By Patrick Prince
The Pink Floyd launch officially began Sept. 27, 2011. Actually, ‘launch’ may be too mild of a word. Bombardment is more like it. The remaining members of Pink Floyd and EMI Music have come together and agreed upon the ignition of a large-scale campaign called “Why Pink Floyd?”
Scheduled over a six-month period, “Why Pink Floyd?” will offer up 14 individual remastered albums: a 14-CD Discovery Edition box set; a new “Best-Of” collection; and two expanded editions of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall.”
The expanded editions, divided into an Experience package and the more memorabilia-induced Immersion set, will be sold separately and can only be described as remarkable. Alternate takes give further insight into Roger Waters’ creative vision. Restored live recordings fortify adulation of David Gilmour’s guitar playing. Newly refined artwork from Storm Thorgerson (the legendary artist from the Hipgnosis design firm) expand the imagery of the band’s iconic art. And unreleased video, photography and musical tracks (unavailable on bootleg) add heft to the Floyd historical archive. All these factors make participating in the upcoming “Why Pink Floyd?” blitz a must for both collectors and casual fans.
So, Why Pink Floyd? The answer seems obvious. The better question is, “Why now?”
“I think really, it is partly — to put it brutally — that time is running out,” explains drummer Nick Mason, “and that in terms of people who collect and actually buy vinyl, CDs and all the rest of it, if you don’t do it now, pretty soon everything will be downloaded.”
“And, for me, it’s not only some of the sound things, but it’s also the packaging,” he continues. “All the Storm (Thorgerson) work — and Storm’s not been well for a while — and there’s so many good ideas he’s had and so much good artwork. Storm was given an ever-increasingly free hand to not just come up with one idea but to be able to use a series of ideas.”
Each album that receives the expanded treatment will have separate 180-gram vinyl available (complete with additional MP3 download). And Nick Mason openly expresses the importance of the vinyl format being included in the “Why Pink Floyd?” campaign.
“The two pluses of vinyl are that it has this sound quality that people like. There’s some straightforward physical reasons for that — with the way the sound is held, about headroom, basically — and that gives it that sort of warmer thing that digital cannot. And the other major thing for me is that on a 12-inch square piece of cardboard, you can read it. Once you take it down to a CD size, any lyrics are miniaturized and unreadable, really. And what was this great double-album picture in the middle is this tiny, tiny picture book.”
There will always be a number of music enthusiasts who believe that the inclusion of vinyl should be the centerpiece of any solid collector’s edition. They prefer everything vinyl has to offer — the warmth and detail of sound, the largeness of the artwork … in itself, the overall care and involvement of playing a vinyl record. Unfortunately, vinyl requires too much of a commitment for some music lovers.
“It is a bit like the Japanese tea ceremony,” Mason says, laughing a bit. “Actually, most of us just want a cup of tea.”
“The first thing to remember, one of the big reasons why vinyl disappeared, is it is incredibly delicate in comparison with the CD,” Mason said. “I’ve got two teenage sons and they don’t (even) have any CDs. Everything’s held on the MP3 player. So it’s where we are heading, like it or not. I think it’s interesting to sort of ruminate on better ways of doing things in the past. But if people don’t have room for stuff, and they can store it like that, then that’s how it’s going to be.”
Roger Waters and David Gilmour have had continuous input into the “Why Pink Floyd?” project, but it is Mason who rediscovered many of the fine extras in this project, including a version of the song “Wish You Were Here” with the French jazz violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, playing an atmospheric part at the song’s three-minute mark. The final version that made it to the record was certainly the right choice. However, it is an interesting alternate track that will delight fans of the extremely popular 1975 song.
“Stéphane Grappelli, to some extent, is the jewel in the crown,” says Mason. “The interesting thing is that we were all so convinced that it didn’t exist, that it’s never even been brought out and bootlegged — which would have happened if anyone had known about it. Come on, what else has ever been unearthed? It’s only because it has been in the pharaoh’s tomb for the past 35 years or whatever.”
The pharaoh’s tomb Mason is referring to turned out to be a simple cardboard box found in storage, according to Andy Jackson, one of the engineers involved in the project. Nick Mason met Jackson one day with a bunch of these boxes, and they found a wealth of goodies from the past. Mason had once announced that it was the band’s policy to never throw anything away. He seems to have taken that promise seriously.
