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Pink Floyd sold over 250 million albums since releasing Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967. Most sales are for latter day masterpieces Dark Side of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, but they have a body of creative output worth mining beyond these. In fact, I’ve grown to favor some of these Top 5 Underrated Pink Floyd Albums over their more popular work.
Subtle changes in lineup make Pink Floyd three different bands depending on the era. I’m not alone in favoring 1969-1985 roster Waters, Wright, Mason and Gilmour, though much can be said of the history and music pre and post this era. Read drummer Nick Mason’s book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd for that.
Let’s get to this.
5. A Saucerful of Secrets
1968, Produced by Norman Smith
Recorded at Abbey Road, London
Most people know the Floyd through songs like Comfortably Numb off 1979’s The Wall. Is there a more iconic guitar solo in Rock? Debatable, yes, but miles away from their psychedelic, free-jazz, and improvisational roots – inspired as they were by noise-bands like AMM. I put some AMM on the other day and creeped around the apartment spying on my girl. She did NOT dig it.
Saucerful of Secrets is the sound of a band finding a voice without Syd.
Fans of later records will not automatically like this one. It’s not the kind of record you’d put on at a party and expect everyone to dig. Not unless it’s the late sixties, and it’s that kinda party. I’m saying if you’re selling hot-dogs from a cart, blast a different record from the radio.
The album opens with the visceral Let There Be More Light, Waters’ bassline making way for newbie Dave Gilmour, hired to fill in the gaps caused by Barrett’s breakdown. Let There Be More Light succeeds in aping some of Syd’s bombast and sci-fi leanings while pointing to a more terrestrial future.
There’s an effortlessness to Saucerful of Secrets in slow moments that build steam and ultimately let loose, like the psychedelic spaghetti western Remember a Day and early concert staple Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. I don’t think bands could get on TV with this kind of experimental material anymore. It certainly wouldn’t make it through the American Idol filter, where music is forced to sound like commercials about feelings.
It certainly wouldn’t make it through the American Idol filter, where music is forced to sound like commercials about feelings.
At over 11 minutes, the sprawling title track seems influenced, perhaps, by their live shows at the UFO where the Floyd played behind projected images while London swingers tripped their balls off. The long stretches of modular noodling, intermittent pop, and abrupt shifts in mood hint at the film scores they’d record over the next few years with visionary directors like Michelangelo Antonioni.
I think Saucerful of Secrets is the reason why seasoned producer Norman Smith taught the band to record their own demos and ultimately produce their own records – something they would take to an extreme on their record Ummagumma – a self-indulgent soundscape each member produced separately with too much pot on their hands. (I still dig it.) On the other hand, they also self produced most of their best work.
Saucerful closes with Barrett’s clever sore thumb Jugband Blues, marking the end of a short-lived era. A jaunty, druggy, noisy finale to what could have been.
1969, Produced by Pink Floyd
Recorded at Pye Studios, London
This soundtrack to Barbet Shroeder’s film More is one of my go-to records. Casual fans never heard of it, but I’ve bought it on cassette, CD and two sets of remasters, so it must be one of my unconscious favorites. Yet I’ve never seen the movie. Go figure.
Green is the Colour is a hidden gem, sweet and sunny, that shows Waters stepping into his own lyrically.
There’s a lot of varied sounds here, sonically it’s all over the map. The Floyd get a little spacey in the AM radio friendly Cymbaline, a Bowie-ish track that name-drops Dr. Strange 46 years ago.
Green is the Colour is a hidden gem, sweet and sunny, that shows Waters stepping into his own lyrically. It shows a band open-minded about what they were writing and recording, not pigeon-holed into a psychedelic brand.
“Heavy hung the canopy of blue / Shade my eyes and I can see you / White is the light that shines through the dress that you wore.“
The Floyd take the opportunity to rock-out uncharacteristically in the The Nile Song and minor variation Ibiza Bar – a sound they would play with the rest of their careers to underline aggression or express a release of tension.
