Showing posts with label Pink Floyd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pink Floyd. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Nancy & Lee, Part V: Pop vs. Rock

The summer of 1967 became known as the “Summer of Love,” in effect an opportunity to market new fashions, rock music, and alternatives to Western (or European) thought and religion to the young people of America. As a moment in history, the designation was supposed to signal a profound shift in consciousness. A pop song was written to announce this shift, John Phillips’ “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” sung by Scott McKenzie. Thousands of young people, celebrating the American values of freedom and the open road enabled by the automobile, flocked to San Francisco, later to Monterey (for the Pop Festival), where that summer “bohemian chic” was all the rage. Fashion designer Thea Porter was responsible for most of the bohemian chic fashions of the 60s and 70s—caftans, diaphanous patterned shifts, and Middle Eastern (or Oriental) influenced dresses and blouses.

“The hippie look started out as more of a political statement, a type of anti-fashion, but it soon became the fashion itself,” states Laura McLaws Helms in her book, Thea Porter: Bohemian Chic, co-written with Venetia Porter, the designer’s daughter. Changes in fashion allowed for new, exotic, and, occasionally, bizarre expressions of individuality. The Fall of the Summer of Love began on October 17, 1967, when the musical Hair had its off-Broadway debut at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York, later opening on Broadway in April 1968. The Monterey Pop Festival was to rock (a noun that once had been a verb) what Hair’s “tribe” was to Bohemian chic. The entertainment industry realized that it was time to market products specifically for the counterculture.

Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released in August 1967, featured the band members in jackets designed by Thea Porter on the album cover.
The vaguely Oriental jackets, coupled with the band being photographed using a prism lens, all suggested an hallucinatory “trip.” As purveyors of Bohemian chic, the band announced itself through the album cover as playing a new kind of music signaling a new form of consciousness. Any number of terms were applied, correctly or incorrectly, at the time to the band’s music—psychedelic, hallucinatory, “mind-expanding,” “trippy.”

NANCY SINATRA: My music was left behind in a way…since I was never embraced by my peers. I was stranded, on my own, to fend for myself . . . . I remember, years later, meeting Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow at the Clinton White House. They virtually snubbed me. I was hurt.

An interesting comment, to be sure. However, I’m not sure that it was Nancy Sinatra’s music that was left behind. She represents a pop music aesthetic that signifies values that certain individuals, such as those named above, hold in disdain. She is a representative of a fashion style that was considered conservative—miniskirts, go-go boots, simple A-line dresses—that was rejected by rock culture’s adoption of the values represented by Bohemian chic—non-Western, Oriental, and superficially radical. Anti-fashion became fashion, earnestness became pessimism, and the supposed shift in consciousness became an obsession with sex and hallucinatory drugs. Pop music was for so-called “empty people,” superficial in thought and feeling. In contrast, rock was for those who felt deeply, those who adhered to the fundamental modernist values: individuality, spontaneity, inspiration. By associating itself with modernist values (previously adopted by jazz culture), rock leveraged itself into the position of being the superior pop musical form.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In The Pink

The BBC has reported Pink Floyd has initiated legal action against its record label EMI “over payment of online royalties and the marketing of their music.” Signed to EMI since 1967, the lawsuit concerns the manner in which payments for digital sales are calculated. Personally, however, I think that the ruling the band is seeking—whether EMI can extract individual tracks from the original albums and sell them individually—is far more interesting. For what is an album, if not organized around a concept? Album sales began to surpass singles decades ago, on the assumption that the album was organized around an abstraction, a concept, or, if you will, “mood.”

Mr. Howe [the band’s legal representative] said EMI contend that the sale of individual tracks from albums “only applies to the physical product and does not apply online.” He added that the practice “makes no commercial sense” and contravenes agreements signed by both parties.

I was also struck by a statement in the report that indicates, “Pink Floyd’s back catalogue is the most lucrative in pop music apart from that of The Beatles.” Intrigued, I searched for a website listing the top-selling albums of all-time, and found that the following titles form the “Top Ten” bestsellers. Pink Floyd’s THE WALL is in the Top 5, while DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is in the Top 25. Is the Pink Floyd catalog as lucrative as Led Zeppelin's? Zep has more titles overall in the Top 50 than Pink Floyd, so I'm wondering whether that observation is accurate.

