Late sixties Pink Floyd is my favorite kind. They were so playful then! This one was written and performed by Rick Wright, who was never the dominant personality of the band and thus often has his contributions overlooked. I think it’s a very charming song, with barbershop echoes in the vocal crescendos. It was a B-side to a single nobody remembers, and can be found on the Relics compilation. It also goes to show that scraps and B-sides can often outshine more well-known material, and compilations of such can be as strong as a ‘regular’ album, if not better. Obviously, as a fan, going around scraping such gems together is unrealistic, so you have to rely on the artists’ being their own best curators. I find that no matter how good I am at being a fan, there’s still songs I’ve never heard, or even heard of, that pop up, even from the most long-dead and/or overly documented groups. So, if you’re a musician, start organizing your archive now; if you don’t, someone else is going to have to do it for you, after your death.
I’m still waiting for the day when I drop acid and watch Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. That seems like a very necessary thing to do in life. In the meantime, it’s still a film worth watching again and again. It’s Pink Floyd at the height of their powers, and that’s enough to make for a fascinating document. I like all the footage of ancient artifacts and arid landscapes, but that’s not really the point. You could say that the act of playing, without an audience, in the middle of a ruined city represents something about the band and their spirit of innovation, as in, you know, they’re just playing just for the sake of pure artistry, man. Or you could be cynical and say it’s just a visual gimmick. I’m leaning towards the former; you rarely see so much joy in pure innovation and creativity and just playing for the sake of it. You also didn’t see much of it again either, not after the big hits started coming. Maybe success didn’t curtail Pink Floyd’s innovative ambitions, but it definitely put a damper on their sense of joy and their unity as a group.
If you didn’t know this was Pink Floyd, you would never guess that this is Pink Floyd. Clearly, they had a unwalked road ahead of them as an excellent heavy metal band, but they chose to leave it unwalked. The musical landscape would have been markedly different if they’d followed this particular muse, though. Heavy metal would be a genre known for its intellectual clout and cutting-edge experimentation. Psychedelic and prog rock would be the domain of hairy morons who scream about pussy. And maybe if the single had been a hit, that’s what would have happened. But in 1969 Pink Floyd were still a few years out from having any hits, so they didn’t feel especially tied to any formula that might serve them. This remains a tantalizing one-off.
Too famous not to know, too famous to pay attention to. File it under ‘classic songs you no longer appreciate thanks to overexposure’. But hold back the urge to dismiss something catchy and popular as just that. In this case, take a minute to absorb just how dripping dark and cynical this is (in typical Pink Floyd fashion, of course.) Now obviously, this diatribe against the evils of the capitalist system was written by people with more than a handful of coins to rub together, so there’s an element of hypocrisy at play. I doubt the irony was lost on Floyd when they recorded it, and was even less lost when it became one of their biggest hits. Neither is pointing at money as the root of all evil exactly a novel concept. It’s a bit of a cheap shot for a group who’ve had deeper insights. I would guess that Waters and Gilmour (et al.) were having a bit of angst regarding their own burgeoning success. It’s been noted that people who go from not having a buttload of money to having it don’t become lovelier people, and many who’ve made that journey find that the happiness they’ve bought themselves is less healthy and satisfying that they’d been led to expect, which may lead to stress, paranoia, self-doubt and guilt feelings. And writing angsty songs about how much the system you’re personally benefiting from is inherently rotten.
I love it when artists celebrate their pets. Because I love pets, obviously, and because it makes the artist seem more human. Especially when it’s a very serious artist known for their angst. Pink Floyd is a group best known for angsty grandeur, but we can place this track squarely on the shoulders of Syd Barrett, who, mental illness aside, was not all that angsty of a fellow and liked to write songs about gnomes and bicycles. And his cat, a Siamese named Sam, now immortalized for all eternity. The pantheon of pet muses is not very large; the best known pet muse is probably Paul McCartney’s sheepdog Martha. Martha is distinguished because she was so frequently photographed being adorable with her master. Many beloved pets live out their lives and pass away without ever having a song written in their honor. So Sam the Siamese cat is in a very exclusive and refined category.
The funniest thing about old sixties TV clips like this one; the ever present crowds of extremely fashionable and deeply bored looking women attempting to dance to music that is plainly not designed to be danced to. Pink Floyd is not a band to be danced to. Now, I can see how their music might be agreeable to flail around to if you’re out of your mind on drugs. Even then, it’s not the ideal music for drug-induced flailing. It’s more suited for drug-induced becoming one with the couch sort of thing. If anyone, ever, has danced to Pink Floyd while not in a drug-induced state of uncontrollable flailing, I will eat this questionable looking mushroom. In fact I will eat this mushroom either way. Hahaha, just kidding, I don’t have any mushrooms of either the questionable or vouchsafed kind. Does anyone know where I can get some? Haha. That was entirely off topic. I was about to say, before I started thinking about how good a combination of Pink Floyd and mind-expanding drugs would be right about now, that those nice ladies in the French TV clip were almost certainly ordered in bulk from a casting agency and paid handsomely well to wiggle listlessly whilst looking bored out of their minds. The blonde one does appear to be having a good time. Maybe she actually likes Pink Floyd. That or the drugs she took were not the same ones everyone else did.
I’ve talked before about the widely accepted opinion that Pink Floyd just wasn’t as good after Roger Waters left. That holds true. But this song is as good as any classic Floyd song, and by far the best thing produced in the latter years. David Gilmour was still a memorable vocalist and brilliant guitarist, and both those qualities are on ample display. If he had kept up this level of quality, we wouldn’t be complaining that we miss Roger. As it turned out, Gilmour just didn’t have the imaginative scope as a songwriter and bandleader to keep the group living up to its old brilliance. For which we can forgive him; some people need a strong foil to bring out their best efforts, and those two clearly needed each other to each be their best. But we have this. This is pretty epic. You could even say it’s inspiring, although, heavy themed video aside, it’s actually not quite as deep as it sounds. You’re welcome to take home any message you like, of course, and with all the symbolism that comes with ideas of flight, you can find many fine metaphors. The most obvious one being that ‘learning to fly’ means striving to make some achievement, challenging yourself, becoming a better stronger person, overcoming difficulties, and any number of similar inspiring things. None of which is exactly wrong, but the song itself is somewhat more literal minded. It’s about David Gilmour getting his pilot’s license. That knowledge should be inspirational enough in itself, though. Becoming a pilot is a pretty big deal, something not very many people have the ‘nads for. I find it rather endearing that Dave Gilmour not only made the effort to become a pilot, but then wrote one of his best songs about the experience. There’s no need to go looking for metaphors when you have the story of a guy learning to pilot a whole entire fucking airplane for inspiration.