Sunday, 3 July 2011

Pink Floyd - The Albums

Earlier this year, I did an article looking at The Floyd on 45, and suggested that 2001’s best-of set “Echoes” was really the last word on the band. Famous last words. Later this year, the band are issuing another collection, “A Foot In The Door”. There is something remarkably cheeky about a band who have recorded NO NEW MATERIAL since their last best-of, issuing another one.

In addition to this, the band are re-releasing their 14 studio albums (including the half live/half studio “Ummagumma”) once more. The strange thing is, that with the exception of their three most famous albums (not necessarily their three best), none are being issued with extra tracks. These bog standard reissues are being referred to as “Discovery” editions, presumably on the basis that they are being pitched at newcomers, but there is still something strange about albums you can pick up on Amazon for a fiver being repackaged in the Ten Quid price range. I think it has something to do with them being made available on iTunes for the first time, so they have to be reissued, blah blah blah.

Whilst the hardcore will undoubtedly be interested in the CD Box Set that is being issued with all 14 releases in, it may simply be cheaper to buy any of the multitude of existing pressings that can often be picked up quite easily. In this article, I shall look at the Floyd’s albums - including the live releases that are not being reissued this time around - and for each release, will detail one or two formats from my own personal collection.

Early Years

The band’s debut album - with the Barrett/Waters/Wright/Mason lineup - was issued in 1967. “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” is a psychedelic masterpiece, recorded at the same time as The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper”. Paul and Co reportedly came by the studio on at least one occasion to see what the band were up to, and then apparently “borrowed” certain ideas for their own record. Many psych fans will tell you that as good as “Sgt Pepper” is, “Piper” is much better. It’s not quite perfect - it goes a bit “hey nonny no” on side 2 with “The Gnome” and “Scarecrow”, but the space rock roar of “Astronomy Domine”, the freak out madness of “Interstellar Overdrive” and the sheer speaker-shattering noise of “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” are mindblowing. The album was issued in both mono and stereo, the latter featuring a noticeably different mixes of “Overdrive” and "Stethoscope", but the mono edition fell out of print.

The stereo one was reissued again and again, including a release on EMI’s budget label Fame in the early 80’s (LP, Fame FA 3065), but it took until 1997 for the mono mix to debut on CD. This edition came in a strange green box, with an out-of-focus reprint of the original cover inside a circle on the back of the box. No doubt this all means something “artistic”, but it’s lost on me. This edition (CD, EMI CDEMD 111) also included a lyric booklet and a set of Pink Floyd prints - which strangely covered the whole career of the band, not just the 1967 period - so you get the picture of the naked women with Floyd album covers on their backs that was used to plug the reissues campaign that took place in the mid 1990’s. The album was issued again in 2007 as a triple CD, with disc 1 in mono, disc 2 in stereo, and a third disc of period A and B sides, plus a couple of previously unissued alternate takes. This edition came in another fancy package, this time with the original front cover surrounded by a thick red border.

The band began work on their second album later the same year, but Barrett’s drug use was affecting his everyday abilities. Gigs became shambolic, as Barrett would sometimes be so out of it, he would just stand on stage and stare, failing to either sing or play guitar. The recording sessions for the album suffered from the same problem. Dave Gilmour was brought in as backup, able to sing and play if Barrett stopped dead, and he also helped out on the second album. Eventually, Barrett was forced out the band - the group simply failed to collect him from his house for a gig they had booked, and Gilmour became his replacement. 1968’s “A Saucerful Of Secrets” thus included Gilmour on some songs, Barrett on others, and both men on “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. Again, it was available in both mono and stereo, but the mono edition soon went out of print. Original stereo copies are worth a fortune, but Columbia reissued the album during the 70’s, and later editions are noticeable by their different colour label (yellow, not black) and the fact that they come in an unlaminated, non-flipback sleeve (LP, Columbia SCX 6258). Later, once the band had started to release material on the Harvest label, the first two albums were reissued as a double vinyl LP called “A Nice Pair” (2xLP, Harvest SHDW 403), presumably to try and separate the Barrett era Floyd from the more proggy Floyd that followed.

