September 2008

You asked for it. Maybe you didn’t – but you are getting it anyway. This mad scientist, spurred by some positive feedback received for his Mad Lion, went back into his Garage, worked with his band (i.e. himself), got “loop”y, and came up with another experiment.

He has called it by the weird, and contrived name – Ethereal Gypsy on Route Fifty Eight although he has his reasons.

For you Carnatic folks, perhaps you can still out make out the raga/scale on which this tune (i.e. the solo) is adapted from? The carnaticity of the raga obviously has been mangled out of shape – but the tune does still stick to its scale (hopefully 🙂 ).

The chord progression here is not really a chord progression :)! I started out with exactly two chords (Bm and Bm6), and I sort of got sucked into the mood generated by those two (which gave me some ideas for the background music). And I could never escape out of that. There are a few other chords which would have fit this scale, but those two chords had grabbed me a hold of me like two tentacles, and I guess I was enjoying their grasp too much to see anything else. The solo also is more of the western style, or at least well disconnected from the Carnatic side of things.  I just went with the flow of what I thought fit rather than trying to consciously bring the Carnatic flavor of the raga out (although that was my original intention).

BTW, there are three reasons for the choice of that contrived title. Can you guess all three ? You may need some music knowledge (carnatic and other) and google to figure it out. First one who gets all three – gets to brag about it in the comment section 😉

The “e-ink” on my previous blog post on Pink Floyd hasn’t dried yet, and I now read the news that the keyboardist Richard Wright of Pink Floyd is no more 😦 The ink now gets wetter 😦

May his soul rest in peace! His legacy will surely live on in numerous memorable songs where his keyboard takes us into a psychedelic trance deep into space, perhaps the main catalyst behind the “Pink Floyd sound” in those signature monster albums. Some songs where his keyboard skills are on full display:

  • Echoes from Meddle
  • The Great Gig in the sky, Any Color you Like and Eclipse from Dark Side of the Moon.
  • Shine on you Crazy Diamond (especially part 6-9) from Wish You Were Here.
  • Sheep from Animals
I read now from that he was self-taught.

This is a tribute entry to Pink Floyd, a band whom I consider as the greatest rock band of all time, although that obviously is a personal, and thus subjective opinion.

Even though my musical interests in the last decade or so have taken me far from their music, every now and then I like to turn back the clock, and catch their songs, relive past moments. I do this now mostly with the help YouTube, as it is easily accessible, and I also enjoy the added advantage of seeing live performances of the band (and other “creations”).

I am still very much amazed, and enchanted by their music as I was then. The talent they displayed in their best albums (more on this below) still overpowers me – and I (if I may sound corny) fall in love again and again with their music.  I also find it “cool” that Pink Floyd continues to garner a lot of following among young Americans in every generation. Now, I do know that the allure there may be for err…. the “wrong reasons” 🙂 – there is no denying that or the association people making with Pink Floyd’s music to drugs, but I do think they see the quality in the music, and love the band for the music’s sake.

By pretty much most accounts, the golden years of Pink Floyd spans the decade of 1970s, which included the albums Meddle,  (the enormously successful) The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and (the commercial blockbuster) The Wall (Note: I did not include Obscured By Clouds).

Different Floyd fans have different perspectives on what their best album is. Many would lean towards The Dark Side of the Moon, and an equal lot (if not more) towards The Wall. Some consider Wish You Were Here as eclipsing even those two, and some pick Animals.

Now, The Dark Side Of The Moon is probably the most celebrated album of Floyd, as it stayed on the Billboard top-200 for a mind boggling 14 years! To quote the wiki page referenced above “Additionally, the album holds the record of spending the highest amount of time on the Billboard charts, staying there for more than 1,500 weeks (almost 29 years)”.  This album in my mind represent the ideal synergy of the immense talents of all the members (in fact, they themselves have hinted this). These talents actually are not completely aligned or compatible with each there. And there in lies the secret sauce for the success of the band. One one hand, you had the rough, raw and wild power of the lyrics of Roger Waters‘ (bass, vocals) – direct, edgy and dark. On the other hand, you had the refined, sophisticated, smooth musical talents of David Gilmour (guitar, vocals – my guitar hero), Rick Wright (keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums).

I find a strange  correlation here to the Yin and the Yang,  the Saidar and Saidin (for you Robert Jordan fans)

(Note: I will admit that this correlation does sounds over-the-top 🙂 )

When these two contrasting powers are perfectly balanced, you get the perfect result. When one side dominates more, you get a different result, not perfect perhaps (but still interesting and successful). I find it interesting to observe the above creme-de-la-creme albums of Pink Floyd from this perspective, as I see a sort of a progression:

Note/Disclaimer: There are external links to YouTube for songs below, most of whichare not official videos of the band but instead “remixes” by YouTube users. Wherever possible, I have tried to present only those videos with audio that is based on original album. All of this is for illustrative purposes only. All rights belong to Pink Floyd, and the recording label companies.

