Rock band Pink Floyd holds one of the most impressive records in the music industry—its 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon has been on Billboard magazine’s top two hundred chart longer than any other. Additional distinctions include being known as Great Britain’s first psychedelic rock band and the first British band to use a light show in concert performance. Indeed, Pink Floyd is as much renowned for its elaborate stage shows, with lights, films, and inflatable balloons, as for its songs, such as “Money,” “Time,” and “Another Brick in the Wall.” Considered serious musicians by most rock critics, Pink Floyd is “doing art for art’s sake, and you don’t have to be high to get it,” declared disc jockey Tom Morrera in an interview with Time’s Jay Cocks. “They’ll take you on a trip anyway.”
Pink Floyd was founded in or around 1964 by Roger “Syd” Barrett in London, England. Barrett named the group for two of his favorite blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, and the band was initially blues-influenced. But Barrett, serving as the primary songwriter and playing lead guitar, quickly shaped
Band formed c. 1964 bySyd Barrett in London, England; original members included Syd Barrett (real name, Roger Barrett; born January 6, 1946, in Cambridge, England) lead guitar, vocals; acted as primary songwriter in early years (left group, 1968);Roger Waters (born September 6, 1944, in Great Bookham, England) bass, piano, vocals; became primary songwriter after Barrett left (left group c. 1985);Rick Wright (born July 28, 1945, in London) keyboards, vocals (left group, 1980; rejoined c. 1987); andNick Mason (born January 27, 1945, in Birmingham, England) drums. Current lead guitarist and songwriterDavid Gilmour (born March 6, 1944, in Cambridge, England) joined group in 1968. Performed in clubs in London, 1964–67; signed with EMI Records, 1966; recording artists and concert performers, 1967—.
Awards: 1973 album, Dark Side of the Moon, remained on Billboards charts longer than any other in history.
Addresses: Office— c/o 43 Portland Rd., London W11, England.
Pink Floyd’s uniquely mystic, psychedelic sound; he was abetted in this effort by bass player Roger Waters, keyboardist Rick Wright, and drummer Nick Mason. In the early years the band had another member, Bob Close, but he only played with them briefly. Pink Floyd began by playing clubs in the London area; their first regular job was at the Marquee in early 1966, and they soon attracted a small, loyal following. Later in the year the band had moved to the Sound/Light Workshop in London, where they included a light show in their act—a first in Great Britain. By the end of 1966, they had not only become the house band at the UFO Club, but had signed a deal with EMI Records (who released their music in the United States on the Tower label). Pink Floyd’s first single, written by Barrett, was “Arnold Layne.” The song, about a transvestite, was considered controversial—even underground station Radio London banned it—yet it enjoyed a fair amount of success in England. Another of Barrett’s musical creations, “See Emily Play,” did even better with British audiences, but their critically acclaimed first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was not as popular with American audiences.
Early in 1968 Pink Floyd recruited another guitarist, David Gilmour, to supplement Barrett. The founder’s behavior had become erratic, allegedly as a result of his experimentation with psychedelic drugs such as LSD, and he left the band two months after Gilmour joined. Barrett’s subsequent life has become the subject of rumor and speculation. He apparently recorded a few albums in the 1970s with Gilmour and Waters, but, according to David Fricke of Rolling Stone, Barrett “withdrew into a debilitating madness” from which “he never recovered.”
After Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd, Gilmour played lead guitar for the band and Waters shouldered most of the songwriting responsibility. The group’s eclectic, mystic flavor, begun by Barrett, was preserved under the leadership of Waters. Albums like Saucerful of Secrets (1968) and Ummagumma (1969) helped build Pink Floyd’s reputation as a cult band, and they began to receive offers to write and perform music for films. Motion pictures that feature the sounds of Pink Floyd include More, Let’s All Make Love in London, The Committee, and Zabriskie Point. They continued to garner critical acclaim into the early 1970s with the albums Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, and Obscured by Clouds, the soundtrack from the film Le Vallee. At the same time, by rarely granting interviews and keeping low personal profiles, the band members created an aura of darkness and mystery about themselves. Gilmour explained to Chet Flippo in People that he and his fellow musicians did not want Pink Floyd’s strange image destroyed by the knowledge that its members were somewhat ordinary: if they had made themselves more visible, “the fans might have gotten too much information about us sitting at home watching television and drinking beer.”
Pink Floyd’s status as a cult band changed radically, however, with the release of Dark Side of the Moon, about the alienation and mental illness stemming from societal pressures. “Money,” a single from the album, gave the group its first major American hit. As Flippo put it, “Dark Side, bleak and gothic, reached out and tapped some previously unreached citizens of our planet.” Although it has stayed on Billboards charts longer than any other album, Gilmour told Flippo that Dark Side’s success has “always baffled me, still baffles me. I mean, when we made it, we knew it was the best we’d done. But we hadn’t even gone gold before then.”
