Last night they showed the induction ceremony for the UK Music Hall of Fame on VH1. I didn’t see the first part of the show, only the last part where they inducted Pink Floyd, but that was well worth it. Pete Townsend did the induction, which is appropriate given his friendship with the band and his past collaborations with them (if you’ve never heard it, go find Townsend’s 1985 album White City. Gilmour lends his unmistakeable sound to Give Blood, the best song on the album). Roger Waters wasn’t there, but was connected by video, and Gilmour and Nick Mason were there in person to accept the award.
I know a lot of people who fancy themselves purists will say that the “real” Pink Floyd was the pre-1968 version with Syd Barrett on guitar and vocals, but frankly the old stuff does nothing for me and the band’s greatest work all came after Gilmour joined. As I’ve said before, Gilmour is fairly unique among rock guitarists in the way his solos fit so perfectly within the structure of the song. For him, solos aren’t a 30 second break where he gets to show off, they’re times when the lone voice of the guitar rises above the chorus of instruments to reveal a new dimension to the song.
Likewise, it was after Syd Barrett left that Roger Waters became the driving musical and emotional force of the band, resulting in some of rock’s greatest achievements. As Waters followed his muse and exorcised his demons, one brilliant vision after another found its way into song, beginning most obviously with Dark Side of the Moon. On last night’s show, Bob Geldof described it as a perfect gem of an album, and he’s right.
Every single song is uniquely memorable on its own, but together they haunt us, gliding from the quiet melancholy of Breathe (“And balanced on the biggest wave, you race towards an early grave”) and Time (“The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death”) to the dark sarcasm of Money (“New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I’ll buy me a football team”) to the slowly simmering madness of Brain Damage (“There’s someone in my head but it’s not me”). It’s not by accident that Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most successful albums of all time, staying on the Billboard top 200 chart for an astonishing 15 straight years.
If Dark Side of the Moon has an equal in rock, The Wall is surely it. The ultimate concept album, The Wall is an incredible tour of the darkest recesses of Roger Waters’ psyche. It’s a tale of isolation, with each new pain inflicted upon the protagonist becoming another brick in the wall that separates him from the world and from his own sanity. His slow descent into fascism works as a metaphor on many levels, both personal and political, and all of this is accompanied by one of the most brilliant musical masterpieces of the rock era.
If you’ve never seen The Wall performed live, you can get it on DVD and I strongly encourage you to get one. There are two that I know of, one that contains the show as it was performed by the band live in 1981, and another that was performed by Roger Waters in 1990 at the Berlin Wall after it fell. The former is, of course, more authentic to the original, but the latter has some surprising and thrilling additions that make it worth seeing. The production values are top notch and they pulled off an incredible production flawlessly.
The 1990 show includes many other singers doing songs from the album, but presented in the same theatrical production as the orginal show; some of the choices were truly inspired. Joni Mitchell is wonderful on Goodbye Blue Sky, Sinead O’Connor even better on Mother (even making “mother do you think they’ll try and break my balls” seem appropriate to her performance), and Cyndi Lauper will astonish you with the power of her voice both on Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 and on The Tide is Turning, a solo piece that was added to the end of the show as a song of hope as the cold war came to an end. Seriously, if you only know Cyndi Lauper from her silly pop stuff, you will be amazed by her performance – the woman can wail. And seeing Van Morrison sing Comfortably Numb with a 200 foot high wall in front of him, totally hidden from the audience of a million people, is surreal.
All in all, it was great to see Pink Floyd get inducted into the UK hall of fame. I’m not big on stadium concerts. I wouldn’t pay a nickel to see the Rolling Stones play in front of 80,000 people on a stage so far away you can barely see them. But I would pay $200 a ticket to see Pink Floyd reunited, and I really hope that they will tour together as a band now that they’ve patched up their differences.