Pink Floyd were an English rock band that achieved international success with their progressive and psychedelic music. Considered one of the UK's first psychedelic music groups, Pink Floyd began their career at the vanguard of London's underground music scene. Some categorise their work from that era as space rock. Distinguished by their use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, and elaborate live shows, they are one of the most commercially successful and musically influential groups in the history of music. Founded in 1965, the group originally consisted of university students Roger Waters (bass, vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Richard Wright (keyboards) and Syd Barrett (guitar). They first gained popularity performing in London's underground music scene during the late 1960s, and under Barrett's creative leadership they released two charting singles and a successful debut album. David Gilmour joined as a fifth member in December 1967, and Barrett left the band in April 1968 due to his deteriorating mental health. Gilmour's guitar-work in considered an integral element of Pink Floyd's sound. After Barrett's departure, Waters became their primary songwriter and lyricist. With Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour, Pink Floyd achieved critical and commercial success with the concept albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977) and The Wall (1979). Wright left the group in 1979, followed by Waters in 1985. Gilmour and Mason continued as Pink Floyd and Wright subsequently joined them as a paid musician. They continued to record and tour through 1994; two more albums followed, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994). Inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, they have sold more than 250 million albums worldwide, including 74.5 million certified units in the United States. After nearly two decades of acrimony, the band reunited in 2005 for a performance at the global awareness event Live 8. Barrett died in 2006 and Wright in 2008. In 2011, surviving members Gilmour and Mason joined Waters at one of his The Wall Tour shows at The O2 Arena in London.
1963–67: Early years
In 1967, Pink Floyd began to attract the attention of the mainstream music industry. They recorded some songs at Sound Techniques in West Hampstead, including were the standout track "Arnold Layne" and "Candy and a Currant Bun". Three days later Pink Floyd signed with EMI, receiving a £5,000 advance. EMI released the band's first single, "Arnold Layne", on 10 March 1967, on its Columbia label. It peaked in the UK at number 20. Pink Floyd's second single, "See Emily Play", was released on 16 June 1967 and it fared better than the first, peaking at number 6 in the UK. They performed on the BBC's Look of the Week and Top of the Pops.
See Emily play
Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released in August 1967. It contains come catchy pop songs, together with more experimental and longer instrumental pieces. The album peaked at number 6, spending 14 weeks on the UK charts. Pink Floyd continued to draw large crowds at the UFO Club; however, Barrett's mental breakdown was by then causing serious concern. Forced to cancel Pink Floyd's appearance at the prestigious National Jazz and Blues Festival, as well as several other shows, King informed the music press that Barrett was suffering from nervous exhaustion. The band followed a few concert dates in Europe during September with their first tour of the US in October which had to be interrupted because of Barrett's worsened condition reaching a crisis point in December, when the band responded by adding a new member to their lineup.
1968–77: Transition and international success
In December 1967, the group added David Gilmour as the second guitarist and the fifth member of Pink Floyd. The band intended to continue with Barrett as a nonperforming songwriter, but working with Barrett eventually proved too difficult. In early March 1968, Syd Barrett agreed to leave. After Barrett's departure, the burden of lyrical composition and creative direction fell mostly on Waters. In 1968, Pink Floyd returned to Abbey Road Studios to record their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. The LP included Barrett's final contribution to their discography, "Jugband Blues". Waters began to develop his own songwriting, contributing "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", "Let There Be More Light" and "Corporal Clegg". Wright composed "See-Saw" and "Remember a Day". Released in June 1968, the album featured a psychedelic cover designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. The first of several Pink Floyd album covers designed by Hipgnosis, it represented the second time that EMI permitted one of their groups to contract designers for an album jacket. The release peaked at number 9, spending 11 weeks on the UK chart. Record Mirror gave the album an overall favorable review, but urged listeners to "forget it as background music to a party". John Peel described a live performance of the title track as "like a religious experience", while NME described the song as "long and boring... little to warrant its monotonous direction". On the day after the album's UK release, Pink Floyd performed at the first ever free concert in Hyde Park. In July 1968, they returned to the US for a second visit. Accompanied by the Soft Machine and the Who, it marked Pink Floyd's first significant tour.
Let there be more light
Ummagumma represented a departure from their previous work. Released as a double-LP on EMI's Harvest label, the first two sides contained live performances recorded at Manchester College of Commerce and Mothers, a club in Birmingham. The second LP contained a single experimental contribution from each band member. Ummagumma received positive reviews upon its release, in November 1969. The album peaked at number 5, spending 21 weeks on the UK chart. In October 1970, Pink Floyd released Atom Heart Mother. Pink Floyd's first number 1 album, Atom Heart Mother was hugely successful in Britain, spending 18 weeks on the UK chart. Pink Floyd toured extensively across America and Europe in 1970. In 1971, they took the second place in a reader's poll, in Melody Maker, and for the first time they were making a profit.
