Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Flashback: Pink Floyd

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Flashback: Pink Floyd

Great artists have been making history using Fender instruments for decades. Many of these greats are featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which celebrates its 2010 induction ceremony on March 15. Join us as we take a detailed look at some at some of the artists who’ve been inducted in previous years and who make the Hall of Fame one of the world’s greatest monuments to one of the world’s greatest musical forms.

1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

1973 mega-hit The Dark Side of the Moon.

1979 magnum opus The Wall.

Pink Floyd is simply one of the biggest groups in rock history, with a story that now spans five decades and a musical legacy that ranks among popular music’s most innovative and influential. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

In its original incarnation, the band brought psychedelia to London in the late 1960s as singer/guitarist Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett (1946-2006), bassist Roger Waters, keyboardist Rick Wright (1945-2008) and drummer Nick Mason defined and led a colorful and highly unconventional musical movement. Pink Floyd’s second incarnation—the “classic” lineup in which guitarist David Gilmour replaced Barrett—ruled rock music in the 1970s and early 1980s with a string of chart-topping albums and massive tours of elaborately theatrical concert performances that eschewed traditional rock ‘n’ roll themes of teen angst and girls in favor of highly cerebral, conceptual and often dark works that were as intellectually engaging as they were sonically breathtaking. Gilmour, Wright and Mason continued on without Waters through two highly successful albums and mega-tours in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.

The group had its roots in 1963, when Mason, Waters and Wright were all architecture students at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic school. Together, the three played in a band variously called Sigma 6, the Architectural Abdabs and the Tea Set. Barrett, a childhood friend of Waters, arrived in London in fall 1963 at age 17 to attend the Camberwell College of Art; he joined the Tea Set in 1964.

The Tea Set mainly played R&B covers, but the group boasted a talented songwriter, innovative guitarist and enigmatic front man in Barrett, who penned early U.K. hit singles “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne.” When the group found itself on a bill with another group called the Tea Set in 1965, Barrett is said to have come up with the name “The Pink Floyd Sound”—soon shortened to “The Pink Floyd” and finally just “Pink Floyd”—on the spur of the moment by combining the names of blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, both of whom were mentioned in the liner notes of a Blind Boy Fuller album in Barrett’s record collection.

Pink Floyd played its first gig at London’s Countdown Club on Oct. 12, 1965. The group’s R&B sound quickly began to take on other, much more experimental and improvisational instrumental sounds, and Barrett’s free-form guitar work made ample use of dissonance, distortion, feedback and echo (although he played several guitars, the model most closely associated with Barrett was his silver Fender Esquire, which had small mirrored discs glued to the body). Further, the band employed innovative colored-slide light shows in its live performances.

By mid-1966 Pink Floyd was playing at the famous Marquee Club and were fast becoming the darlings of London’s artsy psychedelic scene. Gigs at seminal London underground venues the Roundhouse and scene epicenter the UFO Club ensued in late 1966 and throughout 1967, cementing the band’s reputation as leaders of the psychedelic movement.

Debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was recorded in London’s Abbey Road Studios in early 1967 at the same time the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band there. Piper is widely hailed as a psychedelic classic that epitomized that era and movement—as Q magazine noted in 1995, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn is, even counting Sgt. Pepper, possibly the defining moment of English psychedelia and Syd Barrett’s magnum opus.”

Barrett’s LSD use resulted in mental instability and increasingly erratic behavior that led to his departure from Pink Floyd in 1968. One of the most infamous “acid casualties” of the ’60s, Barrett released two acclaimed solo albums in 1970 before becoming one of rock’s most famously elusive figures (he was the subject of 1975 Wish You Were Here opus “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”).

Joker’s Wild guitarist Gilmour, a childhood friend of Barrett and Waters, was invited to join Pink Floyd in January 1968 to counter Barrett’s unpredictability, and the group existed briefly as a five-piece before Barrett’s departure. The remaining Gilmour-Waters-Wright-Mason lineup endured for the next 15 years as the “classic” Pink Floyd lineup.

