Last updated: Mar 10th, 2017

Pink Floyd - The Early Years (1965-1972)

As soon as this set was announced, I knew I'd end up owning a copy. Technically it was a Christmas present, but I bought it myself and saved up half the money in cash between the initial announcement that this was going to be a thing and the day it went on sale. The other half of the money came out of our Christmas savings fund, so my wife insisted that I had to wait until December 25th to actually listen to or watch any of it. Well, that date is finally here, so...time to dig into this thing and see what's here.

It's been a sore point with me for years that the band has been sitting on all their pre-Dark Side archival material. I knew there was a bunch of good stuff available, because I'd collected a good bit of it via various bootlegs and internet downloads. Back in the early 90s, I shelled out top dollar for the Shine On boxed set just to get the bonus CD of early singles. But in general it seemed like the band was disowning this period of their history as fans got yet another remastered version of albums we'd already bought a dozen times, or a live recording from the Wall tour, or the super-delux, tap-dancing, hologrammic, 7.1 surround, limited edition, 50 disc "Immersion" set of Wish You Were Here, etc. Where was the good stuff from the Syd Barrett era through the Meddle album?

Photo of my copy of the boxed set Turns out they were saving it all up for this big boxed set. According to a note from film archivist Lana Topham which is (for some reason) repeated in the liner notes of all seven sub-sets of this box, after she put together background films for the Division Bell tour she was approached by Nick Mason in 1994 with the idea of putting together a Pink Floyd anthology set similar to the one the Beatles were working on at the time. Apparently it took over 20 years for them to gather all the material, clean it up and obtain the rights from the various content owners to release it. They had to get permissions from the BBC, American TV, French TV, film producers, etc, etc, which not only took a lot of time, but probably added a lot to the boxed set's hefty price tag.

So, how about that price tag? Originally listed at $700, the price came down during the pre-order period by a couple hundred bucks. When I bought it, I got it through the Deep Discount web site where a holiday sale brought it down to just a bit under $500, shipping included. Since then, the price has dropped even further, with Amazon currently listing it at $472 (as of December 26th, 2016). Is it worth that much? No, probably not. Especially considering that six of the seven individual volumes are eventually going to be sold separately, probably at much lower prices. But I'm pretty fanatical about early Floyd, and that seventh set that's unique to the big box includes full movies with Pink Floyd soundtracks (The Committee, More and La Valley (Obscured by Clouds)). The latter two in particular I've been wanting to see for years. I don't know why they didn't also include Zabriskie Point - maybe they couldn't get the rights.

All the other doo-dads and oddbits that come with the big box are nice to have, but not essential unless you're really fanatical about collecting vinyl (which I'm not). I was hoping there'd be a poster or two included that would be suitable for framing and hanging on the wall, but they're mostly too small and/or not very interesting. The five vinyl 45s of the band's early singles are a nice touch, but I'll likely listen to them once or twice and then forget they exist (since the songs are all included on the CDs). Some of the concert programs and promotional materials are cool, but again probably not something I'll look at more than a couple times. With 20+ years to work on the box, you'd think they could have written a nice book to go along with it, explaining the history behind the specific tracks chosen for this set, but nope. At any rate, the real reason I bought it is for the 27 discs.

Scan of the bonus CD Actually, that claim of 27 discs is a bit misleading. Yes, there are 27 physical discs included (actually 28, but I'll get to that). But there's a lot of overlap as the content of the 9 DVDs and the 8 Blu-ray discs is exactly the same - the only reason they're both provided is so you have the choice of which format you'd rather use for playback. So being generous and going with the 9 DVDs, this is really a 20 disc set. At $500, that works out to $25 per disc. Pricey, but as noted above a lot of that cost probably went to acquiring the rights to the material.

The "extra" disc is a CD. The set was originally supposed to come with 10 CDs, and one of them was supposed to be a remastered version of the Obscured by Clouds album. Somehow there was a screw-up and an audio soundtrack CD for the Pink Floyd at Pompeii concert film got packaged into the boxed set instead. Realizing their mistake at the last moment, the producers just threw in the Obscured remaster as a bonus disc. When I first opened the cardboard box that everything was shipped in, the extra disc was literally just lying on top of the boxed set in a white paper envelope.

