Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and Money. I loved all four songs and have for many years but for some reason I never went further into Floyd’s back catalogue or even the group themselves. I had never listened to an album, never bothered to delve into their history. I had heard the name, Syd Barrett, but knew nothing else of their story.
I don’t know what prompted my change of mind this year. It’s been a challenging time for my family with my wife, Donna, diagnosed with rapidly evolving severe multiple sclerosis in 2018 and our lives completely changing as we adapted to a new way of living. Donna is now disabled and not able to get around, let alone leave our home without a power chair (Buzz she is called in case you were wondering). Thankfully, she is still enjoying working from home (she’s always loved her work) while I juggle being a carer with having five cats running rings around me each day. Donna calls us a team. She’s generous like that.
Always more concerned about my welfare than her own, Donna has continually pushed me to find something, anything, to take me away for a time from being a 24/7 carer. She can never have a break from her MS, sadly, but wants me to be able to, as often as I can. I do go to football to watch my beloved Barnsley FC and go running when morning motivation is with me (that one’s a work in progress) but something else came along in 2019.
If you search for Pink Floyd on YouTube you’ll find their songs, albums, documentaries and hundreds of reaction videos. A new generation of music lovers are discovering their music and having their minds blown by what they hear. Thanks to them I have decided to begin my own journey – a Pink Floyd pilgrimage, you could say – to find out more.
What drew me towards Pink Floyd was the countless comments I had seen from other Floyd enthusiasts, the same messages and appreciation for the group. They insisted that nothing else sounds like Pink Floyd, that listening to an album in its entirety was essential, that their music could help you drift into an alternate plain and that you must, simply MUST, have headphones on when you do listen to the Floyd. It sounded cathartic and I wanted to try for myself as a form of meditation, something I’ve never been good at. I did see plenty of comments suggesting listening to Floyd while high is the way to go, well, I won’t be doing that, dear reader, you will be relieved to hear though I am sure it’s an interesting experience.
My Pink Floyd pilgrimage began earlier this year by reading two books – Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd and Martin Popoff’s Pink Floyd: Album by Album. This gave me an insight into the group’s often turbulent history as well as their extensive discography. I have also watched a few documentaries on YouTube so gained a further insight into their work. There is, however, one thing left for me to do.
Each month I will be listening to a Pink Floyd album in full and writing a reaction on this blog. I will listen multiple times – all the way through – and with headphones on. I will NOT be pausing during a David Gilmour solo and I’ll see if I can figure out which one is Pink! I will begin with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and conclude with The Endless River (2014). In all, there are 15 studio albums to get through. By November 2020 I will have been through the early days of the band with Syd Barrett as the leader, the middle years where a close-knit quartet gradually fell apart as Roger Waters seized control, and the later years when a more democratic David Gilmour led the group in its twilight years.
One final thing, dear reader. As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I am a novice, a mere apprentice and know very little so what I offer here are just my opinions of their music as I take it on board. I will attempt, and likely fail, to rank the albums in order of preference and try – big emphasis on try – to select the best song from each record even though I know they are to be treated as one long piece of music. If you have insights of your own to help me, or just want to share your own love and appreciation of these music legends then please throw a comment my way.
Time to grab the headphones and go on a journey…
Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #3: More (1969)
Our pilgrimage through all things Pink Floyd takes us into 1969. Syd Barrett has now left so it’s up to Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason to continue the journey. As Floyd end the 1960s they are toiling away trying to find a new direction for their music and establishing a preference for albums over singles.
With A Saucerful of Secrets now behind them, Pink Floyd find themselves making decisions that will shape the next few years. One thing they establish is that none of the quartet are able to write chart-friendly songs as well as Syd Barrett did. Prior to their second album they had released It Would Be So Nice and afterwards another attempt at the charts came in the form of Point Me at the Sky, a track Roger Waters did not look back on fondly in one interview I have seen with him. With singles not being Floyd’s forte, they decided to put their collective focus and energy into recording albums instead. 1969 turned out to be a busy year for Pink Floyd and would bring albums no.3 and no.4 on our list.
The third album is contested by some fans as not being an official Pink Floyd album. More was the soundtrack to the 1969 film of the same name, directed by Barbet Schroeder. It tells the story of a graduate, Stefan, who hitchhikes from Germany to Paris where he meets an American tourist named Estelle. Together, they head for the sun, sea and sand of Ibiza, an island that promises a touch of paradise they can lose themselves in. Unfortunately, they begin to dabble in heroin and become dangerously addicted with tragic consequences.
