the mainstream audience Floyd’s overwhelming success now attracted, to their increasingly bleak and inward-looking albums (Dark Side… may have been built around equally bleak conceptual themes but its overall musical charm was almost brotherly) – Pink Floyd had not so much ridden the tidal wave of critical disapproval that ensued in the wake of punk in the late-’70s as strode past it like an imperious aristocrat shielding its nose from the smell. The Wall would be the apotheosis of that confrontational era. Waters’ big autobiographical rock opera, it was a four-sided concept that, as evinced on tracks like ‘In The Flesh’, ‘Run Like Hell’ and ‘Young Lust’, involved the slow descent into self-absorbed hell of a sensitive musician oppressed by an increasingly hostile world, including wives, groupies, mothers, teachers, the government, and just other people in general. Yet in amongst the anger and spite are some of the most affecting pieces of Floyd music ever committed to tape, as epitomised by ‘Comfortably Numb’, at once cold yet inviting, a story of nostalgia for one’s own lost youth, or ‘Hey You’, where the yearning is almost unbearable. And then there was the album’s keynote address, ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. Also their biggest ever single (Number One in the UK), it remains one of the best-known songs in rock. Ultimately, The Wall was a stunning musical synthesis of everything Waters’ Floyd had become in the wake of their life-altering post-Dark Side... success. It wasn’t necessarily pretty but it made everything else released at the time seem positively puny by comparison.

TRACKLIST: 
In the Flesh? / The Thin Ice / Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1 / The Happiest Days of Our Lives / Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2 / Mother / Goodbye Blue Sky / Empty Spaces / Young Lust / One of My Turns / Don't Leave Me Now / Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3 / Goodbye Cruel World / Hey You / Is There Anybody Out There? / Nobody Home / Vera / Bring the Boys Back Home / Comfortably Numb / The Show Must Go On / In the Flesh / Run Like Hell / Waiting for the Worms / Stop / The Trial / Outside the Wall 

Meddle (1971)

Four years and half-a-dozen albums on since the messy departure of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd had yet to fully re-establish itself as a viable musical entity in its own right. While their albums still charted, largely they were preaching to the converted as their position became increasingly marginalised amongst critics. As such, the release of Meddle proved to be a watershed moment for them, both critically and commercially; the first Floyd album to fully encapsulate the musical stance that would become the template throughout the rest of their career – that is, startling instrumental pieces like the sinister-sounding album opener ‘One Of These Days (I Will Cut You To Pieces)’ and the ambitious 23-minute instrumental ‘Echoes’, balanced out by shorter, catchier acoustic-led numbers like ‘Pillow Of Winds’ and ‘Fearless’. Meddle was also the album where Floyd finally found a way to combine their aptitude for good tunes with their more experimental electronic leanings, colouring the shorter acoustic numbers with all manner of special effects, adding sumptuous guitar ripples to the studio-generated sonic detail of the longer epics. Much of this was down to the gradual emergence of Barrett’s replacement on guitar, David Gilmour, as a real shaping force within the group – a definite sign of things to come.

TRACKLIST:
One of These Days / A Pillow of Winds / Fearless / San Tropez / Seamus / Echoes

Wish You Were Here (1975)

If many long-time observers had seen the subject of Barrett’s mental breakdown as a thinly veiled subtext to the material on Dark Side Of The Moon, there could be no mistaking the almost painfully explicit tribute to their former leader and doomed friend the Floyd built into the follow-up, Wish You Were Here, from its melancholy title to its most prominent track, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. The latter, built around a languid four-note slide guitar phrase from Gilmour and some of Waters’ most honest and direct lyrics ever, became the cornerstone of the album, segued in over several parts, from beginning to end. The rest of the album’s futuristic instrumental textures have similar drive, especially the cold, stark ‘Welcome To The Machine’ and the elegiac title track, its inspired combination of special effects, slide guitar, honky-tonk piano and even some fiddle, along with Waters’ desolate refrain – ‘We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl’ – making it one of the most affecting moments on any Floyd album. Not as well-known to outsiders as either Dark Side… or The Wall, Wish You Were Here remains for many long-time fans, their favourite Floyd album of all.

TRACKLIST:
Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Pts. 1-5 / Welcome to the Machine / Have a Cigar / Wish You Were Here / Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Pts. 6-9 

Animals (1977)

Perhaps it was the phenomenal worldwide sales of their two previous albums (Dark Side… was still in the charts when this was released four years later) that made them want to prove they didn’t care about tawdry concepts like ‘success’. Or perhaps it was a preliminary strike against the first wave of punk rockers that were about to declare war on bands like the Floyd whose success, they claimed, had put them completely out of touch with the grey reality of life in Britain in the late 1970s, but Animals seemed almost to defy listeners to like it. A long, powerful suite of songs that deal all too specifically with loneliness, depression, death and the duplicity of the human condition, Animals is not an album for the fainthearted. Although the Floyd had dealt with many of these themes before, they had always managed to leaven the effect with the sheer inventiveness of their music. But there are no ringing cash-registers on Animals, no soulful sax or playful guitars. There is simply the grind of the cogs, three of its five tracks named after ‘Pigs’, the other two, ‘Dogs’ and ‘Sheep’ – its bitter implications obvious: this was Floyd’s great Orwellian masterpiece.

TRACKLIST:  Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1 / Dogs / Pigs (Three Different Ones) / Sheep / Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 2

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)

The first album since the acrimonious departure of Waters two years before, the first question that needed to be asked was: is this really still Pink Floyd? The answer: a resounding yes. Perhaps the greatest compliment one could pay the album was to admit how little Waters’ absence was felt, at least musically. In fact, if anything, it marked a retreat from the stark, increasingly embittered stance of the final Waters-era Floyd albums and a welcome return to the more lush, sonic pastures of prime-time, Dark Side… era Floyd. True, without Water’s overbearing personality there to fashion deeper psychological meanings to the songs, lyrically the band seemed at times to be scratching around for ideas. Mostly though this was the most enjoyable Floyd album since their mid-’70s heyday; a fact reinforced by its huge chart success (reaching Number 3 in both Britain and America)
Now fully in charge of the group, Gilmour was able to record several songs he had actually written for The Final Cut but which had been rejected by Waters, including, it was rumoured, ‘The Dogs Of War’, ‘Round And Around’ and the melody to ‘On The Turning Away’. Whatever the truth, it was a tremendous return to form, and featured their first hit single for seven years in ‘Learning To Fly’.

TRACKLIST: 
Signs of Life / Learning to Fly / The Dogs of War / One Slip / On the Turning Away / Yet Another Movie-Round and Around / New Machine, Pt. 1 / Terminal Frost / New Machine, Pt. 2 / Sorrow

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