Pink Floyd experienced aesthetic and personal ups and downs during the course of their five-decade career. The departure of original bandleader Syd Barrett and the subsequent hiring of David Gilmour as a replacement guitarist marked the first significant shift for the ensemble.
The group rose to prominence as one of London’s leading psychedelic rock groups under Barrett’s direction. A promising period of success throughout the spring and summer of 1967, meanwhile, ended when Barrett’s misuse of psychedelic drugs started to negatively affect performances and rehearsals.
Gilmour joined the group in December 1967 to relieve Barrett of some of the workload, but it quickly became clear that he would serve as a permanent replacement. As his LSD-induced schizophrenia worsened, Barrett continued to perform with the band for a further five months before quitting on amicable terms.
Gilmour remarked on his early struggles to catch up with and imitate Barrett’s distinctive technique in a 2001 interview with John Edginton. He recalled, “In the beginning, I had to quickly adapt to them. Play stuff that I had no clue what I was doing; it was probably dreadful. It was also excruciatingly embarrassing to the extent that I used to mostly play with back to the audience.”
David continued, “I was very embarrassed and nervous about what I was doing. Also, I didn’t feel so sure of myself; I didn’t know what to play. I had to try and play on these songs. [But also these] sort of templates that the band and Syd had been playing on for some time. I was conscious that I needed at some point try and make it more my own.”
Following 1968’s ephemeral record A Saucerful of Secrets, Pink Floyd started to establish itself in a style that was a little bit different from Barrett’s blueprints. The band joined the modern prog-rock trend with 1969’s Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, but these sonic experimentations also represented a noteworthy low point for Pink Floyd.
Gilmour agrees with many other fans in saying that Ummagumma is Pink Floyd’s least motivating album of songs. In 2011, Gilmour spoke with Rolling Stone about Ummagumma. He said, “We were fairly brave and would put anything on a record that amused us one way or another. But in some of those moments, we were floundering about. [We] didn’t have our forward momentum very clear, and inspiration might have been a bit thin on the ground at times.”
Despite calling Ummagumma “floundering,” Gilmour held his toughest criticism for Atom Heart Mother. “We didn’t know where we were going in terms of recording. But we were pretty good live. We were very good at jamming, but we couldn’t translate that onto the record. Gradually, a direction revealed itself to us. A line that began with the ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ track all the way to ‘Echoes’, via the long piece, Atom Heart Mother.”
He added, “That was a good idea, but it was dreadful, I listened to that album recently. God, it’s shit, possibly our lowest point artistically. Atom Heart Mother sounds like we didn’t have any idea between us, but we became much more prolific after it.”
For the band, the best was undoubtedly yet to come. Meddle’s epic side two single “Echoes” made waves in 1971 and predicted The Dark Side of the Moon’s enormous popularity in 1973.
Below, you may hear “Echoes.”