Top Ten Best Selling Rock Albums (as of January 2008):
Michael Jackson, THRILLER
Pink Floyd, THE WALL
Garth Brooks, DOUBLE LIVE
Shania Twain, COME ON OVER
The Beatles, THE BEATLES
Fleetwood Mac, RUMOURS

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thoughts On Pinkoyd Nicelp

There’s no question that the introduction of the 12-inch LP (“long-playing” record) by Columbia in 1948 profoundly transformed music consumption and reception. Without the LP, would jazz musicians such as John Coltrane have been compelled to improvise at such lengths? Without the LP, would the Beatles have ceased to perform live—or perhaps more importantly, would they have made SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND? Released in the United States on 2 June 1967, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND not only altered the way rock bands approached recording, but also altered what they wanted to record: Nick Mason, in Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd (2004) confirms this claim.

As is well known, Pink Floyd was recording THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN (released two months after Sgt. Peppers) at Abbey Road’s Studio Three at the same time as the Beatles’ were recording the Sgt. Pepper’s album in Studio Two. The link between the two bands is Norman Smith, the EMI staff member who was the engineer on the all the Beatles albums up through RUBBER SOUL (1965), and was the producer of Pink Floyd’s first album. Nick Mason writes:

On the other, more structured songs, Norman was able to bring his production skills to bear, adding arrangements and harmonies and making use of the effects that could be engineered through the mixing desk and outboard equipment. He also helped to reveal all the possibilities contained in Abbey Road’s collection of instruments and sound effects. Once we realised their potential we quickly started introducing all kinds of extraneous elements, from the radio voice cutting into ‘Astronomy Domine’ to the clocks on the outro of ‘Bike’. This flirtation with ‘musique concrète’ was by no means unique—George ‘Shadow’ Morton had already used a motorbike on the Shangri-Las’ ‘The Lead Of The Pack’—but it was a relative novelty at the time, and from then on became a regular element in our creative process.

Since Norman had worked with the Beatles it was predictable that at some stage of the recording we would get an audience with their eminences…. We were ushered into Studio 2, where the Fab Four were busy recording ‘Lovely Rita’. The music sounded wonderful, and incredibly professional, but, in the same way we survived the worst of our gigs, we were enthused rather than completely broken by the experience. (2005 paperback edition, 83)

As an instance of so-called psychedelic rock—a term describing both a manner of recording as well as a particular use of non-linear amplification techniques such as distortion and reverb—THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN represents one reaction to changed recording practices exemplified by SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. But another reaction, or another direction, can be seen in a band that also represents the altered way bands were putting their ideas on record, as well as the very ideas themselves—The Nice, from which emerged Keith Emerson, later of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP).

The link between The Nice and Pink Floyd is guitarist David O’List, who stood in for Syd Barrett one time in 1967. Andrew Loog Oldham assembled the Nice in May 1967 to support the soul singer P. P. Arnold. The band performed with Arnold for the next few months, but by August the band’s first drummer, Ian Hague, was replaced by the jazz-influenced Brian Davison, and soon after The Nice split from Arnold, choosing to pursue a musical direction consisting of longer, extended arrangements such as “Rondo” (a version of Dave Brubeck’s 1959 “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” probably encouraged by Davison) and Leonard Bernstein’s “America” (probably encouraged by Keith Emerson; see the video here).

The Nice’s first album, THE THOUGHTS OF EMERLIST DAVJACK, was recorded the autumn of 1967 and released in the UK late that same year. David O’List bailed out during the recording of The Nice’s second album in 1968, and the band continued on as a trio. Keith Emerson, subsequently, redefined the role of keyboard instruments in rock music. He soon embraced the Moog synthesizer, helping popularize that particular technology to the audiences of the time.

