Finishing on top

Now, this is what you call going out with a bang.

Last week, legendary British rockers Pink Floyd proved that old is gold. Their new - and final - studio release became the most pre-ordered album ever on Amazon UK.

The more shocking part is that The Endless River, which has taken some 20 years to arrive, beat much younger acts such as Robbie Williams, Coldplay and even One Direction.

The wave of anticipation that has greeted their swansong - now out on iTunes - is not surprising if one looks at Pink Floyd's 50-year career.

Armed with a unique amalgamation of space-blues, trippy sounds and poignant lyrics, Pink Floyd's music has never played by the rules. Yet, it mystifies and captivates.

M breaks down why the combination of David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Syd Barrett has proved so successful.

One Direction, do take notes.

Squabbling is common in rock. Some of the greatest partnerships have been based on a seething enmity.

It helps create the myths necessary to make a band fascinating.

And Pink Floyd took it to a new level.

In 1979, co-founder and bassist Waters fired keyboardist Wright, even threatening to hold back the release of their album, The Wall, if the latter refused to leave.

Absurdly, Wright was later re-hired to tour with the band as a session musician. He rejoined as a full member and The Endless River is billed as a tribute to Wright, who died of cancer in 2008.

Not that the notoriously controlling Waters stuck around. That old excuse of creative differences saw him resign in 1985.

His parting statement was suitably sour. He predicted that "the muffins" would "never get it together to make another record".

They took their time but frontman-guitarist Gilmour, drummer Mason and Wright proved him wrong with A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994).

Waters returned for a one-off gig - 2005's Live 8 charity concert in London.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mason was asked if Waters exchanged any words backstage.

Mason's reply: "You mean apart from 'F*** off. I hate you' and 'I never want to see you again'? No."

Mason told music magazine Mojo: "Slightly unbalanced people make great musicians."

That understatement was of course referring to Waters, often labelled an egomaniac, and Barrett, Pink Floyd's original frontman. Both widely different in personality, both widely recognised as the band's geniuses.


"If we hadn't had the mad Syd and the mad Roger, we might have been doing Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep," said Mason, referring to the 70s hit by the group Middle Of The Road.

All groups need their wild card member, but while Barrett fascinates to this day, his is a tragic story.

His oddball narratives and whimsical ideas - as heard on See Emily Play and Astronomy Domine - led the band to the peak of psychedelia in the 60s.

Sadly, it was short-lived.

A battle with mental illness, not helped by a dependance on the hallucinogenic drug LSD, saw Barrett leave in 1968. His increasingly erratic behaviour became too much to handle.

He released two solo albums before living as a total recluse. He died of diabetes complications in 2006.

From their inception, Pink Floyd stood out from their contemporaries.

They took the concept album to a new level and their songs rarely followed the standard verse-chorus-bridge format.

To put it simply, Pink Floyd were way ahead of their time.

Interstellar Overdrive, released in 1966, is a 16-minute improvisational instrumental piece. Shine On You Crazy Diamond - released in 1975 as a tribute to Barrett - is a nine-part composition that clocks in at 26 minutes.

Even their most accessible and pop-ish hits feature experimental elements.

"I am in a space now where I can try anything. And with Pink Floyd, we've always been in a space where we were able to try out anything," Gilmour, Barrett's replacement, told Billboard magazine in 2006.

Visuals were important, too. Many of their records had mind-blowing covers created by the fantastically named Storm Thorgerson. None more iconic than The Dark Side Of The Moon's prism or Wish You Were Here's flambeed businessman shaking hands.

You may not have heard the band, but you would know the T-shirt.

This article was first published on Nov 12, 2014.
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