Have A Cigar!: Celebrating Pink Floyd's massive new reissue project

Psych-rockers Pink Floyd and EMI are launching an exhaustive re-release campaign, beginning today. You could say that tickled us … pink.

Released under the banner “Why Pink Floyd?,” the band will start by issuing remastered editions of all 14 of its albums, with a staggered schedule to follow of unreleased material from its archives for super-deluxe box sets. The remastered studio albums are available either separately or as a box set.

To celebrate, we took a look back at a few key cuts …

“US AND THEM,” DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1973): David Gilmour famously joined the band as co-founder Syd Barrett began to lose a battle with mental illness — and Gilmour’s distinctive contributions on guitar and vocals became the cornerstone of this, one of rock music’s most celebrated albums. Yet, throughout, Gilmour has trumpeted key contributions from keyboardist Richard Wright, notable for his work on tracks like “Us and Them,” which he sang on and co-wrote. (The keyboardist was also integral to Dark Side‘s follow up, Wish You Were Here, which turned into a kind of magnum opus for Wright.) Gilmour’s soloing boasts a memorable directness here, thanks in no small way to the logical and crisp shadings that Wright provides.

From the start, Wright underscored Pink Floyd’s sound with a jazz-based inventiveness, helping the group transcend an early psychedelic-pop template established under Barrett — then a confrontational, didactic tone set by his successor, bassist Roger Waters. Until the end, Wright was a deeply emotive foundation for the group’s more famous voices, this consistency in a band that saw dramatic shifts. By the late 1970s, of course, Waters and the rest of the band were at odds — a rift that deepened when Waters relegated Wright to sideman status on The Wall. Pink Floyd recorded 1983’s The Final Cut without the keyboardist, then descended into a protracted legal battle when Gilmour sought to continue the group with only Wright and drummer Nick Mason. They never really recaptured the cerulean beauty of “Us and Them” until Wright’s reemergence, first as a part-time contributor on 1987’s Momentary Lapse of Reason and then as a member again in full on 1994’s The Division Bell.

“In my view,” Gilmour has said of Wright, “all the greatest Pink Floyd moments are the ones where he is in full flow.” “Us and Them” was, most certainly, one of those moments. — Nick DeRiso

ASTRONOMY DOMINE, PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, (1967) /”ONE OF THESE DAYS,” MEDDLE (1971): They didn’t do it very often, but when the mood struck them, Pink Floyd could bring the sinister.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was full of pop music filtered through LSD eyes and ears, spanning the easy-going “Bike” all the way to the ominous “Astronomy Domine.” Those opening throaty guitar chords set the scene for the descending motif employed during each refrain, with the downhill chromatic line given extra weight by the eerie vocals that shadowed it. The vibe is definitely sinister, and more than a little creepy. “One Of These Days,” meanwhile, brought with it its own brand of sinister. A bass ostinato anchors the song which takes its first upward step in intensity when the keyboards flash to life. Things really take off right after Nick Mason’s heavily processed vocal cameo: “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces,” as David Gilmour‘s guitar pushes things to the next level.

I was lucky enough to see Pink Floyd play this song, many years ago in Foxboro, Massachusetts during the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. With Gilmour seated behind the pedal steel guitar, the giant inflated pig began to float out over the crowd. We were right down in the middle of the field and as the pig flew over us … it got stuck! With Gilmour going crazy on the guitar, a brave roadie made his way slowly (and upside down!) out on that cable to free up the mechanism. It was a surreal scene, matching the song’s intensity on all counts. — Mark Saleski

WISH YOU WERE HERE,” WISH YOU WERE HERE (1975): Pink Floyd isn’t thought of as an sentimental band, so devoting this paean to former leader Syd Barrett went to show the depth of their regret and sorrow that such a bright talent fell from grace and out of the band so far, so quickly.