Without the worry of singles and having a soundtrack to record, Pink Floyd were able to have a lot of freedom in the studio. They worked on the album in the early months of 1969 and recorded seven songs and six instrumental pieces for More. All four members contributed here with Roger Waters largely taking responsibility for lyrics while the other three members worked with their bass player on composing the music. The sharing of roles is slightly different here. While all four members contributed vocals to A Saucerful of Secrets, More has David Gilmour taking the lead vocal on all seven songs.
More was released in June 1969 and Pink Floyd would now face the critics’ response post Syd Barrett.
The opening track is Cirrus Minor which was written by Roger Waters. There are few lyrics to the song but what is there is beautiful, ambiguous and sumptuous. The song speaks of a yellow bird that can be found in a churchyard near to a river and is both singing and flying. We also hear mention of river daughters which some have compared to the work of Tolkien but could also pertain to nymphs from Greek/Roman mythology. The verses conclude with talk of a journey to Cirrus Minor, which sounds like a planet or star, and how we observe a crater in the sun having journeyed through moonlight to get there. There are LSD trip interpretations online but I am unsure about this having not had one myself. I’ve no desire to start now. I feel as if Waters is sharing stunning imagery without necessarily offering a song of huge substance.
The song does not include any drums so Nick Mason sits this one out. It opens with delightful birdsong and these birds essentially offer the backing vocals to the track throughout. Gilmour’s voice is gentle and calm but grows more dream-like and almost echoey as he takes us through the final lines on that flight to Cirrus Minor. When the singing ends, the birdsong remains before Richard Wright takes centre stage delivering a gorgeous solo on the organ. The melody makes you want to kick back and zone out for a while. Gilmour sings this one well but the music is the most important component here. It’s a wonderful opening track and once again demonstrates the value of Wright in these early years of the group.
The Nile Song
The second track is The Nile Song written by Roger Waters. This one seems to be a love song of sorts, the unrequited kind, with the narrator standing by the Nile and spotting a woman with golden hair and an intoxicating smile. He is infatuated with this woman and wants to be with her. When she goes away the narrator seems intent on pursuing her to distant islands, ones we can only speculate about. He is desperate to catch her attention but it all seems in vain. The romantic element does seem to recede in the last verse though as the narrator expresses concern that their pursuit of this woman will not end well for them. I’m not sure if this directly links in to the plot of More but some aspects sound similar.
The Nile Song is very different to anything we have had from Pink Floyd up to this point. The ambience of other tracks is not here and the song was recorded with the trio of Gilmour, Waters and Mason, so no Richard Wright to provide any organ melodies; that would not be apt for this one. This is full on hard rock, heavy metal almost you might say, and an indication of Floyd’s versatility. Gilmour’s voice is much heavier here, as the song requires, but he pulls it off admirably as well. Lyrically, this isn’t a Waters’ masterclass but it is still catchy and a great contrast to the opening track. I must say I prefer the more atmospheric Floyd but do love the variety that The Nile Song offers.
The third track on the album is Crying Song which was written by Roger Waters. Made up of four verses, the song captures a range of emotions and actions, looking at smiling, climbing, crying and rolling. These actions seem to be one shared between the narrator and an unspecified other, potentially a lover, though this is open to debate. The first three verses could be a testament to the sort of things we do in life such as smiling and crying, while the climbing element could hark back to childhood days, maybe an activity enjoyed by two people or even a metaphorical climb through the mountain that is everyday life. That’s probably a reach on my part though. The closing verse I am unsure of with its mention of rolling and wanting to move a stone; the stone sounds like some kind of obstacle and there are many of those in life.
After the raucous and heavy The Nile Song, we have a more ambient and atmospheric track here from Pink Floyd. Richard Wright opens proceedings on a vibraphone before David Gilmour comes in with slow, delicate and even dream-like vocals. Waters supports on bass while Mason is on the snare drum. The song crawls along at the steadiest pace as Gilmour navigates the four verses before a musical outro that brings this peaceful dream of a journey to its end.
Up the Khyber
The fourth track is Up the Khyber which was written by Nick Mason and Richard Wright. The title is said to be an innuendo of sorts with “Khyber Pass” being Cockney rhyming slang for ass. Make of that what you will. The song is entirely instrumental so no lyrics in sight here to offer any commentary on. The song is performed by Nick Mason, Richard Wright and Roger Waters. It begins with a drum beat from Mason before Wright joins in with some frantic organ accompaniments. Waters provides bass and also contributed to the unusual tape effects that can be heard at the end and sounds as if the tape is going in reverse. Up the Khyber weighs in at just over 2 minutes and showcases an experimental Pink Floyd dabbling in a bit of jazz, and why not?