There’s a distinctly late sixties palate of B-Movie Sci-Fi meets lounge-music especially in tracks like Main Theme. The Floyd imbibe other instrumentals like Up the Khyber and A Spanish Piece with some more traditional world music sounds, yet the 7 minute Quicksilver reminds us that noise-rock was not distinct to the Barrett-era. It’s a beautiful slow grinding Ed Wood fever dream with sprawling Hammond organ and trippy effects. True early seventies stoners must have spent hours staring at the record cover listening to this track.
Certainly cohesion was something they would master on later records.
More is an acquired taste for sure, and a bit more accessible than follow up Atom Heart Mother (which also has some great tunes on it).
Off the heels of the divisive Atom Heart Mother, the Floyd reeled it in, compacted their sound into more digestible pieces. There are 6 songs on Meddle and none of them sound like they’re from the same album.
There are 6 songs on Meddle and none of them sound like they’re from the same album.
Old school Floyd fans get their bellies rubbed up front with the double-bassed instrumental One of the These Days and again at the end with 23 minute opus Echoes, which takes up the entirety of side two, back when records had sides. Bookended in psychedelia, the middle is anything but.
They do some Meddle songs in the 1972 concert film Pink Floyd : Live from Pompeii which I fell in love with in 1987 renting the VHS tape from a local video store over and over. Most live shows are shot before cheering fans in the best arena. This one is shot in the Amphitheater of Pompeii with no audience, just the Floyd and a skeletal film crew.
If meandering psychedelia in the Italian sun is your bag, you are in luck. I love it, including Nick Mason’s This Is Spinal Tap mustache.
“Strangers passing in the street / By chance two separate glances meet / And I am you and what I see is me.” – from Echoes
An early example of the Waters/Gilmour machine, Fearless is an unappreciated track that is as good as anything Pink Floyd have ever put to tape. There’s a few tactics in this track they’d explore on Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.
Some have called San Tropez superfluous but I dig it. They played with this sound on the B-Side Bidding my Time a few years earlier. It’s an anti-Pink Floyd song, sure, but it’s Yacht Rock by guys that have owned a yacht or two. Hell, Dave still records on a houseboat. I think it’s perfectly executed, and has a decidedly English tongue in its cheek. Its got a McCartney-ish carefree attitude.
The 23 minute Echoes pings into existence from the primordial ooze like a half remembered dream. The Floyd take their time, some say self-indulgently, between movements, but there’s a song to be found inside with heavy lyrics about empathy. It gets a little funky in a 70s skin-flick kinda way before some free improv and one heroic finale.
Echoes becomes a template for how the Floyd tell a story going forward.
By now Floyd had already hit it big two albums previous with Dark Side of the Moon. Previous album Wish You Were Here is also regarded as a rock masterpiece. Two very cohesive records. Concept albums, if the term doesn’t offend you. A format Waters would work in exclusively up to an including the present.
There are allegories on Animals about humanity as dogs, pigs and sheep that you may or may not agree with, but thankfully Roger speaks his mind regardless.
Who was fitted with collar and chain / Who was given a pat on the back / Who was breaking away from the pack / Who was only a stranger at home
If you let it, Animals will grow on you in the way the best music does – improving the more you know it. Take the track Dogs, precise not fragile, with more space between notes than usual, an efficiency to how it quiets down and snaps back. 17 minutes of pure uncut Pink Floyd. Sometimes quite accommodating, then unapologetically challenging – a more worldly and politically minded Echoes with a bigger budget, more seasoned musicians and better technology. It owes something to that version of Floyd that took rocking seriously.
And they still sneak in some free-improv 8 minutes in. Even that sounds more expensive.
In more than one way, the cascading “listy” ending of Dogs is reminiscent of Dark Side of the Moon closer Eclipse.
“Meek and obedient you follow the leader down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel.“
I love Richard Wright’s keys on this record, especially the intro to Sheep. It’s like a bottle of 1977 on a windowsill with the sun shining through it. There’s plenty of shifts in style over the next ten minutes, as we follow a sheep to slaughter.
I remember distinctly driving my grandmother somewhere and her asking me to turn this song off. It gets a little surreal in the middle, which you have to be in the right frame of mind to dig. I love how Water’s vocal slides along the music and curdles into distortion during that last verse. Grandma just didn’t get it. Out of the car, Grandma!!
Waters returns with Part 2 of Pigs on the Wing, reminding us that solace can be found despite everything you just heard.
