Pink Floyd was formed in 1965, and throughout the 1960s and 1970s they became one of the biggest names in psychedelic rock. They also defined progressive rock quite well. Fewer bands were more progressive than they were, or as able to establish an almost entirely different musical tone from one album to another.
They owed a lot of their commercial success throughout the 1970s to Roger Waters, who took over as the band’s major songwriter after Syd Barrett had to leave the band in 1968. Not only did Waters write a great deal of the band’s music and lyrics, but he also developed entire concepts behind some of their most major albums such as 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon and 1979’s The Wall. His lyrics were incredibly philosophical, often dealing with serious themes such as war, disillusionment, alienation, oppression and insanity. He was also responsible for some of the band’s famed sonic experimentation, playing around with the use of various equipment on songs such as “Welcome to the Machine” and “One of These Days.”
The change from Syd Barrett to Roger Waters is at least partly responsible for some of the band’s initial changes in terms of musical sound. Barrett’s lyrics were not quite as heavy, and he often preferred music that was more in line with the blues rock of the time. When Waters took over, he began to seek more unique and innovative sounds for the band to play around with. He did not just write songs, but rather established musical landscapes with enough breadth to withstand the often deep and moving themes of his lyrics.
Despite the band’s sonic experimentation and unique sound, the actual musicality of their songs was often deceptively simple. This was something of an anomaly; many other progressive rock bands that did not sound nearly as unique as Pink Floyd were technically doing much more in terms of experimenting with chord progressions and other technical aspects of their music. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, used relatively simple and melodic chord progressions that were technically not too difficult to imitate.
Some of the band’s lyrics reflected this simplicity as well. Waters was known as something of a philosophical lyricist, but not everything written by Pink Floyd took a great deal of thought to be understood. The song “Fat Old Sun,” for instance, is simply about the setting of the sun. This made their songs highly graspable for many fans, as they were usually familiar with the notion of a sunset no matter where they were originally from. This type of simplicity made it easier for Pink Floyd to reach a wide international audience.
After 1979, the band started to decline. Richard Wright left the band, and influential songwriter Roger Waters left about six years later. Nick Mason and David Gilmour became the only two left, although Richard Wright eventually came back to release two albums in 1987 and 1994. The band would not reunite with Roger Waters again until one performance in 2005. There are currently no plans for the surviving members to reunite.
Even so, the music that initially made them popular is still selling to this day. In total, the band has sold more than a quarter of a billion records. Their music is so immortal, they simply do not need to tour for people to continue buying their music. Rather, it is the kind of music that speaks for itself.
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