For some fans, Pink Floyd begins with Dark Side of the Moon, the band’s 1973 opus. But in reality, that classic was the culmination of roughly eight years of musical experimentation. Last year’s massive box set The Early Years traced the evolution of the Floyd up through DSOTM through CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, vinyl singles, and printed memorabilia reproductions. Now, Pink Floyd Records and Sony have released six of that giant collection’s seven components into individual book-style releases (one remains exclusive to The Early Years) each focusing on a particular year or years: 1965-1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972. Each release is stuffed with what would typically be considered bonus material: outtakes, live performances, rarities, demos, remixes, and more. (Note that the original albums proper are not included in their standard presentations.)
1970 DEVI/ATION focuses on the period surrounding that year’s release of the group’s fifth studio album, Atom Heart Mother. Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright started crafting the LP following their work on director Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. A widescreen cinematic approach was most in evidence on the sprawling six-part suite that filled Side One of the original album. Composed by the bandmates and collaborator Ron Geesin, the largely instrumental (with some wordless vocals) “Atom Heart Mother” melded classical and progressive rock as it comprised six individual movements and took up nearly 24 minutes of the LP. The second disc featured three shorter songs (one each composed by Waters, Gilmour, and Wright) and one 13-minute three-part instrumental written by the band. The long out-of-print original 4.0 quadraphonic mix of Atom Heart Mother is included on DEVI/ATION‘s DVD (in Dolby Digital and DTS) and Blu-ray (in 96/24 DTS Master Audio), and the additional dimension in sound is ideal to experience the title track’s hypnotic pull as it shifts in tone – alternately stately, rocking, and haunting. Few artists are better suited to the surround medium than Pink Floyd, and the quad mix here is happily discrete, with distinctive sounds emerging from each channel to create a grandly enveloping and immersive soundscape on all songs, including Wright’s driving, brassy “Summer ’68.”
That decidedly lysergic suite is heard twice more on DEVI/ATION‘s first compact disc – once in a lean, live band performance at Montreux from November 21, 1970, and once as part of a seven-track John Peel BBC session of July 16, 1970. The BBC performance is distinguished by the presence of a choir plus a cello and brass section to better recreate the bold orchestral rock splendor of the original album version (which hadn’t yet been released). The BBC session also presents five more tracks. Waters’ impressionistic “Embryo” was a Floyd concert staple in 1970-1971, though the studio version has only appeared infrequently – first on a 1970 Harvest Records compilation, and then on Pink Floyd’s 1983 Works. The live take, clocking in at over 10 minutes, is longer and heavier than the soft studio take. Gilmour’s pastoral ballad “Fat Old Sun” and Waters’ introspective “If” appeared on Side Two of Atom, the latter with Waters on a gentle acoustic guitar and Wright on organ and bass.
Gilmour and Waters’ “Green is the Colour” first appeared on Pink Floyd’s third studio release, the 1969 Soundtrack from the Film More; it segued on the live performance (as was the band’s custom) into the searing group composition “Careful with That Axe, Eugene.” Originally the B-side of the 1968 single “Point Me at the Sky,” “Careful” was re-recorded and re-titled for Zabriskie Point as “Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up.”
The second CD concentrates on Zabriskie Point, and premieres sixteen previously unreleased tracks from the soundtrack sessions, most of which have been newly remixed for this collection in 2016. Pink Floyd’s contributions to the film (most of which ultimately weren’t used) were recorded in November and December 1969; one discarded cue, “The Violent Sequence,” was reshaped into “Us and Them” for DSOTM. Three of the Floyd’s tracks appeared on the original soundtrack LP (also featuring music from Jerry Garcia and John Fahey as well as a host of others), and another four were added for Rhino/Turner Classic Movies’ 1997 reissue. The film by noted director Antonioni, an exploration of the American youth counterculture partially filmed on location in Death Valley, California, was roundly panned upon its release, but has grown in stature over the years – particularly for its use of music. The sixteen cues from Zabriskie Point found Pink Floyd trying on a variety of styles to satisfy the filmmaker. On the songs “On the Highway” and “Crumbling Land,” the band tapped into an acoustic Americana sound – spacey, yes, but in a gentle vein redolent of the Grateful Dead. Ditto for the twangy country-rock of “Unknown Song,” which doesn’t have any lyrics. “Looking at Map” plays like a sketch of a ballad, and “The Riot Scene” is a pensive, piano-driven piece likely meant as ironic counterpoint to the onscreen action.
Two versions of the “Auto Scene” showcase the willingness of the group to approach the scenes in varying ways – one soft and pretty, the other lightly rocking. There are four distinct versions of the “Love Scene” here, as well, from the relaxed to the funereal to the attractively haunting to ambient. Wailing blues-rock is the order of the day on “Aeroplane,” while the moody “Explosion,” which builds to a searing climax, is more in the band’s expected vein. “Take Off” is even more muscular. Zabriskie Point captures Pink Floyd in transition, stretching artistic boundaries and pushing musical envelopes even as they adapted to the necessities of film scoring. These tantalizing session excerpts lead to the hope that a “complete” Zabriskie Point by Floyd will one day surface.
This disc is rounded out by another appearance of the “Atom Heart Mother” suite – an early take of the studio version, featuring the band sans the orchestral embellishments. It’s a vivid look into Pink Floyd’s process, and also worth comparing to the live band performance.
As important as the audio on CD is the video component of this package. Identical content is presented on two DVDs, or one Blu-ray, in the box. Roughly two hours and twenty minutes of restored video footage is present including An Hour with Pink Floyd, an April 30, 1970 KQED concert film from San Francisco; footage from Pop Deux – Festival de Saint Tropez; in-studio performances from the December 5, 1970 Roland Petit show (Petit was a renowned French ballet director-choreographer); and in the lesser-quality Bonus Material section, a B&W performance of “Atom Heart Mother” with brass and choir from a free concert held in London’s Hyde Park on July 18, 1970. All in all, this is an audiovisual treasure trove. Blu-ray and DVD screens are cleanly and clearly set up, with helpful pop-up menus. Audio on the video footage is in 48/24 PCM Stereo, and subtitles are available in ten languages.
The hardcover book-style set has a bound 14-page scrapbook primarily with captioned photographs of the band members, a track listing, and credits. The book also holds a bound envelope with memorabilia reproductions (an ad for Atom Heart Mother on Harvest Records, and three concert posters) plus another 12-page booklet. This booklet contains Mark Blake’s brief but informative liner notes plus more detailed credits. The lack of truly comprehensive annotation and notes may be this set’s most egregious omission.
The box sets comprising The Early Years make for a fascinating document of the hidden works of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright, and an essential supplement to the famous original albums. These collections open the door to a musical journey that diehard fans will be more than eager to take.