A month after “Secrets” hit the stores, a “new” Floyd recording surfaced on the soundtrack LP “Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London”. A re-recorded version of “Interstellar Overdrive” was included on the record, but only 3 minutes of what was actually a 17 minute long re-take was included. Two short sections from the re-take were also included on side 2 of the record. In 1990, a CD reissue of the album included the full 17 minute version, plus another previously unheard track, “Nick’s Boogie”. These recordings later appeared on what you might call “proper” Pink Floyd releases - they were used as the soundtrack on the VHS release “London 66-67”, whilst both songs appeared on a mini album released on CD a couple of years ago titled “London 66/67” (Pucka SMACD 924 X), both of which included the two Floyd tracks and nothing else.

The Gilmour Years

With Barrett now fully out of the lineup, the new four man Floyd set off on a series of slightly odd releases. First up was the 1969 soundtrack album to the film “More”. Now, I have never seen the film, so I can’t say whether or not the track listing runs in the same order in which the songs appear in the movie, but it’s an unbalanced listen. Most of the second half of the record is instrumental, which gives it a bit of a disjointed and uneven listen - as the album drags on, it really does sound like a soundtrack album and not a Floyd album. It would have made more sense if the majestic “Cymbaline” could have closed proceedings, instead of being dumped somewhere on side 1. Despite it’s slightly ho-hum feel, several of the songs made it into the Floyd’s live set at the time. Various reissues have referred to it as “More” or “Music From The Film More” - the 1995 reissue on CD (CD, EMI CDEMD 1084) actually has “Music From” on the spine, but “Soundtrack From The Film More” on the back cover.

Not much better was “Ummagumma”, issued later the same year (2xLP, Harvest SHDW 1/2). A double vinyl release, the first half was recorded live, but the second half saw each band member given half a side of vinyl to indulge - and indulge they did. Nick Mason did what was basically a long drum solo, Wright came up with some tuneless nonsense called “Sysyphus”. Waters came off best, providing the band with their best ever song title (“Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict”) and a proper song, a work of beauty called “Grantchester Meadows”. Incredibly, part of Mason’s song, “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party”, also made it into the Floyd live set soon after.

The CD edition of the album came out in 1994 (CD, EMI CDEMD 1074). It was significantly different from the vinyl release. First up, each half of the record came in it’s own case, thereby making the “Live” and “Studio” parts separate albums. The back cover of the vinyl became the front of the second CD. No longer did you not have to feel guilty about only listening to the live half. The two cases were then housed in a green box set, with a poster of the album cover tucked in the middle. The original album cover featured, top left, a mirror within which was printed the same “cover” but with each band member in a different place. Then, inside that image, top left, was a mirror which featured the cover with each member in a different place, etc, etc, thus creating a recursion effect. Four “images” were shown inside the mirror on the vinyl original, the final image was a picture of the “Secrets” album cover. For the CD, the box had a rectangle cut away to reveal only the “mirror” part of the sleeve, and the recursion effect was infinite, rather than being just five images in depth. Musically, “Sysyphus” was longer on CD than vinyl - not sure if the gaps between the four parts were extended, if it was mastered at a slower pace, or if there is simply an additional piece of music included, but I have timed both formats and - yes - the vinyl mix is 30 seconds shorter. Thankfully.

It was back to the soundtracks at the start of 1970, as the Floyd contributed three new songs to the “Zabriskie Point” LP - although “Come In Number 51” was a re-recording of an old B-side, “Careful With That Axe Eugene”. For the next quarter of a century, these songs remained amongst the rarest of all the Floyd tunes, but a much hyped 1997 CD reissue (2xCD, EMI Premier Soundtracks 823 3642) made them available again - a release which even included four previously unreleased Floyd recordings as bonus tracks.