What I’ve outlined are two divergent paths, two responses in the form of two contemporaneous albums, to the altered approach to recording initiated by the Beatles landmark album (I’m fully aware that the rock critical establishment is divided in its evaluation of the Beatles’ album—that’s not my point). The sound of neither album could be replicated for live audiences, a point that Mason acknowledges in his discussion of THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN that I cited above (see his discussion prior to the portion I quoted above, pp. 82-83). One album is an example of psychedelic rock, while the other is an example of so-called progressive rock.

The difference between them can be understood, I think, in how the different bands approached sonic space: psychedelia is an attempt to reproduce interior (“psychic”) space, while progressive rock attempts to expand exterior (concert hall) space—that is, the imaginary spaces where music takes place. The paradox, of course, is that both forms of music derive from medieval cathedrals, the sonic properties of which the members of both bands, The Nice and Pink Floyd, were fully aware. Psychedelic rock is a simulacrum, an attempt to recreate the echoes and reverberations of medieval cathedrals that encourage transcendent experience (which is why a certain subgenre of psychedelic rock is referred to as “space rock”). In contrast, progressive rock requires the arena or coliseum, an immense sonic space (also allowed by the medieval cathedral) that demands a band to play loud and hence discourages introspection and reflection, but rather encourages solidarity with the mass, in which one’s individuality is effaced. Perhaps this is why some rock critics associate certain forms of progressive rock with Fascism.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rick Wright, 1943-2008

The BBC reported this morning that Rick Wright, founding member of Pink Floyd and that band's distinctive keyboardist, has died following a battle with cancer. He was 65. As is well known, Wright was an essential member of the early Pink Floyd, contributing his highly distinctive, psychedelic textures to the first Floyd albums. Although Wright most often sang background vocals, he occasionally sang lead vocals (“Time,” “Astronomy Domine”), while as a composer, his most well-known compositions were both from The Dark Side of the Moon: “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them.” He briefly left the band in the early 80s as a result of irreparable tensions he and Roger Waters were then experiencing, but re-joined the band following Waters' departure.

I am saddened by this news because it may well have been because of Rick Wright that I became a Pink Floyd fan in the first place. By the time I became seriously interested in Pink Floyd, around September 1973, I was in my second year of college, and The Dark Side of the Moon had been released to great fanfare earlier that year, and was topping the album charts. That album very quickly became a staple of FM radio, and because I was an impecunious college student, I was in no hurry to buy it. However, that fall I did, in fact, purchase my first Pink Floyd album, not Dark Side of the Moon, but Ummagumma (1969); it had, by the time I first heard it, been in release for about four years. I bought it used from a fellow boarder in the rooming house where I was living at the time; he happened to have just cued up "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" when I stopped by his room to say hello. I was immediately hooked, particularly by the eerie, slightly sinister sounds being made the keyboards; it was as if I was listening to the soundtrack of an unnamed horror movie. He, on the other hand, wasn't all that crazy about the album, and I subsequently bought it from him for $2 (or more precisely, several quarters, a few dimes and nickels), a fair price in those days for a used record (or, in this case, two records). I played "Astronomy Domine," "Careful With That Axe...," and "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" over and over on the old J.C. Penney stereo system I then owned, and by the time Christmas rolled around later that year, I received Dark Side of the Moon, which I'd asked for, as a Christmas present.

Moments after I read of Rick Wright's death, I was prompted, in remembrance, to play Ummagumma, which I now also own on CD. But I couldn't do it, and probably won't, for a long time. Nor am I inclined to listen to any Pink Floyd, although I'm sure the FM airwaves will be filled with the band's music as a tribute to this great, innovative musician. Moreover, it will be long time before I'm prompted to watch, say, Live at Pompeii again--too much of a museum piece now, reminding me of a time when bands such as Pink Floyd defined rock music's avant-garde. Syd Barrett's death a couple of years ago marked the end of the original line-up of Pink Floyd, but with Rick Wright's death, Pink Floyd is no more, now a part of rock history--now it "belongs to the ages."

There are any number of fan sites dedicated to Rick Wright. One might well begin here, and follow the links from that point.