This guide is purely my own opinion, and may differ somewhat from received wisdom.
Pink Floyd formed in the mid ‘60s whilst Richard Wright, Nick Mason, & Roger Waters were all studying Architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic, and Syd Barrett was studying at Camberwell Art School. Their early days were spent playing R&B covers at weddings & small gigs.
Barrett soon moved them toward what became their trademark Psychedelia, and they became the darlings of the London underground scene.
PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
1967 saw the release of their debut album The Piper at The Gates of Dawn.
This album was an instant hit, and is now regarded as one of the high points of UK Psychedelia. The songs alternate between Barrett’s whimsical Poppish Psych tunes, and some longer more exploratory and experimental work.
Example of the former: Bike video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHRE5dyDKTA
Example of the latter: Interstellar Overdrive video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emlJKhLZOh8
For many, this is still their career high point, but for the masses, the best was yet to come.
Success loomed large, but Syd Barrett was becoming increasingly erratic & unreliable. There are two theories regarding this; The first is that Syd’s consumption of hallucinogens did irreparable damage, and the second is that Syd had a pre-existing mental health condition which surfaced, possibly exacerbated by the drugs. Either way,the band recruited another guitarist & vocalist, Dave Gilmour, before unceremoniously dropping Syd from the band. This wasn’t exactly a formal process, since none of the entourage had the gumption to sack him. They simply failed to pick him up for a gig one day. The guilt & remorse over this whole episode has haunted the band ever since, and Syd is occasionally referenced in their later work.
This didn’t entirely solve the bands problems, since Syd was their principal song-writer, and whilst the band struggled to step up to the plate with writing duties, the pressure was on to capitalise on the success of PATGOD.
A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS
The resultant second album was a pale imitation of their debut and was released in ’68 under the name A Saucerful of Secrets.
The lack of song-writing resulted in long instrumental passages which could be said to have been a bit of a blueprint for their subsequent albums. Having said that, Roger Waters was showing the first signs of his rise to dominance within the band
Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun video (Actually filmed several years later) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5_0iZQ-TuA
A Saucerful of Secrets video (From the same live source as Set The Controls…) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNTYIQnWOWk
Through their involvement with the underground art scene in London, their next project was a soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder’s ‘69 movie More. Never seen the film, so can't comment on it.
Although the band were well on course for a successful career by now, this album was really a step back, and the quality of the music is nothing special. Avoid…
The final release of the decade was a double album, Ummagumma.
Consisting of one live record of their trademark musical extravaganzas – only four tracks; Astronomy Domine, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun, & A Saucerful of Secrets - & the other record on which each band member had a 10 minute slot to do whatever they liked.
The live material is really good, but the “solo” music is patchy. Having grown up with the album, I like all of it, but buyer beware.
The Piper at The Gates of Dawn is undoubtedly the cream of their ‘60s material, but be warned, it’s nothing like their more famous work.
It’s also worth mentioning Pink Floyd’s approach to live gigs. Right from the outset, they were obsessed with the theatrical opportunities of live performance, and whilst only Barrett & Waters had any sort of on-stage charisma, they concentrated on developing light shows to accompany their playing.
At the time, light shows as we know them today were unknown, so the Floyd’s experimentation with lighting enhancing the performance, and with oil wheels & films was instrumental in starting the trend which continues to this day.
Similarly, their experimentation with sound was pretty revolutionary. Abbey Road Studios developed a sound control system for the band known as the Azimuth Co-ordinator. This was a joystick affair which enabled them to pan the sound between speakers set around the concert venue. Therefore, Pink Floyd may have invented Surround Sound !!
Not content with experimenting with music, lighting, & sound, their album cover art was important to them from the outset. A career-long association with friend & graphic designer Storm Thorgerson has produced some unique cover art. As an example, the cover photo for Ummagumma shows the band on either side of a doorway. The photo hanging on the wall is a facsimile of the cover, with the band members in the same poses but different positions. The photo on the wall in that picture repeats the process, and so on into infinity. This is known as a regressive image, it seems.
The ‘60s were where it all began, but changes were afoot, and world domination beckoned…