Though they sold well, the follow-up albums to Dark Side, Wish You Were Here (1976) and Animals (1977), were considered inferior to their predecessor. Animals, however, became Pink Floyd’s first platinum album. The effort portrayed society as divided into three different kinds of animals—dogs, pigs, and sheep—and the concert tour to promote Animals was graced by props such as a giant inflatable flying pig. But Pink Floyd’s 1979 product, The Wall, brought both higher critical acclaim and greater popular success. Including the hit “Another Brick in the Wall,” the album, reported Cocks, “is a lavish, four-sided dredge job on the angst of the successful rocker, his flirtations with suicide and losing bouts with self-pity, his assorted betrayals by parents, teachers and wives and his uneasy relationship with his audience, which is alternately exhorted, cajoled and mocked.” The concert tour that followed The Wall’s release featured such a complicated stage show, including props like a thirty-foot-tall inflatable woman and a huge wall composed of cardboard boxes that collapsed during the performance’s climax, that it only went to four cities: New York, Los Angeles, London, and Cologne, West Germany.
After the Wall tour, Rick Wright left Pink Floyd due to artistic tensions between its members. The band put out another album, The Final Cut, in 1983, but the tensions continued until Waters separated from the group in or around 1985. Amid legal battles between Waters and the other members over who had the right to use the Pink Floyd name, Gilmour and Mason, later rejoined by Wright, released an album, Momentary Lapse of Reason, and went on tour as Pink Floyd in 1987.
Piper at the Gates of Dawn (includes “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”), Tower, 1967.
Saucerful of Secrets (includes “Let There Be More Light” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”), Tower, 1968.
More, Harvest, 1969.
Ummagumma, Harvest, 1969.
Atom Heart Mother, Harvest, 1970.
Meddle (includes “Echoes”), Harvest, 1971.
Relics, Harvest, 1971.
Obscured by Clouds, Harvest, 1972.
Dark Side of the Moon (includes “Money” and “Time”), Harvest, 1973.
Wish You Were Here, CBS, 1976.
Animals, CBS, 1977.
The Wall (includes “Another Brick in the Wall”), CBS, 1979.
The Final Cut, CBS, 1983.
Momentary Lapse of Reason, CBS, 1987.
People, March 12, 1984.
Rolling Stone, January 15, 1987; June 4, 1987; October 22, 1987; November 19, 1987.
Time, February 25, 1980.
Guitarist, singer, songwriter
Despite his relatively brief musical career, Syd Barrett was a major catalyst in the development of British psychedelic rock. A founding member of Pink Floyd, his visionary drive took rock from its American R&B origins and propelled it toward a blend of progressive improvisation, innovative theatrical effects, and studio creativity. His subsequent mental breakdown, which occurred at the pinnacle of his songwriting powers, has made Barrett one of rock’s most tragic figures. He remained, however, an influence on Pink Floyd’s music decades after his departure from the band. His recordings have likewise left an impression upon a generation of musicians. As Cliff Jones noted in Another Brick in the Wall, “Syd’s music brought forth a white, middle class, art school agenda, creating an arch, literate style that would be passed down through David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Bryan Ferry, on to modern artists like Blur and Pulp.”
Born Roger Keith Barrett on January 6, 1946, Syd grew up in a stable, middle-class family in the university town of Cambridge, England. He began playing ukulele as a young child, then banjo at age eleven. He took up guitar by age 12 and soon began playing with an amplifier he constructed himself. Barrett attended high school with future Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters and studied at the Cambridge Technical College with future Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. During lunchtime breaks, Barrett and Gilmour would practice playing and trade licks.
Pursuing his interest in painting, Barrett moved to London in 1965 to study at the Camberwell School of Art, where he had won a scholarship. He moved in with Waters, who was studying architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic. Bored with his classes, Waters spent much of his grant money on musical equipment and played with friends in several rock bands. One of those groups, named the Abdabs, included guitarist Bob Close and future Pink Floyd members Rick Wright on keyboards and Nick Mason on drums. Waters invited Barrett to join the band, which led to Close’s departure in mid-1965, leaving Barrett as the band’s lead singer/guitarist and chief songwriter.
Barrett rechristened the band the Pink Floyd Sound (the “Sound” was soon dropped) after Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. By late 1965 the band members had abandoned their studies to perform full-time. The group soon began incorporating free-form improvisational freak-outs into its covers of numbers like “Road Runner” and “Louie Louie” by using layers of feedback and distortion. They became the first British band to experiment with light shows, and used back-projected art films and superimposed slide shows in their live performances. Much of this creativity stemmed from Barrett’s interest in eastern religions and philosophies, mysticism, ESP, and the mind-altering drug LSD.
By early 1966 Pink Floyd held regular gigs at the Marquee and UFO Clubs in London, where their unique sound and stage presence, complete with paisley shirts, colorful trousers, long hair, and flowing capes came to epitomize the burgeoning underground psychedelic movement. They began to perform Barrett’s psychedelic pop songs, pieces containing extended instrumental improvisations that relied heavily on slide and echo effects. These songs began to replace the R&B covers they performed.
