I think the first time I ever listened to Pink Floyd was when I was in junior high. I had started to discover my parent’s classic rock collection, and was regularly spinning their Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd records. I don’t know if they had Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl, but I remember listening to it on CD. I remember it being a very good and enjoyable record, but at the time, I was a Zeppelin fanatic, and Floyd’s style wasn’t as appealing as a kickin’ Page guitar solo. Growing up, my parents must have listened to Wish You Were Here more often, as I remember hearing “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” with their spacey interludes around the house and on long drives in the car. I remember my parents meeting up with their friends from Madison and going to a concert during Floyd’s Division Bell tour. I distinctly remember them giggling about how “messed up” the guy in front of them was. And that was Pink Floyd for me for quite awhile. I started listening to them a little more in high school, but it still wasn’t anything I was strongly drawn to.
Things changed dramatically when I went to college. Suddenly, I was drawn to the long, spacey interludes during long car trips, just like my father had. I started studying with Floyd playing softly in the background. By my sophomore year, I was completely hooked. During my junior year I had an album cover poster on my wall, and I also I met my future wife, who had been a Floyd fanatic since high school, and we hit it off almost immediately. Since then, my love and appreciation of Floyd has only grown. I’ve seen Roger Waters perform both Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall in concert, with the latter being especially poignant. When I came up with the idea to do multiple album series at the brewery, I knew right away that Floyd would be one of the first artists I would highlight. So here we are.
For this series, I decided to do four albums, as opposed to the five I decided to do with our previous Bob Dylan series. I had originally planned on only doing 4 for Dylan, but kept feeling like I was leaving something out, before I ultimately relented and did five. With this series, I originally wanted to do five to match Dylan, but in the opposite manner, I kept feeling like I was reaching with my fifth choice. So again, I relented and stayed at four. However, I don’t think there should be much debate over the four I chose.
I decided to choose four sequential albums that I feel best showcase “classic” Pink Floyd, with those being Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. Now, for you fellow Floyd fans, I understand I am not including anything from the Syd era, or anything from the David Gilmour era. While any complaints would be valid, I wanted to focus on Floyd at it’s height, and showcase how they changed and evolved in their prime. Most critics would rate these four as their four best albums, and they also happen to be my personal favorites.
I won’t be able to say a lot about Dark Side of the Moon that hasn’t already been said or documented. It is iconic in almost every way, starting from the instantly recognizable album cover. Even people who don’t really know or like Pink Floyd recognize the prism. Dark Side of the Moon was notable for the band, as it marked the “official” departure from the Syd Barrett era. Although Syd had left the band in 1968, the band had more or less continued in a similar style up until about 1971’s Meddle, which can be considered the gateway between the “Syd era” and the “Waters era.” Absent from Dark Side are any songs with super extended instrumental parts, such as “Echos” (23:29 running time) on Meddle and the title track from Atom Heart Mother (23:44). The longest track on Dark Side is the second side’s “Us and Them”, coming in at a modest 7:51. It is also notable that Dark Side would become Floyd’s first album that would be unified by a single theme. They decided they would focus on themes that “made people mad”, touching on death, greed and insanity among others…not exactly rosy subjects. I’ve always loved how it starts and ends with a heartbeat, that if you play it on a loop, it’s like it fades out and back into itself. Dark Side is one of the best selling albums of all time, and is one of the best, in this brewmaster’s humble opinion.
Movie critics will debate whether Godfather I or II was better, or which of the original Star Wars was the best (Empire, in my opinion). Floyd fans can usually be found debating Dark Side of the Moon vs. Wish You Were Here. The fact that Wish You Were Here is so fantastic directly after the massive success of Dark Side of the Moon is impressive all by itself. Throw in the fact that the albums are completely different in structure and style, and the novice Floyd fan can start to take notice of the brilliance of Pink Floyd. The band returned a bit to their pre-Dark Side song structure, with only 5 songs on Wish You Were Here, but the longest one is “only” at 13:38. However, instead of the “noodling” that David Gilmour wasn’t fond of during late 1960’s Floyd, the band was more focused, with soaring guitar solos replacing experimental tinkering. The theme of the album is a mixture of a love letter to the departed Syd Barrett, as well as themes touched on by Dark Side, such as greed and corruption. “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”, a sterling tribute to Syd, bookends the album and delivers a feeling of longing, remembrance and loss. Despite the almost haunting signature guitar riff in the song, the song could almost be described as sweet. It doesn’t stay sweet for long, as the album turns dark and starts taking shots at the music industry on “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar”. Specifically, the band attacks their greed and insincerity, capitalized on the classic line “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” The title track, perhaps Pink Floyd’s best known song, is about both Syd and the inner conflicts inside Roger Waters. The album continued the concept idea from Dark Side of the Moon, but is markedly darker and more bitter than it’s predecessor.
