Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon
Hardcover: 260 pages
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (February 9, 2018)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
Bill Kopp is far from the first rock critic to take on the legendary history of Pink Floyd, focusing on the formative years when band founder Syd Barrett captained the group’s first album to his departure and replacement by David Gilmour to the group’s various experimental projects up to the seminal release of the highly influential Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. I was intrigued to read Kopp’s introduction where he admits the Pink Floyd he knew best for many years was the period after Dark Side of the Moon with little awareness of what came before. That was exactly the reverse of my experience. Back in high school, we “heads”—to use the then prevalent term to describe those of us into non-mainstream music—usually owned at least one Pink Floyd album including The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, Umma Gumma, Atom Heart Mother or Meddle. Then and now, my favorite Floyd songs are “One of These Days,” “Interstellar Overdrive,” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” All are pre-Dark Side tunes.
So when Dark Side came out and took the world by storm two years after my high school graduation, I was rather bemused by all the new listeners the band earned. I could understand why. Dark Side was, as someone I don’t know observed, the Sgt. Pepper of the ‘70s. Still, perhaps it was simple snootiness when, for years, I maintained the pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd was the Real Pink Floyd.
I got over that sentiment a long time ago. Now, I really have no excuse for any snootiness after reading Kopp’s new critical analysis of Pink Floyd’s evolution from 1967 to 1973. While this book was far from the first history of the band I’ve read, I learned something new on pretty much every page. For my money, two things distinguish Reinventing Pink Floyd from what has been published before. For one key matter, Kopp goes beyond the usual process of interviewing participants and contemporary observers and draws from his own background as a musician to comment on and analyze the songs, albums, and live performances from a musician’s perspective. For another matter, Kopp benefited from the release of the extensive 2016 The Early Years box set, a package he refers to at least once on nearly every page.
Even the most devoted Floyd fans are likely to learn tidbits they didn’t know before like the band’s first producer was Norman Smith who had worked on many of the Beatles albums. I knew about the existence of Pink Floyd film soundtracks, but not the details behind the creation of the usually experimental scores for the often-experimental films.
Fans who think of the post-Barrett Floyd as essentially the David Gilmour and the Roger Waters band with the late Richard Wright and Nick Mason as mere supporting players may well gain a new and deeper appreciation for the band’s keyboardist and drummer. Richard Wright aficionados, in particular, should appreciate reviewing in minute detail just how much he contributed to the music of this period of the band’s creative development.
Clearly, this is a book strictly for Pink Floyd fans, especially for readers who aren’t intimately familiar with the pre-Dark Side era. It would help to have some knowledge of musical terminology, especially the equipment and techniques used in the recording studio. In the end, Reinventing Pink Floyd is a treasure trove of musical history for a very particular audience. But it’s a worthy addition to any rock fan’s library.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on March 11, 2018: