Pink Floyd’s First Masterpiece: An Audio/Video Exploration of the 23-Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971)

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Of the many things that can and have been said of Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece, The Dark Side of the Moon, one consistently bears repeating: it set a standard for how a rock album could function as a seamless, unified whole. There have been few releases since that meet this standard. Even Floyd themselves didn’t seem like they could measure up to Dark Side’s maturity just a few years earlier. But they were well on their way with 1971’s Meddle.

Meddle is really the album where all four of us were finding our feet,” said David Gilmour. The observation especially applied to the 23-minute odyssey “Echoes,” the “masterwork of the album — the one where we were all discovering what Pink Floyd was all about.” All four members of the band learned to compose together in the rehearsal room, Nick Mason recalled, “just sitting there thinking, playing… It’s a nice way to work — and, I think, in a way, the most ‘Floyd-ian’ material we ever did came about that way.”

“Echoes,” indeed, was the band’s “first masterpiece,” argues Noah Lefevre in the Polyphonic “audio/visual companion” above. The song was originally titled “The Return of the Son of Nothing” because the band had gone into the studio with “nothing prepared,” Nick Mason remembered later that year. As they struggled to find their way forward after the experiments of Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, touring constantly, they felt uninspired, calling all their ideas “nothings.” They expected little from inspirations like the “ping” sound that opens “Echoes.”

Instead, they created the most substantial material of their career to date. Inspired by Muhammad Iqbal’s poem “Two Planets,” Roger Waters “wrote lyrics to an epic piece” about being at sea, in every sense, yet glimpsing the potential for rescue and connection. Richard Wright wrote “the whole piano thing at the beginning and the chord structure for the song,” he told Mojo in his final interview, showcasing his serious compositional talents. And the range of tones, effects, and styles that Gilmour pioneered on “Echoes” have become legendary among guitarists and Floyd fans.

“Echoes,” says Lefevre above, changed the band’s direction lyrically and musically, helping them break out of the critical box labeled “space rock.” Instead of  “another song about looking upwards to the stars, Waters looked down into the cold, strange depths of the ocean.” It wasn’t the first time rock and roll had visited what Lefevre calls the “psychedelic underwater.” Hendrix was there three years earlier when he turned into a merman. But Floyd found something entirely their own in their exploration. Learn how they did it in the stylish video above, cleverly synced to the whole of “Echoes.”

Related Content: 

Watch the Last, Transcendent Performance of “Echoes” by Pink Floyd Keyboardist Richard Wright & David Gilmour (2006)

Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” Provides a Soundtrack for the Final Scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pompeii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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