Green is the Colour
The fifth track is Green is the Colour, written by Roger Waters. Waters once stated that the song is about the island of Ibiza. The lyrics have ambiguity to them, seemingly having the narrator singing about a woman so a love song of sorts, but the descriptions could also be applied to capturing Ibiza itself. The “green” of the title sounds like forests while there are descriptions of a white dress being worn (the surrounding beach?) and how the sun is on her eyes yet moonshine makes her blind, which could possibly be about the ocean surface and how it is more alive with the sunshine on it than moonlight. What a shoddy lyricist interpreter I am!
Green is the Colour has all four members involved this time, with the addition of Nick Mason’s then-wife Lindy Mason who plays a beautiful tin whistle accompaniment. David Gilmour is on acoustic guitar and offers gorgeous vocals that do full justice to Waters’ excellent lyrics. Waters himself is on bass, Richard Wright is on piano and organ, while Mason completes the line-up with drums. Whatever the meaning of the song, Green is the Colour is one of the album’s high points, reflecting another side to Pink Floyd, one of fragility and tenderness as they look to capture the stunning scenery around them.
The sixth track is Cymbaline which was written by Roger Waters. The title is debated on online forums with some suggesting a variant of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline play while another has linked it to cimbalino, a Portuguese expression for espresso that is served in Porto. While the name is debatable, the consensus seems to be that the song is about a nightmare. We hear threatening images such as narrow walkways with fatal drops nearby, ravens looking on then moving in, broken butterflies descending from the sky, and a dose of reality in the form of busy agents and managers selling photos of their clients. Each verse is swiftly followed by the chorus of “It’s high time, cymbaline” and “Please wake me”. This might tap into the cimbalino theory with the suggestion of “wake up and smell the coffee” maybe though that seems like a big reach. Cymbaline captures a series of frightening images and conveys the desperation of wanting to leave this nightmare behind and wake up in the safety of one’s own bed again. I daresay we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.
All four members come together on Cymbaline and I cannot justify how beautiful a piece it is with mere words of mine. David Gilmour excels once again with his vocals, bringing Waters’ lyrics to life. Waters and Mason provide able support, but it is Richard Wright who shines on piano and organ here. As with other Floyd songs we’ve had thus far, Gilmour takes us through the lyrics first and when the last words have been sung, we move into a musical denouement. In this case Wright’s organ melody takes over proceedings and plays out the final minute or so of Cymbaline. Wonderful. The group would perform this song live until retiring it in 1971. Shame. It’s hardly surprising that they retained it for their live sets. This is undoubtedly the best song on this album thus far. Waters’ lyrics are superb, Gilmour’s singing is simply sublime and the combined efforts of the group with the music create a truly stunning piece. Easily one of Floyd’s finest so far.
The seventh track on the album and the closing number on Side One is Party Sequence. Written by all four members of Pink Floyd, this is an instrumental track that clocks in at just over one minute. The song features Nick Mason playing the bongo drums while his then-wife, Lindy Mason, also features with a penny whistle accompaniment. Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright do not feature. The instrumental gives one the feeling of being on a beach, sitting by a campfire and having a group of friends play soothing background music. It’s a nice little song to close out an interesting opening side to the album.
The eighth song and opening track on Side Two is Main Theme, written by all four members of Pink Floyd. As the title suggests, this was the central piece of music for the film, More, and appears at the outset of the film. This instrumental segment begins with a gong played by Waters before Wright enters proceedings with the organ. Waters and Mason soon follow with a bass and drum combo, while Gilmour pops up later on a slide guitar. It’s an interesting piece, relying heavily on Wright’s organ while the gong sound that plays throughout gives the music a more atmospheric feel. I can’t say how this translates in the film, More, having not seen it but I imagine it’s a key accompaniment to the story’s narrative.
The ninth song on the album is Ibiza Bar, written by all four members of Pink Floyd. The song seems to be about an individual who has fallen on pretty bleak times. They tell us of mistakes they have made and that their life is akin to a story written by some unspecified person. The narrator goes on to explain that every word this person has penned, they have been through it, as painful as it is. In the moving chorus, they plead with this person to write them a kinder storyline and to them this would be something like the simplicity of rhyming words, rather than the suffering that their life has entailed. They are just another book on a shelf now, gathering dust like the rest, desperate to be opened once more for the story to begin anew.
From the opening riffs to Ibiza Bar your ears will prick up and the first thought is likely to be that this sounds very similar to The Nile Song. There are some variations but musically they could be mistaken for being twins. Lyrically, the song is very different. Gilmour takes the vocals again, his electric guitar helping to make this one of Floyd’s loudest songs, the same as The Nile Song. This swaps the ambient music of many of the group’s songs in favour of raw power but that chorus slows things down as the poignant lyrics play out. Although this is very similar to The Nile Song I actually prefer this one. It delves deeper into human emotions and if you immerse yourself in the lyrics I can imagine this resonating with many listeners.