You may be wondering how the audio and video quality is, since this material is half a century old (I think I just heard some elderly Floyd fans cursing me for pointing that out). Well, for the most part it's excellent. Some of the material (including the entire 7th sub-set) is listed as "bonus", which generally means that it wasn't quite up to professional release quality, but even that stuff is listenable/watchable. I've seen reviews by hard-core Floyd bootleg collectors who complain that their boots sound better than this box, but I find that hard to believe. A while back on a bootleg trading web site, I found a really magnificent sounding 2-CD collection of live-in-the-studio BBC recordings of early Floyd. Everything from that set is included in this box, and it sounds better (or at least louder and clearer) here.

Much of the video content comes from 1960s and 70s TV programs, so if you're watching these DVDs/Blu-rays on a high definition, widescreen TV there will be black bars on the left and right to preserve the original aspect ratio (4x3). I just mention it in case that's a deal-breaker for you. I know some people can't stand any type of "letterboxing" - no matter how many times I try to explain to my parents that they're ruining the picture, they insist on watching old TV shows in "zoom" mode that stretches everything horizontally to make it fit their 16x9 TV.

Some have complained that the remastering job made the sound too "brittle" or "bright", meaning there's too much emphasis on the high end (treble). To be honest, I can hear what they're talking about. In a perfect world, some of these recordings wouldn't sound so tinny. But it's not something that really detracts from my enjoyment, and some of it may just be a case of me being so used to hearing these recordings as muddy, muffled bootlegs that hearing the cleaned up tracks sourced from the original masters makes it sound "too clean". At any rate, I can't really complain about the sound quality at all.

So, with the generalities out of the way, let's get into the contents of each sub-set...


Set 1: 1965-1967, Cambridge St/ation

Cover of the Cambridge St/ation set First off, I don't know whose idea it was to have each set end with "ation" and then hammer that point home by putting an unnecessary slash in each title, but...what a stupid idea. Particularly annoying when trying to rip the discs to MP3 to put on a portable player, since most operating systems won't allow a slash in folder or file names. Had to get that off my chest.

Anyway, the number of audio and video discs included in each set varies. This one comes with two audio discs (CDs) and one video (i.e. one DVD and one Blu-ray with the same content on each). Also included is a black booklet that is glued into the case which features photos of the band's earliest days and track listing details. There's a "pocket" in the case which holds a variety of paper odds and ends, with the biggest being a white booklet that includes the same track listing details, a short essay on this period in the band's history, Lana Topham's archival note and credits/copyright information. Each of the box's seven sets follows this same format.

The paper odds and ends include the following collectables:

CD 1

The first disc is possibly the most interesting in the entire boxed set. It begins with the very first recordings the band ever made - six demos from 1965 when they were still going by the name "The Pink Floyd Sound" and the Barrett/Waters/Mason/Wright line-up was augmented by a rhythm guitarist named Rado "Bob" Klose. After recording these demos, Klose decided to quit the band to focus on his studies. Wonder if he ever regretted that. The songs are: I had heard the first and last of those as pop-and-click filled acetates on a Japanese bootleg with the creative title Jewel Box 4, but at the time there was some question as to whether those tracks were really Pink Floyd or not. It's nice to see confirmation here, and to have the tracks with good, clean audio quality. At this point the band was still mostly into rhythm and blues (not surprising since they took their name from two blues musicians), and the "King Bee" track is even a cover of an old blues tune. "Lucy Leave" is a chugging little number with Syd pining for a girl named Lucy. "Double O Bo" is my favorite of these early songs, with music that sounds a bit like "Hand Jive" and lyrics that describe a character who's half James Bond, half Bo Diddly. A hard rockin' blues man who is a secret agent in his spare time.

I'm not sure who's doing the vocals on "Remember Me" - I assume it's Syd, but the rough, deep, gravelly delivery sure doesn't sound like him. The music to "Walk With Me Sydney" is a little too sappy-60s pop song sounding, but the lyrics are great - an eager young lady really wants Sydney to take her out for a romantic stroll, and all Sydney can do is list the many physical ailments that prevent him from doing so (flat feet, fallen arches, baggy knees and a broken frame, meningitis, peritonitis and a washed out brain). I'm so used to hearing Barrett referred to as "Syd" that it didn't register with me on the first few listens that the "Sydney" in the song is self-referential. It's somewhat creepy to hear Syd, on one of these earliest recordings, sing about having "a washed out brain". Talk about foreshadowing. That song is also the first Pink Floyd song to feature female backing vocals, in this case the future Mrs. Rick Wright, Juliette Gale.