Floyd’s slightly shabby albums continued with 1970’s “Atom Heart Mother”. I will admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for this one, but each band member has slagged it off at various times over the years. The first side of the record featured a 23 minute long instrumental often referred to as the “Atom Heart Mother Suite”. It features the band with the Abbey Road Session Pops Orchestra and The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, with the result that at times, the band get drowned out by the extra players!

It’s all a bit more pop on side 2, with some truly majestic work on “Summer 68” and “Fat Old Sun”, whilst the record ends with the genius of “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, a 3-part 13 minute jam interspersed with recordings of the band’s roadie talking about - and preparing - breakfast. On the original cassette release (Cassette, Harvest TC-SHVL 781), the track “If” was included on both sides of the record, to ensure that each side of the tape was the same length. The reason for this was so that at the end of the album, if you wanted to play the LP again, you could just turn the tape over, rather than having to fast forward to the end of side 2 first. “AHM”, like a lot of Floyd albums, featured neither the band name nor title on the cover, but US copies did include both on the front, a situation repeated on the late 80’s US CD edition (CD, Capitol CDP 7 46381 2).

It was with 1971’s “Meddle” that the post-Barrett line up finally created their first classic album. The prog elements that had been toyed with on the three previous album efforts were finally polished into something more cohesive, and gave their band their best album since “Piper”. The propulsive rumble of “One Of These Days”, the beautiful Neil Young-esque “Fearless”, the epic shape shifting of “Echoes”, this was an album to cherish. UK copies once more featured no band name or title on the front, but US versions, including late 80’s CD editions (CD, Capitol CDP 7 46034 2) did.

It’s follow up was a bit more patchy, as the band returned to the world of the soundtrack. This time, it was for a film called “The Valley” but the band decided to title the album “Obscured By Clouds”. It’s a decent effort, but there are no 20-minute wig out tracks here, everything is about four or five minutes in length, and the result of this is that you have an album that at times sounds underwhelming. Just as songs start to get going, they fade out. It does sound - again - more like a soundtrack than a Pink Floyd album, but it’s not a disaster - it’s just that if each song had lasted twice as long, and it had been a double album, then the opportunity for a bit more expression could have come through. Again, US editions including the 1980’s CD version (CD, Capitol CDP 7 46385 2) add the band name and title to the cover, unlike the UK originals.

Superstar Years

And so we finally come to the biggie - “Dark Side Of The Moon”. Arguably the band’s most famous album, certainly their biggest selling, it surfaced in 1973 despite having been more or less completed the previous year. It’s the first of three reissues this year which will come in 2-disc “Experience” and multi-disc “Immersion” editions. It was the first Floyd album to be issued as a concept album, primarily dealing with the themes of madness and lunacy. It was effectively ten short numbers merged into two long sections, meaning that there was little scope for extended jams or instrumental workouts, unlike on “Piper” and “Meddle”, but a couple of the songs were short instrumental pieces, which helped to give the album some depth. The album’s selling point, apart from it’s single recurring theme, was the use of tape effects and synthesisers, giving the album - to a first time listener - a bit of a space age feel.

The original album came in a famous “prism” cover, and sat on the charts on both sides of the Atlantic for years. It has since been reissued several times. It was included, at the end of the 80’s, in a US only 4-CD set called “Pink Floyd Gift Box” (4xCD, Capitol G2-91340) with reissues of “AHM”, “Meddle” and “Clouds”, and then appeared in 1993 in a new prism cover to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary - with the prism ‘coloured in’. There was a 2003 edition, pressed on a hybrid CD/SACD format (which never quite took off), with - I am told - a new mix on the SACD layer, and came in a bit of a horrible sleeve (CD, EMI 582 1362), with the prism image overlayed over what I can only describe as what looks like a scene from a Lord Of The Rings film. “DSOTM” is a good album, although over familiarity has deadened it’s effect a bit over the years, but the lack of extended instrumental freakouts does sometimes make it feel like it’s an album of potential hit singles, rather than a truly progressive album (“Money”, let’s be honest, is a bit clunky at times). It is still deserving though of it’s forthcoming box set treatment.