The tenth song on the album is More Blues, written by all four members of Pink Floyd. There are different versions of this song which is purely an instrumental track. The version on More features David Gilmour on electric guitar, Roger Waters on bass and Nick Mason on drums. Richard Wright is said to be on alternative versions but is not included here. The music clocks in at just over two minutes and is driven heavily by Gilmour’s guitar with Waters and Mason providing back up. It’s an atmospheric little number and forms a nice precursor to the next track which is the longest on the album.
The eleventh song is Quicksilver, written by all four members of Pink Floyd. This epic instrumental weighs in at just over 7 minutes and features all members of the group. David Gilmour and Roger Waters provide some of the sound effects with Gilmour also contributing guitar work and Waters offering a gong accompaniment. Percussion comes from Nick Mason while Richard Wright adds to the eerie and peculiar atmosphere of the piece initially on the vibraphone before switching to an organ for some additional melody. The title of the song is an alternative name for the element, mercury, which features in the film More at one stage. Quicksilver harks back to the more typical Pink Floyd of the first two albums, with the sense of unease in their music and that feeling of going on a journey. It’s an experimental number with some very interesting results.
A Spanish Piece
The twelfth song is A Spanish Piece, written by David Gilmour. There are few lyrics to this one but what we have is Gilmour asking for tequila, threatening to kill someone that mocks his lisp, praising Spanish music, and rounding out the song by whispering sweet words to a lovely Senorita. Such praise focuses on her eyes, teeth and lips with comparisons of each aspect to things like the stars. How sweet.
Not only is this the first Floyd song written entirely by David Gilmour, it is one that he performs solely on his own. We have a flamenco guitar and percussion, while Gilmour delivers his lyrics in a far from convincing Spanish accent with a lisp thrown in there as well. The song is just over one minute so is a very brief number to follow the gargantuan, Quicksilver. I’m not sure what to make of this one to be honest. I don’t know if I consider it amusing or offensive or even a little pointless. It isn’t bad by any means but it’s so brief and unusual that there is little time for you to feel much of an impact from it.
The thirteenth and final track is Dramatic Theme, written by all four members of Pink Floyd. Each of the band members contributes for this closing number which is an instrumental and lasts just over two minutes. It revisits elements of Main Theme but having not seen More, I’m unsure where or how it slots into the turn of events in that narrative, especially with it being dubbed dramatic. The track is a brief conclusion to the album that places great emphasis on David Gilmour’s guitar work. It’s not as strong as Main Theme and Quicksilver but rounds out the album nicely.
This third album from Pink Floyd is also their first without the influence and presence of Syd Barrett. Across the 13 tracks we have a group who are seemingly enjoying the freedom of experimentation that the soundtrack to More affords them. As you think back over the tracks you do get the ambient numbers such as Cirrus Minor while The Nile Song and Ibiza Bar see Floyd stray into hard rock territory, far louder than material we came across on the opening two albums. The instrumentals are a typical part of a soundtrack and although they are not as strong as the songs themselves the likes of Quicksilver leave a strong impression on you.
How does More stack up compared to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets? I would say that this album is not as strong as the first two. The first side is better than the second and with this being avant garde, some of the approaches work better than others. The shorter tracks feel like the flow of the album is a bit stop start at times as well. In summary though, I do feel that More is a better album than contemporary critics gave it credit for. Pink Floyd were demonstrating here that Syd Barrett may no longer have been around but they were more than adept at managing without him. Roger Waters’ songwriting feels stronger here with many of his lyrics demonstrating a more confident composer who has found his feet. Some don’t consider this a proper Pink Floyd album but I believe it belongs in their canon and should be studied as part of their journey.
There are some strong contenders here with Ibiza Bar, Green is the Colour and Cirrus Minor being up there for consideration. However, there is one song that ultimately beats the rest and that is Cymbaline. Some stunning lyrics from Roger Waters are evident here, while David Gilmour demonstrates his vocal range with some beautiful singing, while the remaining members back him with delightful music. It is one of the best songs Pink Floyd have recorded up to this point and easily the high point of More.
More received some negative responses from critics at the time. I don’t believe it warranted such a response but it is admittedly inferior to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets. One of the problems I think is that being a soundtrack, Pink Floyd were restricted on the thematic side and ensuring their songs and music tied in with the film, More. There are some great moments on here though and it sounds like a group now trying to carve their own path forward.
Doing the soundtrack for More was a decent workout for Pink Floyd. It gave them the chance to experiment more in the studio though they were still conscious of creating something to tie in with the film the soundtrack would go with. Another album would follow in late 1969 and it would prove to be a contentious one for some fans of the group.
Pink Floyd Roll of Honour
1) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
2) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
3) More (1969)