Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Enigma that is PINK FLOYD

I've been meaning to do a post on this band for quite some time, and didn't really know where to start.

To take on the task of writing about and giving an accurate portrayal of The Floyd --- in whole or in part --- is an insanely monumental and very complex task.

It's complicated in that it's difficult not to get siphoned into band dynamics and the back story to the music, so something that should be simple on the surface (pick any song from any album) is actually concealing more complex matters beneath. It makes for a high level of detail and work; I want to be delicate in how I spin my own opinion on facts where, when I go into them, I had better be dead-on accurate when I provide them.

There's so many aspects about this band that are utterly fascinating...and there's no good place
to really start. Which album does one start with? ...or does it begin with an analysis of one of the band members...or in their case, former band members, which involves tragedy with perhaps the most mysterious figure in rock and roll history AND the most tortured soul in music history who has actually lived into his 60s to talk about it?

...or does one begin perhaps with producer Alan Parsons, the magician behind the recording to The Dark Side of the Moon --- the premier rock album for the ages by which all others after it have been compared? Experimenting with concept albums and studio technology and breaking free of conventional pop-song formats, Pink Floyd prefigured the progressive rock of the '70s and ambient music of the ’80s.

...and we haven't even begun getting into the visual brain melt of their live shows, from their innovation of psychedelia in the 60s to The Wall tour that spanned 1980-81. DEFINITELY more on that another time.

Pink Floyd is an enigma...I can't think of a more appropriate way to describe them. Going through the band's catalog reveals a journey with more operatic twists and turns --- not only in the music itself, but in the back-story of the band and its members as the catalog of the group unfolds. That's where things get really interesting.

EVERYTHING one can imagine happens, and EVERYTHING you can't imagine.

The band didn't "manufacture" it's mystery like lots of other bands try to do these days. With Pink Floyd, things just happened and events simply unfolded...and the right combination of the wrong personalities brought out the very best and very worst in what a rock band can offer.

So let's actually give a half-assed attempt at starting somewhere.

To understand Pink Floyd, you have to try to understand the story of Syd Barrett (noticed that I said
TRY). He passed away in July of 2006.

Syd is the Rosetta Stone to figuring out the Floyd and what made it tick. However, the man is shrouded in mystery due to several factors. If you can figure out Syd, you're probably God.

Syd launched the band as it's primary songwriter and leader in the mid-1960s, culminating with the band's debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which I consider to be the greatest psychedelic album of all time (a review of Piper is a post for another day).

As a result of experimentation with psychedelic drugs, coupled with a personality disorder of some kind, Syd essentially lost his mind. In this day his symptoms would have been identifiable and treatable, however in 1968 there was very little in the way of assistance available.

As he became more withdrawn and his state began severely affecting his live performance, the band brought on guitarist and schoolmate David Gilmour, who learned all the parts and filled in. After performing as a quintet for a very brief period of time, Syd and the band parted ways, and he wandered into least that's how the story goes.

Any other band would have fallen apart as a result of their lead guitarist, lead vocalist and primary songwriter falling off the map...but Floyd powered on, and Roger Waters became the band's de facto leader and songwriter.

However the spirit of Syd continued to inspire and power the band ahead in a variety of ways, much like the booster rocket propels spacecraft out of the atmosphere. Syd's momentum, looking in hindsight, only helped to propel the band to heights unimaginable. I must say to, well, as high as the dark side of the moon.

Syd's personality and story would resurface in encrypted ways on future Floyd records; notably 1975's Wish You Were Here and 1979's The Wall. Most of, if not all of the Syd-related portraits called out in the Floyd's music would be cast forth through the songwriting of Roger Waters.

As the other founding member of Floyd, Roger has never appeared to get over the guilt and sadness of losing Syd, his former bandmate.

With Syd's departure, and cast into the unlikely role of primary songwriter --- in a twisted ball of wistfulness, brotherly love, and in wrestling with his own demons --- Roger Waters would catapult his songwriting facility to a place where nobody else has ever gone: baring for the rest of the universe his tortured soul in ways that are unparalleled in rock music.

I can't think of another songwriter who has as artfully and visually allowed his listeners access to the inside of their mind and all it's dark places. With Roger, this exercise culminated through the process of two works: The Wall and The Final Cut, the latter of which was released in 1983 and was the last Floyd record in which Waters would participate.

Unfortunately, in the process of those works, the band split up due mainly to Roger's obsessive nature with his vision. However, stories seem to indicate there was a breach in the dam as early as the mid-1970s during the Wish You Were Here sessions, several years prior to those projects.

Unfortunately while the chemistry began to erode on the Wish You Were Here project, the Floyd kept powering ahead with the famous quartet that we all know for as long as it could --- as the members Rick Wright (keyboards, vocals, sax), Nick Mason(drums), David Gilmour (guitars, vocals) and Roger Waters (bass, vocals) understood the importance of the band and how special it was.

Following Roger's departure, David Gilmour would pick up what remained of Pink Floyd, dust it off the best he could, and power it through two more respectable albums and tours --- essentially retiring the band in the 1990s until a miraculous series of events would put the classic quartet (including Roger) back onstage together for one last performance in 2005.

The stories of this band and its dynamics are endless...maybe I'll get to move through a few of them.

Oh, and then there's the music itself!
I might as well give a brief mention to that before I sign all-time favorite Floyd song is the masterpiece "Echoes" --- taking up the second side of the record album Meddle --- clocking in at a whopping 23 and a half minutes. In my opinion, that tune combines everything experimental about their 60s work with their more progressive 70s work --- bringing out the quintessential Floyd sound...and the fact that they performed it live in the middle of the Pompeii ruins...

...that's YET ANOTHER story for another day!