“It is now coming out sort of fresh,” says Mason on the subject of extras like the Stéphane Grappelli take. “The story was that when Stéphane actually put it down on tape, we were, of course, on the 8-track at the time, and so we didn’t have many spare tapes,” Mason recalled. “We had already done them — the backing tracks, stereo, drums, bass, a couple guitars — we didn’t have room for many experiments. So I thought once we weren’t going to actually run it on the record, that it had to be thrown away in order to put down another guitar or something.
“It’s lovely. I suppose it says a number of things. First of all, it’s wonderfully romantic — just what he plays. It’s sort of French and Gypsy, and it’s also a wonderful sort of fusion thing, because, actually, at the time, there wasn’t that much interplay between jazz and classical and rock ’n’ roll and so on, and to suddenly have one of the great players of the ’30s and ’40s coming in and playing with us … it is really quite moving, even if the music had been pretty average, which it’s not.”
The focus on fresh material is understandable. More than 350 Pink Floyd concerts have shown up as bootlegs, with pressings that included unreleased Floyd studio work. In 1999, the group was mentioned on the British Phonographic Industry’s list of most bootlegged British artists of all time. Mason, of course, realizes this.
“I think for a long time, we always felt that part of the reason why we always hated bootlegging and pirating is because we should be the arbiters of what we thought was the best work, and we put that out and that’s it,” Mason said. “So, I think we’ve definitely been selective in terms of what we think is interesting and what’s not. But I take the point that there are people who want to know in depth exactly how things were done. It’s sort of like publishing a library, I suppose, but it does at least go halfway, perhaps, in meeting the sort of fans who are a bit high-handed about not making things available.”
For more casual collectors or new fans, Discovery editions will be released for each Pink Floyd studio album. Reissued on CD and digitally remastered in a Digipak package, the Discovery edition albums come with a 12-page booklet designed by Storm Thorgerson. For budget-minded completists, a complete box set of all the Discovery edition CDs will be available.
And, what would a reissue project be without a greatest hits compilation? For “Why Pink Floyd?,” the best-of release is titled “The Best of Pink Floyd: A Foot in the Door.”
The Discovery discs are geared toward fans who wish to expand their Floyd catalogs, while the best-of will be an entry point for first-time listeners.
“We’ve done best-ofs before,” explains Mason. “(This is) meant to be, I suppose in some ways, more of a sampler than a best-of. It would be fairly easy to do it as a slightly technical exercise and take the best-of, meaning the most popular. But what we want to try and do is make sure there are not just things from the most popular albums.”
“There was some very interesting research done where people described themselves as devoted Pink Floyd fans — and how many records they’ve got,” continues Mason. “They’ve got one. A lot of people who went out and got ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ never really went out and bought anything else. Sometimes what seems to happen is that they join up somewhere halfway down the line, so to speak, and don’t perhaps realize what’s gone before. So, one of the things would be rather than introduce people to Pink Floyd, maybe introduce people to early Pink Floyd.”
Early Pink Floyd essentially means Syd Barrett — the troubled, charismatic singer-guitarist who was the early creative spark plug of the band. Along with his creative genius, Barrett brought plenty of drama. His bouts of mental illness and unstable behavior are well documented. And the mixed feelings of Barrett’s bandmates have made up the most enticing chapters of Floyd biographies. Mason himself once explained the perils of playing with Syd Barrett in the book “Comfortably Numb” by Mark Blake, stating “to annoy an audience beyond all reason is not my idea of a good night out.” Yet, almost at the same time, the drummer was quick to compare some of Barrett’s songs to the masterful artistry of a Roy Lichtenstein.
“I mean, it (early Floyd) is not for everyone,” says Mason. “You can’t force it on people. And there’s always going to be people who think Pink Floyd really disappeared when Syd disappeared — that stands for people’s tastes — but sometimes, you can go back there and think, ‘Well, what’s all this about?’ And then maybe listen a bit more and realize those are the buds; those are the early shoots, of where we went later.”
Barrett did have incredible insight. He once told an interviewer from Disc and Music Echo, a weekly British music newspaper in the 1960s and early ’70s, that the band’s music is “like an abstract painting. It should suggest something to each person.”
That sentiment touches on the worth of the “Why Pink Floyd?” product soon to be available. It will bring more of a complete accessibility to the band’s art — which will set up a proper listening experience for the individual. The experience will be like having a Pink Floyd museum at your fingertips, with the possibility of coming away each time with your own interpretations. GM