In October of 1966 Pink Floyd headlined an all-night show held at the Roundhouse, an abandoned railway shed in London, to promote a new underground publication. As Barry Miles reported in Pink Floyd, the band mesmerized their audience: “It was the first time that most of the audience had seen a light show and many stood gaping for hours… [the group] were using some very unconventional techniques: playing the guitar with a metal cigarette lighter, rolling ball-bearings down the guitar neck… and [using] feedback in continuous controlled waves which added up to complex repeating patterns that took ages before coming round again.” Nicholas Schaffner quoted Barrett in The British Invasion as saying, after a typical Floyd concert, “In the future, groups are going to have to offer more than just a pop show. They’re going to have to offer a well-presented theatre show.”
Based on its regular concerts and appearances, Pink Floyd soon became known as the house band of the
For the Record…
Born Roger Keith Barrett on January 6, 1946, in Cambridge, England. Education: Studied art foundation, Cambridge Technical College, c. 1963; studied painting, Camberwell Art School, London, c. 1964-65.
First appeared with Pink Floyd at the Marquee Club in London, 1966; wrote and recorded “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” with Pink Floyd, February-May 1967; recorded The Piper at the Gates of Dawn with Pink Floyd, April-July 1967; returned to England after American tour was abruptly canceled, c. October 1967; recorded A Saucerful of Secrets with Pink Floyd, January-March 1968; asked to leave Pink Floyd, April 1968; released solo albums The Madcap Laughs, 1969, and Barrett, 1970; performed in Cambridge with Stars, January-February 1972; attempted to record third solo album, November 1974; appeared at Abbey Road studios during final mixing of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” June 1975; moved back to Cambridge to live in seclusion, c. 1980; released Opel (archival recordings), 1988; Crazy Diamond box set released, 1994; Wouldn’t You Miss Me: Best of Syd Barrett released, 2001.
underground movement. By early 1967 the band had full-time managers and a recording contract with EMI. That April, Pink Floyd hit number 20 on the British charts with its initial release—the Barrett-penned single “Arnold Layne.” Pirate station Radio London inadvertently gave the group more publicity by banning the song for its controversial transvestite subject matter. Barrett quickly contributed another single for the band, “See Emily Play,” which hit number six in Britain that June.
Between March and July of 1967 the band recorded its first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, at Abbey Road Studios in London. The recording was comprised almost entirely of Barrett compositions, ranging from the extended psychedelic instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive” to songs about gnomes, scarecrows, and “Astronomy Domine,” an aural replication of an LSD trip. It also represented a wistful remembrance of childhood—Barrett took the album’s title from a chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s novel, The Wind in the Willows.
The psychedelic sensibilities expressed in Piper reflect a mutual exchange of ideas between the Floyd and the Beatles, who were recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at another studio down the hall during the Piper sessions. Barrett himself took part in mixing Piper, a task usually left to studio engineers. As Schaffner quoted Floyd comanager Andrew King in The British Invasion, “[Barrett] was 100 percent creative, and very hard on himself. He wouldn’t do anything unless he thought he was doing it in an artistic way. He would throw the levers on the board up and down apparently at random, making pretty pictures with his hands.”
Released in August of 1967, Piper was well received by the critics and reached number six on the British charts. But just as the band was tasting its first success, Barrett began to show signs of instability. His use of LSD, coupled with the demands of touring and the pressures of being suddenly thrust onto the pop scene contributed to a breakdown. He would arrive onstage but simply strum a single chord through an entire show, or even refuse to sing or play altogether. On the last of three Floyd appearances on the British television series Top of the Pops, he arrived nicely attired, but changed into rags at the last minute for the cameras. The group’s initial American tour was abruptly canceled after he refused to lip-synch “See Emily Play” on American Bandstand and gave mute stares when interviewed on the Pat Boone Show.
As Barrett became increasingly unpredictable, Waters’s old friend Gilmour stood in for him during live performances; in January of 1968 Gilmour officially joined the group. The plan was to have Barrett com-pose new material and work in the studio and use Gilmour for shows, but as Barrett’s offerings became more and more bizarre it soon became clear that this strategy would not work.
On the band’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett played on just four tracks and sang only on his lone composition, “Jugband Blues.” When searching for a follow-up single, the band’s management chose not to release Barrett’s maniacal “Vegetable Man” or “Scream Thy Last Scream.” Instead they opted for “Apples and Oranges,” also written and sung by Barrett. Unlike the previous two releases, however, his one failed to chart. “I couldn’t care less,” Jones quoted Barrett. “All we can do is make records we like. If the kids don’t, then they won’t buy it.”
