One name jumps out proudly as the rhythmic core of the iconic band Pink Floyd while exploring its mystical soundscapes: Nick Mason. The excellent beat-keeping of the band’s original drummer has established an enduring legacy that long outlasts the progressive rock period it helped define. Under the glaring glare of his bandmates throughout the years, Mason has frequently questioned his skill, just like Ringo Starr did. The music of Pink Floyd benefited greatly from his distinctive drumming technique in addition to his critical function as a peacemaker during numerous fights.
Mason responded as follows in a 2015 interview with The Drummer’s Journal: “I still feel that. I’m still learning to live with it. It’s hard to know now, but if I’d had lessons, there’s an argument to say that I wouldn’t have played the way I did. The upside is I’m grateful to have developed my own style.”
Like so many drummers before and after him, Mason learned that the art of drumming is much more than just skill.
Mason employed a less is more philosophy to achieve a stronger command of intensity in several of Pink Floyd’s best songs. Mason cited ‘Comfortably Numb’ as a shining example of this and the song he “can’t get out of my head” in a 2020 interview piece with the NME.
Mason expressed, “If you’re recording in a studio, by the time you’ve finished the track, for the rest of that night, you’re going to have it rowing through your brain endlessly. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s something you really like or something you’re just trying to find a drum part for. The opening verse of ‘Comfortably Numb’ has a very, very sparse drum part, so you’re always trying to… not replay it exactly, but replay it with the same weight. There are lots of beats missing from it, that’s one of the great things about it, it doesn’t immediately start up a pattern that continues throughout the whole piece.”
Mason talked about another music that at one time in his life became an earworm later in the piece. The Pink Floyd drummer selected the “song I can no longer listen to” and recalled getting tired of the Eagles’ 1976 blockbuster hit “Hotel California” in the late 1970s.
He reflected, “It’s a great song, let’s make that clear, I’ve actually recorded it for someone, this terrific tribute band called The Illegal Eagles. We recorded it for a friend’s party. But it was so popular when [Pink Floyd] were touring America that every car we got into, every radio station was playing it on repeat more or less. Because we were in the car quite often for some hours, it was one of those things where you thought: ‘I really could live without hearing that song again.’ You thought the world was changing, and the Eagles were gonna run it.”
As ‘Hotel California’ quickly climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, it did in fact prove to be a major hit for the Eagles. Its bleak depiction of the wealthy Hollywood lifestyle is still relevant today and may be heard on radio stations all around the world.
Don Henley, a musician, said on 60 Minutes in 2002. In 2005, he provided input for a Rolling Stone article, adding: “It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about. We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. ‘Hotel California’ was our interpretation of the high life in LA.”
Watch ‘Hotel California’ performed by Eagles live in 1977 below.