Monday, November 5, 2018

Favorite Artists, Part 3: About Pink Floyd

This is Part 3 of my "Favorite Artists" series, a series where I write in-depth about my favorite bands and artists of all time.

In Part 2 of this series, I began by saying that I believed The Who to be the greatest rock band of all time. I have a different claim for this part. I believe that Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here is the greatest album of all time. But we'll come back to that.

The first time I ever heard of Pink Floyd was probably in 1971 on my favorite radio station at the time, WNEW-FM. The song was "One of These Days" from the Meddle album. I can't honestly tell you if Floyd had been getting much (or any) airplay from them up until this point. But the track caught my attention because it was so weird, and psychedelic. I would have been about 14 at the time, I'd never even smoked pot. I wasn't into drugs at all -- pot was the heaviest one I ever used in my life, and I didn't have my first taste of that until I was 20. (And by 25 or so, I was pretty much done with that as well). But in a way, music was my drug. It could inspire me, it could transport me to a different place. And tracks like "One of These Days" or "Amazing Journey" by The Who were mind-altering in the way that I imagined ingesting a drug such as LSD might be.

Still, for many years, I was only a casual fan of Pink Floyd. While I was actively purchasing albums by bands like The Who, Jethro Tull and Yes, I really only listened to Pink Floyd when they came on the radio. Until Mikey's place.

Mike was a friend I met in high school. He wasn't my closest friend there, but we were part of the same group. At some point along the way, after we graduated high school, there was a group of us that used to go over to his place once a week or so to play penny-ante poker. The games were fun (you could always get another dollar's worth!), there was always cold beer and chips, and there was music. Boy was there music.

I had cut my musical teeth while still in grammar school on my friend Bob's older brothers' record collections. I'd gotten into The Who, King Crimson, The Mothers of Invention and Procol Harum from them. Later, once I got my first stereo as a grammar school graduation gift, I started listening to WNEW-FM and listening to more bands I was previously unfamiliar with. But while I had accumulated a decent-sized record collection, it was nothing in comparison to Mike's. And since I cared about music more than did a lot of our friends, often, Mike would let me pick out a stack of his albums to play on his stereo while we settled in for our poker game. It was here that Wish You Were Here quickly became one of my favorites. And Dark Side of the Moon wasn't far behind it.

Before long, I bought copies of both of those albums myself. Then, in 1979,  The Wall came out, and I was completely sold. Pink Floyd officially became one of my top favorite bands.

To this day, my single biggest regret in terms of concerts I missed out on is that I never saw Pink Floyd live. I did eventually pick up every studio album they ever made, though. Which turned out to be weird, because early Floyd is nothing like the Floyd I first became familiar with.

In general, I'd say you could break Pink Floyd's career down to four sometimes overlapping segments.

The first was the Syd Barrett years. These are interesting to me, but more from a historical perspective than anything else. I don't hate this period, but I'd never have become of a huge fan of the band if that was all they offered.

Then you had the post-Barrett years, after David Gilmour joined the band, when Roger Waters was becoming the main creative force. This was pretty hit-and-miss for me. I liked a track here and there, and I still like the two soundtrack albums (More and Obscured By Clouds) better than a lot of people do. But I really don't like Atom Heart Mother, or the studio part of Ummagumma, very much at all.

Segment 3 begins with Meddle, which to me, was Floyd just beginning to hit their stride (with "One of These Days" and "Echoes" being very much the best parts of this album.) What followed Meddle, though, was a ridiculously high-level four-album run that includes Dark Side, Wish, Animals and The Wall, which is as good a streak as any band in history has ever had.

Then you had The Final Cut, which is total crap (sorry, if you like it better than I do), followed by the post-Waters years, when they put out A Momentary Lapse of Reason, The Division Bell and The Endless River. These were OK, but they were nowhere near the level of the Segment 3 albums.

So a few thoughts -- of all of the bands I consider to be my top favorite ones, Pink Floyd is the most inconsistent. They actually released several albums that I don't like at all, but yet their best output is up there with the great albums of rock history. And, as I stated earlier, I believe Wish You Were Here to be the single greatest album in rock history.

Next thought -- Pink Floyd being one of my top favorite bands, you'd think I would have a special affection for the guy considered their main creative force for most of their history, Roger Waters, the way I do for men like Ian Anderson and Pete Townshend. But you'd be wrong. Because as much as I respect Waters' input (and Barrett's creativity at the beginning of their career), for me, my love of Floyd is mostly about David Gilmour.

There are two reasons for this. (Well, maybe three). For one, Gilmour is my favorite guitarist of all time. There are guys who play faster, but for my money, no one plays more distinctly, more expressively and more tastefully.

The second reason is this: I've noticed over the years that the more Gilmour there is on a Pink Floyd album, the better it seems to be, while the more Waters totally dominates things, the worse it seems to be. And Waters with almost no Gilmour (as on The Final Cut or on his solo album from the same era, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking) is pretty lousy (for my taste anyway). Whereas Gilmour with no Waters (as on the last three Floyd studio albums) might not be classic Floyd, but at least it's decent.

(And the third point I mentioned for loving Gilmour more than Waters is the vocals. Gilmour might not be the greatest singer of all time, but I like him a lot better as a vocalist than I do Waters. Waters is effective on some songs, especially when the song is about some kind of madness, but his voice is seldom pleasant. Gilmour doesn't have a huge range, but I at least find his voice to be pleasing.)

As to why I say Wish You Were Here is the greatest album of all time, it's because it's close to being a perfect album. The title track, the two parts of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and the track "Welcome to the Machine" are in the highest echelons of rock classics. They're what I referred to before as "mind-altering" -- they're the promise that was made on Meddle checked off and fully delivered. And "Have a Cigar" is barely a half-step below them -- many would consider it to be a classic in its own right.

I feel like this write-up has been kind of stream-of-consciousness. Which is probably appropriate for a treatise about this band. Maybe at some point, I'll come back and develop it more. But in any event, I hope I've given you at least a feel for why I consider Pink Floyd to be one of my favorite bands (and one of the greatest bands) of all time.

Part 4 in this series, which I'll be posting early in 2019, will be about the music of Yes.