Roger Waters wrote the lyrics originally as a poem, set to music originated by David Gilmour (and who sang the song). This isn’t a mushy kind of sentimentality; the song, beginning with an acoustic guitar strumming a simple melody, sounds as if it were recorded second-hand from an old radio. It’s a slightly eerie detached vibe that pervades the song and certainly the words (“So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain”). Gilmour’s quietly effective slide work and Richard Wright’s sympathetic piano and understated synthesizer are the kind of light touches that make a well-written song a well performed one, too.

A fitting, low-key tribute to a fallen comrade who was still there physically, but whose soul had already long departed. — S. Victor Aaron

“ONE OF MY TURNS,” THE WALL (1979): I first heard this tune as a B-side on the single “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” its own anomaly in the digital age. Back then, the story was that “One of My Turns” was inspired by Roy Harper, the lead singer on Pink Floyd’s earlier “Have A Cigar” who in 1975 had trashed his caravan at the Knebworth Festival. Yet “One of My Turns” fits perfectly on The Wall, mainly because within one song cycle it encapsulates the larger theme.

A rock star (“Pink” in the movie from three years later) finds himself on the road and thus surrounded by people, but yet unknown to all of them. He brings a groupie back to his room only to discover this overwhelming regret over what his life has become. Pink’s marriage, left unattended, has grown cold — and this encounter is no better. While the girl marvels over his sprawling suite, Pink catches a bit of “The Dam Busters” — a 1955 film highlighting the wartime efforts of England’s RAF 617 Squadron — on television, and he’s hurtled back into the deeper loss that separates him from this girl, and from everybody. His thoughts, famously, draw tight as a tourniquet, and the character explodes into a furious line of questions about how this empty evening might play out: How could he have become so very disconnected from his own life? How could that yawning chasm ever be filled with this thoughtless interaction with a stranger?

After Pink rages through a series of sad scenarios by which he might entertain this now stunned and then silent and then quickly fleeing guest, Waters’ character — so self-involved as to have forgotten that he mentioned grabbing his “favorite axe”; meaning, what? A guitar? An actual axe? — plaintively wails: Why are you running awaaaaaay? The song’s title provides its own subtext. If this was only one of Pink’s turns, then we know why. There must have been others. Still, like a great moment in literature, you’re left wondering if it had gone worse the last time our protagonist got unbalanced. Was there, that other time, really an axe? Running away seems perfectly reasonable, right? — Nick DeRiso

“ONE SLIP,” A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON (1987): Almost 25 years on and I still have no idea what is going on at the beginning of this song. The first thought I got in my head upon hearing it back in 1987 was a child playing with a game, maybe a Simon-like memory game, and one wrong move sets off a cacophonous ringing of alarm bells. What this has to do with the song is beyond me: The lyrics seem to be something about a relationship gone wrong, or perhaps a relationship that should never start in the first place. I have no idea — it’s never been the focus of my interest, pretty much like most of the songs in Pink Floyd’s canon. I’m listening for the music, and in that, I’m listening for Gilmour’s amazing guitar work, and to a lesser extent, his warm, weary voice.

But here, interestingly, it’s not Gilmour’s guitar that takes center stage, but one of the non-Floyd musicians that fill out the studio band. In those post-Waters years, Gilmour stocked his band with a who’s-who of musicians to craft a perfect dream band behind him. On “One Slip,” legendary rock bassist Tony Levin trades his four-string instrument for a Chapman Stick. It’s one of those rare times when you can pinpoint an unusual instrument for others who aren’t so into music, but it might increase their enjoyment to know something unusual. Play the “wait for it” game with them — there’s a couple of great times in the tune when Levin steps up and solos with the Stick just after the chorus. The song drops into the break and up comes Tony in the mix. There’s definitely a character of “bass guitar” to it, dark and a little hollow, but also something chimy and immediate like a piano — trademarks of the Stick sound. (Levin’s Stickwork is all over Peter Gabriel‘s early catalog; surely you know it from “Shock The Monkey”? Now you know two songs.)

It was the perfect element to add to the song, harsh, cold clanks, as if that’s the sound of what happens when you don’t heed the warnings he makes earlier in the tune. — Tom Johnson

“YOUR POSSIBLE PASTS,” THE FINAL CUT (1983): Originally envisioned as a soundtrack to the motion picture component of the group’s multi-media project “The Wall,” 1983’s didactic “band” project The Final Cut became a stand-alone effort when Waters got tuned up over England’s involvement in the early-1980s’ Falkland Islands conflict.

