Welcome to “I’m With The Band.” In this column, I’ll teach you how to become a fan of all the iconic bands that you have always heard of, but may not truly know yourself. I’ll introduce you to some deep-cut songs that’ll elevate your status from “surface level fan” to “real fan,” and explain why, in my humble opinion, these bands are worth getting to know. Hopefully by the end of this series, you’ll see why you should become a fan of them, too.
“The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think. Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” sings Roy Harper in “Have a Cigar” by Pink Floyd.
In 2018, Forbes released its official obituary for ‘the album.’ After years of slowly fading into a relic of the past while the music industry evolved into a singles-based industry, writer Bobby Owsinski claimed that whether we liked it or not, the concept of the album was dead.
I am here neither to argue nor to challenge the streaming services that have single-handedly transformed the ‘concept album’ into an ‘obsolete concept.’ I simply think that, if the concept album is truly dead, then it deserves a proper eulogy for everything it has given us. Or, maybe more specifically, the band that has created the greatest concept albums of all time is deserving of one.
So, Pink Floyd, this one’s for you.
I first heard Pink Floyd in my dad’s car the summer before my freshman year of high school. Back then, I didn’t know that each song I heard was part of something bigger. Each track was meticulously selected in order and length in order to give me the full picture of what I was listening to. I didn’t know then that what was playing off of the old stereo system wasn’t just music, but the bridging of sounds, stories and the human experience.
All I knew was that I was hearing soundscapes of cinematic beauty and brilliance that I had never quite heard in music before. And when it comes to getting to know a Pink Floyd concept album, sound isn’t a bad place to start.
Now, before you read any further, I’m going to ask you to put on your best pair of headphones and listen to “Speak to Me”— the opening song off of “The Dark Side of the Moon.” The quality of audio is important because Pink Floyd has little secrets buried in each of their songs, and, if you listen closely enough, you can hear all the whispers, echoes and other hidden treasures.
I’ll be the first to admit that at first listen, this opening track sounds like an absolutely lunatic compilation of noise that belongs in some “American Horror Story” episode. After all, it’s a one-minute five-second track dedicated to nothing more than sounds, with no audible instrument to enjoy. But if you know what to listen for, you’ll see that in just one minute, this opening track sets the entire stage for the story you are about to hear — the story of all the shared struggles we face on our journey from life to death.
The first sound we can detect at 0:04 is that of a heartbeat, which is the backbone for the entirety of the album. The heartbeat marks both the first and last sound the listener hears (see final track — “Eclipse”); it gets progressively louder, mimicking a drum as it connects music with life itself.
At 0:22, our second sound comes into play: time. The ticking stopwatch is subtle at first, but a second clock begins to kick in just four seconds later at 0:26 (a prelude to track four — “Time”). Less than thirty seconds into the album, we can hear the exquisiteness of both life and time; on the “Dark Side of the Moon,” we are reduced to the most fundamental aspects of our humanism.
Lunacy begins to enter the picture at 0:32 when we hear a voice echoing, “I’ve been mad for fucking years, absolutely years…” Following mania’s footsteps, we have capitalism making its grand entrance at 0:34, with the obnoxious opening and shutting of the cash register (a prelude to track six — “Money”).
For the rest of the track, the madness escalates with Pink Floyd roadie Peter Watts’ manic laughter at 0:44 and hired singer Clare Torry’s wails (a prelude to track five — “The Great Gig in the Sky”). And just when the noise becomes just a little too loud, a little too uncomfortable and a little too much, we are seamlessly led into track two, “Breathe (In the Air),” where the listener is rewarded with the first instrumental track of the album hitting like a magical breath of relief.
If this was your first time listening to this track, don’t worry: it isn’t uncommon for first-time listeners to find it unenjoyable. And I understand that if you are listening to music simply for the tune or the enjoyment of the sounds (which there is nothing wrong with!), then this probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea.
But as an avid Pink Floyd fan myself, I’ll argue that what Pink Floyd was creating with “The Dark Side of the Moon” and their subsequent projects was more than music to be merely listened to. Their concept albums are pieces of art that have to be listened to correctly. By correctly, I mean in order, in one sitting and with your full attention.
What Pink Floyd captured with “The Dark Side of the Moon” in 1973 was built upon project after project until the band’s ultimate separation due to creative differences. In 1975, the band released “Wish You Were Here” — an album that dives into the personal loss of original band frontman Syd Barrett, who slowly faded into mental illness over the years with his combined schizophrenia and LSD usage. The 1977 “Animals” is a musical rendition of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” and dives into the darkness of the sociopolitical state of Britain. And the 1979 “The Wall,” the band’s crowning achievement, is a rock opera that tells the tale of a musician named Pink and his life’s journey towards alienation from the bitterly cruel world surrounding him.
But, don’t be mistaken! Extensive concept albums may be the bread and butter of appreciating Pink Floyd’s greatness, but this shouldn’t take away from the inarguable fact that the band also knew how to absolutely rock out.
David Gilmour is renowned to this day as one of the world’s greatest guitarists, infamous for his slow blends and delayed sound. If you’re looking for an example of his excellence, the second solo in “Comfortably Numb” is a great place to start (specifically, this live version).
“Fearless” off of “Meddle” is a great showcase of the band’s more traditional-sounding classic rock work, with still enough weirdness and a nasty enough guitar riff to constitute a Pink Floyd song. “Empty Spaces/Young Lust” off of “The Wall” is one of my personal favorites, with the transition between the two making the listen all the more rewarding so you can properly jam out to Gilmour’s gritty “Ooooo I need a dirty woman/I need a dirty girl.” And of course, no eulogy would be complete without acknowledging “Wish You Were Here,” a poignant song about love and loss that remains most fans’ favorite for a reason.
So, Pink Floyd, I know I’m reaching the end of my allotted space and I still haven’t mentioned the epicness of your light shows, how you convinced an actor to light himself on fire for the “Wish You Were Here” album cover, your influence on all modern psychedelia from Radiohead to Tame Impala, or the trippiness that is the 1982 “The Wall” movie.
But, Pink Floyd, you have single-handedly changed my life. Thank you for showing me that the coolest artists can come on stage wearing a simple black tee-shirt and jeans and still put on the greatest performance this world has ever seen. Thank you for proving to me that certain songs over 23 minutes are worth the listen, and that “Echoes” is one that still isn’t long enough (and that certain songs are too long — see “The Trial’‘). Thank you for teaching me that albums deserve to be listened to from start to finish, and that even in today’s single-based industry, the historical significance of the concept album will remain adored for decades to come.
Oh, and thanks for reminding me that at the end of the day, there’s a little bit of madness in everyone, and therefore a little bit of Pink Floyd in all of us.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques. This article has been updated to correct a misspelling of Clare Torry’s name. The Daily regrets this error.