“Very strange ethereal sounds”: A look into Pink Floyd’s Early Years

Katelin Aanerud

From psychedelic light shows and interpetive dancers, to the dark past of how Pink Floyd threw their founder to the curb, the band is a lot more than the iconic Dark Side of The Moon album cover. They have a past that has finally been fleshed out by the release of newly discovered material.

On Nov 11, Pink Floyd officially released an extensive collection of media titled The Early Years, ranging from the 1967 to 1972, and covering many platforms. The collection contains never before heard songs, long lost interviews and live performances, recreations of the band’s singles on 7″ vinyl, and reprinted gig posters.

The collection covers all their albums and singles that came out before 1972, and includes both original versions of the albums along with new remixes from the original tracks, remastered songs, and live versions of many of the tracks. It follows the band from their start with original vocalist and writer Roger “Syd” Barrett on their 1967 release The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, up to the addition of guitarist David Gilmour and Meddle reaching platinum.

The array of materials in the set is astounding, but so is the price. The full set is $550 on the official Pink Floyd website. For many fans, this is a chance to get a peek at the band’s early start, and for others it’s a burden; they don’t want to hear about the mystical sounds of the pre-Dark Side of The Moon Pink Floyd, or about the strange character that was Barrett. For more casual fans, a version of the highlights from the box set was also released on a two CD set, called Cre/ation, as well as for digital download and is now available on the streaming service Spotify.

Cre/ation is a wonderful gathering of some of the material on the entire box set, and does a good job of showcasing each piece of their history. The beginning is mostly some from the Barrett era, and hearing his vocals on the unreleased verses of “Matilda Mother”, which I hadn’t even known existed beforehand, was a great surprise. It gives a glimpse into Barrett’s creative style that the band hardly let shine through on their albums. The BBC Radio Session version of “Flaming” was also a great addition, because again it’s rare to hear Barrett performing with the band, especially in a live setting.

They suddenly go out of order and skip the soundtrack to More, and move onto the half-studio half-live album Ummagumma with two live versions of the tracks off the studio side of the album, Grantchester Meadows, and Cymbaline. Both are relatively short songs and add a brief look at that album. It was the right amount and it was a good choice not to include any of the parts to “Sysyphus” or Roger Water’s track “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict”, both of which are very weak tracks in the Pink Floyd discography.

Then, they finally revisit the More soundtrack with the melodic tune “Green is the Colour” with Gilmour on vocals and Rick Wright’s piano much more prominent than in the original version of the song. This was a great choice, though I would have really loved to see a different version of “The Nile Song”, which is considered one of their most rock ‘n roll feeling tune from the early years.

For the second time on the album, “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” and “Embryo” appear. It’s rather redundant and though the complete boxset does this many more times, these tracks aren’t important ones in the band’s history and I would have rather seen an extra version of something from a little earlier, like the previously unreleased “Scream Thy Last Scream” or “Vegetable Man”.

One of the highlights of this collection is them actually including tracks from the 1970 cult classic Zabriskie Point, in which had many psychedelic bands teaming up to create an outstanding soundtrack to an absurd film. Pink Floyd is joined by Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, and Roy Orbison. Out of the five tracks, “The Riot Scene” is my favorite. Right from the start, I knew it sounded familiar. This song was composed by Wright, and would later turn into “Us and Them”, which is part of Dark Side of The Moon.

Following the soundtrack there is the title track from Atom Heart Mother, performed live at Montreux in 1970. There is a brief opening by Waters, and the band then goes into a much more upbeat version of their 23 minute long song, and shortened it down to only 16 minutes. With all of the choir parts taken out of it, it sounds like a completely different song and I enjoyed it more than the studio version. There were shorter pauses between the parts and gave it an overall more Meddle feel.

Many would agree that Meddle is really the turning point of the band, and moreso the complete second side of the album titled “Echoes”. It’s an astounding track by itself and complete immerses the listener in an array of sounds. “Nothing, Pt. 14”, or “Echoes Work in Progress” gives fans a chance to hear the rough draft of a fan favorite.

One of my all time favorite Pink Floyd albums is Obscured By Clouds. It was based off the soundtrack they did for a french film titled La Vallee, and there are a total of three tracks on Cre/ation that were originally on the album. “Childhood’s End” is an amazing representation of the band before Dark Side of The Moon, both with the style of Gilmour’s singing, and the high pitched guitar solos. In this remix, Waters’ bass is brought out more, and a steady ticking was added into the background. The fade of the song is also lengthen with the addition of another few beats. This song has always been high up on the list of my favorites, and the changes suit the song and the style of the band at that period.

“Free Four”, also off Obscured By Clouds, is a far more upbeat song with a darker message. This is one of the few songs in their earlier years sung by Waters and was a great choice to be added. I think this track would also appeal to new fans because of how simple the beat is, opposed to the intense timing and rhythm of many of their instrumental tunes.

The last track on the album is “Stay”, and it’s a soft and very nice closing to the entire album as a whole. This is also the last track on Obscured by Clouds, and therefore the last song released before Dark Side of The Moon. This really ties together the time period as a whole.

Cre/ation is a nice spot light on Pink Floyd’s early years, but the box set as a whole is even better. The collection is outstanding and really displays the diversity of this legendary band.