Classic Rock Crate Digger: Ranking Pink Floyd's 10 Best Albums
by Justin Farrar | October 4, 2011
This new Pink Floyd reissue bug bit me hard. Nearly every record between The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and The Wall has been in heavy rotation for days now. Last weekend I even drove to Barnes & Noble (Meddle served as my in-car soundtrack), and spent time in the café reading the Mojo and Rolling Stone cover stories.
Both pieces focus on The Dark Side of the Moon years. You know, the usual stuff: the making of that 1973 rock landmark, the sudden deluge of fame, the legendary artistic battles between Roger Waters and David Gilmour, etc. The articles' authors, Mojo contributing writer Mark Blake and Rolling Stone senior writer Brian Hiatt, do drop some serious history. But what nags me about their respective stories is how they more or less toe the party line with regards to the established critical perspective of the post-Syd Barrett/pre- Dark Side era that stretches from 1969's More to 1972's Obscured by Clouds.
That time was, as the story goes, full of strife, turmoil and transition, not to mention interesting (if deeply flawed) music. Hiatt describes this period as "freewheeling to a fault"; he even outright disses "Sysyphus 1-4," keyboardist Richard Wright's magnificent contribution to the 1969 double-LP Ummagumma, as "Spinal Tap-worthy." These historical views can be traced back to the band members themselves. Outside of "Echoes," probably the most Dark Side-like piece from the time in question, Waters and Gilmour tend to dismiss this music as basically ... meh.
The Dark Side of the Moon is most definitely classic rock's greatest concept album, maybe its greatest album period. From its dream-like sequential flow to the cosmic-sublime production, its the definitive sonic journey of 1970s pop. The record, as Gilmour points out in Blake's piece, is about a band learning to be "clear, direct and concise." In other words, it's about a band learning to corral its avant-garde tendencies in order to succeed in the marketplace.
But I'm also of the opinion that during this process the band lost that "freewheeling" edge. Sure, the period directly preceding Dark Side lacked mass appeal, yet it was obscenely rich in exploration and innovation. The amount of musical terrain Pink Floyd covered between 1969 and '72 is just staggering: psychedelia, West Coast-flavored folk-pop, musique concrète, early heavy metal, progressive electronics, fusion, space blues and so on. Clearly, this version of Floyd cared little for boundaries, both aesthetic and commercial. Moreover, I think it has proven to be Floyd's most influential music: you can hear echoes of it in Krautrock, progressive rock, post-punk, shoegaze, electronica, indie rock, New Age music, the ambient movement, modern psych-rock and, most recently, the rise of synth-base drone explorers such as Forma and Emeralds.
I mention all this because it's the records from this era that feature most prominently in my own personal Top Ten. I embrace Pink Floyd in totality, but this is the music nearest and dearest to my heart.