Pink Floyd: Song by Song – Andrew Wild. Fonthill Media. 160 pp. Illus. Pbk. £16.99.
Impressively, this is a critical guide to the 15 studio albums that Pink Floyd have released over the last 50 years. This book does much more than just listing recording dates, studios and line-ups. The author really knows his Floyd. He offers much in the way of insight into how the songs came about and how they may have been influenced by other Floyd tracks. He’s not afraid to criticize the band, especially when it comes to the disappointment of their later works.
The book is divided into five chapters which covers all of the recordings. The first chapter gives us a brief pre-history of the Floyd with their first two singles, ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’ (both top 20 hits in 1967) and their ground-breaking albums, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and A Saucerful of Secrets (1968). Both these LPs featured the tortured genius of Syd Barrett who was to leave the band in 1968 due to his erratic behaviour. These albums were early examples of English rock psychedelia and space rock which still stand up today as fine recordings.
The second chapter gives us the film soundtrack album, More (1969) together with the experimental albums Ummagumma (1969) and Atom Heart Mother (1970). Ummagumma was a double album comprising live tracks and studio sessions. More, is perhaps the least known of the Floyd’s output but still has a few decent tracks.
Chapter 3 presents classic Floyd: Meddle (1971), Obscured by Clouds (1972), The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and Wish You Were Here (1975). It was Dark Side of the Moon that broke the USA and set them on the road to global super-stardom. Here in the UK, Pink Floyd had been building up a following since 1967 and Dark Side of the Moon, which is their masterpiece can be seen as a logical progression from their early works. The classic period is rounded off by Wish You Were Here which Wild describes as “their difficult second album”. Not everyone will agree that the film soundtrack album, Obscured by Clouds is a forgotten masterpiece but it has some good tracks.
Wild continues with what I see as their cynical period. The chapter is subtitled as “Nothing is Very Much Fun Anymore”. Animals (1977), The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983) was all seen as records dominated by bass player and song writer Roger Waters. These are largely angry, aggressive records which still sold by the million but Roger Waters left the band in 1985 and has subsequently pursued a solo career.
The book also covers the final Floyd records; A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), The Division Bell (1994) and what appears to be their final work The Endless River (2014). The band is led by Dave Gilmour after 1985 and a greater use is made of the session musicians. These final records certainly sound like Pink Floyd but lack the heart and soul of their classic recordings.
Pink Floyd Song By Song has a comprehensive discography of the solo recordings by the band members and a good bibliography. It also lists tracks which were not released on studio albums, some of which have only recently been available on horrendously expensive box sets. For those who, like myself, are a dedicated Floyd fan and have all of their albums then this excellent book will help you rediscover the genius of their works. If you are new to the band then this book, which is just the price of a couple of records, can help guide you in building a Floyd collection.