  • Meddle was really a “coming out” from their earlier incarnation as a psychedelic rock band, which followed the departure of the mentally ill former leader (and founder of the band) Syd Barrett. In general, Meddle had perhaps lesser influence from Roger Waters’ edgy lyrics (and thus matching music), and is more “mellow”. The band themselves were sort of identifying their rightful place so to speak here. It is thus “less than ideal” in terms of the balance being more towards one of the contrasting sides.
    • The whole album is pretty much all about the single track Echoes which takes up the entire side B. This basically is the album. It is a phenomenal piece. It is my favorite track.
      • Hear/”Watch” a live version  of Part 1 of Echoes here . This is an earlier  version than the one that made it into the album.
    • The first track One of these days (i am going to cut you into little pieces) is also very good for a pounding bass track as the main line  as the backdrop for a dark, menacing  tune – very good for an adrenalin boost. The song has exactly one line of lyric which is its (menacing) title, and delivered in a highly distorted voice.
      • Hear/”Watch” One Of These Days here
    • Note that the band’s connection (mentally) to Syd Barrett remained in place through out, and thus in spite of his departure, he continued to be a great source of inspiration to them. He was the You in Wish You Were Here, the album they made after they became insanely famous following the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. One of the topics that The Dark Side Of The Moon deals is lunacy, and again Syd was one of the reasons. I also find it sad that someone like him, i.e. a person that the others cared deeply, had to take such a hard and torturous fall for something beautiful to emerge from them. Cruel twist of fate indeed!
  • The Dark Side of  the Moon represent the perfect equilibrium. Here the power of lyrics is perfectly balanced by the refined and sophisticated musicality.
    • It is hard to pick a set of favorite track from this album as I pretty much like them all – besides they sort of blend into each other.  I reluctantly pick Time, Money (with the uncommon 7×8 time signature, superb sax solo, and a blistering guitar solo), and Us and Them (with my favorite line: Forward he cried from the rear, and the front rank died!).
  • Wish you were Here is also perhaps pretty close to the equilibrium as musically, it is as good as The Dark Side Of The Moon. The theme of the album, and the music is much more melancholic as the album is pretty much all about Syd Barret. Besides being moving and powerful, The Dark Side of The Moon can also be strangely uplifting to me, but Wish You Were Here cannot do so. So I would put it a bit less than ideal.
    • In Wish You Were Here, it is even harder to pick the cream of the crop, as one song Shine On You Crazy Diamond, a gripping, musical odyssey is present as sixnine parts, which are not exactly contiguous, and not exactly separate either. But for a listen at any time to get a “shot of adrenalin”, I would pick the first track of Side Two – Have a Cigar. This song is unique in that it does not feature any regular band member on the vocals. The “guest vocalist” is Roy Harper, I believe because at that time, I think Gilmour or Waters had a cold, and the other could not sing at that key 🙂 !
      • Hear/”Watch” Have a Cigar.
      • Updated: How could I have forgotten one of my favorite lines in a Pink Floyd song  The Band is just fantastic! That is really what I think! Oh by the way, which one’s Pink? (this whole song is sung from the point of view of a record label producer praising a band)
  • Animals (also a concept album based on same concept as George Orwell‘s Animal Form), represents a perceptible shift from the perfect equilibrium towards Waters. The lyrics are more direct, more powerful – and the music more edgy and dark. This album was not hugely successful but it also had the monstrous footsteps of The Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here to fill-in.
    • My favorite tracks are Sheep (love the way Waters voice blends into the synthesizer at the end of the line) and Dogs (powerful lyrics, excellent guitar solos).
      • Hear/”Watch” these songs: Sheep, Dogs Part 1, Part 2.
      • You have to see the video on YouTube where someone has set the music of Sheep to the starting (battle) scene of Saving Private Ryan – very intense, but very gruesome.
  • The Wall is where the shift is even more towards the Yang i.e. Waters. In fact, this album is pretty much all about Waters.  It is way more edgier and darker than Animals and it was also way more successful. Musically, though one could argue, it perhaps moved back a tad towards equilibrium compared to Animals, but the overall effect is a very edgy album (with a lot of added Roger Watersy histrionics albeit in context 🙂 ).

Now, as you can see that the Yang of Roger Waters started to take over and dominate as you go from Wish You Were Here to Wall. Of course this did not mean less success, as The Wall was enormously successful. But the following album The Final Cut, was even more dominated by the creativity of Waters (more political, more activism), and it was pretty much a flop. This signaled the end of the golden years, and also the end of the  band, as they (sort of) broke-up after that. Waters left, but others continued; He sued and later settled. The others continued on to make a few albums but now you only had Yin left and the music lacked the edge it had before, and so never had the potential of reaching the lofty heights of the earlier albums.

The Making of the Dark Side of The Moon
Last week I caught snippets of the DVD The making of the Dark Side of the moon. It is an excellent and very detailed look into the album with a lot of insightful comments from the band members as well as others (including Alan Parsons, the sound engineer, who then went on to form a very successful band – The Alan Parsons Project). I intend to buy the DVD and I would highly recommend it for all Floyd fans – casual and serious! Here are my favorite moments:

  • Roger Waters claiming cynically now “I now wonder how I got away with it” – referring to what he now views as simplistic lyrics for Breathe, the first track
  • Paraphrasing Waters about their jamming sessions which supposedly yielded much of the material for Dark Side: “I don’t know how much writing was going on there. It was like play A-minor and E-minor for an hour, and then go okay – that sounded good enough”
  • Waters imitating that director who wouldn’t accept the (prototype) tune of “Us And Them” as a background score for a scene from his film.
  • All of them talking frankly about what their drive was, which was simply money and fame :).  Waters wryly quips with a smile that it was all for the wrong reasons). They also talk about the downside of the success of Dark Side. How once you achieve that “money and fame” goal, there is a loss in purpose as in What do I do now? I guess they figured it out soon enough 🙂
  • Gilmour talking about the time signature change for Money – “probably to make my life easier” 🙂