Hello, my friends, old and new! Before we proceed with the Pink Floyd top 50 countdown, let me just thank Simple Radio and its fabulous DJs, Kostas & Panos, for having me as a guest on their show last night. We all had a wonderful time. Wish you were here!
As we have come to the final stretch of our countdown, I've thought I'd present a few key songs from the solo careers of the Pink Floyd members. We begin with the crazy diamond himself, Syd Barrett. His first solo album was The Madcap Laughs (1970). He was assisted by former bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour. The opening track, Terrapin, seems to go on three times as long as its five-minute length, creating a hypnotic effect through Barrett's simple, repetitive guitar figure and stream of consciousness lyrics:
The plain gorgeous Golden Hair is a musical setting of a James Joyce poem that's simply spellbinding:
His second (and last) album also came out in 1970 and was simply called Barrett. His former bandmates Richard Wright and David Gilmour are with him, as well as Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley. The opening track, Baby Lemonade, is among the best in the album:
And the best is saved for last - a joyful little tuba-plus-acoustic guitar romp entitled Effervescing Elephant:
At #20 on our list is (not completely by coincidence) very much a Syd Barrett song; it's called Bike and it's the final track featured on their 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
In the song, Syd Barrett's lyrical subject shows a girl his bike (which he borrowed); a cloak; a homeless, aging mouse that he calls Gerald; and a clan of gingerbread men, because she "fits in with [his] world." With each repetition of the chorus, a sudden percussive noise is heard similar to the firing of two gunshots. Towards the end of the song, he offers to take her into a "room of musical tunes". The final verse is followed by an instrumental section that is a piece of musique concrète: a noisy collage of oscillators, clocks, gongs, bells, a violin, and other sounds edited with tape techniques, apparently the "other room" spoken of in the song and giving the impression of the turning gears of a bicycle. The ending of the song fades out with a tape loop of the band members laughing reversed and played at double speed. The song was written for Barrett's then-girlfriend, Jenny Spires.
It's the one song that seems to stick with everyone from their first listen to Piper, the childlike absurdity of its verses - which pays little attention to meter and rhymes when it feels like doing so, making an unsettling contrast with the almost-coherent refrain. Like Barrett at large, near total anarchy, but with just enough of a whiff of something true at the center for fans to continue decoding the enigma 50 years later.
This is probably Barrett's most touching song. Give it a cursory listen, and it's just another nursery-rhyme-y account of his bizarre, if engaging, whimsicalities. But listen closer. This is a love song. "You're the kind of girl who fits into my world," Barrett sings, hopefully. This is how I live, Barrett is saying. Can you join me in it? An off-kilter song for off-kilter lovers, and exhibit A for the case that Barrett's self-destruction, accidental or not, was a major tragedy for Rock, as it was of course to the band itself.
At #20 was the closing track of the B-side of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. At #19 it's the opening track of the same. Interstellar Overdrive is the instrumental opus of the Syd era, a nearly-ten-minute expansion of Barrett's all-time grungiest riff, with a mind-melting mid-song breakdown of meowing guitars and chirping organs, that hisses back to life with a stereo-panning riff reprise. Only Sister Ray managed to get quite this dark or deep in 1967, and the fact that the band was able to achieve such stratospheric later-career success without ever straying too far from this experimental, instrumental core is the true testament to the group's collective genius.
A landmark composition in the history of psychedelic rock and perhaps Syd Barrett's greatest achievement as the frontman of Pink Floyd, Interstellar Overdrive is only a song in the nominal sense. This sprawling, shape-shifting instrumental took on a different contour every time Barrett-era Floyd took the stage; sometimes it stretched across 20 minutes of jazzy meanderings, and other times it held tighter to that central descending guitar hook and wrapped up in a relatively concise fashion. Floyd fans who generally ignore the Barrett era may find little to love in any version of Interstellar Overdrive, but squint hard and it's undeniable: The song's wild, reckless spirit planted the seeds for Floyd as we know and love them today.
Here's what Dave Brock, the founder, singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Hawkwind has to say about it:
"It's very true that it's the same tune as the theme to Steptoe And Son. I saw them play it once at UFO on Tottenham Court Road when the light-show was giant blobs behind the screen, and they went off on great tangents. My collection of Floyd is all early days, nothing since Ummagumma. What they were doing then was lovely and free, those long tracks we loved listening to. Prior to all this, it was two- or three-minute tracks. The record companies freaked out, they thought our attention spans wouldn't take any more. Interstellar Overdrive was avant-garde rock music. We were doing psychedelic freak-out stuff in a circus tent when they were rising stars. They were the kings of space-rock then, with those repetitious chords, elongated solos, and electronics – going out there for long periods. You can make a parallel with modern jazz. They were making rock music abstract. Of course, they had to give the odd nod to the music business – an Arnold Layne. But Interstellar Overdrive gave us absolute freedom."
This is them live at the UFO Club, London, on 27 January 1967:
At #18, we find One Of These Days, from Meddle (1971). Essentially a jam with a really, really psychedelic breakdown, the instrumental One of These Days leads off Meddle and instantly points toward the tighter, more-focused Pink Floyd that would unfold. Driven by a throbbing dual bass line courtesy of Roger Waters and David Gilmour, it would also provide Nick Mason with some of his most prominent drum work in the live setting - as well as one of his only vocal parts in the band's lengthy catalog, uttering the downright evil, slowed-down threat, "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces."
