Pink Floyd: Biography, Band Members & Songs

Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

Pink Floyd is one of the quintessential psychedelic/progressive rock groups of our time. This lesson will examine how their music changed each time the leader of the group changed.

In the Beginning...

Depending on who you talk to, Pink Floyd was either a really weird psychedelic rock group, or a progressive rock group that focused on grand concept albums; it basically came down to who was leading the group at the time. The group initially formed in 1963 with Roger Waters (lead guitar in the beginning, eventually bass) and Nick Mason (drums). They added Richard Wright (keyboards) in 1964. They were basically your average college band, nothing exciting to see here. It wasn't until Syd Barrett came on as the lead guitarist, vocalist, and primary song composer in 1964 that the group really came together.

Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd

The Syd Barrett Era

When Syd Barrett came on, the band was largely a rhythm and blues group. By the end of 1966, they were performing mostly Barrett compositions: long-form instrumental pieces, heavily effects processed instruments, slower tempos, and improvisation. This was the beginning of the psychedelic sound Pink Floyd became known for. They were signed to EMI in 1967, on the success of their first single 'Arnold Layne.' EMI released their second single, 'See Emily Play' and things went crazy. Unfortunately, so did Barrett. His use of LSD was so great that he ended up having a nervous breakdown shortly after the release of their first album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. He basically became non-functional due to his extreme drug use, which forced the group to hire an extra guitarist/vocalist to cover his parts live; enter David Gilmour. By early 1968, Barrett had left the group. Instead of disbanding, Waters and Wright stepped up as the primary creative forces.

The Cooperative Era, 1968

Pink Floyd recorded three rather nondescript albums (Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, and Meddle) that charted well but lacked general direction or purpose. It wasn't until their hugely successful The Dark Side of the Moon that the group hit on their next direction: concept music.

The Dark Side of the Moon dealt with the theme of things that 'make people mad' according to Waters. This marked the transition from psychedelic music to concept/progressive rock. Don't worry; we'll compare the musicality of each genre in another lesson. Suffice it to say, concept rock was far more commercially successful than psychedelic rock. A couple of neat things about the album: the song 'Money' is in 7/4 time signature, a rather uncommon structure; the vocal solo in Great Gig in the Sky is entirely improvised; the random voice snippets are taken from interviews conducted by the studio employees, with responses ranging from the groups' roadies to Henry McCullough of Wings (Paul McCartney answered, but his wasn't used). 'The Dark Side of the Moon' / 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' connection is disputed by the group, and while it does seem to sync up at times, it appears to be largely coincidental. The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best selling albums of all time.

How do you follow up such success? Pink Floyd went with Wish You Were Here. It was commercially successful, if a bit underwhelming due to the sheer draining nature of their previous album. The concept this time was absence, specifically that of Syd Barrett. Their next album, Animals, was strong but was again critically reviewed as rather unfocused. This would be the album that the Sex Pistols ridiculed: their stage show became so grandiose that the music was nearly made secondary. It was almost like seeing a staged rock opera, with inflatable animals and pyrotechnics.

The Waters Era, 1978

It's all about The Wall. The concept builds on the success of The Dark Side of the Moon, focusing on abandonment and isolation. The wall represented the disconnection of the self from the society; each oppressive trauma represented a brick in the wall. The band recovered from some significant financial issues with the album, it is one of the best-selling albums of all time in the US, and Rolling Stone ranked it as the 87th greatest album of all time. The movie adaptation of the album was hugely successful as well, with little known Bob Geldof filling the lead role.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account