Pink Floyd were an English rock band formed in London. They achieved international acclaim with their progressive and psychedelic music. Distinguished by their use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, extended compositions and elaborate live shows, they are one of the most commercially successful and influential groups in the history of popular music.
Pink Floyd were founded in 1965 by students Syd Barrett on guitar and lead vocals, Nick Mason on drums, Roger Waters on bass and vocals, and Richard Wright on keyboards and vocals. They gained popularity performing in London's underground music scene during the late 1960s, and under Barrett's leadership released two charting singles and a successful debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Guitarist David Gilmour joined in December 1967; Barrett left in April 1968 due to deteriorating mental health. Waters became the band's primary lyricist and eventually their dominant songwriter, devising the concepts behind their albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983). The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall became two of the best-selling albums of all time.
Following creative tensions, Wright left Pink Floyd in 1979, followed by Waters in 1985. Gilmour and Mason continued as Pink Floyd; Wright rejoined them as a session musician and, later, a band member. The three produced two more albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994), and toured until 1994. After nearly two decades of acrimony, Pink Floyd reunited 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. Barrett died in 2006 and Wright in 2008. The final Pink Floyd studio album, The Endless River (2014), was recorded without Waters and largely based on unreleased material.
Pink Floyd were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. By 2013, the band had sold more than 250 million records worldwide, including 75 million certified units in the United States.
1963–1967: Early years
Roger Waters met Nick Mason while they were both studying architecture at the London Polytechnic at Regent Street. They first played music together in a group formed by Keith Noble and Clive Metcalfe with Noble's sister Sheilagh. Richard Wright, a fellow architecture student, joined later that year, and the group became a sextet named Sigma 6. Waters played lead guitar, Mason drums, and Wright rhythm guitar (since there was rarely an available keyboard). The band performed at private functions and rehearsed in a tearoom in the basement of the Regent Street Polytechnic. They performed songs by the Searchers and material written by their manager and songwriter, fellow student Ken Chapman.
In September 1963, Waters and Mason moved into a flat at 39 Stanhope Gardens near Crouch End in London, owned by Mike Leonard, a part-time tutor at the nearby Hornsey College of Art and the Regent Street Polytechnic. Mason moved out after the 1964 academic year, and guitarist Bob Klose moved in during September 1964, prompting Waters' switch to bass. Sigma 6 went through several names, including the Meggadeaths, the Abdabs and the Screaming Abdabs, Leonard's Lodgers, and the Spectrum Five, before settling on the Tea Set. In 1964, as Metcalfe and Noble left to form their own band, guitarist Syd Barrett joined Klose and Waters at Stanhope Gardens. Barrett, two years younger, had moved to London in 1962 to study at the Camberwell College of Arts. Waters and Barrett were childhood friends; Waters had often visited Barrett and watched him play guitar at Barrett's mother's house. Mason said about Barrett: "In a period when everyone was being cool in a very adolescent, self-conscious way, Syd was unfashionably outgoing; my enduring memory of our first encounter is the fact that he bothered to come up and introduce himself to me."