While Wish You Were Here was noticeably darker than Dark Side of the Moon, their next release, Animals, is their darkest album in the catalog. For the third album in a row, Roger Waters came up with the theme and wrote the majority of the album. The album classifies all of mankind as either a dog, pig or sheep. Similar to Wish You Were Here, the album also has a singular song that bookends the album, in this case “Pigs on the Wing 1 & 2.” While the meat of the album is dark, bitter and borderline angry, the bookends offer some sweetness, as the love song offers hope at the beginning and the end. Animals was partially inspired by George Orwell’s fantastic “Animal Farm”, but while “Animal Farm” focuses it’s energy on the pitfalls of communism, Animals saves it’s ire for capitalism. Fans of the brewery will hopefully recall that our farmhouse Saison is named “Boxer” after the horse in “Animal Farm.” The tour that followed was named “In the Flesch”, and represented Floyd at it’s height, both in scale and attendance. The band constructed elaborate stage designs, with their famous pig floating above the crowd. It was during this tour that Roger Waters would be inspired to write the band’s next album.
If it weren’t for Animals, then The Wall would certainly be considered Floyd’s darkest album. Focused mostly around isolation, the album is a true “rock opera”, centering on the main character of “Pink”, who mostly represented Waters. The name itself is humorous considering the lyric from “Have a Cigar” on Wish You Were Here. While The Wall wasn’t the first rock opera, it’s most likely the best known and most successful, being the 3rd highest selling album in history in the US. The album expresses Rogers’ anger with Floyd’s audience during the “In the Flesch” tour, in which he pretended to have a wall between himself and the crowd. The frustration during that tour culminated in Rogers spitting in the face of a crowd member at the final stop, leading Waters to realize how alienated he had become. As a not so subtle nod to this incident, the first track on the album is titled “In the Flesh?” and the 21st track omits the question mark and is simply “In the Flesh.” In the first track, we are introduced the character, and let’s us know there is more than meets the eye. In the latter, Pink has completely built up his wall and has become deranged. I believe the crux of the album is stated in the first track, with the lyrics “Tell me, is something eluding you sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see? If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes, you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.” Being able to see this album played live by Roger Waters while crew members build an actual wall in front of the band before tearing it down was a fantastic treat.
One of the things that really struck me while I was researching this project was how cyclical all four of these albums are. Both Wish You Were Here and Animals have singular songs that bookend the album. Dark Side of the Moon has a heartbeat that begins and ends the album, signifying life and death (and replayed, possibly rebirth?). The Wall begins with the ending of “Outside the Wall”, which is the album’s final track. If you play the album on repeat, you’ll notice that the phrase “is this where we came in?” is broken in half between the end of “Outside the Wall” and the beginning of “In the Flesh?” One could be inclined to think this is Water’s commentary on human nature, that perhaps we are destined to repeat our mistakes. Or is it that we can make mistakes but always have an opportunity to try again?
I actually found researching this series and pairing the albums up with different beers more difficult than with the Dylan series, and it took me a significantly longer amount of time before I settled on anything. In the end, I am extremely happy with the albums I chose and the beers I chose to accompany them. I can’t wait to release them all to you.
The releases will be in the same sequential order as the albums I chose, and the first, “Belgian Strong Dark…Side of the Moon”, is scheduled to be released this Thursday. But I’ll write more about that another day.
Today, when I listen to Pink Floyd, I often times find myself becoming introspective and giving a lot of thought to the lyrics. Who amongst us hasn’t at one time or another felt isolated, alienated, confused, corrupted or insincere? On the other hand, we are also given themes of altruism, love, unity and a common connection that binds us together. I think Floyd does a phenomenal job of shining a light on these darker spots in our human character, while offering us hope. Dark Side of the Moon discusses greed and insanity, but the heartbeat begins again, letting us know that it’s ok to sometimes be affected by dark themes one way or another, because in the end, life is good. Wish You Were Here is angry and bitter toward the music industry, but 3 of the song’s 5 songs are more or less about Syd and celebrating his influence on the band, regardless of the eventual influences from the industry. Animals classifies us all as either a greedy dog, a ruthless pig or a blind sheep, but at the end offers us hope that maybe things can be different. Even Pink has his wall torn down at the end of The Wall. So even though Pink Floyd does appear to be very dark at the surface, labeling them as being pessimistic about the human condition would be a bit of a mischaracterization.
I look forward to having all of you to Joyride to sample in these creations. Since we don’t allow smoking, you won’t be able to have a cigar, but we hope you’ll go far. We’re all lost souls in fish bowls as well as crazy diamonds. The sun will occasionally be eclipsed by the moon, which will be another brick in the wall. Ultimately, you got to look out for those pigs on the wing, but we wish you were here.
Welcome to the machine, and Hop On!