In January 1971, upon their return from touring Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd began working on new material. Lacking a central theme, they attempted several unproductive experiments; engineer John Leckie described the sessions as often beginning in the afternoon and ending early the next morning, "during which time nothing would get accomplished. The band spent long periods working on basic sounds, or a guitar riff. They also spent several days at Air Studios, attempting to create music using a variety of household objects. Released in October 1971, Meddle is a transitional album between the Barrett-influenced group of the late 1960s and the emerging Pink Floyd. It's a mix of short mellow jazzy tunes and lengthy experimental tracks. The band became even more successful, whilst playing psychedelic progressive rock with a touch of classical music. The LP peaked at number 3, spending 82 weeks on the UK chart.
One of these days
Pink Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon between May 1972 and January 1973 at Abbey Road; cosmic rock produced by EMI excellent sound engineer Alan Parsons. The title is an allusion to lunacy rather than astronomy. Hipgnosis designed the album's packaging, which included George Hardie's iconic refracting prism design on the cover. Released in March 1973, the LP became an instant chart success in the UK and throughout Western Europe, earning an enthusiastic response from critics. The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most commercially successful rock albums of all time, a US number 1, it remained on the Billboard chart for more than fourteen years, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. In Britain, the album peaked at number 2, spending 364 weeks on the UK chart.
Brain damage / Eclipse
After a tour of the UK performing Dark Side, Pink Floyd returned to the studio in January 1975 and began work on their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here. Parsons declined an offer to continue working with them, becoming successful in his own right with the Alan Parsons Project, and so the band turned to Brian Humphries. Initially, they found it difficult to compose new material; the success of The Dark Side of the Moon had left Pink Floyd physically and emotionally drained. Wright later described these early sessions as "falling within a difficult period" and Waters found them "torturous". Gilmour was more interested in improving the band's existing material. Despite the lack of creative direction, Waters began to visualise a new concept after several weeks. During 1974, Pink Floyd had sketched out three original compositions and had performed them at a series of concerts in Europe. These compositions became the starting point for a new album whose opening four-note guitar phrase, composed purely by chance by Gilmour. The songs provided a fitting summary of the rise and fall of their former bandmate, Syd Barrett, including the well-known epic song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". Most of Wish You Were Here premiered on 5 July 1975, at an open-air music festival at Knebworth. Released in September, it reached number one in both the UK and the US.
Shine on you crazy diamond Part I-V
Welcome to the machine
In 1975, Pink Floyd bought a three-storey group of church halls at 35 Britannia Row in Islington, and began converting the building into a recording studio and storage space. In 1976, they recorded their tenth album, Animals, in their newly finished 24-track studio. The concept of Animals originated with Waters, loosely based on George Orwell's political fable, Animal Farm. The album's lyrics described different classes of society as dogs, pigs, and sheep. Hipgnosis received credit for the packaging of Animals; however, Waters designed the final concept, choosing an image of the ageing Battersea Power Station, over which they superimposed an image of a pig. The album is a dark featuring scathing lyrical accounts on humanity. Released in January 1977, the album peaked on the UK chart at number two, and the US chart at number three. They performed much of the album's material during their "In the Flesh" tour, Pink Floyd's first experience playing large stadiums, the size of which caused unease in the band and the relationship between Wright and Waters was also suffering.
1978–85: Waters-led era
In July 1978, amidst a financial turmoil caused by negligent investments, Waters presented the group with two original ideas for their next album. The first was a 90-minute demo with the working title, Bricks in the Wall, and the other would later become Waters' first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Although both Mason and Gilmour were initially cautious, they chose the former to be their next album. Bob Ezrin co-produced, and he wrote a forty-page script for the new album. Ezrin based the story on the central figure of Pink, a gestalt character inspired by Waters' childhood experiences, the most notable of which was the death of his father in World War II. This first metaphorical brick led to more problems; Pink would become depressed by the music industry, eventually transforming into a megalomaniac, a development inspired partly by the decline of Syd Barrett. At the end of the album, the increasingly fascist audience would watch as Pink tore down the wall, once again becoming a regular and caring person. During the recording of The Wall, Waters, Gilmour and Mason became increasingly dissatisfied with Wright's lack of contribution to the album, so the band members agreed that at the end of it he would leave quietly. Although Pink Floyd had not released a single since 1973's "Money", "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" supported the album, topping the charts in the US and the UK. Released on 30 November 1979, The Wall topped the Billboard chart in the US for fifteen weeks, reaching number three in the UK. The Wall ranks number three on the RIAA's list of the all-time Top 100 albums, with 23 million certified units sold in the US. It's a double album rock opera. The cover is one of their most minimalist designs, with a stark white brick wall, and no trademark or band name. It was also their first album cover since The Piper at the Gates of Dawn not designed by Hipgnosis.