Noble and Metcalfe left the Tea Set in late 1963, and Klose introduced the band to singer Chris Dennis, a technician with the Royal Air Force (RAF). In December 1964, they secured their first recording time, at a studio in West Hampstead, through one of Wright's friends, who let them use some down time free. Wright, who was taking a break from his studies, did not participate in the session. When the RAF assigned Dennis a post in Bahrain in early 1965, Barrett became the band's frontman. Later that year, they became the resident band at the Countdown Club near Kensington High Street in London, where from late night until early morning they played three sets of 90 minutes each. During this period, spurred by the group's need to extend their sets to minimise song repetition, the band realised that "songs could be extended with lengthy solos", wrote Mason. After pressure from his parents and advice from his college tutors, Klose quit the band in mid-1965 and Barrett took over lead guitar. The group first referred to themselves as the Pink Floyd Sound in late 1965. Barrett created the name on the spur of the moment when he discovered that another band, also called the Tea Set, were to perform at one of their gigs. The name is derived from the given names of two blues musicians whose Piedmont blues records Barrett had in his collection, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
By 1966, the group's repertoire consisted mainly of rhythm and blues songs and they had begun to receive paid bookings, including a performance at the Marquee Club in March 1966, where Peter Jenner, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, noticed them. Jenner was impressed by the sonic effects Barrett and Wright created, and with his business partner and friend Andrew King became their manager. The pair had little experience in the music industry and used King's inheritance to set up Blackhill Enterprises, purchasing about £1,000 worth of new instruments and equipment for the band. It was around this time that Jenner suggested they drop the "Sound" part of their band name, thus becoming the Pink Floyd. Under Jenner and King's guidance, the group became part of London's underground music scene, playing at venues including All Saints Hall and the Marquee. While performing at the Countdown Club, the band had experimented with long instrumental excursions, and they began to expand them with rudimentary but effective light shows, projected by coloured slides and domestic lights. Jenner and King's social connections helped gain the band prominent coverage in the Financial Times and an article in the Sunday Times which stated: "At the launching of the new magazine IT the other night a pop group called the Pink Floyd played throbbing music while a series of bizarre coloured shapes flashed on a huge screen behind them ... apparently very psychedelic."
In 1966, the band strengthened their business relationship with Blackhill Enterprises, becoming equal partners with Jenner and King and the band members each holding a one-sixth share. By late 1966, their set included fewer R&B standards and more Barrett originals, many of which would be included on their first album. While they had significantly increased the frequency of their performances, the band were still not widely accepted. Following a performance at a Catholic youth club, the owner refused to pay them, claiming that their performance was not music. When their management filed suit in a small claims court against the owner of the youth organisation, a local magistrate upheld the owner's decision. The band was much better received at the UFO Club in London, where they began to build a fan base. Barrett's performances were enthusiastic, "leaping around ... madness ... improvisation ... [inspired] to get past his limitations and into areas that were ... very interesting. Which none of the others could do", wrote biographer Nicholas Schaffner.
Signing with EMI
In 1967, Pink Floyd began to attract the attention of the music industry. While in negotiations with record companies, IT co-founder and UFO club manager Joe Boyd and Pink Floyd's booking agent Bryan Morrison arranged and funded a recording session at Sound Techniques in
West Hampstead. Three days later, Pink Floyd signed with EMI, receiving a £5,000 advance. EMI released the band's first single, "Arnold Layne", with the B-side "Candy and a Currant Bun", on 10 March 1967 on its Columbia label. Both tracks were recorded on 29 January 1967. "Arnold Layne"'s references to cross-dressing led to a ban by several radio stations; however, creative manipulation by the retailers who supplied sales figures to the music business meant that the single peaked in the UK at number 20.
EMI-Columbia released Pink Floyd's second single, "See Emily Play", on 16 June 1967. It fared slightly better than "Arnold Layne", peaking at number 6 in the UK. The band performed on the BBC's Look of the Week, where Waters and Barrett, erudite and engaging, faced tough questioning from Hans Keller. They appeared on the BBC's Top of the Pops, a popular programme that controversially required artists to mime their singing and playing. Though Pink Floyd returned for two more performances, by the third, Barrett had begun to unravel, and it was around this time that the band first noticed significant changes in his behaviour. By early 1967, he was regularly using LSD, and Mason described him as "completely distanced from everything going on".
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Morrison and EMI producer Norman Smith negotiated Pink Floyd's first recording contract, and as part of the deal, the band agreed to record their first album at EMI Studios in London. Mason recalled that the sessions were trouble-free. Smith disagreed, stating that Barrett was unresponsive to his suggestions and constructive criticism. EMI-Columbia released The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in August 1967. The album peaked at number 6, spending 14 weeks on the UK charts. One month later, it was released under the Tower Records label. Pink Floyd continued to draw large crowds at the UFO Club; however, Barrett's mental breakdown was by then causing serious concern. The group initially hoped that his erratic behaviour would be a passing phase, but some were less optimistic, including Jenner and his assistant, June Child, who commented: "I found Syd in the dressing room and he was so ... gone. Roger Waters and I got him on his feet, and we got him out to the stage ... The band started to play and Syd just stood there. He had his guitar around his neck and his arms just hanging down".
