YouTube is the greatest web site of all time. Don’t believe me? Think of something that interests you, anything at all. Like birds? Trees? Shark attacks? Plane crashes? UFO sightings? Enjoy watching baseball brawls or that one time your favorite band was on Letterman? Nine out of ten times you will find it on YouTube along with a ton of other related and un-related content. You just won’t find any Neil Young albums on there but that’s a whole different blog post for another time.
Why do I bring up the necessary evil of the James Bond villain-esque evil conglomerate of Google’s YouTube? Because just this morning I was lurking around listening to music on there (note: YT is one of the best sites for actually listening to music. Their slogan should be “It’s not just for videos anymore!”) when I came upon some David Gilmour clips and found myself checking out a live version of the Pink Floyd song “Echoes” with the late, great Richard Wright. It got me thinking–yet again–about one of my all time favorite bands, because here I am 30+ years later after hearing Pink Floyd for the first time and I am still enamored with them just as I was the first time my brother put on “Dark Side of The Moon” and my adolescent brain couldn’t comprehend it.
Pink Floyd is/are/were one of the biggest “classic rock” bands of all time. I say classic rock in “quotes” because I, personally, don’t view The Floyd as classic rock. I know they are thrown in with the rest of their contemporaries but can you honestly tell me Floyd is rooted in the same sounds as The Who or The Stones or The God-Forsaken Eagles? I see them as having more in common with The Velvet Underground and Bowie than Led Zeppelin or Hendrix. The early Floyd didn’t write songs with your typical pop structures, melodies, or hooks. They were a “sound scape” band that were often misinterpreted as a “drug band” or “acid rock.” They would sound more at home on a sci-fi movie soundtrack than on Top of the Pops.
And at no point did that hit home harder than when Floyd ended their 1971 album Meddle with a song called “Echoes.” If you are a Floyd fan than you already know that many would consider this album to be the gateway between “early” Floyd and “mainstream” Floyd. Before Meddle, most of their songs contained long, atmospheric, soundscapes, no hits, no pop sensibilities, and nothing even close to being considered mainstream. Meddle was the first album that I would consider to contain the signature Floyd sound. And by that I mean the massive, melodic guitar solos, the excellent song writing, and the atmospheric tones. Everything was starting to come together for The Floyd at this point and the song that bridged the gaps between Atom Heart Mother and Wish You Were Here is “Echoes.”
Chiming in at 23:32 there was absolutely zero chance this song would ever get played on celestial radio. There is no chorus, the lyrics are unintentionally humorous (in a corny, trippy way), and there is a breakdown in the middle of the song that can only be described as the sounds of a bad acid trip (or the death of an albatross). Digestible it is not.
And I love every second of the song.
From the opening phased up piano key notes to the ridiculously heavy guitar riffs that precede the “funk breakdown” the song has everything that any Floyd fan should love. It’s almost as if the song is the full representation of their sound: atmospheric, melodic, heavy, and funky (I need to point out here that while no one would ever call Floyd a funk band, when they wanted to, they certainly could kick out some phat ass grooves). “Echoes” was a bold statement for a band that had yet to really accomplish anything in terms of mainstream success. Sure, they might have been the indie darlings of a psychedelic London underground at one point but they were far from the later success’ they would come to be defined by. Could you imagine a “new” band trying to release a 25 minute song in today’s market? And the record company being okay with it?!?!?
Pink Floyd are known for many other songs besides “Echoes.” Hardcore fans might know and love it but most people will continue to define the band by their “Dark Side –> The Wall” output. “Money”, “Another Brick In The Wall”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Wish You Were Here” will always be the bands most popular songs. But I could stand to never hear any of those songs again. It’s not that I don’t think each song is great (cause they are, and I will also say, on the record, that I think the guitar solo in “Comfortably Numb” is the greatest rock guitar solo ever written. Note I didn’t say played, I said written) it’s just that I will never stop listening to “Echoes.” The mind frame it puts me in. The mood it creates. The blazing guitar solos, the incredibly funky bridge, the tripped out breakdown, the uplifting outro, all make for what I consider The Best Pink Floyd Song Ever.
Does this mean that “Echoes” should be the first song you play for someone who has never heard Pink Floyd (do those people actually exist?)? No. That would be like trying to make a first grader read The Iliad before reading Curious George. “Echoes” is like that finely aged wine that only a few people’s taste will fully appreciate, but once you do…
And of course, there is the Live at Pompeii version, which might just go down as the coolest live performance of a song ever filmed.