The band took to playing the album in it’s entirety on the tour that followed, something they would do for each future album until the start of the 1980’s. The touring aspect took up quite a bit of the band’s time, meaning that the gap between new albums started to increase. It was not until 1975 that the band’s next studio album would surface. If you are too cool to admit liking “DSOTM”, then the Floyd record to name check is “Wish You Were Here”. It saw a return to longer pieces, with plenty of direction changes mid-song and instrumental pieces - primarily on the epic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, which was split into two halves, used to bookend the album. There was not really a single theme for the record this time around, but both the title track and “Shine On” made references to the mental state of former singer Syd Barrett. During the recording sessions, Barrett famously turned up unannounced, but looked so unlike his former self, that nobody recognised him, and each band member had just assumed somebody had invited one of their friends along. Barrett was clearly out of it, and was bald and overweight, and his appearance was so upsetting that several people in the studio were later reported to have broken down in tears upon seeing him.

Although “Shine On” made the most explicit references to Barrett, the title track had several pointers, including a lyrical steal from a Barrett solo song. The first line, where Gilmour croaks into life with the line “So, so you think you can tell, heaven from hell” after a gorgeous acoustic opening, remains one of the most heartbreaking things you will ever hear on record. With it’s sad lyrical references, keyboard driven soundscapes, and plenty of tape effects, “WYWH” is an astonishing listen, and is regarded by some - myself included - as the band’s defining masterpiece.

The album was originally released in an iconic cover, a picture of two men shaking hands, with flames emitting from one of the men, shot in a Warner Brothers studio in LA. However, the album was then packaged in a black cover, with a Pink Floyd “elements logo” in the centre, thus making the official cover “hidden“. When the album was issued on CD in 80’s, the black logo image was used for the cover (CD, Harvest CDP 7 46035 2) but the 1994 reissue reverted to the “flaming man” sleeve. The forthcoming reissue sees the 1-disc edition in the “flaming man” sleeve, the 2-disc in the “logo” sleeve, and the box set in a new sleeve. If you want a cheap “logo” sleeve copy on CD, be warned that some discs have become the subject of ‘bronzing’ and are no longer playable.

The band’s next album was 1977’s “Animals”, a record possibly more well known for it’s cover (an inflatable pig “flying” over Battersea Power Station) than it’s musical content. It’s theme dealt with class - based on the concept in “Animal Farm” that different elements of society were sometimes referred to as dogs or sheep. Each song on the album featured an animal name in the title (“Pigs On The Wing 1”, “Dogs” and indeed “Sheep”), and again consisted mostly of songs ten-fifteen minutes in length. Possibly sensing the approach of punk, the album had a more guitar based feel than “WYWH”, and often felt a lot more punchier and aggressive. It was reissued on CD in the 1980’s (CD, Harvest CDP 7 46128 2).

The band, by now, were superstars pretty much everywhere, and headed off into the enormodromes for the forthcoming “In The Flesh” tour. Famously, Waters lost it during the final show of the tour, when he became irritated by the “boorish behaviour” of some fans in the front row, and promptly spat in the face of one fan who was advancing towards the stage. Whilst he obviously regretted the incident, Waters later explained how it was the feeling of alienation he had experienced during the tour that had caused him to snap, and talked about how he would happily tour again but would love it if there was a wall between him and the crowd. This concept would provide the inspiration for the next album.

The End Of The Waters Years

“The Wall” was a double album dealing with the theme of isolation, with Waters writing most of the material. It was the band’s first studio album to be released as a double, but like “DSOTM”, many of the songs were relatively short, so once more, the opportunity for extended instrumental jams or songs changing direction halfway, were more or less absent. “The Wall” became one of the band’s biggest albums, helped along with a hit single in the form of “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)”, and is the third of the planned deluxe reissues, this one due next year. I have always found the album to be somewhat flawed - at times, it seems a bit too “pop”, over-produced even, as if the band felt that post-Punk, they should no longer do 20 minute wig outs. Of course there are moments of genius, but it’s simply not as good as “Meddle” and nowhere near as good as “Piper”.

