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When Johnny Rotten first walked into Malcolm McLaren's life, Rotten was wearing a torn Pink Floyd tee shirt with the words "I Hate" in magic marker scrawled all over it. Maybe you're of a similar persuasion these days, even if you own several Floyd albums. Or maybe, like the sleazy record executive in the band's hit "Have a Cigar," you're truly confused about "which one's Pink?" For, you see, the Pink Floyd saga is really the story of four bands housed under one logo:
The Pink Floyd led by acid avatar Syd Barrett.
The "We Can Pretend to Be Just As Crazy As Syd" Pink Floyd.
The "I Am Waters, Hear Me Roar" Pink Floyd.
The "Hey, Let's Be Pink Floyd Without Roger" Pink Floyd.
The following is a primer to help set you right on such delicate matters. Only the last aggregation is still recording; its latest release, The Division Bell, arrived in stores April 5. Neither TDB's merits nor the band's sold-out date Sunday at Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium can fully be appreciated without first getting in touch with our feelings about the band's past work. Besides, what's a Pink Floyd article without a couple of acid flashbacks?
In 1965, Syd Barrett forms a rock group with his Cambridge colleagues Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason. Although composed of art students, a more artless group than the Architectural Abdabs would be hard to imagine. Its repertoire consists mainly of "Louie Louie" and "Roadrunner," occasionally peppered with bursts of psychedelia. Its fate and its name are about to change.
One London day, Barrett spots an album featuring Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Immediately, he seizes upon the combination of the two names as the perfect new handle for the group. After deciding that the Anderson Council sounds "too establishment" (or, worse, like the name of a bad Ben Gazzara movie), they become the Pink Floyd Sound.
Almost immediately, the Pinks gain notoriety for being the first British band to perform with a distracting light show superimposed over it. However, no amount of blinking, blue spots can disguise the fact that the group is still performing "Louie Louie." Needing original material to secure a record contract, Syd takes it upon himself to become the band's resident Lennon and McCartney.
"Arnold Layne," the first Floyd single, is blocks away from "Penny Lane," the Beatles' hit of the day. Though both are set in London suburbia, Barrett's ode is not about community helpers like the barber, the banker and the firefighter, but rather about the neighborhood transvestite who procures women's undergarments from the washing line. The BBC and Radio London waste no time banning the song for promoting a disturbing alternate lifestyle--stealing!
Regardless, Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, is a great success in Britain, largely because of Syd's eccentric pop songwriting. He collaborates with the band on two of the songs, and with massive amounts of Mandrax tablets on the remaining eight.
By the time the second Pink Floyd single, "See Emily Play," is issued, Syd's daily intake of acid could rival all of Haight-Ashbury's. Although Barrett could probably use extensive psychiatric care at this point, the group's manager prescribes a few appearances on American television instead.
In December 1967, Pink Floyd makes its U.S. TV debut on American Bandstand. Mixing psychedelics with ventriloquism, Syd refuses to move his lips while miming to the single (not unlike Johnny "I Hate Pink Floyd" Rotten will do when Public Image Ltd appears on the show in 1981). Syd's even more antisocial on The Pat Boone Show; he rewards the cheery host's questions with blank and catatonic stares.
It soon becomes obvious even to Pink Floyd's stoned-out-of-its-gourd audience that Syd's only playing a C-chord throughout the entire live show. This necessitates the band expanding to a five-piece, with guitarist David Gilmour essentially there to parrot Barrett licks from the records. The lads continue to tolerate Syd's fascination with jug-band music, but when he suggests Pink Floyd's commercial breakthrough hinges on adding two saxophone players and some girlie singers, they send Syd packing.
With rock's first volatile Syd now out of the picture, the group loses all vestiges of a personality. And for the next four years, the Faceless Four will maintain a lower profile than most vice presidents. On its initial post-Syd albums, the band pioneers the instrumental space-rock genre, scoring music for artsy European films few people will ever see. Amazingly, these experiments snowball into a rabid cult following for Pink Floyd. But the group soon becomes bored with its image as the "band that eats asteroids for breakfast" and comes hurtling earthward.
Floyd's first album of the Seventies, Atom Heart Mother, arrives in record stores with a very attractive cow on the front cover. The record inside, however, contains nothing but utter disappointments. By now, a familiar Floyd holding pattern has emerged--when in doubt, apply sound effects!
Waters, the band's in-house Mr. Rogers, seems dead-set on proving you can make music using any common household noises. "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast," the album's finale, consists of little more than the sound of bacon and eggs sizzling in a pan from speaker to speaker.