Book Reviews: Examining the Pink Floyd Discography
Longtime Pink Floyd member Richard Wright died a decade ago, and the group—whose other members have been feuding for years—disbanded in 2014. Interest in their music seems at least as intense now as it was when they were together, however, so the release of material from and about them continues unabated. In 2016, for example, the band issued a gargantuan box set, The Early Years, which focuses solely on their work from 1965 to 1972 and includes 11 CDs, eight Blu-ray discs, nine DVDs, five vinyl singles, and assorted memorabilia. (The eye-popping price tag: just under $500.) That same year, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum marked the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s first single by announcing a major exhibition devoted to their work. Now, two new books cover the band’s recorded legacy.
Pink Floyd: Album by Album, a well-illustrated volume from prolific Toronto-based rock journalist Martin Popoff, takes an at least relatively minimalist approach. Popoff—who has produced similarly formatted books on Iron Maiden, the Clash, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC—presents a brief review of each studio LP as well as the half-live Ummagumma, along with track listings, personnel lists, and studio dates and credits. Then, for each record, he offers the transcript of a discussion he had about it with several of the book’s 15 interviewees, among them Craig Bailey, host of a syndicated Pink Floyd radio program; Steve Hackett, who was Genesis’s lead guitarist; Jeff Wagner, a writer about heavy metal; and Lewis Hall, the bassist and vocalist for a U.K. Pink Floyd tribute band.
Both the essays and the conversations are knowledgeable, but the latter are heavily peppered with the interviewees’ opinions and reminiscences. Talking about The Wall, for example, one says, “My brother brought the album home when it came out…I was 13…It was not something I comprehended.” Another recalls that he initially couldn’t bring himself to listen to the record because at the time of its release he was facing his mother’s impending death.
If you’re just after the facts, this isn’t the book for you; but there are a lot of insightful observations here, and if you want to read about how various listeners have reacted to assorted albums and tracks, you might well enjoy Popoff’s interviews. You’ll likely find yourself disagreeing with some of the views the contributors express, but if you’re a serious fan, you probably won’t be bored.
The second new book, Pink Floyd: All the Songs—The Story Behind Every Track, is the latest in a series that has previously included encyclopedic volumes on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones; and like its predecessors, it’s an impressively exhaustive and oversized work that weighs in at more than five pounds. It contains every fact you’d ever want to read about Pink Floyd, plus all sorts of speculation and trivia, some fascinating, some questionable or silly. (Did you know that in the first four seconds of the stereo version of “The Gnome,” group cofounder Syd Barrett can be heard breathing in the right channel? Neither did I, but who cares?)
As the title suggests, authors Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin cover every song ever released by Pink Floyd, offering musician, songwriting, and studio credits plus a thorough report on each album and the genesis and production of each of its tracks. Their essay on Dark Side of the Moon, for example, fills 12 pages—and that’s followed by 28 pages devoted to separate discussions of each of its songs. And Guesdon and Margotin don’t stop there: they also provide commentary about such topics as the group’s early days; Joe Boyd, creator of the UK’s first psychedelic club; and sound engineer and producer Alan Parsons.
Which volume you should buy depends on how big a Pink Floyd fan you are and what you’re after. If you’d be content with 240 pages of discussion about the group’s LPs, opt for Popoff’s; but if you want to really dig in and learn every last detail about each album and track and more, buy Guesdon and Margotin’s 592-page opus. In fact, if you’re enough of a fan to want that book, you should probably pick up both.
The Animals, Animalisms. Decades ago, I wore out my vinyl copy of Animalization, the U.S. version of this essential 1966 album, which showcases consistently great vocal work by the inimitable Eric Burdon. The group’s third U.K. release, the set marks the end of the Animals’ first phase, as the R&B-influenced band that evolved from the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. (In its equally noteworthy second era, the outfit added Burdon’s name to its moniker and tilted toward psychedelia.) This remastered, expanded edition—which has been previously released but in recent years has been hard to find at reasonable prices—features all 12 tracks from the original album, including John Lee Hooker’s “Maudie,” Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You,” as well as “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” (also recorded by Joe Tex and others), and “What Am I Living For” (Wanda Jackson and others). Also on the menu are “You’re on My Mind” and “She’ll Return It,” both by Burdon and Dave Rowberry, who replaced the departing Price as keyboard player. Among the 13 bonus tracks—which add everything from Animalizationthat wasn’t on Animalismsand more—are such singles as “Don’t Bring Me Down,” an organ-spiced Goffin-King composition, and “See See Rider,” both of which are delivered here in mono and stereo.
Cliff Westfall, Baby You Win. The joint will be jumpin’ when you play this album from Kentucky-born, New York-based country artist Cliff Westfall, whose strong ensemble includes Bruce Springsteen keyboardist Charlie Giordano. Westfall combines witty lyrics with a back-to-basics approach that variously recalls such artists as the Flatlanders, Dwight Yoakam, and Gram Parsons. His skillfully crafted songs—a mix of up tempo toe-tappers and weepy ballads—are loaded with addictive hooks and evidence of the artist’s love of wordplay. After hearing the record, I wasn’t surprised to read that Westfall admires Roger Miller, Don Gibson, and Del Reeves, or that his favorite lyricist is Chuck Berry.
Love Canon, Cover Story. This fourth album from the acoustic Love Canon, which prominently features fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, finds the Virginia-based quintet covering a collection of rock and pop tunes from a period in the 1980s and 90s that they call “music’s greatest decade.” That’s highly debatable and, like that era, this CD has its weak spots; but it also serves up some noteworthy pleasures, including imaginative and satisfying readings of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Peter Gabriel’s sprightly “Solsbury Hill.” Also on the nine-track program are such numbers as Billy Joel’s “Prelude (Angry Young Man),” the Bee Gees’ “Islands in the Stream,” Squeeze’s “Tempted,” and R.E.M.’s “Driver 8.”
Jeff Burger's website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the just-published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.