When the record was first released, it came in a simple sleeve featuring nothing more than a white brick wall drawing, but the 1985 double-CD release (2xCD, EMI CDS 46036 2), added both the band name and album title to the front. The album had originally been planned to be close to 90 minutes in length, but concerns over putting such a long album onto a pair of slabs of vinyl, resulted in two songs being pulled from the album. When the band played the album in it’s entirety during shows in 1980 and 81, the two missing songs “What Shall We Do Now” and “The Last Few Bricks”, were introduced into the set. A live album compiled from performances from this tour was issued in 2000, titled “Is There Anybody Out There”, and of course included these songs, which thus made their official debut on a Pink Floyd record. This release was issued as both a standard double CD set, and a special edition version housed in a hardback slipcase (2xCD, EMI 523 5622), with the two CD’s tucked inside a fancy colour booklet. The forthcoming deluxe reissue of “The Wall” will include this album as part of the pack.

The performances of “The Wall” onstage, famously, saw a cardboard wall built up on stage as the band played, and that by the time they approached the final quarter, most of the stage was covered in bricks with the band barely visible as they were hidden behind it - Waters had achieved his dream of being isolated from the audience. During the second from last song, “The Trial”, the wall was then knocked down and the band were back in full view again. Because of the length of the album, there was no time for an encore, and thus no “old” material was played at all during the tour. As the band took to the stage for the first show in Los Angeles on 7th February 1980, Waters had already fallen out with Rick Wright, and had forced him to resign from the band before the tour started. He played on every show on the tour, but purely as a salaried musician, and after the final show at Earls Court on 17th June 1981, Wright officially left the band.

“The Wall”, despite my reservations, became a big part of the band’s career - so much so, that a movie was made. A soundtrack album was planned, due to consist of new songs and reworked “Wall” material. In 1982, “When The Tigers Broke Free” was issued as a single, but would turn out to be as far as the soundtrack album would get. Instead, the breakout of the Falklands War offended Waters so much, he decided to rework some of the planned material into a new album, the anti-war “The Final Cut”. This didn’t go down too well with Gilmour, who was neither sure about the Floyd “going political”, nor about the offcuts from the original “Wall” writing sessions featuring heavily in the new record. “The Final Cut”, thus, is often thought of as being a Waters solo record in all but name, with Waters writing everything on the album, and Gilmour only getting to sing lead on one song, “Not Now John”. The album went to number 1, but critics - like Gilmour - were unsure. Again, it has it’s moments, and I have returned to the album many times over the years, but it still sounds like a poor man’s “The Wall” at times. It was given a bit of a low key CD reissue in 2004 (CD, Harvest 576 7342), with “Tigers” added as a bonus track, having been left off the original 1983 release.

1987 And Beyond

There was no tour to support “The Final Cut“, perhaps Waters saw no need to put himself through the stress of the 77 tour again, and soon after, announced he was quitting the band. By doing so, he assumed Pink Floyd would be no more, but both Gilmour and Mason wanted to record again, and saw no reason why they shouldn’t use the Pink Floyd name. Waters claimed that he owned the rights, having formed the band with Syd Barrett, but there was a big question mark over this, and Gilmour and Mason went into the studio in 86 to work on what would become the 13th studio album, “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason”, released the following year (CD, EMI CDEMD 1003). The legal issues over the ownership of the name were resolved at the end of 87, but it created bad blood between Waters and the rest of the group, bad blood that would remain for the best part of twenty years.