Forced to cancel Pink Floyd's appearance at the prestigious National Jazz and Blues Festival, as well as several other shows, King informed the music press that Barrett was suffering from nervous exhaustion. Waters arranged a meeting with psychiatrist R. D. Laing, and though Waters personally drove Barrett to the appointment, Barrett refused to come out of the car. A stay in Formentera with Sam Hutt, a doctor well established in the underground music scene, led to no visible improvement. The band followed a few concert dates in Europe during September with their first tour of the US in October. As the US tour went on, Barrett's condition grew steadily worse. During appearances on the Dick Clark and Pat Boone shows in November, Barrett confounded his hosts by not responding to questions and staring off into space. He refused to move his lips when it came time to mime "See Emily Play" on Boone's show. After these embarrassing episodes, King ended their US visit and immediately sent them home to London. Soon after their return, they supported Jimi Hendrix during a tour of England; however, Barrett's depression worsened as the tour continued, reaching a crisis point in December, when the band responded by adding a new member to their line-up.
1967–1978: Transition and international success
David Gilmour replaces Syd Barrett
In December 1967, the group added guitarist David Gilmour as the fifth member of Pink Floyd. Gilmour already knew Barrett, having studied with him at Cambridge Tech in the early 1960s. The two had performed at lunchtimes together with guitars and harmonicas, and later hitch-hiked and busked their way around the south of France. In 1965, while a member of Joker's Wild, Gilmour had watched the Tea Set. Morrison's assistant, Steve O'Rourke, set Gilmour up in a room at O'Rourke's house with a salary of £30 per week, and in January 1968, Blackhill Enterprises announced Gilmour as the band's newest member; the second guitarist and its fifth member, the band intending to continue with Barrett as a nonperforming songwriter. Jenner commented: "The idea was that Dave would ... cover for [Barrett's] eccentricities and when that got to be not workable, Syd was just going to write. Just to try to keep him involved". In an expression of his frustration, Barrett, who was expected to write additional hit singles to follow up "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play", instead introduced "Have You Got It Yet?" to the band, intentionally changing the structure on each performance so as to make the song impossible to follow and learn. In a January 1968 photo-shoot of the five-man Pink Floyd, the photographs show Barrett looking detached from the others, staring into the distance.
Working with Barrett eventually proved too difficult, and matters came to a conclusion in January while en route to a performance in Southampton when a band member asked if they should collect Barrett. According to Gilmour, the answer was "Nah, let's not bother", signalling the end of Barrett's tenure with Pink Floyd. Waters later admitted, "He was our friend, but most of the time we now wanted to strangle him". In early March 1968, Pink Floyd met with business partners Jenner and King to discuss the band's future; Barrett agreed to leave.
Jenner and King believed Barrett to be the creative genius of the band, and decided to represent him and end their relationship with Pink Floyd. Morrison then sold his business to NEMS Enterprises, and O'Rourke became the band's personal manager. Blackhill announced Barrett's departure on 6 April 1968. After Barrett's departure, the burden of lyrical composition and creative direction fell mostly on Waters. Initially, Gilmour mimed to Barrett's voice on the group's European TV appearances; however, while playing on the university circuit, they avoided Barrett songs in favour of Waters and Wright material such as "It Would Be So Nice" and "Careful with That Axe, Eugene".
A Saucerful of Secrets
In 1968, Pink Floyd returned to Abbey Road Studios to record their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. The album included Barrett's final contribution to their discography, "Jugband Blues". Waters began to develop his own songwriting, contributing "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", "Let There Be More Light" and "Corporal Clegg". Wright composed "See-Saw" and "Remember a Day". Smith encouraged them to self-produce their music, and they recorded demos of new material at their houses. With Smith's instruction at Abbey Road, they learned how to use the recording studio to realise their artistic vision. However, Smith remained unconvinced by their music, and when Mason struggled to perform his drum part on "Remember a Day", Smith stepped in as his replacement. Wright recalled Smith's attitude about the sessions, "Norman gave up on the second album ... he was forever saying things like, 'You can't do twenty minutes of this ridiculous noise'". As neither Waters nor Mason could read music, to illustrate the structure of the album's title track, they invented their own system of notation. Gilmour later described their method as looking "like an architectural diagram".
