Pink Floyd had its humble beginnings with four London students: Syd Barrett (guitar/vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass) and Rick Wright (keyboards). Originally called The Cambridge, they learned their trade listening to imported R&B and began to cover them when they formed in 1966. These covers rapidly gave way to Barrett's own songs. Pink Floyd, however, was not just blessed with talent but timing also for their rise to fame coincided with the blossoming of London's underground movement - the counter culture. The band's reputation was fueled by their embryonic light show, using liquid lights and slides during the era of psychedelia when such things were all the rage. Pink Floyd made the national spotlight after the launch party for International Times Magazine at the Roundhouse in October 1966. When the U.F.O. club was opened in December, Pink Floyd were adopted as virtually a house band.
The band then signed to EMI's 'Columbia' label to record their debut single in January 1967 with producer Joe Boyd. A tale of transvestism set to spooky music, the track Arnold Layne graced the Top 20, despite some controversy. But clocking in even higher was See Emily Play making 6 at the height of the Summer Of Love and paved the way perfectly for Pink Floyd's startling debut album, The Piper At The Gates OF Dawn (1967), recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. The album's mix of whimsical songs and strange extended pieces captured the period perfectly in tracks like Bike to the lengthy instrumental Interstellar Overdrive. An early take of that last mentioned track appeared soon afterwards on the soundtrack of the Swinging 60's visual documentary, Tonite Let's All Make Love In London.
In November, Pink Floyd issued a less commercial third single, Apples And Oranges, a psychedelic effort that reflected Syd Barrett's increasing use of drugs like acid. Sadly, the effects of drugs led to Barrett's departure from the band in early 1968, to be replaced by his old friend Dave Gilmour (ex-Joker's Wild); Barrett would later issue two solo albums.
Their second LP saw them evolving with a new sound. A Saucer-full Of Secrets (1968) was more mellow and meandering; its highlight being the hypnotic psychedelia of Set The Controls For The Heart Of the Sun. The year also saw some experimental non-LP singles, It Would Be So Nice and Point Me At The Sky, but the band would then turn away from singles for the next decade.
The band's next project, the soundtrack LP More, issued in July 1969, reflected a more pastoral side to their music, aside from the heavy Rock of The Nile Song. Floyd were now lumped in with Britain's burgeoning progressive rock scene, a classification that further pushed their case as serious musicians. Their next album reflected their acceptance of that role for Ummagumma (1969) was a budget-priced double set containing a live disc and a patchy studio LP. This was their first release on EMI's new progressive label, Harvest'. Another soundtrack followed in the form of Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1969), the LP of which featured three of the band's tracks.
The band's next album launched the new decade in dramatic fashion. Atom Heart Mother went to 1 U.K. in October 1970, despite an ambitious track featuring an orchestral score covering all of one side. As Pink Floyd followed the path of The Beatles as a studio oriented band with complex arrangements not easily reproduced on stage, 'EMI' responded by issuing Relics (1970) on their budget 'Starline' label, featuring a collection of oldies and rarities. 1971's Meddle featured another sidelong piece, Echoes, and the contrastingly simple One Of These Days, both of which would become Pink Floyd classics. Pink Floyd were then involved in the film, 'Live At Pompeii', featuring the band filmed in that famous amphitheater, interspersed by studio and interview footage. They also issued their soundtrack to the film, La Vallee, as Obscured By Clouds, a gentle mixture of folk and ambient background music that sold surprisingly well.
The series of concerts performed at London's Rainbow Theatre in February 1972 are commonly cited as the watershed in Pink Floyd's career. These four sell-out shows marked the premier of The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), an album that would soon become the quintessential Pink Floyd classic. Indeed, when the album finally hit the racks in March 1973, it was already one of the most talked-about records since The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. Many fans had already seen it performed live throughout Europe and the USA, adding to its intrigue its superior sound quality sent hi-fi buffs out in droves. While The Dark Side Of The Moon remains one of the best-selling albums ever, it never quite managed to reach 1. Yet it's consistent sales over the years has proven testament to its dreamy melodies and space age instrumentation that summed up in its title. The sales figures seemed to have been poetic justice for the sound of cash registers marked the start of the LP's most famous song, Money.
'EMI' then recycled the first two Pink Floyd LP's as A Nice Pair in late 1973, but it wasn't until September 1975 that the next album arrived. Wish You Were Here continued Roger Waters' theme of quiet desperation; the album's piece de-la resistance being Shine On You Crazy Diamond, a long track allegedly inspired by a visit from Syd Barrett. Roy Harper and Stefan Grappelli were both featured as guests.
By the time the next Pink Floyd album was released, Punk had arrived with a vengeance but 1977's Animals managed to succeed in sales where most of Pink Floyd's contemporaries failed, except the album met criticism for Pigs On The Wing and Sheep, since their were merely reworking of two 1974 compositions.