Then there's the song "Butterfly", which...well, they can't all be winners. The lyrics feature Syd warning all the "girlies" that he's going to catch them in his butterfly net, but promising not to squeeze them dead and put a pin through their head. Seriously, someone should have vetoed those lyrics - they ruin a song that features a nice early performance by Wright on organ.

Next we get a smattering of early singles, all of which were included on that Early Singles disc from the Shine On boxed set, and a couple of which are also on the Relics compilation:

The disc concludes with five "2010 Remix" tracks, but while the liner notes list who did the remixing, they don't explain where these tracks came from or what the 2010 remixes were originally intended for:

The first track is a song from Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but I was very surprised when I first listened to it to discover that the first three verses had completely different lyrics, like: "The chief defect of Henry King, was chewing little bits of string, at last he swallowed some which tied, itself in ugly knots inside". The song is about a mother reading fairy tales to her child, and according to Wikipedia Barrett originally based the lyrics on a book called "Cautionary Tales" by Hilaire Belloc. The author's estate was upset about the song's similarity to the book, so the band had to make a last-minute switch for the album version, having Rick Wright sing new lyrics over the first three verses. The version presented here on the boxed set is the original recording. Its ending also goes on for an extra minute or so of noodling that's not on the original version. Less enlightening is the remix of "Jugband Blues", which sounds very similar to the version on Saucerful of Secrets, although some of the individual bits and pieces might be easier to make out.

"In the Beechwoods" is a beautiful instrumental that was completely new to me. I think I had seen the title before on a list of ultra-rare, unreleased Pink Floyd songs, so it's nice to finally get to hear it. It sounds like the backing tracks to an unfinished song, lacking only a guitar solo and lyrics. If you like instrumentals, this one's a gem of a find. Propulsive, but also kind of spacey and shimmering. Hard to describe.

I'd heard "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream" before on that Jewel Box 4 bootleg CD, but they sound better here. The former song features Syd singing about the clothes that he's wearing and then suddenly shouting "Vegetable man!" I'd read that, stuck for lyrics, he decided to just describe his outfit but it seems a little deeper than that. He sings "It's what you see, it must be me", possibly commenting on the shallowness of people who judged the counterculture by the clothes they wore.

"Scream" is possibly the strangest song Pink Floyd ever recorded. They lyric are about an old lady with a coffin (a widow?) screaming her last scream and then watching the television all night. It's also mentioned that she has a daughter. Behind Syd's vocal there's a speeded-up chipmunk voice singing along, and occasionally the lyrics just break down into nonsense sounds. Was this a warning sign that Syd was starting to lose it, or just the band being intentionally ultra-psychedelic?

CD 2

The second disc is divided into two sections. The first half of the CD contains a rare live recording of the Syd-fronted band playing a show at a sort of dinner theater in Stockholm, Sweden on September 10th, 1967. From what I've read online, one of the employees at the club was a part-time musician and a huge fan of the psychedelic and proto-progressive rock bands of the 60s, so whenever one of them would play there he would set up microphones on the stage to record the show. The result is an "audience bootleg" but one that sounds nearly professional release quality. There's just one catch...

The liner notes somewhat coyly mention that these live tracks "feature vocals recorded at a less than optimum level". Which is a bit of an understatement. Apparently the vocals at the club weren't amplified at all, and the amplifiers for the instruments totally overwhelmed them. During some of the quieter bits you can hear some singing if you listen closely, but for the most part this is practically an instrumental performance. If that's not a deal-breaker for you, this is a great "bootleg" of a good Barrett-era show.

There actually was a real bootleg version of this recording circulating on the web a couple years ago. Apparently when it was unearthed, the guy who recorded it held an event at the original club and played it over the PA system. Someone in the audience snuck in a recorder and bootlegged it, but it was basically a second generation audience recording of an audience recording, and that version picked up some talking from the audience at the playback event. Fortunately none of that is present in the version in the boxed set, although you can sometimes hear background "bar noises" like bottles clinking. Nothing too annoying. And the version in this boxed set includes a song that was missing from the playback boot, "Reaction in G".

Highlights of the set are the above mentioned "Reaction in G" (which is a seven minute instrumental jam that sounds like an outtake from "Interstellar Overdrive" or possibly "Astronomy Domine") a twelve minute (!) version of "Pow R. Toc H." with lots of improv in the middle, a live version of "Scream Thy Last Scream" and a really nice "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun". We also get the first of many versions of "Interstellar Overdrive" in the boxed set, and it's interesting to hear how different the song could be from performance to performance. The full set list for this live recording is:

The back half of CD2 contains a studio recording that the band did for a filmmaker named John Latham. He considered using the band for the soundtrack of a movie he was making called "Speak", but it (or at least the Floyd soundtrack) was never released.