For all of his mental difficulties, Barrett seemed at times to have a sense of his own mental deterioration, as evidenced by the lyrics for “Jugband Blues:” “I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here/And I’m wondering who could be writing this song.” On “Vegetable Man” Barrett sang, “I’ve been looking all over the place for a place for me/it just ain’t anywhere/it just ain’t anywhere.” Very soon, there was no place in Pink Floyd for Barrett. Exasperated, the other band members asked him to leave the group in April of 1968.
In late 1969 EMI’s Harvest label signed Barrett as a solo act. He recorded two albums with the help of Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and members of the British group Soft Machine, but by all accounts remained impossible to work with. Gilmour in particular was disturbed when Barrett failed to recognize him. The Madcap Laughs was released in January of 1970, followed by Barrett in November; neither made an impact on the charts.
Barrett’s solo material, although it contained some evidence of his songwriting genius, is a further harrowing depiction of his descent into madness. Much of his singing and playing is off-key and out of tempo. His lyrics for “Octopus” retreat into a childlike fantasy world, yet display the colorful imagery that recalls his best Pink Floyd material: “With a honey plow of yellow prickly seeds/clover honey pots of mystic shining seed.” Yet, on “Dark Globe,” Barrett shows an acute awareness of his own mental instability: “My head kissed the ground/I was half the way down/Treading the sand/please lift a hand/I’m only a person/With Eskimo chain/I tattooed my brain all the way.”
Throughout the 1970s Barrett lived in seclusion, alternating between London and his mother’s cellar in Cam-bridge. He emerged again in 1972 with a short-lived band called Stars, which included Jack Monck on bass and a man called “Twink” on drums. They played three disastrous gigs in Cambridge before folding. In his last public performance, Barrett abruptly left the stage and his bandmates after three numbers with no explanation. Barrett attempted to record again in 1974, but the sessions were quickly aborted when it became clear he was incapable of producing any new material.
Though Pink Floyd’s members had ousted Barrett, they were concerned and saddened by his mental illness. Waters wrote “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” as a tribute to Barrett for the 1975 Pink Floyd release Wish You Were Here. During the final mix of this track, Barrett ironically appeared at the studio—with no fore-warning or explanation—fat, bald, and strangely at-tired. “I’ve got a very large fridge and it has a lot of pork chops in it,” Jones quoted Barrett as saying before he disappeared into the night. None of the band members have seen him since.
Barrett’s cult following grew over the years due to fanzines and covers of his songs by various performers. Opel, a collection of outtakes from his solo work, was released in 1988, followed by the box set Syd Barrett—Crazy Diamond, which contained both solo albums, bonus tracks, and alternate takes. In 2001 EMI released a compilation album titled Wouldn’t You Miss Me? containing the unissued track “Bob Dylan Blues.” That November the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) presented a documentary on Barrett’s life.
Barrett moved back to his mother’s home once again in the early 1980s, living with her until her death in 1991. He rarely ventured outside, and stopped playing and writing music altogether. His exact condition remains unknown; one rumor places him in a Cambridge hos pital ward, nearly blind from diabetes; another describes him as a reclusive gardener who lives off the royalties from Pink Floyd albums.
Barrett, Harvest, 1970.
The Madcap Laughs, Harvest, 1970.
The Peel Sessions, Dutch East, 1987.
Opel, Harvest, 1988.
Syd Barrett—Crazy Diamond (box set), Harvest, 1994.
Wouldn’t You Miss Me: The Best of Syd Barrett, Harvest, 2001.
With Pink Floyd
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Tower, 1967.
A Saucerful of Secrets, Tower, 1968.
Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, Instant, 1968; reissued, Pink Floyd London 66-67, See for Miles, 1995.
Relics, Harvest, 1971.
A Nice Pair (repackaging of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets), EMI Harvest, 1974.
Shine On (box set), EMI, 1995.
Echoes—The Best of Pink Floyd (box set), EMI, 2001.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 2, Gale Research, 1989.
Jones, Cliff, Another Brick in the Wall: The Stories Behind Every Pink Floyd Song, Carlton, 1999.
Miles, Barry, Pink Floyd, Delilah/Putnam, 1980.
Schaffner, Nicholas, The British Invasion, McGraw-Hill, 1982.
Schaffner, Nicholas, Saucerful of Secrets: Pink Floyd Odyssey, Delta, 1991.
Times (London, England), November 23, 2001, p. 2-3.
“Syd Barrett,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 11, 2002).
Pink Floyd,> long-lived psychedelic band that has gone through many changes in leadership and direction. Membership: 3Roger “Syd” Barrett, lead gtr., voc. (b. Cambridge, England, Jan. 6, 1946); Rick Wright, kybd., voc. (b. London, England, July 28, 1945); Roger Waters, bs., pno., voc. (b. Great Bookham, Surrey, England, Sept. 6,1944); Nick Mason, drm. (b. Birmingham, England, Jan. 27,1945). Barrett was replaced in 1968 by David Gilmour (b. Cambridge, England, March 6,1944).
