Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 10: Pink Floyd

Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more

This is a tough playlist to write if I stick to the rules and choose 20 songs. In reality, the 20 I will choose are too long for a conventional playlist. Also, more than any other band in this series, certain songs belong next to one another and it sounds wrong if you mess with that natural flow.

Pink Floyd were my favorite band for a brief period at the end of the 1970s. I owned all of their releases on vinyl, up to and including The Final Cut. However, it was around that time that my tastes shifted from classic rock to alternative, indie and punk. I distinctly remember playing Animals every day for a month when I bought it on cassette. It was almost a ritual.

Unlike most Pink Floyd fans, I do not have much affection for The Wall. I find it dark, disjointed and extremely hard to listen to. I'm always puzzled that it has proved to be so popular among fans. Another difference between me and the majority of people is that I rank Animals clearly above anything else the band ever produced. The majority of Pink Floyd's albums are pleasant and easy to listen to, but Animals has a harder edge. That edge was completely gone when Roger Waters left the band after The Final Cut, although I do like a couple of the releases after his departure.

For me, there are three distinct phases in Pink Floyd's history; With Syd Barrett in the band in the 1960s, the sound was psychedelic at times and also had an innocence and naïveté. Barrett was a free spirit, way ahead of his time. Then came what I think of as the classic lineup, with Barrett gone and Waters and Gilmour at the heart of the band's sound. Finally, the third phase after Waters departed.

I only saw Pink Floyd in concert twice and that was on the 1994 Division Bell tour. I've also seen Roger Waters three or four times. Although Pink Floyd had long since been overtaken as my favorite band by 1994, the experience of seeing them in concert was incredible. The lasers and film played throughout the show made it the kind of spectacle that I had never witnessed at a concert. That said, the band played the music so close to the recorded version that something was missing. It was almost too clean and made me feel that there was a lack of real passion in the music. The presence of 15 or 20 musicians on stage also felt wrong.

Pink Floyd will always evoke memories for me. I remember my grandfather accepting that the band actually had some talent, and that was a rarity for him. I sat next to a Floyd fan in Art class in my last two years of school. I remember the concerts and even a couple of Australian Pink Floyd shows that I went to both alone and then with my family. I remember holding those vinyl albums and admiring Storm Thorgerson's artwork.

Anyway, let's get to the 20 songs that I have chosen. As always, there is a YouTube playlist featuring all of the songs:

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)
High Hopes
Learning to Fly
Wish You Were Here
Hey You
Poles Apart

Us and Them
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
The Great Gig in the Sky
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)
Comfortably Numb
Brain Damage