Goodbye blue sky
Run like hell
Gerald Scarfe produced a series of animations for the subsequent live shows, The Wall Tour. He also commissioned the construction of large inflatable puppets representing characters from the storyline including the "Mother", the "Ex-wife" and the "Schoolmaster". Pink Floyd used the puppets during their performances of the album. Relationships within the band were at an all-time low and Wright returned as a paid musician. The Wall concept also spawned a film, the original idea for which was to be a combination of live concert footage and animated scenes. However, the concert footage proved impractical to film. Alan Parker agreed to direct and took a different approach. The animated sequences would remain, but scenes would be acted by professional actors with no dialogue. Waters was screen-tested, but quickly discarded and they asked Bob Geldof to accept the role of Pink. Screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1982, Pink Floyd-The Wall premièred in the UK in July 1982.
The Wall movie trailer
In 1982, Waters suggested a new musical project for the band, with the working title Spare Bricks, originally conceived as the soundtrack album for Pink Floyd The Wall; however, with the onset of the Falklands War, Waters changed artistic direction and began writing new material. Waters saw Margaret Thatcher's response to the invasion of the Falklands as jingoistic and unnecessary, and he dedicated the new album to his late father. Immediately there were arguments between Waters and Gilmour, who felt that the album should include all new material, rather than recycling a number of songs passed over for The Wall. Waters felt that Gilmour had contributed little to the band's lyrical repertoire. Michael Kamen, a contributor to the orchestral arrangements of The Wall, mediated between the two, also performing the role traditionally occupied by the then absent Wright. The tension within the band grew. Waters and Gilmour worked independently; however, Gilmour began to feel the strain, sometimes barely maintaining his composure. After a final confrontation, Gilmour's name disappeared from the credit list, reflecting what Waters felt was his lack of songwriting contributions. Though Mason's musical contributions were minimal, he stayed busy recording innovative sound effects for an experimental Holophonic system, an audio processing technique used to simulate a three-dimensional effect, to be used on the album. The system used a conventional stereo tape to produce an effect that seemed to move the sound around the listener's head when they were wearing headphones. The process enabled an engineer to simulate moving the sound to behind, above or beside the listener's ears. Pink Floyd did not use Thorgerson for the cover design, Waters choosing to design the cover himself. Released in March 1983, The Final Cut went straight to number one in the UK and number six in the US. Waters wrote all the lyrics, as well as all the music on the album. Gilmour did not have any material ready for the album and asked Waters to delay the recording until he could write some songs, but Waters refused.
Gilmour recorded his second solo album, About Face, in 1984, and used it to express his feelings about a variety of topics; from the murder of John Lennon to his relationship with Waters. He later stated that he used the album to distance himself from Pink Floyd. Soon afterwards, Waters began touring his first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Wright formed Zee with Dave Harris and recorded Identity, which went almost unnoticed upon its release. Mason released his second solo album, Profiles, in August 1985. At that time Waters declared Pink Floyd "a spent force", he contacted O'Rourke to discuss settling future royalty payments. O'Rourke felt obliged to inform Mason and Gilmour, and this angered Waters, who wanted to dismiss him as the band's manager. Waters then turned to the High Court in an attempt to obtain a veto over further use of the band's name. Gilmour responded by issuing a carefully worded press release affirming that Pink Floyd would continue to exist. Waters wrote to EMI and Columbia declaring his intention to leave the group, and asking them to release him from his contractual obligations.
1986–95: Gilmour-led era
In 1987, Gilmour began recruiting musicians for what would become Pink Floyd's first album without Waters, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. There were legal obstacles to Wright's readmittance to the band; however, after a meeting in Hampstead, Pink Floyd invited Wright to participate as a paid musician in the coming sessions. Recording sessions for the album began on Gilmour's houseboat, the Astoria, moored along the River Thames. Gilmour worked with several songwriters, including Eric Stewart and Roger McGough, eventually choosing Anthony Moore to write the album's lyrics. Gilmour would later admit that the project was difficult without Waters' creative direction. Mason, concerned that he was too out of practice to perform on the album, made use of session musicians to complete many of the drum parts. He instead busied himself with the album's sound effects. A Momentary Lapse of Reason was released in September 1987. Storm Thorgerson, whose creative input was absent from The Wall and The Final Cut, designed the album cover. The album went straight to number three in the UK, and the US. The associated tour had a rough start because Waters attempted to subvert it by contacting promoters in the US and threatening to sue them if they used the Pink Floyd name. Gilmour and Mason funded the start-up costs. Early rehearsals for the upcoming tour were chaotic, with Mason and Wright entirely out of practice. Realising he had taken on too much work, Gilmour asked Bob Ezrin to assist them. The two parties of Pink Floyd reached a legal agreement on 23 December 1987; Mason and Gilmour retained the right to use the Pink Floyd name in perpetuity and Waters received exclusive rights to, amongst other things, The Wall.