Roger “Syd” Barrett attended school with Roger Waters and David Gilmour in the early 1960s in Cambridge. Barrett moved to London after school, where he took up guitar and played in several groups, including a folk duo with Gilmour. Waters moved to London to study archiecture and met Rick Wright and Nick Mason in an architecture class. In 1964, Waters, Mason, and Wright formed Sigma 6, which later became The T-Set and The Abdabs. The Abdabs broke up in late 1965 and Mason, Wright, and Waters recruited guitarist Syd Barrett for a new group, dubbed Pink Floyd by Barrett. By March 1966, Pink Floyd had obtained their first regular engagement at London’s Marquee club, where they experimented with feedback and lighting effects. In October, they moved to London’s Sound/Light Workshop, where they were accompanied by a light show, the first of its kind in Great Britain. Becoming the house band at the UFO Club by year’s end, Pink Floyd signed with EMI Records (the small, experimental Tower label in the U.S.) in March 1967.
Pink Floyd’s first single, Barrett’s “Arnold Layne,” concerned a perverted transvestite and proved so controversial that even “underground” Radio London banned the song, yet it became a major British hit. Barrett’s “See Emily Play” became a smash British hit in the spring and Pink Floyd’s debut album was released in the U.S. near the end of 1967. Critically acclaimed as one of the most original albums of the 1960s, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was dominated by Barrett’s surreal, mystical songwriting. However, the group’s next three British singles fared poorly as Pink Floyd toured America for the first time in October 1967.
Barrett’s behavior, already erratic, began to deteriorate and Dave Gilmour joined the group as second guitarist in early 1968. By April, Barrett had left amid rumors of drug abuse and bizarre stories of his unpredictable behavior. Between 1968 and 1970, Barrett recorded on several occasions, often with Gilmour and Wright. Two albums of his recordings were released in 1970 and eventually repackaged as a double-record set for U.S. release in 1974. Each album was issued in CD form in 1990 and 1989’s Opel comprised alternate takes and unreleased material from the sessions. All three albums were included on 1994’s Crazy Diamond. Inspiring a devoted cult following that persists to this day, Barrett’s influence can be seen in the work of many 1980s acts, most notably Robyn Hitchcock. Syd Barrett remains a mysterious and enigmatic figure, despite seldom appearing in public.
With Barrett’s departure, Pink Floyd reverted to a quartet and Roger Waters began assuming the role of chief songwriter. A Saucerful of Secrets contained his “Let There Be More Light” and “Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” In the summer of 1969, they first toured with a custom-built quadraphonic sound system as their soundtrack to the film More was released. At the beginning of 1970, Pink Floyd’s double-record set Ummagumma was issued on EMI’s new “underground” label Harvest (and later reissued on Capitol). Their first moderately successful album in the U.S., Ummagumma, comprised one live album and one studio album.
In 1970, Waters recorded a soundtrack album, Music from “The Body/” with electronics wizard Ron Geesin. Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother was debuted at the Bath Festival in England during June and the album featured choir, orchestra, and remarkably diverse sounds under the influence of Geesin. Pink Floyd’s stage shows became more elaborate and, in the summer of 1971, an outdoor concert in London utilized a 60-foot inflatable octopus. The group-produced Meddle included the instrumental “One of These Days” and the 23-minute-plus “Echoes,” one of their most popular songs.
Following the soundtrack to the film Le Vallee entitled Obscured by Clouds, Pink Floyd spent nine months recording their next album. Premiered live in London in 1972 using more than nine tons of equipment, The Dark Side of the Moon comprised entirely songs written by Roger Waters and became an instant best-seller, establishing Gilmour as a guitar hero and the group as “superstars.” Dealing with alienation and madness as caused by the pressures of contemporary society, the album yielded Pink Floyd’s first major American hit, “Money,” and included group favorites such as “Brain Damage” and “Time.” The album sold millions of copies worldwide and remained on the American album charts for more than 14 years. The group spent much of 1973 performing the album in its entirety in an elaborately staged production.
Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, recorded for their new label Columbia, became a best-seller and featured Gilmour’s title song, the classic “Welcome to the Machine,” and Waters’s tribute to Syd Barrett, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Continuing to explore the themes of repression, alienation, and loneliness, Pink Floyd’s Animals depicted society as divided into three castes, dogs, pigs, and sheep, and the album included songs for each. Their massive tour in support of the album utilized tons of musical and lighting equipment and, in performance, featured a huge flying pig. Rick Wright and David Gilmour each recorded solo albums released in 1978 and Pink Floyd reconvened for new recordings in April 1979.