Waters, in full megalomaniac mode by now, had already sacked founding keyboardist Richard Wright, and subsequently relegated Gilmour to just four interludes. (That reportedly led to a heated exchange in which Gilmour said: “Look, if you need a guitar solo, phone me.”) Still, each of Gilmour’s showcases is a coiled delight. He’s pushed into concise bursts of angry brilliance, in particular on this recommended last-gasp cut.

Pink Floyd’s devolution into a Waters cover band, nevertheless, was complete. The back of the original liner notes actually read: The Final Cut: A Requiem for the Post-War Dream – by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd. Gilmour, perhaps rightly, objected. After all, they had already made this album — and, some argued, done a better job of it the first time. There were moments of brilliance, but the album never achieves liftoff (how could it?) without meaningful contributions from Wright and Gilmour. — Nick DeRiso

SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS, SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS (1968): I’m not writing about “A Saucerful of Secrets” because it’s great song. In fact it reeks of psychedelic and prog-rock pretentiousness. I am writing about “ASOS” because of the influence it had on my life.

A friend of mine and I were listening to Dave Herman’s The Marconi Experiment for the first time late one summer’s night back in 1968. “ASOS” was the first song we ever heard when we stumbled on the show and the station. The Marconi Experiment was on WMMR, Philadelphia’s new alternative, free-form, radio station. The song’s length, 11:52, was astounding to us at the time as were all of the unusual sound textures that were new to us. Did we like it upon this first hearing? Not really. We both thought it was weird, but yet we found the work intriguing enough to keep listening to Herman’s show and WMMR on a regular basis. From there my love of alternative radio grew and I began following artists who were never played on mainstream radio. I fell in love with many of them and the discoveries I found there caused my love of music to grow even more.

It all happened because I stumbled across “A Saucerful of Secrets.” Floyd’s piece grew on me over the years and it eventually became a symbol of everything rock had to offer, but today, I still look more fondly on what the song did for me musically than I do the song itself. — Charlie Ricci, from www.Bloggerhythms.com

“POLES APART,” THE DIVISION BELL (1994): Recommended because, more than any other post-Animals release (by Pink Floyd or its principal songwriters), “Poles Apart” recalls the band’s earliest psych-rock songcraft. That means long keyboard moments; echoing, sustained guitar chords; segmented song-cycles effortlessly flowing into one another.

Really, the whole of this record is like a long, slow exhale after the novelization of Pink Floyd on The Wall and The Final Cut. Sure, the songs, written without the departed Roger Waters, often weren’t as narratively strong. But Division Bell, with Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason each making important contributions, emerged as Pink Floyd’s clearest group effort in years — and, though this was later, as a keepsake final recording before Wright’s untimely passing sent the band into retirement. Together in the studio one last time, they crafted something that recalls the rangy, at times almost free-jazzy, triumphs like the title track on Saucerful of Secrets and the bulk of Wish You Were Here.

This is the album, I think, that Gilmour and Co. hoped to make after the exit of Waters, though they ended up with the transitional Momentary Lapse of Reason — something which actually felt like a Gilmour solo work, more often than not. Division Bell finally sounded like Pink Floyd again, if for only a moment. — Nick DeRiso

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Pink Floyd is offering three types of reissues: remastered CDs called “Discovery,” CD/DVD/Blu-ray/memorabilia box sets dubbed “Immersion” and “Experience,” which couples one classic album with an additional disc of related content from that project. The first release in the “Why Pink Floyd?” series is the special editions of “The Dark Side of the Moon” on Tuesday: a six-disc “Immersion” box set and two-disc “Experience” version. On Nov. 8 “Wish You Were Here” gets the expanded treatment and is released alongside “A Foot in the Door — the Best of Pink Floyd.” The “Immersion” and “Experience” editions of the band’s seminal album, “The Wall,” won’t be released until Feb. 28.

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