55 years since their inception, and throughout three distinct eras, Pink Floyd has remained one of the most popular rocks bands on the planet. At times psychedelic, at others overtly political, Pink Floyd is a band that has a little something for everyone and that’s one of the reasons why they’re so popular.
The Syd Barrett Era
The original band consisted of Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason & Richard Wright. Syd was the primary force behind the band and was the lead vocalist/songwriter/guitarist. Sadly, after two albums and some singles, Syd would start to lose his grip on reality and no longer be a part of Pink Floyd. His two albums with Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) & A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), are very 1960’s psychedelic affairs. They’re trippy and based around a lot more of a droning feel than what they would become. I like both of them, but kind of view it as a totally different band. I think I like A Saucerful of Secrets a bit more than The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but that’s more to do with the fact that Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun is one of my favorite Floyd songs.
The David Gilmour/Roger Waters Era
5 months before Syd would leave, Floyd would bring in David Gilmour to play guitar since it had become more difficult for the band to function with Syd in such sharp decline. After Syd was out, they kind of wandered a bit and released some albums that didn’t really seem to have an identity. More, Ummagumma & Atom Heart Mother are in this batch of albums. I like Ummagumma the best. The first half are longer solo pieces from each member of the band, but it’s the second half of the album, consisting of live tracks recorded in Manchester and Birmingham that really keep me in love with this album.
With 1971’s Meddle, the Gilmour/Waters era really hits its stride, especially with the 23 minute track Echoes which takes up all of side 2. It’s in this moment that you can really hear what Floyd would be over the next 10 years. They would follow Meddle up with Obscured By Clouds, which was another soundtrack that featured their music.
1973 would begin the truly classic era of Floyd with the release of Dark Side of the Moon. I don’t think I can come up with anything new to say about this all time classic. It was on the Billboard album charts for a record 950 consecutive weeks, sold 45 million copies and ranks as the fourth highest selling album of all time.
So how do you follow up one of the greatest albums of all time? You release Wish You Were Here (1975) & Animals (1977) and continue to tour the world and sell millions of records. I feel like both of these albums are occasionally lost in the shadow of their bookend albums, Dark Side & The Wall, but both of these albums are ones I spin much more frequently than those other two. Wish You Were Here is a guitar masterpiece and is driven by the songs and work of David Gilmour, who truly drives this album. Animals is just as musically amazing, but also features the beginnings of the Roger Waters focus of Floyd. Much more politically and with a spotlight focused on the greed of the world, Animals is the album that has grown on me the most over the years. Pigs (Three Different Ones) is a track that has become even more incisive now in our current political times.
1975 would see the release of The Wall, a double LP that explores Pink, a jaded rockstar whose eventual self-imposed isolation from society is symbolized by a wall. It’s dark, brooding, desperate and seems to find a home in that darker side of your brain. The ensuing tour would be one of the most elaborate of its era, with the actual full size Wall being built each night. It’s almost impossible to have never heard at least Comfortably Numb and Another Brick In The Wall at some point in your life.
The Final Cut, released in 1978, would basically be a Waters solo vehicle focusing on the loss of his father in WW2 and would be the end of the classic era of Floyd.
Reunion without Roger Waters
Gilmour, Mason & Wright would reform the band in 1987 without Roger Water due to their very acrimonious breakup. Lawsuits will fly back and forth, but two albums and tours would happen over the next 8 years. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) featured the hit Learning To Fly, but is a bit plagued by its very 1980’s production values. The Division Bell (1994) sounds more like Floyd than its predecessor and its track A Great Day For Freedom would come to symbolize the juxtaposition of the elation of the fall of the Berlin Wall with the violence that surrounded the fight for freedom in Eastern Europe over the ensuing years.
Sadly, Richard Wright would pass away in 2008 and Pink Floyd would cease to exist.
One last album, The Endless River (2014), made up of pieces of instrumentals and pieces from The Division Bell sessions and then Floyd would be no more.
Where you start your collection will depend on what songs you first heard from Floyd, but my recommendation is to start with Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here. They sound fantastic on vinyl and the songs are unmatched.