In late 1979, Pink Floyd issued their next album, The Wall, almost entirely composed by Roger Waters. Another bleak and gloomy view of modern society, the album was considered their most ambitious and personal work in years and stayed on the album charts for more than two years, selling more than ten million copies in the U.S. The album contained group favorites such as “Is There Anybody Out There?” “Nobody Home,” and “Comfortably Numb,” and produced a minor hit with “Run Like Hell” and a top hit with the controversial “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II).” The 1980 tour in support of The Wall was so massive that it was performed in only three cities, London, N.Y., and Los Angeles. It was one of the most elaborate rock productions ever mounted, utilizing a 30-foot-high, stage-wide wall of cardboard blocks that were toppled before the end of the shows. The production featured films, sophisticated lighting, and gigantic plastic inflatables in one of the most awesome and spectacular performances in rock history. The album later served as the basis for the grim, violent 1982 movie The Wall, starring Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and directed by Alan Parker.
Rick Wright left Pink Floyd after the tour and Nick Mason recorded the solo album Fictitious Sports in 1981. Following 1983’s desultory The Final Cut, essentially a Roger Waters solo album, Pink Floyd dissolved. Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters each recorded solo albums for Columbia Records in 1984. In 1986, Waters sued for formal dissolution of Pink Floyd, but, in 1987, Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason reconstituted the group for A Momentary Lapse of Reason, entirely written by Gilmour. The album yielded a minor hit with “Learning to Fly” and remained on the album charts for more than a year. With eight-piece accompaniment, the three toured arenas in 1987 and stadiums in 1988. Waters countered with the concept album Radio K.A.O.S. and his own tour in 1987.
Pink Floyd toured internationally in 1989 and, in July 1990, The Wall was performed as a benefit for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief at the Berlin Wall by Roger Waters and a host of others, including Paul Carrack, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Joni Mitchell, and Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band. In 1991, David Palmer and The Royal Philharmonic Orch. recorded The Music of Pink Floyd: Orchestral Maneuvers, and, in 1992, Waters recorded Amused to Death with guitarist Jeff Beck. In 1994, Pink Floyd issued The Division Bell on Sony and toured once again. The tour produced the 1995 live set Pulse. Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967); A Saucerful of Secrets (1968); More (soundtrack; 1969); Ummagumma (1969); Atom Heart Mother (1970); Relics (rev. 1967–69; rev. 1971); Meddle (1971); Obscured by Clouds (1972); The Dark Side of the Moon (1973); Wish You Were Here (1975); Animals (1977); The Wall (1979); A Collection of Great Dance Songs (1975–1981) (1981); Works (ree. 1968–73; rev. 1983); The Final Cut (1983); A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987); Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988); The Division Bell (1994); Pulse (1995).
Miles, P. F: Another Brick (London, 1980); M. Wat-kinson and P. Anderson, Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of P. F. (London, 1990); N. Schaffner, Saucerful of Secrets: The P. F Odyssey (N.Y., 1991); B. McDonald, ed., P. F: Through the Eyes of..the Band, Its Fans, Friends, and Foes (N.Y., 1997).
Formed: 1965, London, England
Members: David Gilmour, guitar, vocals (born Cambridge, England, 6 March 1944); Nick Mason, drums (born Birmingham, England, 27 January 1945); Richard Wright, keyboards, vocals (born Surrey, England, 28 July 1945). Former members: Syd Barrett, guitar, vocals (born Cambridge, England, 6 January 1946); Roger Waters, bass, vocals (born Surrey, England, 6 September 1944).
Best-selling album since 1990: Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall: Live 1980–1981 (2000)
One of the most popular progressive rock bands in the world, Pink Floyd has broken almost every convention in popular music. The band laces long, slow-paced rock compositions with distracting sound effects and pessimistic lyrics, an unusual recipe for success in the music business. Pink Floyd's most important albums, with a few exceptions, rarely produced hits, yet it has become one of the most enduring icons in rock and roll. Its signature recording, Dark Side of the Moon (1973), stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for more than fourteen years. The album continues to attract listeners: In 1991 Dark Side of the Moon returned to the charts in Billboard 's pop catalog category and remained in its Top 10 throughout the 1990s. Part of Pink Floyd's success is due to the fact that few bands sound better on expensive stereo equipment or better suit FM radio's album-oriented format (AOR). Although the band peaked in the 1970s, the 1990s were somewhat notable years for current and former members. Remaining members of the group released four albums and mounted a highly successful American tour. Songs like "Money," "Wish You Were Here," and "Comfortably Numb" remain staples on American classic rock radio stations.
Early Days: The Barrett Years
Pink Floyd formed in 1965 when Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright, architecture students in London, met guitarist Syd Barrett. The group began as an R&B cover band, but soon carved out distinctive psychedelic songs and lyrics that explored heightened states of perception and madness. Once the band hit the pub circuit in London, its shows featured slide shows and other lighting effects. Its earliest albums, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), reveal the creative influence of Barrett who wrote the band's early singles such as "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play."
