PINK FLOYD - "Meddle": A milestone turns 50

9. September 2021

Pink Floyd

PINK FLOYD - „Meddle“: Ein Meilenstein wird 50

It was a tough struggle for every note, a frustrating search for a vision, a sparking idea. Pink Floyd initially found it very difficult when it came to recording a new album. Necessity is the mother of invention, and so the band ventured a new approach, but it required an "aha" effect, an illuminating moment that pointed the way. In late 1971, after a seemingly endless recording process, "Meddle" was finally released. It showed Pink Floyd focused as never before. The band had found themselves, had finally arrived in the 70s. "Meddle" was literally a milestone on the way to "The Dark Side Of The Moon" and "Wish You Were Here".

Shortly before the end, at the end of "Echoes", which is also the end of "Meddle", while drums, keyboards, bass and guitar slowly bow to the fade-out, comes the acoustic illusion: The sound - it seems like ghostly voices - gets higher and higher. Pink Floyd make use of a so-called Shepard scale here, created by superimposed sine tones, each shifted upwards by an octave, which the human ear perceives as a scale that keeps getting higher and higher into infinity. This effect and the famous echo-sounding piano, with which "Echoes" also begins 23 minutes earlier, end Pink Floyd's sixth studio album.

Actually, the conditions were good. Pink Floyd's fifth album "Atom Heart Mother" had unexpectedly conquered the top position of the UK charts - the first number 1 placement ever for the Brits. Working with avant-garde musician Ron Geesin, the band had learned to experiment with sounds and the equipment. EMI had made a new deal with Pink Floyd that cut their fee a bit, but in return secured the band unlimited access to London's Abbey Road Studios, the hallowed halls of rock and pop music. Nick Mason recalled in 2012, "I think only the Beatles had a similar deal at the time. There was no pressure from EMI to release anything."

A band in search of itself

Everything is fine, one would think. And yet: Pink Floyd are having a hard time working on new material at the beginning of 1971. Syd Barrett's exit - or ejection, as you like - was just three years ago and still casts a shadow over their career. Moreover, despite the commercial success of "Atom Heart Mother," the band is artistically dissatisfied with the work. The machine Nick Mason draws for the cover of "Relics," the compilation of old songs released in May 1971, most of which had not previously appeared on any album, can be seen as an unintentional or unconscious symbol for the group: a steaming, whistling, hissing, rumbling, bizarre something that almost accidentally also creates music. So in January 1971, when Pink Floyd settle into Abbey Road Studios, the band is on a quest to find itself.

Or perhaps Pink Floyd were simply exhausted. 1970 had been a busy year: Between February and July, David Gilmour and Rick Wright had produced the second Syd Barrett solo album, a nerve-wracking affair as it proved difficult to coax any music out of Barrett at all. Most importantly, the equally difficult recording sessions for "Atom Heart Mother" and the constant concerts had sapped the group's strength. Recording sessions and live performances had alternated. A total of 92 concerts in 1970 was not an excessive number: in 1969 there had been about as many, in 1967 even twice as many. But while Waters, Wright, Mason and Gilmour had not given a single concert in North America in 1969, in 1970 there were 28 in the USA alone, and thus for the first time more appearances in another country than in Great Britain (27). Travel stress and repeated jetlag probably also left their mark on the musicians, who were still quite young at the time. So it can't be excluded that Pink Floyd were burnt out for the first time in their still young career. Nick Mason writes about this in his book "Inside Out. A Personal History Of Pink Floyd" (2004): "Although we wanted this workload ourselves, we probably didn't realise how exhausting it all was"

The beginning of the recording sessions at Abbey Road in January 1971 was correspondingly tough. Without orientation, without ideas, the band goes into the studio and doesn't know what to do. Nowadays, this would probably be called a classic case of completely failed pre-production. As Rick Wright put it in 1972, "A blues band could go out and just play blues. But we were in the dark. We're always looking for what we can actually do." Only one thing is apparently certain from the beginning: after the solo trips on "Ummagumma" and the three individual compositions by Waters, Wright and Gilmour on "Atom Heart Mother", the next work should be a real band album. Speaking to Guitar World magazine in 2012, Nick Mason said, "Through the albums before, we had learned that it was better when we worked together. There wasn't much of a plan when we started 'Meddle,' except that it was going to be a collaborative effort. There was no concept. I don't think we even had any ideas when we went into the studio."

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