The dogs of war
For several years, Pink Floyd had busied themselves with personal pursuits, such as filming and competing in the Carrera Panamericana and recording a soundtrack for a film based on the event. In January 1993, they began working on a new album, returning to Britannia Row Studios, where for several days, Gilmour, Mason and Wright worked collaboratively, ad-libbing material. After about two weeks, the band had enough ideas to begin creating songs. Ezrin returned to co-produce the album and production moved to the Astoria, where from February to May 1993, they worked on about twenty-five ideas. Contractually, Wright was not a member of the band however, he earned five co-writing credits on the album, his first on a Pink Floyd album since 1975's Wish You Were Here. Another songwriter credited on the album was Gilmour's then girlfriend, Polly Samson. She helped him write several tracks, including, "High Hopes". They hired Michael Kamen to arrange the album's orchestral parts. Writer Douglas Adams provided the album title and Thorgerson the cover artwork. Thorgerson drew inspiration for the album cover from the Moai monoliths of Easter Island; two opposing faces forming an implied third face about which he commented: "the absent face, the ghost of Pink Floyd's past, Syd and Roger". The Division Bell (1994) reached number 1 in both the UK and the US. It spent 51 weeks on the UK chart. The tour ended on 29 October 1994, with the final performance of the last Pink Floyd tour.
On Saturday 2 July 2005, Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright performed together as Pink Floyd for the first time in more than 24 years, at the Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park. Organiser Bob Geldof arranged the reunion, having called Mason earlier in the year to explore the possibility of their reuniting for the event. Waters was immediately enthusiastic. About two weeks later Waters called Gilmour, their first conversation in years, and the next day the latter agreed. In their statement to the press, they stressed the unimportance of the band's problems in the context of the Live 8 event. After a quite emotional performance, Pink Floyd turned down a contract for a final tour. Gilmour told the Associated Press that a reunion would not happen. Syd Barrett died on 7 July 2006, at his home in Cambridgeshire, aged 60; no Pink Floyd members attended the funeral. Although Barrett had faded into obscurity over the previous 35 years, the national press praised him for his contributions to music.
Richard Wright died of cancer on 15 September 2008, aged 65. After his death, his surviving former bandmates praised him for his influence on the sound of Pink Floyd. On 10 July 2010, Waters and Gilmour performed together at a charity event for the Hoping Foundation. In return for Waters' appearance at the event, Gilmour agreed to perform "Comfortably Numb" at one of Waters' upcoming performances of The Wall. On 12 May 2011, at The O2 Arena in London, Gilmour honoured his commitment to Waters. Mason appeared at the performance as well. Gilmour and Mason, with respectively a mandolin and a tambourine, joined Waters and the rest of his band for "Outside the Wall".
Regarded as pioneers of live music performance and renowned for their lavish stage shows, Pink Floyd also set high standards in sound quality, making use of innovative sound effects and quadraphonic speaker systems. From their earliest days, they employed visual effects to accompany their psychedelic rock music while performing. Their slide-and-light show was one of the first in British rock, and it helped them became popular among London's underground. In mid 1966, road manager Peter Wynne-Willson joined their road crew, and updated the band's lighting rig with some innovative ideas including the use of polarisers and mirrors. In July 1969, precipitated by their space-related music and lyrics, they took part in the live BBC television coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing, performing an instrumental piece which they called "Moonhead".
Moonhead (Apollo 11 moon landing)
Pink Floyd also composed several film scores, starting in 1968, with The Committee. In 1969, they recorded the score for Barbet Schroeder's film More. The soundtrack proved beneficial; along with A Saucerful of Secrets, the material they created became part of their live shows for some time thereafter. They composed the soundtrack for director Michelangelo Antonioni's film Zabriskie Point. Eventually Antonioni used only three of Pink Floyd's recordings. One of the pieces turned down by Antonioni, called "The Violent Sequence", later became "Us and Them", included on 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon. In 1972, the band again worked with Schroeder on the film La Vallée, for which they released a soundtrack album called Obscured by Clouds. They composed the material in about a week at the Château d'Hérouville near Paris, and upon its release, it became Pink Floyd's first album to break into the top 50 on the US Billboard chart.
Antonioni's Zabriskie Point - Pink Floyd's Come in number 51, your time is up
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Soundtrack from the film More (1969)
Ummagumma (studio & live 1969)
Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Obscured by Clouds (1972)
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Wish You Were Here (1975)
The Wall (1979)
The Final Cut (1983)
A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
The Division Bell (1994)