The Peak Years
Barrett left Pink Floyd in 1968 when LSD use damaged his already fragile mental state. His absence would haunt the band for a decade. He was replaced with guitarist David Gilmour. Barrett's loss changed the direction of the band away from tight psychedelic pop hits to its trademark dirges and conceptual albums. The group's first albums with Gilmour—Ummagumma (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970), and Meddle (1971)—were uneven, though each album contains a handful of gems. Dark Side of the Moon (1973) brought the band recognition, particularly in the United States, and turned the group into progressive rock's first best-selling behemoth. A loosely organized concept album, the record comments pessimistically on modern stresses associated with time, money, war, and madness. The album also marks bassist Waters's emergence as the band's major creative force, though every group member gets composition credits for various tracks. Dark Side of the Moon also embodies Pink Floyd's mature sound: long, dour songs punctuated by sound effects, mumbling voices, and Gilmour's thundering guitar solos. "Money," the album's principal hit in 1973, has been on steady rotation on FM stations since the day it hit the charts. More than 30 million copies of the album have been sold, placing it among the top three best-selling albums in music history.
Following Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd released a classic series of follow-up albums. Wish You Were Here (1975), a tribute to Barrett, Animals (1977), and The Wall (1979) all met with popular acclaim and were followed by sophisticated concerts that featured crashing airplanes, gigantic floating animals, and complex light shows. The band's fame reached its peak in the United States with the release of The Wall (1982), a film starring the Boom-town Rats' Bob Geldof. It is remarkable for its animated sequences and recreation of World War II–era London. Wright left the band shortly after the film's release, citing differences with Waters. Tensions between Waters and the rest of the group led to his quitting the band after the release of The Final Cut (1983). The remaining members of Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987). Wright rejoined the band first as a contract player in 1987, and then as a full-time member in 1994.
The Quiet 1990s
In the 1990s the band released only one studio album, The Division Bell (1994), a largely unremarkable album that nonetheless reached the top spot in the charts in the first weeks of its release. Pink Floyd's music without Waters tends to be more ambient, up-tempo, and musical, whereas Waters's late work with Floyd and in his solo career has grown wordy and caustic.
The most notable Pink Floyd event of the 1990s was not an official Pink Floyd event. In 1990 Waters led an ensemble cast, including Sinéad O'Connor, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison, through a version of The Wall at the crumbling remains of the Berlin Wall. The event received worldwide attention. The original album traces the roots of a mental breakdown of a self-absorbed rock star who becomes metaphorically walled off from himself and his fans. Played in a completely different, arguably inappropriate, context, The Wall—Live in Berlin (1990), may be the strangest attack on political repression ever recorded.
Always the subject of urban myths, Dark Side of the Moon gained a strange notoriety in the 1990s when fans started playing it alongside The Wizard of Oz. Floyd fans have spent hours comparing the album to the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz and publishing their analysis on websites. It is claimed, for example, that Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky" begins when the tornado first appears in the film. At the moment "Great Gig" ends, Dorothy and her house land in Oz. "Money," one of Floyd's most famous songs, begins at the moment when the film turns from black and white to color. The band denies any intentional connections between its album and the film.
Other Pink Floyd releases of the 1990s were live albums and compilations that cashed in on the band's enduring success. The most notable were the box set Shine On (1992), which contains all eight of the band's original lineup albums, and P.U.L.S.E. (1995), a live recording of a 1994 tour featuring a live performance of Dark Side of the Moon. In 1996 Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The year 2003 saw yet another release of a repackaged version of Dark Side of the Moon, this time remastered for 5.1 sound on the thirtieth anniversary of its release.
Although Pink Floyd's creative heyday is long past, the regrouped band continues to fill stadiums and sell collections of its material. Its classic albums continue to attract new generations of fans who delight in the group's spacey pessimism and brilliantly produced sound.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Capitol, 1967); A Saucerful of Secrets (Capitol, 1968); Ummagumma (Capitol, 1969); Atom Heart Mother (Capitol, 1970); Relics (Capitol, 1971); Meddle (Capitol, 1971); Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol, 1973); Wish You Were Here (Capitol, 1975); Animals (Capitol, 1977); The Wall (Capitol, 1979); A Collection of Great Dance Songs (Capitol, 1981); Works (Capitol, 1983); The Final Cut (Capitol, 1983); A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Columbia, 1987); Delicate Sound of Thunder (Columbia, 1988); Shine On (Columbia, 1992); The Division Bell (Columbia, 1994); P.U.L.S.E. (Columbia, 1995); Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall: Live 1980–1981 (Sony, 2000). Soundtrack: Music from La Vallee: Obscured by Clouds (Capitol, 1972).
Born Roger Keith Barrett, January 6, 1946, in Cambridge, England; died of complications from diabetes, July 7, 2006, in Cambridge, England. Musician. Syd Barrett was one of rock music's legendary names, as both a gifted songwriter and a cautionary tale. One of the founding members of British rock band Pink Floyd, Barrett helped shape their unique sound but plummeted into substance abuse and mental illness as they went on achieve worldwide success. His Times of London obituary called it "one of the most enigmatic and saddest stories in rock'n'roll," and noted that while Barrett vanished from public life after 1970, "he continued to exert an eerie fascination for generations of future musicians—perhaps because his fate reminded them of the slender thread by which creative talent can hang."