Released in June 1968, the album featured a psychedelic cover designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. The first of several Pink Floyd album covers designed by Hipgnosis, it was the second time that EMI permitted one of their groups to contract designers for an album jacket. The release peaked at number 9, spending 11 weeks on the UK chart.
Record Mirror gave the album an overall favourable review, but urged listeners to "forget it as background music to a party". John Peel described a live performance of the title track as "like a religious experience", while NME described the song as "long and boring ... [with] little to warrant its monotonous direction". On the day after the album's UK release, Pink Floyd performed at the first ever free concert in Hyde Park. In July 1968, they returned to the US for a second visit. Accompanied by the Soft Machine and the Who, it marked Pink Floyd's first significant tour. In December of that year, they released "Point Me at the Sky"; no more successful than the two singles they had released since "See Emily Play", it would be the band's last until their 1973 release, "Money".
Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, and Meddle
Ummagumma represented a departure from their previous work. Released as a double-LP on EMI's Harvest label, the first two sides contained live performances recorded at Manchester College of Commerce and Mothers, a club in Birmingham. The second LP contained a single experimental contribution from each band member. Ummagumma received positive reviews upon its release, in November 1969. The album peaked at number 5, spending 21 weeks on the UK chart.
In October 1970, Pink Floyd released Atom Heart Mother. An early version premièred in France in January, but disagreements over the mix prompted the hiring of Ron Geesin to work out the sound issues. Geesin worked to improve the score, but with little creative input from the band, production was troublesome. Geesin eventually completed the project with the aid of John Alldis, who was the director of the choir hired to perform on the record. Smith earned an executive producer credit, and the album marked his final official contribution to the band's discography. Gilmour said it was "A neat way of saying that he didn't ... do anything". Waters was critical of Atom Heart Mother, claiming that he would prefer if it were "thrown into the dustbin and never listened to by anyone ever again". Gilmour was equally dismissive of the album and once described it as "a load of rubbish", stating: "I think we were scraping the barrel a bit at that period". Pink Floyd's first number 1 album, Atom Heart Mother was hugely successful in Britain, spending 18 weeks on the UK chart. It premièred at the Bath Festival on 27 June 1970.
Pink Floyd toured extensively across America and Europe in 1970. In 1971, Pink Floyd took second place in a reader's poll, in Melody Maker, and for the first time were making a profit. Mason and Wright became fathers and bought homes in London while Gilmour, still single, moved to a 19th-century farm in Essex. Waters installed a home recording studio at his house in Islington in a converted toolshed at the back of his garden.
In January 1971, upon their return from touring Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd began working on new material. Lacking a central theme, they attempted several unproductive experiments; engineer John Leckie described the sessions as often beginning in the afternoon and ending early the next morning, "during which time nothing would get [accomplished]. There was no record company contact whatsoever, except when their label manager would show up now and again with a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of joints". The band spent long periods working on basic sounds, or a guitar riff. They also spent several days at Air Studios, attempting to create music using a variety of household objects, a project which would be revisited between The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.
Released in October 1971, "Meddle not only confirms lead guitarist David Gilmour's emergence as a real shaping force with the group, it states forcefully and accurately that the group is well into the growth track again", wrote Jean-Charles Costa of Rolling Stone. NME called Meddle "an exceptionally good album", singling out "Echoes" as the "Zenith which the Floyd have been striving for". However, Melody Maker's Michael Watts found it underwhelming, calling the album "a soundtrack to a non-existent movie", and shrugging off Pink Floyd as "so much sound and fury, signifying nothing". Meddle is a transitional album between the Barrett-influenced group of the late 1960s and the emerging Pink Floyd. The LP peaked at number 3, spending 82 weeks on the UK chart.