Pink Floyd transitioned from the ’60s to the ’70s with a score of several highly psychedelic, atmospheric albums and film soundtracks, including A Saucerful of Secrets (1968, the last album to include contributions from Barrett), double album Ummagumma (1969, one live record and one studio record with individual works by each member), Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971), each featuring epic side-long compositions. Increasingly over the course of these, Pink Floyd became thematically dominated by Waters’ cerebral, often dark songwriting and musically dominated by Gilmour’s lyrical guitar parts and piercing blues-based lead work (most often realized on a black Fender Stratocaster constantly tinkered with by the guitarist).

Had Pink Floyd achieved nothing else, landmark 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon by itself would assure the group a lofty place in rock history. The album immediately soared to number one and ultimately broke all chart endurance records by remaining on the Billboard Top 200 album chart for an astounding 15 years (it didn’t fall off until 1988)—an achievement all the more remarkable given the album’s brainy treatment of themes including aging, madness, money, time and alienation. Single “Money” was the group’s first top 40 hit. The group was already big by then, but The Dark Side of the Moon propelled Pink Floyd to seldom-equaled heights of worldwide rock stardom.

Similar themes continued on the trippy Wish You Were Here (1975) and the dark, Orwellian Animals (1977). Four-sided magnum opus The Wall was released in November 1979. A dark, dense concept album about a rock star named Pink, The Wall quickly reached number one and boasted several hit tracks, including “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” (Floyd’s only number-one hit in the United States and United Kingdom), “Run Like Hell,” “Young Lust,” “Hey You” and “Comfortably Numb,” the latter being noted for a pair of soaring Gilmour solos that still routinely top various lists of rock’s greatest guitar solos. The Wall was one of the most popular albums of the 1980s, eventually going 23 times platinum (11.5 million two-disc sets) and becoming the best-selling multiple-disc album of all time.

The 1980-1981 tour for The Wall was one of the most technically ambitious and theatrical concert tours to date, encompassing several shows apiece in only four cities—Los Angeles; Uniondale, N.Y.; London and Dortmund, West Germany. A film based on the album, 1982’s Pink Floyd The Wall, earned $22 million and a cult following, but the entire Wall project proved to be the swan song of the classic Pink Floyd lineup. The group soldiered on through one more album, 1983’s The Final Cut—seen by many as more of a Waters solo album—before dissolving amid increasing acrimony.

Waters officially left Pink Floyd in 1985; a bitter court battle ensued when Gilmour then attempted to continue the band with Mason. The guitarist won the right to continue using the Pink Floyd name, and late 1986 sessions for Gilmour’s third solo album soon morphed into a third incarnation of Pink Floyd—with Mason and Wright but wit
hout Waters. The result, 1987 album A Momentary Lapse of Reason and its accompanying massive two-year world tour, were immensely successful. 1988 live album Delicate Sound of Thunder documented the tour and became the band’s fourth number-one album.

Gilmour reconvened Pink Floyd again in the 1990s with Mason and Wright for what would be Pink Floyd’s final studio album. The Division Bell (1994) was yet another massive success. Its attendant 110-show world tour became the highest-grossing tour in rock music history to date, with the band playing The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety at several shows for the first time since 1975. Once again, the tour was documented with a subsequent live album, 1995’s Pulse, which also reached number one.

Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Jan. 16, 1996, with Gilmour and Wright in attendance. In a move that surprised everyone, the classic Pink Floyd lineup of Gilmour, Waters, Wright and Mason reunited for a one-off four-song performance at the July 2, 2005, Live 8 benefit concert in London; done at the behest of Irish rock singer and Live Aid/Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof, who played “Pink” in the 1982 film adaption of The Wall. Reunion rumors abounded in the wake of the performance, but Gilmour has stated emphatically that there will be no more Pink Floyd original albums or tours, preferring instead to concentrate on his successful solo career.

