Both Sides of the Moon. Which Pink Floyd is Better?
Since the dawn of time debate has raged as to the answer to that eternal question. Which is better? Pre or post-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd?
Many have attempted to find the answer only to fall by the wayside, their search for the truth let down by ill-preparation. Head Full of Snow will do no such thing. Instead we will weigh up the pros and cons of each era with the pivotal album remaining off-limits (for the record, a decent enough album but, in my opinion, one that’s outrageously overrated). This way there should be no fear of falling on our collective swords, long before the battle has been won.
Pre-Dark Side of the Moon Floyd
Prior to The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd were one of Britain’s finest exponents of psychedelic rock… for all of two albums. These were 1967′s Piper at the Gates of Dawn and 1968′s A Saucerful of Secrets. The first, written largely by and featuring the vocals of Syd Barrett, lurches from acid space-rock freak-out tracks like ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, to the whimsical Barrettisms of classic toytown-psych, ‘The Gnome’. The second, recorded when Barrett was sinking deeper into acid-induced oblivion and featuring only one of his compositions, the spine-tingling, eerily uncomfortable ‘Jugband Blues‘, continues the psychedelic standard of the debut with the likes of ‘Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ and ‘Corporal Clegg’.
Following these first two releases, as well as non-album singles such as ‘Arnold Layne’, ‘See Emily Play’, ‘Apples and Oranges’ and ‘Julia Dream’, and, of course, the unceremonious expulsion of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s ground became a little patchier.
More (a movie soundtrack) followed, with its mish-mash of styles and lack of cohesion, after which Pink Floyd began their drift towards The Dark Side of the Moon and a more “traditional” prog rock sound, which would see Roger Waters pretty much take the reins as Floyd’s creative force, whilst David Gilmour settled in as the lead vocalist. Ummagumma, is perhaps the most disappointing release of this transitional period, which despite being home to the blissfully gentle pastoral-folk of ‘Grantchester Meadows’, is elsewhere pretentious and nigh-on unlistenable in equal turns.
Atom Heart Mother continues the push to separate Pink Floyd from its psychedelic past, but it’s not until 1971′s Meddle that the pointers for The Dark Side of the Moon really fall into place, with the 23 minute ‘Echoes’ sounding, for all intents, like a dry run for parts of the eternally-celebrated Pink Floyd axle. With another film soundtrack in the bag in the shape of 1972′s Obscured by Clouds, 1973 arrived and the Floyd changed.
Post-Dark Side of the Moon Floyd
The first release following The Dark Side of the Moon was 1975′s Wish You Were Here, an album that not only eclipses its predecessor in terms of greatness, but also sees Pink Floyd back at their best following the dumping of Syd Barrett. Superior psychedelia had finally given way to superior progressive rock.
With the songs ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I- IX) and the title track, it puts Pink Floyd back at the top of their profession. The fact the album is about Barrett also provides a fitting, if belated and slightly hypocritical tribute from his former cohorts. An eerie moment that has since passed into rock folklore occurred during its recording and can be read about here.
Animals in 1977 maintained a standard, but despite its undoubted proggishness with just the three main songs, the lengthy ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ – including a commendable dig at anti-freedom campaigner and professional busy-body, Mary Whitehouse – and ‘Sheep’, it couldn’t hold a candle to Wish You Were Here.
This was followed in 1979 by The Wall, the Floyd album that even newborn babies have heard of, thanks in no small part to the ubiquitous single ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. The lengthy concept album features quality tracks such as ‘Nobody Home’, ‘Comfortably Numb’, and ‘In the Flesh’, but “lengthy” is the operative word in this case, with too much filler wedged in between the killer, padding out the album’s story, somewhat unnecessarily. But nonetheless, it was the last decent album Pink Floyd recorded, as the onset of the 80s saw them polluted by the same disease that struck down any band whose roots were in the 60s but chose to continue recording beyond the 70s – that of trying to stay abreast of the new kids by embracing pop/rock.
Pink Floyd, in one shape or another, recorded three more albums before calling it a day with 1994′s The Division Bell, but these were as far from the psychedelic beginnings and prog rock fruitions as it was possible to get. Being as such, they don’t warrant inclusion in Head Full of Snow’s search for the better Floyd incarnation.
Despite a strong showing from Wish You Were Here, and a fair bit of fluff from before the days of The Dark Side of the Moon, it’s the earlier incarnation that takes the title. The psychedelic rock and sometime whimsy of the Barrett era beats the often laborious, and dare one say, sometime boring prog of The Dark Side of the Moon and beyond.
And so ends our quest. Take this answer with you and step forth into the world, a better person for it.
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