When I heard that “Meddle” is celebrating its fiftieth birthday I thought that I should finally grab it and write about it. Or them. Over the decades, this album entered my collection no less than three times. Why? Simply because it’s a great album and lots of people have it – so when friends or relatives who thought that vinyl was so seventies parted with their collections and passed them on to that nostalgic fool who still had a turntable in his living room (me), chances were high that “Meddle” was among them.
The turntable never left the living room, I’m just not a nostalgic fool anymore – and the record player has been reintroduced to the households of the hip.
My main reason for hesitating to write abut this album is simple. Tons of articles have been written about “Meddle” and the anniversary has been a good reason to extend the list. Pitchfork for example supplied a really well written article that goes deeper into the difficulties the band had both among themselves and with the making of “Meddle”.
One of the most surprising facts was that this sixth Pink Floyd album was the first one since “A Saucerful Of Secrets”, their second album, that brought the band together in the studio to actually work and compose together. Everything in between had either been contributed individually and separately or recorded live. And even when they started working on this one they decided to continue collecting material separately.
Supposedly, all of the recordings that were collected after these initial first weeks had been unusable except for that one note that would be the start of “Echoes” – the high B that I always associated with the sound of an underwater sonar sound.
Those were the days. Record labels were still okay with a band entering a studio to create a new album without even a hint of new material to start the journey. They were still okay with a band working at Abbey Road for weeks without coming up with anything that could be used for further exploration. They might have just still understood that the creative process can be hard and long and frustrating and full of failure and misery. And that only sometimes something great might result from this process.
Which it did, in this case. And it’s not just because the 23 minutes and 16 seconds of “Echoes” are such a milestone (by far not only in the Pink Floyd world) – the album does have more moments of greatness. It actually starts with one. Until today, I think that “One Of These Days” is one of Pink Floyd’s finest moments, way beyond anything the band had produced before (sorry if I all Syd Barrett fans will wildly disagree here). Waters’ massively rhythmic bass theme, Gilmour’s screaming guitar, the tough and driving work of Nick Mason and Rick Wright’s simple but effective contributions all add up to a piece that points way forward to “The Dark Side Of The Moon” and even “The Wall”.
As with “Echoes”, I tend to enjoy the live version on “Live At Pompeii” even more than this studio version. “One Of These Days” has even more power, and it clearly shows how much Pink Floyd actually was a rock band at heart, and an exceptional live band as well.
The other gem on the first side of “Meddle” is “Fearless”. It’s such timeless songwriting… A lot of times when I was DJing at a bar or some other loungy kind of event I would slip this in somewhere, provoking a few curious looks, and a few knowing ones as well. Of course I would transition to the next song before the final minute that features a stadium full of Liverpool football fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It will remain a complete mystery to me why Liverpool is more or less the only club on the planet that seems to be able to shut up all of the guys that are sure to miss every single note of whatever they may be singing.
I never really thought much about the addition of the singing Liverpool fans. For two reasons. First of all, no one really did that back then – if a band thought it was a cool idea to just add anything to a song then that was just fine with us. No one ever wondered why Eugene was walking around with an axe or why Nick Mason was threatening to tear you into tiny little pieces. The second reason was even more simple – we didn’t necessarily take all too much notice of the lyrics. It never occurred to me that there was a connection, that the song was about someone that wants to climb a hill while the people around him say it’s too steep, and about the voices heard from below after having risen above the clouds. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is a perfect comment to make at the end of the song – and apparently it was added even though there wasn’t a Liverpool supporter among them. It wasn’t about that at all.
“A Pillow Of Winds” is an interesting song as it also points forward to what a Pink Floyd song might be after the departure of Barrett and the dysfunctional years that followed. For a moment you might even think you fast forwarded through band history all the way to “Brain Damage” – similar melodies, very different topic. It’s a song that’s too easy to overlook on an album that has so many iconic moments. The same would be true for “San Tropez” and “Seamus” (yes, the song with the singing dog), but that’s a little less sad. Not that these two pieces were neglectable, but the jazzy pop crooner “San Tropez” may be viewed as adding another dimension to the album or as an interlude of minor significance, and the dog-supported blues spoof “Seamus” can’t really be taken serious.
The opposite is true for “Echoes” of course. I remember listening to it back in the seventies, and I also remember that I had my problems with the psychedelic excursions in the middle of the song. For a long time this even kept me from understanding that “Echoes” really is a wonderful song that is allowed to expand beyond the traditional format it was conceived in, permitting solos, variations and improvisations as well as a few amazing breaks and transitions. It does take some time to fully understand that this is what a song can be if you don’t think it needs to fade out after three and a half minutes.
As mentioned above – I think that the version that was created for the “Live In Pompeii” project goes way beyond what we can hear on “Meddle”, so much more intensity, so much more flow, groove and emotional depth, and a much better sound. But most of it is here as well, on the studio version. Just listen to the moment when the band slowly returns to the actual song after the psychedelic interlude, when Gilmour starts into his almost iconic rhythmic play, when Waters adds some of the warmest bass ever, and when Mason slowly builds the drums until that monstrously effective moment when he just lets it all explode, bashing the drums to maximum effect – fantastic. And it all comes back down again in another magic moment, returning to the lyrics and melodies, returning to the song for its conclusion and Rick Wright’s wonderful epilogue.
Fifty years. Half a century. And what an album. Whatever you may think about the band and what they finally turned into – “Meddle” created the best version of Pink Floyd, the one that would see them turn out one epic album after another, all the way to “The Wall” in 1979. “Echo” is a song about the origin of life – and “Meddle” is the origin of the post-Barrett-greatness of Pink Floyd.
Release for review:
PINK FLOYD – MEDDLE – HARVEST – 1C 062-04 917