The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon between May 1972 and January 1973, with EMI staff engineer Alan Parsons at Abbey Road. The title is an allusion to lunacy rather than astronomy. The band had composed and refined the material on Dark Side while touring the UK, Japan, North America and Europe. Producer Chris Thomas assisted Parsons. Hipgnosis designed the album's packaging, which included George Hardie's iconic refracting prism design on the cover. Thorgerson's Dark Side album cover features a beam of white light, representing unity, passing through a prism, which represents society. The resulting refracted beam of coloured light symbolises unity diffracted, leaving an absence of unity. Waters is the sole author of the album's lyrics.
Released in March 1973, the LP became an instant chart success in the UK and throughout Western Europe, earning an enthusiastic response from critics. Each member of Pink Floyd except Wright boycotted the press release of The Dark Side of the Moon because a quadraphonic mix had not yet been completed, and they felt presenting the album through a poor-quality stereo PA system was insufficient. Melody Maker's Roy Hollingworth described side one as "utterly confused ... [and] difficult to follow", but praised side two, writing: "The songs, the sounds ... [and] the rhythms were solid ... [the] saxophone hit the air, the band rocked and rolled". Rolling Stone's Loyd Grossman described it as "a fine album with a textural and conceptual richness that not only invites, but demands involvement."
Throughout March 1973, The Dark Side of the Moon featured as part of Pink Floyd's US tour. The album is one of the most commercially successful rock albums of all time; a US number 1, it remained on the Billboard chart for more than fourteen years, selling more than 45 million copies worldwide. In Britain, the album peaked at number 2, spending 364 weeks on the UK chart. Dark Side is the world's second best-selling album, and the twenty-first best-selling album of all time in the US. The success of the album brought enormous wealth to the members of Pink Floyd. Waters and Wright bought large country houses while Mason became a collector of expensive cars. Disenchanted with their US record company, Capitol Records, Pink Floyd and O'Rourke negotiated a new contract with Columbia Records, who gave them a reported advance of $1,000,000, which is worth approximately $5,000,000 today. In Europe, they continued to be represented by Harvest Records.
Wish You Were Here
After a tour of the UK performing Dark Side, Pink Floyd returned to the studio in January 1975 and began work on their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here. Parsons declined an offer to continue working with them, becoming successful in his own right with the Alan Parsons Project, and so the band turned to Brian Humphries. Initially, they found it difficult to compose new material; the success of The Dark Side of the Moon had left Pink Floyd physically and emotionally drained. Wright later described these early sessions as "falling within a difficult period" and Waters found them "tortuous". Gilmour was more interested in improving the band's existing material. Mason's failing marriage left him in a general malaise and with a sense of apathy, both of which interfered with his drumming.
Despite the lack of creative direction, Waters began to visualise a new concept after several weeks. During 1974, Pink Floyd had sketched out three original compositions and had performed them at a series of concerts in Europe. These compositions became the starting point for a new album whose opening four-note guitar phrase, composed purely by chance by Gilmour, reminded Waters of Barrett. The songs provided a fitting summary of the rise and fall of their former bandmate. Waters commented: "Because I wanted to get as close as possible to what I felt ... [that] indefinable, inevitable melancholy about the disappearance of Syd."
While Pink Floyd were working on the album, Barrett made an impromptu visit to the studio, during which Thorgerson recalled that he "sat round and talked for a bit, but he wasn't really there." He had changed significantly in appearance, so much so that the band did not initially recognise him. Waters was reportedly deeply upset by the experience. Most of Wish You Were Here premiered on 5 July 1975, at an open-air music festival at Knebworth. Released in September, it reached number one in both the UK and the US.
A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Obscured by Clouds (1972)
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Wish You Were Here (1975)
The Wall (1979)
The Final Cut (1983)
A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
The Division Bell (1994)
The Endless River (2014)
Roger Waters – vocals, bass guitar, rhythm guitar (1965–1985, 2005)
David Gilmour – vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, bass guitar, keyboards (1967–1995, 2005, 2014)
Nick Mason – drums, percussion (1965–1995, 2005, 2014)
Richard Wright – vocals, keyboards, synthesisers, piano (1965–1979, 1987–1995, 2005, died 2008)