Barrett was born in 1946 in Cambridge, England, and became active in the university town's music scene during his teens, joining a band called Geoff Mott and the Mottoes with future Pink Floyd founder member Roger Waters, whom he had known since elementary school. In 1964, Barrett moved to London to attend art school, and a year later, with Waters in London, too, joined a band that the latter had formed with Nick Mason playing drums and a keyboardist named Richard Wright. Barrett came up with their name, the Pink Floyd Blues Band, in homage to two Southern blues guitarists of the early twentieth century, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Pink Floyd, as they soon became known, started as a cover band playing R&B tunes, but Barrett began to write music, and the group's first singles, "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne" became minor hits. Both were included on their debut LP, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which was released in August of 1967, and Barrett's sly witticisms, coupled with a unique guitar-playing style, quickly earned the band a cult following in England. As a guitarist, he used an echo machine and various slide techniques, including gliding his Zippo lighter along the strings. When the band traveled to the United States to promote the record, however, Barrett's increasingly odd behavior became problematic. They appeared on the weekly hit-record television showcase American Bandstand, but instead of singing he kept his mouth closed, refusing to lip-sync along. The band also toured with Jimi Hendrix, and on stage Barrett might play the same chord over and over, or simply start detuning his guitar in the middle of a song. His condition seemed linked to overindulgence of LSD, a powerful hallucinogenic drug, which he was reportedly taking daily by then.
Fearing a crisis as their popularity and contractual commitments escalated, the members of Pink Floyd brought in Dave Gilmour, another Cambridge native, as a back-up singer and guitarist. Barrett's condition deteriorated during the recording of their second LP, Saucerful of Secrets, but he did have a brief solo career. With Waters and Gilmour helping out, he recorded enough material for two albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, both of which were released in 1970. Each went on to achieve enduring cult status among music fans and subsequent generations of musicians, among them Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. "It was like you were hearing him in the process of losing it," Coyne said of these solo records in an interview with Los Angeles Times writer Geoff Boucher. "He was there in the studio and he was thinking, 'I can't sing like I thought I could sing; I can't play like I thought I could play.' And the music he made was stunningly original."
Barrett, never formally fired from Pink Floyd, drifted away from public view despite the promise of his solo records. At a London gig in October of 1970, he walked off the stage after four songs, and two years later there were rumors that he had put a new band together called Stars, but he failed to turn up for the live shows. He returned to the studio one more time, in 1974, but "it became obvious to all concerned that his muse had finally deserted him," asserted his Times of London obituary. He spent most of the next 32 years living at his mother's home in Cambridge, though he did keep a flat in London for a time. One of the more tragic elements of Barrett's story is the success that Pink Floyd went on to achieve without him; their 1973 release The Dark Side of the Moon became one of the best-selling albums in rock history and spent a record-setting 14 years on the Billboard 200 album chart. Two songs from their next work—the title track "Wish You Were Here" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"—are considered the band's tribute to their founding member. At the time of its recording, Barrett shocked his former bandmates when he dropped by the London studio unannounced and they at first failed to recognize him; it marked the last time they were ever in same building together.
Deeply reclusive inhis later years, hiding out from fans who made a sport of seeking him out, Barrett even turned down a large sum of money from Atlantic Records to record just three or four songs entirely from his house. He died on July 12, 2006, from complications from diabetes, at age 60, and is survived by a pair of siblings, Alan and Rosemary. Though he had vanished many years before, news of his death saddened many who had known him at the peak of his creativity, and even those who did not. Rock legend David Bowie issued a statement that lauded Barrett as "so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter," according to the Los Angeles Times. "His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."
Chicago Tribune, July 12, 2006, sec. 3, p. 7; Entertainment Weekly, July 21, 2006, p. 17; Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2006, p. B10; New York Times, July 12, 2006, p. C12; Times (London), July 12, 2006, p. 57; Washington Post, July 12, 2006, p. B6.
Formed in London in 1965 and named for Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, Pink Floyd performed music that marked the pinnacle of the psychedelic rock scene in the late 1960s. After the departure of drugged-out frontman Syd Barrett in 1968, bassist Roger Waters took charge and penned a string of meditations on madness and the perils of stardom that found great popular favor, including Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979). Floyd's expansive, atmospheric sound, combined with over-the-top special effects, packed stadiums across America. The group disbanded in 1983 but was reformed under guitarist David Gilmour's leadership in 1987. Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
—David B. Welky
Dallas, Karl. Bricks in the Wall. London, Baton Press, 1987.
Schaffner, Nicholas. Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey. New York, Delta, 1991.