The Early Years 1965 - 1972
Before The Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd was an underground band with a cult following and seven albums to their name. When Syd Barrett was the group’s leader and visionary, Floyd broke new ground with a quirky flavor of psychedelic pop songs. Once Barrett was out and David Gilmour came in, the range broadened into more ethereal, longer pieces with dramatic effect. The band grew and evolved with each record, culminating with Meddle and its epic centerpiece “Echoes.” That set the stage for Dark Side and world domination. Pink Floyd’s most fertile period — 1973’s The Dark Side Of The Moon through 1979’s The Wall — has been immortalized by documentaries, concerts, tributes and box sets. But what about before all that? That’s where The Early Years 1965 – 1972 comes in.
The Early Years 1965 – 1972 is the mother lode, comprising 27 discs (CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays), organized into seven books. There are a few album tracks, but much of the music and film contained within is previously unreleased (bits and pieces have been making the rounds in bootleg circles for years). Fortunately, it’s all been restored, and in some cases, sweetened up with new mixes. To fill out the massive striped box, inspired by Pink Floyd's original tour bus, there’s a bunch of memorabilia (posters, postcards, tickets, photos), along with five 7” singles in replica sleeves. Of course, the best part of this package is what you can hear and watch.
This is how it breaks down: unreleased tracks, BBC radio sessions, remixes, outtakes and alternative versions spanning nearly 12 hours (130+ tracks), plus live and TV appearances, resulting in over 14 hours of audio-visual material. There are over 20 unreleased songs, more than seven hours of previously unreleased live audio, and over five hours of rare concert footage. With this much material to soak up, you may never leave the house again. Considering this set costs over $500, you may no longer be able to afford to go out anyway.
For those with leaner budgets, the double-CD The Early Years – CRE/ATION set may be a more viable option. Here you get the highlights of the box set without the frills and expense. And there is indeed a lot of gold spread out over these 27 tracks. Requisite Barrett tunes like “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” open the door to other favorites like “Matilda Mother” and “Jugband Blues.” The real meat for diehards is the unreleased stuff, and it begins with a BBC recording of “Flaming” from September 25, 1967. A nice example of what the first incarnation of the band could do live. The instrumental “In The Beechwoods” that follows is just as captivating.
The David Gilmour portion of the set starts with “Point Me At The Sky,” Floyd’s fifth single release in 1968. Smothered in psychedelic juices and buttered up with a smooth Gilmour vocal and Richard Wright’s haunting Hammond, this song undoubtedly added a layer of celestial goodness to the band’s sound. Lighter, pastoral tones flow through on “Embryo” and two more poached from the BBC’s vault, “Grantchester Meadows” and “Cymbaline.” You may want to plop on your headphones for the dive through “Interstellar Overdrive,” but then settle back in your beanbag chair for even more BBC gems, “Green Is The Colour” and ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene.”
The first five tracks on the second disc are from the soundtrack for Zabriskie Point, a decidedly confounding film from 1970 directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Listen carefully to the short “Riot Scene” clip because it eventually became“Us & Them” from The Dark Side Of The Moon. And get ready to turn up “Take Off” as the Floyd kicks into a full-throttle jam. We could have used something a little more enticing from the box set than another version of “Embryo,” but those BBC biscuits keep falling from the sky.
An extended performance of the “Atom Heart Mother” suite captures the band’s plunge into conceptual waters before “Nothing Part 14” tinkles in, bearing fruit of what became part of the epic “Echoes.” This is seven minutes in sonic heaven that might justify spending a few hundred for the whole kit and caboodle. Ah, but there’s three more — 2016 remixes of three from 1972’s Obscured By Clouds, yet another soundtrack behind a film entitled The Valley. Meddle gets all the credit for bridging the gap between the early years and The Dark Side Of The Moon, but the tidiness and execution of “Childhood’s End,” “Free Four” and “Stay” are on par with the band’s development into a world-class entity.
CRE/ATION is only a fraction of the box set. It would be nice to take the plunge and see that public television footage from San Francisco, hear some of that really early stuff from 1965, learn what “The Man And The Journey” is all about, check out clips of the band performing with a ballet, and tune into the remixed 5.1 surround sound mix of Live At Pompeii. Each book from the box set will supposedly be available for purchase separately in 2017, so all is not lost. In the meantime, experiencing any part of The Early Years of Pink Floyd, be it over 27 discs or two, is a trip rife with suspense, space and satisfaction.
~ Shawn Perry