Obscured by Clouds is the last record before they’d hit it big with Dark Side of the Moon. It’s the sound of a confident, tight band moving steadily into 1972 – owning their ground, grooving on it, stomping on it mercilessly, and covering it with a little sugar and tetrahydrocannabinol.
It’s the sound of a confident, tight band moving steadily into 1972.
Kicking off with two instrumentals, it’s like Jaws not showing up for an hour into the movie the first time you hear David Gilmour and Richard Wright’s voices in the beautifully meandering Bridges Burning.
The slow-burn of Obscured by Clouds gives way to the thrashing When You’re In, a sound only hinted at previously in songs like The Nile Song on More.
These are radio-ready yet never got on the radio. Take The Golds It’s In The... and Childhood’s End. These could sit right alongside rock radio classics of the era yet never got the attention – even after they hit it big and their next record stayed on the charts for 741 weeks.
Wot’s… Uh The Deal? is another sweet slice of acoustic Gilmour replete with that easy-breezy Wright piano that reminds us he knows what music sounds like on earth, too. Mudmen certainly points to the band that will make Dark Side a year later, as do the sexy guitars in the otherwise uneven Stay. I mean, I love the music, and parts of the vocal, and how the chorus almost sounds like Steely Dan. But it has at least one or two cringey lines in it, lets be honest.
Childhood’s End, a song that suspiciously pops up on a lot of my mixes over the years, shows they still know how to burn one down. Another radio ready hit that never was.
What else? Man this article is long. Roger used some of that Corporal Clegg energy and made a toe-tapping ditty about dying in the war called Free Four. Waters would base most of The Wall and The Final Cut on this subject, but here he’s using broader strokes. “The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime.”
“The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime.”
And in case you were wondering where those psychedelic guys that made Echoes went, album closer Absolutely Curtains puts the whole thing to bed neatly with a little more restraint, and two minutes tribal chanting to end the record.
Obscured by Clouds is the end of an era. They would never make another record of such loose and unrelated songs again. Dark Side of the Moon would change the stakes going forward. They would get more literal and less psychedelic every release going forward.
Success would change the dynamics of the band and ultimately this lineup – who stopped playing together live in 1981 and who went on without Waters in 1985. They wouldn’t play together in this lineup again for 20 years, reuniting for Live8 in 2005. I never thought I’d see them together again.
Rick Wright would unfortunately die in 2008 making a true reunion impossible. Gilmour and Mason released one last Pink Floyd record last year in Wright’s honor, working with many of Wrights unused recordings. Famously, this was another Pink Floyd record without Waters.
Gilmour is busy for a man about to turn 70. Apart from releasing that Floyd record, he dropped a single last week in advance of an upcoming solo album and tour. Ever experimenting, the single is based on a jingle used in the French transit system. I like it. I think it’s the least uptight thing I’ve heard from Dave in years.
At 71, Waters is just coming off the hugely successful The Wall tour and upcoming film. He’s working on new material and re-releasing his under-appreciated 1992 solo record Amused to Death in September. He released the revamped What God Wants video from that record this week.
I’ll admit I was on Team Waters back in high school. I love all his solo records and he’s ultimately one of my top 5 favorite songwriters and recording artists.
Nick Mason is also 71, but he shaved the Spinal Tap mustache years ago.
OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS
Dear Members of Congress,
The tipping point is here and we need to put aside our political differences to save this country right now! Silence and remaining behind party lines is no longer an option. A unified address by our elected officials in Congress on the issue of police brutality and equality under the rule of law is required to begin the healing process as well as ensure the future of this nation.
There are three steps that immediately need to be taken to bring this to fruition. The arrest and charging of the three remaining individuals involved in the death of George Floyd must occur as the first step of good faith. The second step requires clear and transparent action items stated to the public in order to address the issues at hand. Those action items should include:
- The revision of Qualified Immunity to specifically address the problematic assertion that “Qualified Immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought before – Institute of Justice“
- The reforming of Civilian Review Boards with the purpose of increasing the decision-making abilities on the disposition and discipline of police officers.
The third step is the creation and funding of a systemic racism task force with the goal of dismantling systemic racism.