A rundown of the Pink Floyd studio album discography with original material (does not count soundtracks, live albums, or videos):

  1. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
  2. A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
  3. Umma Gumma (1969)
  4. Atom Heart Mother (1970)
  5. Relics (1971 - mixed compilation contains "Arnold Layne," "See Emily Play" and various b-sides)
  6. Meddle (1971)
  7. The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
  8. Wish You Were Here (1975)
  9. Animals (1977)
  10. The Wall (1979)
  11. The Final Cut (1983)
  12. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
  13. The Division Bell (1994)

Friday, April 25, 2008

ISSUES FOR IDIOTS -- Artist subgenre classifications with MP3 players

So this is an ongoing problem I seem to have...and it seems to have no end in sight.

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm generally not a fan of classifying music, as many artists defy category. I guess the fact that I listen to many artists that cross music categories I believe demonstrates how I have breadth and diversity in my music collection. That stated, my collection certainly can always use more (such as opera, classical, blues, and electronica).

As the line under the title of the blog states: "...the musical journey continues."

...but now we need you at the bridge, Captain! WE'RE HAVING ISSUES!!!

So, back to the subject of classifying artists. Those of us who have MP3 players (in my case, the 160GB iPod, of which I've filled so far with 104.90GB of music - that's 19,785 songs most of which are ripped at 192 kbps) obviously must deal with assigning a classification of music for our music artists when we helicopter the songs onto our computer program, which the MP3 device takes to set itself up.

Many folks don't care, or don't know to pay attention to those sorts of details and live in MP3 bliss without thinking about "music genres and subgenres." However, for those of us who have hundreds of artists and CDs ripped to our MP3s - and do actually care, because we know no other way - we have no choice. We must classify the artists by genre if we're to find them on the device...otherwise you'll grow gray searching for what you want to play.

So this classification of genre process has taken on a life of its own. Some of it's simple: John Lee Hooker goes under "Blues" while Louis Armstrong goes under "Jazz."

In other cases, I'll bump into an artist that was accidentally classified under one tab and recategorize them... for example I realized that my Joni Mitchell CDs Blue and Ladies of the Canyon were classified under Rock, when I thought that the Folk category was more appropriate - so after it passed muster with the music committee in my head, I issued an executive order and made the change.

The big issues I run into are with my extensive rock collection. The drama never ends, and some problems simply let's journey back to the beginning with this one.

A long time ago, in a land far, far away - an MP3 player was purchased...

To go back one step further to set up the rest of this post; my "physical" CD collection on my shelf has all rock artists together, alphabetically, without any rock subgenre a punk CD by the Sex Pistols has a home next to a band like Santana, etc. Simple and easy...I know where to find the artist I want, when I want.

However, an MP3 is more interactive and the selection of music is more handily at your when you have over 1,200 rock CDs on the unit, you need to break them down into subgenre. In addition, some of the smart features on MP3 players such as shuffle and playlist options make you want to divide things out a bit so you don't get an Aerosmith tune playing when you're in the mood for Dire Straits, let's say.

So as things have evolved, I've come up with 8 genres of rock music, and recently decided that in order to keep track of all of them I had to label them starting with the umbrella genre of rock... for example, if you want to hear Kiss you must look under "Rock: Hard Rock." To hear The Beatles, you look under "Rock: Classic Rock."

The subgenres under "Rock: " that I have are:

  1. Alternative,
  2. Art & Progressive,
  3. Classic Rock,
  4. Hard Alternative,
  5. Hard Rock,
  6. Heavy Metal,
  7. Southern Rock, and
  8. The 1950s.
Of course, much of this is dictated by the makeup of my music collection, and what I want to hear in a specific subgenre... however, there are some distinctions I ignore that might be important to others. For example, I don't recognize what some might refer to as "80s hair bands" or "pop metal," simply because I don't own enough of that sort of thing in my collection to dictate my rock genre expanding into those kinds of subgenres.

Then there's the artists who make a compelling case for being categorized into more than one subgenre. Neil Young comes to mind... I have his solo albums (despite their wide range unto themselves) under "Rock: Classic Rock" while I have his collaborations with Crazy Horse under "Rock: Hard Rock." There's an intended and obvious difference in his sound between those two worlds he roams between, so that's easy.

Other artists aren't so easy... for example, I still can't figure out what in the hell to do with Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground for that matter. Currently I have solo Lou and VU under "Rock: Hard Rock," which I know is very disputable... I decided to put them there not so much due to their band sound being heavy as much as the heavy hit with their thematic elements. I find that the themes in the music do factor into the overall package, and therefore what classification I ultimately determine.

Again, the classification for Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground is totally disputable. In some ways, the VU may have been the Godfathers of alternative music, considering how outside the box they were at the time against the 60s counterculture...but did alternative music really spawn out of the mid-1960s? That's very hard to absorb, let alone believe.

All this considered, as an interesting side note; I believe I only have ONE artist filed into THREE OVERALL GENRES, which would be Bob Dylan (country, folk and rock: classic rock).

In the case of alternative music, I found I had to research exactly what "alternative" means in my subgenre accuracy endeavors on my iPod... and I got a VERY interesting overview of it on Wikipedia, which is totally worth your time to review, if nothing else you might learn something you didn't consider:
Alternative rock - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. In the end, I divided my alternative rock into two subgenres: "hard alternative" (to umbrella punk, grunge, and harder post-grunge alternative) and simply "alternative" (80s new wave, weird bands like They Might Be Giants, and bands like No Doubt).

So that's the deal...please feel free to comment with your MP3 classification issues, especially if you've spent as much time as I have pondering all the subgenres and experiencing the "Clash of the Titans scenarios" in your head. S