A personal history of Pink Floyd
By Nick Mason
When Pink Floyd began recording, it was at the tail-end of the British Invasion, as the mid-1960’s gave birth to psychedelia and other new trends in pop music. The band was fronted by guitarist, vocalist and lead songwriter Syd Barrett, whose lyrics related tales of quirky characters in colorful, hallucinogenic settings. But Barrett’s participation was short-lived (he retreated to early retirement after suffering a breakdown) and in his wake Pink Floyd reinvented itself with unique musical forms in extended compositions. Between 1968 and 1972 they produced a run of innovative recordings that led to the unprecedented commercial success of Dark Side of the Moon
, a mainstay on Billboard
’s bestseller chart.
As their popularity grew (out of proportion, some would argue), subsequent albums and elaborate concert tours—The Wall
(1979) in particular—amassed a fortune, as the inventiveness and breadth of the earlier work dissipated.
After Barrett’s departure, Pink Floyd consisted of Roger Waters on bass, Richard Wright on keyboards, David Gilmour taking over on guitar, and Nick Mason on drums, with the bulk of the songs written by Waters and vocals alternating between everyone but Mason. There have been several books written about them, but the appropriately titled Inside Out
is a career account related by Mr. Mason, whose personal anecdotes and remembrances extend beyond the reach of any secondary source, journalist or biographer. Coupled with its hefty gallery of rare photographs, the book seems less a document than a generously illustrated scrapbook and diary.
With that in mind, anyone requiring comprehensive rosters of dates and occasions may want to look elsewhere. Mason lacks the requisite dedication to data, and rather than produce a dry fact sheet his reflections are imbued by subjectivity tempered with emotional restraint. This is important for a sober discussion of Pink Floyd, the monstrous success of which inflated egos and triggered the collapse of treasured friendships.
Prone to noodling solos, sparse lyrics and soft, dreamy chord progressions reminiscent of Debussy, Pink Floyd’s cinematic potential had been evident in the 1968 album, A Saucerful of Secrets
and the electronic, orchestral and choral experiment, Atom Heart Mother
, recorded in 1970. Their relevance to world cinema may be marginal, but Mason profiles most of their soundtrack assignments.
He describes an easy alliance with Barbet Schroeder, whose More
(1969) and La Vallée
(1972) typify the idyllic aura of the band’s early work. Not having dated all that much, the soundtrack recording of More
remains among their best albums. There was a less than fruitful association with Michelangelo Antonioni: inspired by the moody “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” he hired them to compose a score for Zabriskie Point
(1970). But Antonioni’s inability to properly convey his vision netted hours upon hours of mostly unused material. Mason naturally acknowledges Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd The Wall
(1982), a project closer to Roger Waters than anyone else in the band. And there have been others who’ve worked from preexisting studio tracks, such as George Greenough’s Crystal Voyager
(1972), an obscure surfing documentary set to Pink Floyd’s twenty-minute suite, “Echoes”; and animator Ian Emes used the hard driving, bass-heavy “One of These Days” for his excellent short, French Windows