More legal issues meant that although Rick Wright was on the record, he was only credited as a session musician, and would only rejoin the band officially when the band hit the road. The album was a sleeker affair than anything the band had done previously, there was even a hit single on there in the form of “On The Turning Away”, but there did seem to be an attempt to return more towards the “soundscape” feel of those early 70’s records. Waters thought the album was rubbish, unsurprisingly, whilst many critics were not much more welcoming in their opinions.

The trio of Gilmour, Mason and Wright toured during 87 and 88, and a live album from a series of shows in August 1988 was issued as “Delicate Sound Of Thunder”. The album was released on double vinyl (2xLP, EMI EQ 5009), cassette and CD, with a live version of “Us And Them” making the latter two formats only. A live video culled from the same shows appeared at the same time, but in a different cover, with a slightly altered track listing. Some songs on the audio release were absent from the video (and vice versa), but where a song appeared on both, the performance on each format was from the same gig. “Us And Them” appeared on the video, for anybody who had missed it on the vinyl release.

The first studio material the “new” line up recorded was for a video called “La Carrera Panamericana”, a video of the automobile race of the same name, in which both Gilmour and Mason competed, with new Floyd material on the soundtrack - no actual soundtrack album was issued, though. The first studio album to include Wright was 1994’s “The Division Bell” (CD, EMI CDEMD 1055), an album which again recalled the sleekness of “Reason”, but seemed to be just that bit more “prog” - the average length of each song was six minutes in length (“Reason” was only five), whilst the album closer, the epic and beautiful “High Hopes”, was as good as anything the band had ever recorded - but the album still received a similar slagging a la “Reason”.

Although they had not initially intended to tour, the band did so on the basis that they would try to do something a little bit different. The band decided to open the shows with the first song from the first LP, “Astronomy Domine”, the first time they had played it for decades, and by the summer of 94, decided to alter the set from night to night, by making the decision to perform “Dark Side Of The Moon” in it’s entirety for the first time since 75 on selected nights. If the band opened with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” instead of “Astronomy Domine”, it meant “Dark Side” would later be played in full.

The UK leg of the tour consisted of a residency at Earls Court in October. Some shows featured “Dark Side”, some didn’t. Every time a show sold out, another one was added, and in the end, fifteen shows were planned, nine of which saw “Dark Side” played in full. The first show, on October 12th, opened with “Shine On” suggesting a “Dark Side” performance was forthcoming, but during the opening number, seating at the back of the venue collapsed, and the show was abandoned, being rescheduled for the 17th - which saw the band open with “Domine”, and thus failing to play “Dark Side”. I witnessed a “Domine” show on the 26th, and the final gig took place on the 29th, with “Dark Side” getting an outing. It would turn out to be the final gig, until the Live 8 show with Waters back on board in 2005.

The Earls Court show from the 20th was filmed for TV, and was later released on VHS as “Pulse”. An accompanying live album of the same name was also issued, although this featured material from other shows on the tour, and included not only “Dark Side” in full, but also “Astronomy Domine” - making the album release longer than the actual gigs it was representing. The CD edition came in a much hyped box, with a flashing LED light, but when the light ran out of power, you was left with a box with a faulty light on the side. It was the cassette edition (2xCassette, EMI TCEMD 1078) that was actually the biggie. Not only did it include a live version of “One Of These Days” that was absent from the CD, but the running time resulted in there being a 22 minute gap at the end. This was resolved by including a track called “Soundscape” at the end, an instrumental the band had taped that was used as the show opener. Unavailable on any other format, it remains - to date - the final Floyd studio recording to be released.

And that’s it. There have been reissues, compilations, and other bits and pieces (including an official release of the Live 8 gig) but the death of Syd in 2006, and Rick in 2008, are indications of a band for whom reunion options are diminishing. All three remaining members recently shared a stage together during one of Waters’ solo shows, but it’s been termed as a one off. However, I look forward to the band’s next best of in 2021, and to be fair, they are so good, they deserve to milk this back catalogue.

Anybody who recorded “Echoes” are a bunch of geniuses in my book.

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