Pink Floyd’s Meddle Turns 50

Today, 50 years ago, Pink Floyd released their sixth studio album Meddle, yet another gem in the treasure trove of 1971 to hit the big milestone. Coming just a little over a year after Atom Heart Mother, Meddle is considered a transitional album that foreshadowed what arguably were the band’s Mount Rushmore releases The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. While the two latter records were always among my favorite Floyd albums, Meddle is a record that grew on me over the years. Nowadays, if I could only pick one, I might actually go with Meddle.

According to Wikipedia, when Pink Floyd went into the studio in January 1971, they had no clear idea what kind of record they wanted to make. Apparently, the work started out with some novel experiments that inspired what would become my favorite Pink Floyd track these days, the mighty Echoes. Unlike the group’s later albums that increasingly were dominated by themes and lyrics devised by Roger Waters, Meddle featured lyrical contributions from each band member.

Meddle inner gatefold (from left): Roger Waters, Nick Mason, David Gilmour and Richard Wright

The recording sessions for Meddle stretched out over eight months from January through August 1970. That’s because Pink Floyd had concert commitments throughout that period, which forced starts and stops. During that same timeframe, the band was also working on Relics, a great compilation album of their early work with Syd Barrett. Considering all these distractions, it’s quite remarkable to me that Meddle turned out to be such a masterpiece.

There were also some technical challenges. At the time Pink Floyd started work on the album at Abbey Road Studios, the facility only had eight-track recording technology, something the band found insufficient for their needs. As such, they ended up working at other smaller studios in London, which already were equipped with 16-track recording technology.

Time for some music! Let’s start with the opening instrumental One of These Days, which is credited to all four members of the band. The dominant pumping bassline was double-tracked, with each Roger Waters and David Gilmour playing one track. The cheerful line, “One of these days I will cut you into little pieces,” was spoken by drummer Nick Mason. Songfacts notes it was “digitally warped to give it an evil sound to it” – mission accomplished!

Fearless is an acoustic tune co-written by Gilmour and Waters. According to Wikipedia, Waters played it in a guitar tuning called open G, which Syd Barrett had taught him. In this tuning, the lower E and A strings and the high e string are each tuned down by one note to D, G and d, respectively, so a G major chord can be played without fretting a string. The crowd of people that can be heard near the beginning and at end of the song is a field recording of Liverpool soccer fans chanting their anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The final track on side one is Seamus, a country blues style song credited to all members of the band. The tune was named after a dog that belonged to Steve Marriott, the frontman of Humble Pie at the time. Songfacts notes the dog would bark and howl every time he heard music, or if someone played the guitar. In fact, the dog can be heard barking and howling throughout the entire track. Pink Floyd biographer Nicholas Schaffner dismissed the tune. Gilmour essentially admitted the song wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, saying, “I guess it wasn’t really as funny to everyone else [as] it was to us.”

This brings me to the only tune that makes up the entire side two of the album. While at 23 and a half minutes Echoes is a pretty long track, no post about Meddle would be complete without it. Once again, Echoes was credited to the entire band. The ambient sound effects and musical improvisation resemble what Pink Floyd would take to the next level a few years later on The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. I’ve really come to love this epic track!

Overall, Meddle was well received by music critics when it came out. It also enjoyed significant chart success, especially in Europe where it climbed to no. 3, no. 7, no. 11 and no. 2 in the UK, France, Germany and The Netherlands, respectively. The performance was more moderate in the U.S. and Canada where Meddle reached no. 70 and no. 51, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: April 12

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter, and I hope everybody is doing well! I decided to do another installment of my long-running music history feature, which hit 50 with the previous post. It turns out April 12 was a pretty eventful date, so let’s get to it.

