Pink Floyd is one of the most successful bands in history, but that doesn’t mean all of their fans jumped on the bandwagon right away. And, the band didn’t make it easy either.
Pink Floyd’s name is taken from the names of two bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. That’s because in 1965, the group planned on being a blues band. Plans change, and in 1967 they were considered England’s first Acid Rock/Psychedelic band. Their lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and main songwriter was Syd Barrett. The band had some success in England in 1967 with a couple of singles…”See Emily Play” (#6 U.K.) and “Arnold Layne” (#20 U.K.), and with their album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (#6 U.K.). Pink Floyd was also a popular live act in London, and used interesting light shows to heighten the psychedelic effect.
The album and some singles did nothing in the United States, although I do remember hearing “Astronomy Domine” on one of those sampler albums the record labels put out in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s.
Then there was a problem that would have ended most groups. The band’s leader, Syd Barrett, who had been using LSD regularly, suffered a mental breakdown. He had to leave the band in early 1968. The band had already added his replacement, David Gilmour, and Roger Waters took on most of the songwriting and the leadership role.
Although some fans love the band’s early music, the fact is…they released 7 albums that mostly failed in the U.S. The most successful one barely cracked the top 50, and some didn’t even make the top 200 chart. If their career had ended there, most people would not have even heard of Pink Floyd.
So, there was no way to predict what happened next:
In 1973, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon, and everything changed. The album went to #1 in the United States, and went on to sell over 45-million copies worldwide. It holds the record for most consecutive weeks on the Billboard album chart…741 weeks…that’s over 14 years! Those continuous sales meant the album kept finding new fans. Our son, Paul, was born the year the album came out. He’s a more knowledgeable Pink Floyd fan than I am, and he literally wore through his favorite The Dark Side Of The Moon T-shirt by the time he graduated high school.
There were a lot of reasons why Dark Side was successful. Instead of extremely long songs with psychedelic or obscure lyrics, the songs are much better melodically, less drawn out (but they still have room to breathe), and the lyrics are purposefully direct and about important aspects of everyday life. In addition, Pink Floyd had honed the songs in concert for a year before they took them them into the studio.
The Dark Side Of The Moon was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with engineer Alan Parsons, who had worked on Let It Be and Abbey Road for The Beatles. Upon hearing the album, Capitol Records launched a major advertising campaign. Since the songs were considered too long to be singles, the label released professionally edited shorter versions of the songs “Money”, “Time” and “Us And Them”. That helped the group get on more radio stations. “Money” even had an edited version that changed the “bullshit” line to just “bull”…in case station owners were afraid to offend anyone. Money, and lots of it, was flowing to the members of Pink Floyd.
There is a great “Classic Albums” film documentary…The Making of The Dark Side Of The Moon. It features interviews with all 4 members of Pink Floyd, who offer great insights and play instruments to demonstrate some of the parts (a couple of really nice acoustic versions). The 2003 film is wonderfully edited together…going from live playing, right into the original studio versions. I bought the documentary, and now it’s for sale on iTunes for only $1.99, or you can stream it free online.
With The Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd became the popular and influential band we know today. Roger Waters was the main songwriter, but all four members contributed some songwriting, and added to the arrangements, particularly David Gilmour’s perfect-for-each-song guitar solos.
Follow up albums include: Wish You Were Here , #1 in 1975. It’s nearly as good as Dark Side, is the favorite of Gilmour and Wright, and includes the line from a clueless music executive asking the band members…”Which one’s Pink?”. Animals, #3 in 1977. And the 1979 album…The Wall.
The Wall was another “cultural event” and third #1 album for Pink Floyd. It had massive sales. Although it didn’t sell as many units as Dark Side, it officially is listed as having greater sales, because it was a double-album and each unit sold represented 2 albums. The Wall also contained Pink Floyd’s only #1 hit, “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)”. Interestingly, Pink Floyd just had two Top 40 singles, the other being “Money”, but they had plenty of their album cuts played on FM stations…still do.
Maybe all that success was too much pressure, because there was a lot of tension in the band. Waters even wanted to not include David Gilmour’s outstanding cut “Comfortably Numb” in his rock opera The Wall. The last Pink Floyd album to include Roger Waters is The Final Cut in 1983. It sold okay, and at the time was considered the band’s last album.
In 1987 David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason reformed the group and released A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. It’s a solid effort (I love “On The Turning Away”), and the public responded in a big way to the album and especially the tour. It continued the Pink Floyd style of elaborate stage productions with big screen videos, laser lights, and giant props.
Another successful studio album from this lineup is The Division Bell in 1994. There was the live album Pulse in 1995, and their final (nearly all instrumental) album Endless River in 2014.
My wife and I were lucky to see Roger Waters in concert in Omaha in June of 2007. It was a stellar large arena show with excellent musicians, and all the production values of a Pink Floyd show, even the famous flying pig. Waters and his band performed many of the best Floyd songs (he sounded great on “Wish You Were Here”). Then they presented the entire Dark Side Of The Moon album…while a giant lighted pyramid hung over the sold out audience and beamed more lighting to the stage.
We’ve never seen David Gilmour perform live, except in some videos of his Pink Floyd style concerts. We do have three of his solo albums, and enjoy his distinctive guitar playing and vocals.
For a band that had so much trouble finding commercial success, Pink Floyd has sold over 250-Million Albums.
Everyone has heard of Pink Floyd.