It's the true starting gun for '70s Floyd, a spectral voyage into the great art-rock unknown. One heavily delayed, single-note bass riff shouldn't be nearly enough to build a song this mighty around, but that kind of studio ingenuity would prove the group's greatest weapon in the decade going forward - and here, the band surrounds the anti-hook with sweeping wind noises, growling guitars, extraterrestrial organs, racing drums and reversed percussion until it poses as much of a threat as Mason's garbled title intro.
Jeff Dexter, UFO DJ and promoter, says: "A real acid freakout. It's got a thundering bass intro. And it's got that wonderful sweeping slide of Dave's. That was the song the Floyd did for the Roland Petit Ballet [Paris, 1973]. Being involved with that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being an old ballet dancer myself, to go to France with Floyd and see it being performed was just fantastic. I was at the front of the stage with a camera, filming it all."
"I used to put Pink Floyd on at the Roundhouse a lot in the early days. And on June 2, 1967, my wedding day, they played for us. I always loved Money, too. In fact, it was me who convinced them to put Money out as a single. They had no faith in it because it had such strange timing. But when I got the first version of it, I played it at the Roundhouse, then called Steve [O'Rourke, Floyd's manager from 1968-2003] and told him to get over there. Whenever I played it, people went ape-shit. It was the best idiot dancing I'd ever seen. I said, 'That is a big hit.' Steve wasn't sure, but I told him: 'Don’t worry about it. It'll be Floyd's calling card for the rest of their lives.' And nobody's ever written that up before because they were so out of it at the time!"
Here they are, live at Pompeii, in 1972:
We now move on to the song at #17. It is Us and Them from their 1973 masterpiece, The Dark Side of the Moon. The song has its origins in some meditative music Wright contributed to Floyd’s work on the soundtrack to Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, though it wasn't used. Waters found a melody for it and a set of lyrics that is a standout on the record, a closely controlled series of ironies, travesties, and dichotomies marking the dead-end days of the early '70s.
Pink Floyd has a reputation for being a "space-rock" band, a moniker that tends to confuse casual fans of Pink Floyd (and non-fans): The group gets stuck with this label not because their songs are often about outer space, but because a key element that drives much of their best work is an attention to aural space in the music itself. Us and Them, the airy, relaxed centerpiece of The Dark Side of the Moon, is one of the best examples of Pink Floyd's delicate touch and use of space, with a slow, gentle chord progression swirling atop a bass-pedal tone. The song's power is amplified by a gigantic shift in dynamic from the calm, floaty verses to a thunderous chorus as well as emotive saxophone work from frequent collaborator Dick Parry. The lyrics of Us and Them are Pink Floyd at its most philosophical, searching for meaning in the futility of conflict and asking the crucial question of whether or not humanity is capable of truly being humane.
It's a Floyd song for sure, with militaristic lyrics, a surging chorus and a tough-talking roadie spoken-word sample ("Well I mean, they're not gonna kill ya, so like, if you give 'em a quick short, sharp shock... they won't do it again"), but it stands out because it's one of the few Floyd songs you could picture being recorded by a whole range of artists. Maybe it's the What's Going On?-worthy sax that shows up at all the right moments, or the universality of the opening lines, but the song connects on a level that's closer to soul than prog, giving Dark Side a beating heart to go with its overactive brain.
Here they are, Live at Earl's Court, London, 1994:
Finally for today, at #16, it's Hey You, the song that opens the second disc of The Wall (1979). The song was proof that Floyd had the stuff to maintain two LPs worth of enthralling riffs and structural imagination. Doesn't exactly kick the record off with a bang - the slithering mix of acoustic guitar and fretless bass (by Andy Bown from Status Quo, of all people) makes for one of the band's most disquieting intros - but by the time Waters leaps in an octave higher on the third verse, it's demonstrated itself as a ballad powerful enough to raise the emotional stakes for the set's back end, setting the tone for all the bitter isolation and chilling emptiness to follow.
It's easy to forget that Pink Floyd have their roots in the blues. (Fun fact: Their name is derived from not one but two blues musicians, specifically Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.) But a tender ballad like Hey You is a pleasant reminder of this fact. Sure, it's far more stylish and shiny and outlandish than anything that ever came out of Chicago or the Mississippi Delta, but when you get past the psychedelia and the creepy conceptual story involving Pink, it's really a pained meditation on the ill-fated choices we all make and how the world can often feel so cold. It doesn't get more bluesy than that, but Floyd expands upon those feelings with all sorts of wizardry: Gilmour’s scale drops like rain on a moonless night; the savage breakdown feels as if the floor has been swept off our feet; and Waters' cry on his verse sounds as if he's screaming from a black hole. The textures are all very metaphorical, and that's partly why it's so affecting, but again, like any age-old blues song, the success of Hey You boils down to its core themes and how we'll relate to them forever.
This is the Alan Parker film version:
This is Live at Eart's Court - August 9, 1980:
Now, let's continue with last week's statistics; the number of visits is more or less the same and all the new stories got their fair share of love, but you suddenly seem to have developed a liking for the old countdown lists. The Chuck Berry, Doors, and Led Zeppelin lists were among the most-visited stories.
As far as countries are concerned, those that scored last week did so this week as well, with the exception of Russia, which was replaced on the weekly top 10 by Italy.
Here are this week's Top 10 countries.
2. the United States
3. the United Kingdom
Here are the other countries that graced us with their presence since our last statistics (alphabetically): Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Happy to have you all!
And here's the all-time Top 10:
1. the United States = 31.0%
2. France = 22.9%
3. the United Kingdom = 8.6%
4. Greece = 7.8%
5. Russia = 3.4%
6. Germany = 2.4%
7. Cyprus = 1.25%
8. Italy = 1.19%
9. Canada = 1.02%
10. the United Arab Emirates = 0.43%
That's all for today, folks. Till the next one!