Barrett passed away on July 7, 2006; Wright on Sept. 15, 2008.

Pink Floyd Timeline

Sept. 6, 1944 Roger Waters born.
Jan. 27, 1945 Nick Mason born.
July 28, 1945 Rick Wright born.
Jan. 6, 1946 Syd Barrett born.
March 6, 1946 David Gilmour born.
Oct. 12, 1965 Pink Floyd plays first gig at London’s Countdown Club.
Feb. 12, 1966 Pink Floyd performs at a series of Sunday afternoon multimedia shows at London’s Marquee Club.
Oct. 11, 1966 Launch party for Britain’s’ first underground paper, the International Times, features performances by Pink Floyd and Soft Machine.
Oct. 15, 1966 Pink Floyd plays the “All Night Rave Pop Op Costume Masque Drag Ball Et All” on opening night at the Roundhouse.
Dec. 23, 1966 Pink Floyd performs for the first time at the UFO Club, epicenter of London’s underground scene.
Feb. 27, 1967 First single “Arnold Layne” recorded; reaches #20 on the British singles chart.
April 5, 1967 Debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn—the only album to feature Barrett as bandleader—is released.
May 23, 1967 Second single “See Emily Play” recorded; reaches #6 on the British charts.
Jan. 7, 1968 Gilmour joins, briefly making Floyd a five-piece band.
April 6, 1968 Barrett’s departure from the band is announced.
June 29, 1968 Second album A Saucerful of Secrets released; last album with work by Barrett.
Oct. 25, 1969 Live/studio album Ummagumma released.
Oct. 24, 1970 Breakthrough album Atom Heart Mother tops the U.K. chart and reaches #55 in the United States.
Nov. 12, 1971 Meddle reaches #3 in the U.K.
Feb. 17, 1972 New work “Eclipse” debuts at London’s Rainbow Theater; soon to evolve into The Dark Side of the Moon.
March 13, 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon released; it spends a record-breaking 741 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart and sells more than 15 million copies in the United States alone.
April 28, 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon reaches #1 in the United Sates.
June 23, 1973 U.S. top 40 debut—“Money” from The Dark Side of the Moon reaches #13.
Sept. 12, 1975 Wish You Were Here released. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a side-long epic about troubled ex-leader Barrett, is its centerpiece.
Jan. 23, 1977 Bleak concept album Animals released.
Dec. 15, 1979 Double-disc magnum opus The Wall released; stays at #1 for 15 weeks and is eventually certified 23 times platinum in the United States, making it the third best-selling album of all time.
March 22, 1980 “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” tops singles charts for the first of four weeks. The band’s second and final U.S. top 40 single.
June 17, 1981 24th and final original tour performance of The Wall, Dortmund, Germany.
March 21, 1983 The Final Cut released; last album to feature the Waters-Gilmour-Wright-Mason lineup.
Dec. 12, 1985 Waters formally notifies Columbia and EMI Records that he is no longer in Pink Floyd.
Oct. 31, 1986 Waters files suit to formally dissolve Pink Floyd; subsequent legal battles drag on for years amid considerable public acrimony between Waters and Gilmour.
Sept. 19, 1987 Pink Floyd reunites without Waters; releases A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
April 23, 1994 The Division Bell released; fourth #1 album.
May 29, 1995 Double-live album Pulse released; becomes fifth #1 Pink Floyd album.
Jan. 16, 1996 Pink Floyd inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
July 2, 2005 The Waters-Gilmour-Wright-Mason lineup reunites for a four-song Live 8 set in London.
July 7, 2006 Barrett passes away.
Sept. 15, 2008 Wright passes away.
March 11, 2010                 In a victory for the band, Britain’s High Court orders record company EMI Group Ltd. to stop selling downloads of Pink Floyd songs individually rather than as part of the band’s original records.

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