1968: Pink Floyd released their fourth single in the UK, It Would Be So Nice. The tune, which was written by keyboarder Richard Wright, had a rather uplifting, almost pop-like sound unlike many other Floyd songs at the time. It was the band’s first release after the exit of Syd Barrett. Idiotically, the BBC is said to have banned the initial version of the song due to a passing reference of the London newspaper The Evening Standard, which violated their strict no-advertising policy. Apparently, this prompted the band to record an alternate, BBC friendly version. It didn’t help from a popularity perspective, and the song failed to chart in the UK or elsewhere. Apparently, Roger Waters and Nick Mason didn’t like the tune either. Waters called it a “lousy record.” Mason was even more outspoken: “Fucking awful, that record, wasn’t it? At that period we had no direction. We were being hustled about to make hit singles.” Ouch!

1973: The American children’s TV series Sesame Street has seen many celebrities over its 50-plus-year history. One of the coolest and funkiest guests ever must have been Stevie Wonder who appeared on the program 47 years ago. Then 23 years old, Wonder performed Superstition, the lead single from his latest album at the time Talking Book. I always loved that funky tune. Check out the apparent joy Wonder got out of this and his kickass backing band – priceless!

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band released the excellent live album Live Bullet. The material came from a 1975 gig at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Interestingly, Seger was still a largely regional act at the time. This would change with the band’s next studio album Night Moves that came out in October of the same year and finally put them on the map nationally. Over the years, tracks from Live Bullet became staples on rock radio. Undoubtedly, the best known is the road tale Turn the Page, which was written by Seger. Check out the official video I came across on YouTube. Love that tune!

1976: That evening, Paul McCartney with his wife Linda visited John Lennon at his apartment in the Dakota. Lennon was watching the late-night NBC comedy show Saturday Night, the predecessor to Saturday Night Live. During this particular episode, co-creator and producer Lorne Michaels invited The Beatles to reunite on the show for the deliberately measly offer of $3,000 (approximately the equivalent of $13,900 today). Michaels had no idea Lennon and McCartney were watching the whole thing – and actually considered showing up at the show’s studio that night just for fun. The Beatles Bible quotes Lennon from his final major interview he gave to book author David Sheff in 1980: “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired.” Now, that would have been something!

Lorne Michaels Offer to The Beatles

1983: R.E.M. released their debut album Murmur. Shockingly, the music critics got it right for once and gave it a warm reception. It also peaked at no. 36 on the Billboard 200, not shabby for a debut. A re-recorded version of Radio Free Europe appeared separately as a single and reached no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In spite of the critical acclaim, Murmur only sold approximately 200,000 copies by the end of the year, which back then wasn’t considered special – wow, how the times have changed! Eventually, the album reached Gold certification (500,000 units sold) in 1991. Peter Buck’s jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound, Mike Mills’ melodic basslines and Michael Stipes’ vocals are right up my alley. Here’s Radio Free Europe. Like all other songs except for one, the tune was credited to all four members of the band, which in addition to Buck, Mills and Stipes also included drummer Bill Berry.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Clips & Pix: David Gilmour/Comfortably Numb

I swear this is yet another coincidental occasion that resulted in a spontaneous post. When checking out YouTube for something else, I got distracted, stepped away from the computer for a few minutes, and when I got back this killer clip was playing. I just couldn’t resist posting about it!

The Wall isn’t even my favorite Pink Floyd album (that would be Meddle), though I’d put it in my top 5, together with Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, as well as Relics, an excellent compilation of the band’s early stage. That being said, I’ve always dug Comfortably Numb, which David Gilmour co-wrote with Roger Waters. In no small part that’s because of Gilmour’s epic solo. While I oftentimes feel less is more when it comes to guitar solos, there are exceptions, and this is one of them – when the guitar-playing is as great, I don’t mind if a solo is a bit massive!

The above clip is from a 2016 David Gilmour concert at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii, which according to Wikipedia was the first public performance there since AD 79. ‘Wait a moment,’ you might say, ‘how about the 1972 documentary Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii?’ While the band indeed played there what was a typical live set at the time, there was no actual audience beyond the film crew. Maybe I’m romanticizing a bit here, but can you imagine how frigging awesome it must have been to be a member of that crew?

BTW, in case the guy singing co-lead vocals somehow looks familiar, it’s Chuck Leavell. The American singer-songwriter and keyboarder was a member of The Allman Brothers Band during their heyday in the ’70s. He has also worked with artists like Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Gov’t Mule.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube