Why is Pink Floyd Delicate Sound Of Thunder a masterpiece?
It’s fairly certain now that we are never going to see Pink Floyd live again. Rick Wright has passed away and it just doesn’t look like the surviving members of the band have any inclination to make it happen – albeit with a different keyboard player. Instead, we must turn our attention to their recorded work in search of a live concert recording and, in my mind, the newly remastered Delicate Sound Of Thunder is the one to go for, it is their live masterpiece and a very rewarding listen.
The concert was actually recorded in August 1988 across five nights which took place at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York. The album was mixed at Abbey Road Studios in September 1988.
The album was remixed in 2019 from the original master tapes. The concert footage itself, originally shot onto 35mm film, has also been remastered along with the soundtrack and remixed into a 5.1 version as well for the DVD and Blue Ray releases. Very nice!
Vinyl enthusiasts will be delighted to learn that Delicate Sound of Thunder is also available on 180g Vinyl (due for release March 2021).
The concert opens with “Wish You Were Here” and sets the scene for the rest of the show. If you love Floyd’s music as much as I do there won’t be very much I can tell you about this iconic track so I would ask you instead to concentrate not only on the music itself but to the sheer brilliance of the recording. It sparkles and shines like any crazy diamond should and fills your ears and head with amazing sound. Brilliantly remixed and remastered, this is as close as you are now going to get to a Pink Floyd concert without leaving your home. As an aside to that, I would add that I recently saw the Australian Pink Floyd and came away feeling very satisfied, they do a great job.
Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder Set-list
The set list is wide and encompasses everything you would expect from a Pink Floyd concert. The version of Comfortably Numb that we are treated to is one of the best I’ve heard but I don’t particularly want to cherry pick, this is an album you can just put on and listen to without the need to touch the remote or leave your seat – it does run for over 2 hours though so perhaps take a drink and a snack with you.
Here is the set-list:
1 Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1-5)
2 Signs Of Life
3 Learning To Fly
4 Yet Another Movie
5 Round And Round
6 A New Machine Pt. 1
7 Terminal Frost
8 A New Machine Pt. 2
10 The Dogs Of War
11 On The Turning Away
12 One Of These Days
14 On The Run
15 The Great Gig In The Sky
16 Wish You Were Here
17 Welcome To The Machine
18 Us And Them
20 Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2
21 Comfortably Numb
22 One Slip
23 Run Like Hell
Please note that the actual tracks that feature on the different formats will vary. There is a deluxe box set which features an additional 5 tracks on the DVD and Blue Ray versions – check before you buy.
Pink Floyd official website: https://www.pinkfloyd.com/home.php
I’m often asked why I list Bat Out of Hell as a single track masterpiece rather than the whole album. When an album has such a standout title track which captures the imagination as this one does but which is on an album with other tracks which are good, but not in the same league as the “special” one, then this has often been the case as I compile this series.
Another example I could give is Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is taken from their 1975 album “A Night At The Opera” – great album but not a masterpiece in my opinion, whereas the track in question will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who love it.
Great Songs, Great Musicians – Fleetwood Mac Rumours
Fleetwood Mac Rumours, a timeless epic of an album by one of the worlds most popular bands, was released in 1977 and received a Grammy Award for best album that same year.
It comprised 11 tracks, several of which became singles and one became forever associated with F1 racing as it was used for years as the theme tune for the BBC’s coverage of Grand Prix racing. You could listen to any one of those 11 tracks and be very satisfied with what you heard, there are many gems among them but I suggest that you just start at the beginning and listen to the entire album, it’s just short of 40 minutes long, and I think you’ll understand why I am nominating the entire album as a masterpiece.
Commercially, this album was a goldmine both for the band and the records company, RCA. The band had been together in this configuration since 1974 and had already released an album, called simply “Fleetwood Mac” which was good and did fairly well commercially but nowhere near as well as Rumours. The songs on this perfectly produced musical masterpiece were more than just good songs – many of them had a depth due to the turbulent interpersonal relationships which were going on between band members at the time.
Listening to music is, in part, an act of trust. Am I listening to great musicians – yes. Am I listening to great songs – yes. Is the album well engineered – yes. Great, now I know I’m in good hands I can just enjoy the music and the experience that it provides. This is a forty minute roller-coaster of great song after great song, all perfect in their own right but when listened to together, dynamite! apart from the quality of the lyrics and the rock solid musicianship there is another treasure which really brings this album to life – superb vovcals from the three singers in the band, all of whom can stand alone or harmonize together perfectly, quite extraordinary.
Official Fleetwood Mac website – https://fleetwoodmac.com/ (pretty underwhelming really but worth a look for tour dates).
Supper’s Ready – A Masterpeice from a prolific band
Rarely, if ever, in my lifetime has there been a piece of music that has inspired me as much as Supper’s Ready. The problem is, I can’t explain why. The lyrics are beautiful, yet baffling – I’ve spent almost fifty years trying to work out what they mean only to come to the conclusion that, to me anyway, they don’t mean anything. Peter Gabriel was, and still is, capable of creating rich lyrical tapestries that take you on journeys on which you starting point is fixed – walking across the living room – but the rest of the journey is largely up to you and how you visualise what Peter describes in the rest of the song.
Supper’s Ready occupied almost all of the second side of the Foxtrot album. It is 23 minutes long.