- Accelerating judicial system reform
- Equating the public education system
- Eliminating redlining
These are just the preliminary steps that will begin the framework of the changes we need enacted to better the experiment called the United States.
I look forward to seeing a response in the form of action on the behalf of the citizens of this country.
Thank You Tulsa Oklahoma / Generational Responsibility
Every generation has an unintended mission as it relates to the liberation of their people. That mission is based on the circumstances and is revealed either midway through or after that generation’s mission is complete.
Through land ownership and intellect, the post slavery generation (Reconstruction/Tulsa – Black Wall Street) revealed what was possible if America dared engage on a level playing field. They did an EXCELLENT job!!
Through newly established media, The Civil Rights generation exposed the world to racial injustice and an undelivered promise of liberty and justice. They did an EXCELLENT job!
The Hip Hop generation reinvigorated the notion of wealth, ownership, propagated messages of inequality and exposed the daily tribulations of Black American life to ALL of America. It was my generation’s obligation to gather overwhelming empathy and build an irrefutable emotional case against racial injustice. We did and EXCELLENT job!!
Through technology, Millennials unintended obligations seems to be gathering overwhelming and irrefutable visual and literal evidence against racial injustice AND expose it via social and regular media. They are doing an EXCELLENT job!!
Now that a select few have assimilated, gained some empathy and chosen to walk alongside us, they are also experiencing similar atrocities and destroying the sentiment that prior instances of injustice were one-offs and not systemic injustice.
As today marks the 99th Anniversary of the Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riots, I would like to acknowledge those who have shown us what was possible post slavery in America. There is a HUGE difference between returning home and trying to find a home in the first place. The candle lit by that generation is the same beacon that will navigate our eventual return. THANK YOU!!
Sidebar; All generations have had a separate and unintended but equally important mission. What is common is that all generations have had to endure to even make minor progress. We have no choice but to do the same. Sidebar Complete.
Realigning Your Moral Compass / Don’t Be Humble
Remember when “keeping it on the low” was a high-valued asset in the lunchrooms of yesterdays past? It was a glorious and magical time where your ability to not divulge information or “brag” would lend you the trust and respect of all… except maybe the person who wanted said info. Conversely, being known as conceited or loose lipped oft resulted in social suicide. Once you understood and practiced the basic tenets of social operation, you were free to roam about the country. Then along came this thing called life and what was once generally accepted social order now requires constant questioning. Oh to be young again!
These days, you may find yourself at a moral crossroads where keeping information “on the low” could result in literal career suicide and stagnation of financial growth. I’ve seen coworkers get promoted because they would inform the entire world of every menial task accomplished like closing the fridge door in the pantry. I’ve also seen coworkers not be given any credit and as far as to be laid off because no one was aware of their value or responsibilities. Who knew life was gonna be so complicated (besides every single adult?) Of course, “keeping it on the low” a.k.a humility is just one of many self-inflicted moral codes we use to navigate for a majority of our lives. There are many others (selfish, greedy, manipulative, etc…) Now what if you hadn’t assigned a negative or positive value to these sentiments from the outset? Would you still be so hesitant to engage in their practices?
For the sake of proving my point, What if these “negative” moral codes were simply tools that could not be judged but simply used? Is it manipulative to convince someone to put a gun down and not shoot up a room full of people? Was Winston Churchill being manipulative in his efforts to convince the U.S to join WWII? Is it greedy to understand how much financial assets are required to provide the lifestyle you deem worthy for you and your family then pursue accordingly? Is it selfish to know when to tune the world out to achieve a goal that will be to the worlds eventual betterment?
The world is grander than whatever lunchroom your adolescent moral GPS was manufactured in and navigated you through. Once you graduate to encounter those larger moral obstacles, you rapidly realize that what got your through it before may not get you past it now if you cannot realign your moral code. It seems once one masters a particular set of skills, they immediately become obsolete as life advances everyone to the next level. What’s more likely is a majority of our decision making tools (like morals) are choice and should be treated as such and continuously revisited. Good Luck.
Sidebar; To the aspiring entrepreneurs keeping their amazing ideas “on the low” until they blow up, you are delaying your own successes. To those who find the pursuit of money / capitalism as greedy /evil, you are delaying your own gratitude. Sidebar complete.