By now Pink Floyd was an established band, playing regularly to audiences of up to 100,000 people. The band, Waters specifically, felt ambivalent towards such events, however. Waters' felt alienated by the experience and this deepening personal crisis inspired Pink Floyd's next project, The Wall. Released in November 1979, a single accompanied the album, and after selling 340,000 copies in the UK within five days, Another Brick In The Wall (Pt. 2) went to the top of the charts. The Wall was a bleak affair, a concept album based around an Orwellian '1984' styled future, but the lyrics ran the gamut of human emotions overall. The album would become the 'other' best-known Pink Floyd album, a record that still gets airplay today. Waters had always conceived The Wall as a live show, and the expensive production was first performed live in New York and Los Angeles in February 1980, and then in London later that August. The main feature of the show was the gradual construction of a wall as the band played. A film was released in 1982, using animation based on Gerald Scarfe's drawings and featuring the Boomtown Rat's Bob Geldof in the central role of "Pink" that would later be shortened to become re-issued as a music video. While recording costs for the ambitious LP alone topped 300,000 pounds, the investment paid off for The Wall grossed over 10 million pounds in a mere three months. The track was later featured during a concert to celebrate the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and the next generation celebrated it with the incredible cover recorded by Korn in 2012.
Although by the end of the 1970s, Pink Floyd were arguably a massive Rock band, their next project, the 1981 compilation A Collection Of Great Dance Songs, flopped, barely scraping the Top 40. Modest sales also accompanied the single for When The Tigers Break Free, one of the missing songs from the movie, backed by Floyd's comment on the Falklands War, Bring The Boys Back Home. It seemed as though their massively ambitious projects of the 1970s were hard to live up to.
By the time sessions had begun for the prophetically titled The Final Cut, Rick Wright had left the band and session musicians handled the keyboard duties. Many believed that Waters' domination of Pink Floyd had reduced Mason and Gilmour to a similar status. Issued in March 1983, The Final Cut was one of the first records to be recorded using the new "holographic technique", but not even this innovation could cover up the thumbs-down that the record received by critics. Nevertheless, it sold three million copies; the spun off single, Not Now John, reached the Top 30.
Since the early 1970s, the individual members of Pink Floyd had pursued solo recording careers to satisfy their own pursuits, ego and curiosity. But by the mid-1980s, feuds within the band had reached an all-time high. 1984 witnessed a flurry of solo activity, the most prominent of which was Roger Waters' The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking. The album was a Top 20 success, helped in part by and enormous media blitz and a guest spot from Eric Clapton. Waters also toured, at first refusing to play any Pink Floyd material, and generally shunning other band members. It was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped and, indeed it did within a year Waters announced his departure from Pink Floyd.
The surviving members, now as a trio, regrouped. But while Gilmour's social graces won the band many friends, Waters' confrontational attitude pissed off many in the music industry - not least, MTV. Despite Waters' solo albums since, the remaining members of Pink Floyd have overshadowed their former leader.
After Works, their comeback came as 1987's A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, featuring an amazing cast of support/session musicians like 10cc's Eric Stewart, Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera and poet Roger McGough among them. Rick Wright was persuaded to rejoin but his role was marginal (he took a wage). The album proved to be a moderate success, but the endless overdubbing, re-recording and mixing, cut its prospects down from excellent to fair. Waters once commented that the record was a pretty fair forgery over the knowledge that the album managed to sell in large quantities. A long world tour accompanied the album from 1987 into 1989. Not surprisingly, Pink Floyd marked this feat with the live album, The Delicate Sound Of Thunder (1988). Arriving in time for Christmas of that year and featuring the new song, Sorrow, many critics claimed that the album was superfluous, with comments like "you had to be there" and "sterile".
In 1990, Pink Floyd performed a massive show with supporting acts ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Cliff Richard, Tears For Fears, Status Quo, Genesis and Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Highlights of the performances were subsequently issued on 'Polydor' as Knebworth: The Album, along with a three video set in 1990.
Pink Floyd were quiet until 1994 when they returned with The Division Bell. The album felt far more of a collaborative effort between the group like times of old. Several singles resulted in the form of Take It Back, a song echoing the feel of Irish band U2, backed by an old favorite from the first LP, Astronome Domine (also covered by Canaidan band Voivod on one of their albums around the same time) and the double-A-side High Hopes, perhaps the stand-out track on the album, while Keep Talking was probably the most stunning featuring the computerized voice astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, the wheelchair bound genius. The same day as The Division Bell was released, Pink Floyd embarked on their most ambitious world tour ever. Aside from an incident at Earls Court when some seating collapsed, the tour was a success, later celebrated with a double CD live set, Pulse (1995), featuring a flashing light on its spine and a rumored original line-up reunification tour in 2005.
The band did, indeed, reunite with Waters in 2005 for a performance in London as part of the global awareness event Live 8, but Gilmour and Waters have since stated they have no plans to reunite as a band again. Any idea of a permanent reunification with the original members was ended when Barrett died in 2006 and Wright in 2008. The final Pink Floyd studio album, The Endless River (2014), was recorded without Waters and relied heavily on unreleased material.