According to keyboardist Tony Banks: “When we started it we thought we were writing a kind of follow-up to The Musical Box, and it was going along quite nicely. Then we had this pretty-pretty song, Willow Farm, on its own, and thought, what if we suddenly went from there into this ugly, descending-chords sequence? No one would be expecting it. And once we got into that, we thought, well, we’re here now, let’s carry on, with freedom, and see where it leads us. When we put the whole thing together and heard it back for the first time, we went: ‘Oh, this is actually pretty good.’”
Genesis’s former guitarist Steve Hackett insists now, however, that he was not convinced it was a good idea at all: “I thought, no one’s gonna buy this, because it’s too long. The [lyrical] references are too far-flung. It’s totally ambiguous. I thought the first time [Charisma Records chief] Tony Stratton-Smith heard it he was gonna say: ‘Sorry, boys, game’s up, contract’s cancelled, you’ll be hearing from our lawyers.’” Instead it was Stratton-Smith who positively encouraged the band to take their music as far as it could go, according to Foxtrot producer David Hitchcock.
Seeing his role as “essentially a facilitator” Hitchcock says his greatest contribution to the track was “explaining they didn’t need to play it all the way through to record it, that we could do it section by section, with cross-fades and edits, then put it all together later. That allowed them to concentrate for the three or four minutes of each section, and get the best possible performance, while also allowing them to bring in different sounds for each section, rather than playing it straight through with one long, homogenous sound.”
The pressure was also on for the band to find chart success. “Not in the sense of making them sound more commercial,” says Hitchcock, “but in the sense of taking what they did as far as it could possibly go.” Tensions in the studio were rife. “Mainly between Tony and Peter,” says Hitchcock. “There weren’t big bust ups, just a lot of sulking.”
When Gabriel began singing over the keyboard solo in the section titled Apocalypse In 9/8, Banks admits “I was pissed off. ‘You’re singing on my bit!’ Then I realised it now had all the excitement we’d been trying to create, especially the ‘Six Six Six’ section. You have a lot of drama in the chords themselves, then what he did on top just took it to another level. Yes, that half-minute or so is our peak.” The other big battle Gabriel won was over the lyrics. “We were all involved as lyricists on Foxtrot per se,” says Hackett, “but Pete insisted on writing all of the lyrics to Supper’s Ready himself.”
The rumour subsequently spread that the core of the lyrical narrative was based on a ‘supernatural’ experience Gabriel had gone through with his then-wife Jill; that Gabriel had been convinced she was possessed, and brandished a makeshift cross out of candlesticks, to which she reacted violently.
According to Hackett, however, the situation was probably more prosaic. “I believe there’d been some drug taking going on. I believe she was having a bad trip at one point, and that Pete and a friend managed to talk her round and get her out of the horrors or whatever it was. So that’s a part of what the song was about, but in a way there’s a kind of redemption implication that goes with that.”
Gabriel later claimed other parts of the lyrics were inspired by a late-night sighting of seven shrouded men walking in his garden.
There were also lighter moments like Willow Farm, which Hackett not inaccurately describes now as “part Teddy Bears’ Picnic, part I Am The Walrus.” Plus sideways mentions for topics as seemingly disparate as Winston Churchill in drag, firemen, New Jerusalem, and not forgetting: a flower.
Whatever one took from the lyrics, Supper’s Ready immediately assumed the mantle of all-time showstopper at Genesis concerts, Gabriel going through several ever more outlandish costume changes before ascending to the indoor sky in a silver suit at its climax.
Today Supper’s Ready is up there with Stairway To Heaven and Dark Side Of The Moon as one of the more monumental profiles on rock’s Mount Rushmore.
“I still enjoy it,” Gabriel said recently. “I did consider playing it with my normal band, but there was a lot of resistance about trying to learn it. It’s still something I wouldn’t mind looking at, or maybe just sections of it. Oh, I don’t know, though, it’d be nice to do it as a whole piece.”
Don McLean American Pie
Don McLean had worldwide success with this epic song about the tragic death of Buddy Holly and the sense of loss that he and millions of others felt when the news broke – a feeling that continued to be felt for many decades. This song has also remained in the hearts of people for at least two generations and provided McLean with a well-deserved lifetime income. As he himself once said when asked about the meaning of the song – “It means that I don’t have to work if I don’t want to.” Don McLean, however, did not take the easy option and live off the proceeds of just one, brilliant, song, instead he penned and performed many more memorable numbers including Vincent, And I Love You So, and many more.
So why do I consider American Pie to be his masterpiece?
When a former member of the Beatles releases an album, just after they had disbanded, people were bound to take notice. All Things Must Pass was released in 1970 and became both a commercial and a critical success. It attracted attention in many ways, apart from the reputation of its creator – it was release as a triple album, something not often seen, and it featured contributions from artists of a very high calibre including none other than Eric Clapton.
Add to this, a producer who rewrote the rule book on studio production, Phil Spector, along with George Harrisons writing and playing skills and you have the recipe for success. However, this album was much more than just a commercial success – it featured several songs that are masterpieces in their own right, e.g. My Sweet Lord and What Is Life – everything was put together in such a way as to make the entire album an immersive and very satisfying listening experience. Apart from the better-known tracks there are other gems that add to the magic including Wah Wah and Apple Scruffs. Although George Harrison wrote most of the songs there are a couple of Dylan covers to enjoy.