The tracks are just titled "John Latham version 1" through "John Latham version 9". I'm completely baffled as to why 1-8 are separate tracks. It's really one half-hour or so long continuous jam that someone decided to break into eight tracks, with a new track starting at each slight shift in tone or tempo. The ninth track comes after a pause and is a standalone two-and-a-half minute jam.

Musically, the John Latham tracks are early Floyd at their free-improv freakiest. Kind of like a very extended version of "Interstellar Overdrive" but without any trace of melody or regular rhythm, and which builds up into a fairly frenzied conclusion. If you like the kind of instrumental jamming the band did back in those days, you might dig these tracks, but be ready for some of their most avant-garde stuff. It sounds for the most part like each guy was just playing randomly with little regard for what anyone else in the band was doing. All original material - while it has the "Floyd flavor" to it, it doesn't sound like they just lifted bits from existing songs. They were in a experimental and creative mood that day, and this lengthy improv is the result. Probably not something you'll want to listen to every day, but well worth hearing.

DVD/Blu-ray

The video disc (in whichever format you chose to watch) features ten main entries and then four "bonus" tracks. The total running time is about an hour. You can pick any of the videos from the menu, or you can tell it to play them all. No matter which video you pick, the disc will keep playing from that point on (it doesn't go back to the menu after each choice finishes).

First up is a video for the song "Chapter 24". The first half contains grainy footage of Syd Barrett climbing around on a rock formation called the Gog Magog Hills. The second half features shaky shots of the rest of the band members hanging outside the EMI studios in London in 1967. Unlike a lot of the 1960s video material in this boxed set, this is entirely in color.

Next up is the rare song "Nick's Boogie" which was recorded for the 1967 movie Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (which begs the question of why that movie wasn't included in the box, and why the audio of this this song wasn't included on the CDs). Since it was filmed for a movie, this footage of the band recording the song at Sound Techniques Studio is in color and has great picture quality. Later on, while the audio continues with Nick's Boogie, the video shifts to shots of the band performing at the UFO club (also in color).

Now we shift to black and white with a news program called "Scene - Underground" that showed the band playing the first part of Interstellar Overdrive. After a minute or so of music, a voice-over starts up with a reporter trying to explain to the folks at home what this "psychedelic" scene is all about.

Next comes a promo video for Arnold Layne, again shot in black and white. The band cavorts on a beach with a mannequin doing odd things like walking in a line with it or taking its head off and putting it on their shoulders. They also wear disturbing blow-up doll masks for parts of the video. The 60s sure were a weird time.

Sticking with black and white, we next get an ultra-pretentious German guy hosting a show called "Look of the Week". He plays a very brief clip of the band performing "Pow R. Toc H.", then explains to the audience that he's just going to show the full performance of "Astronomy Domine" without commentary so as not to prejudice their opinion...but first he feels he must point out that the band's music is repetitious and boring and that they play far too loudly and "perhaps I'm a little bit too much of a musician to appreciate them". What a pompous ass. I'm surprised Roger managed to remain civil with him during the short interview section after the performance.

A two minute music video for "The Scarecrow" follows, and while it's just the band cavorting in a field with a scarecrow, at least it's in color. From a show called "Pathe Pictorial" in 1967.

The "London Line" program comes next with an absolutely horrifying video for the song "Jugband Blues". Syd looks like an umpalumpa. The whole band have some sort of make-up on that makes their skin tone look orange, and annoying flashing color lights are going off behind them the whole time (in fact, there are so many strobing light effects on this disc it probably should have come with a warning about seizures). Syd looks baked out of his mind. The funniest bit is that when the Salvation Army band part of the song starts up, Roger mimes playing the tuba but doesn't even bother pressing the valve buttons. Wright is given a trombone to play and Barrett a trumpet, but we don't see much of those. It's odd that they didn't give Wright the trumpet since he actually knew how to play one (and somewhere in this box there's a brief video clip of him doing so, but I've forgotten where it is). Anyway, this London Line clip is just a complete disaster of a music video.

Next we go back to black and white for a November 1967 performance of "Apples and Oranges" on American Bandstand. The band is very obviously and very badly miming along to the studio recording, and Rick Wright seems to be the only one making any attempt to actually match what he's doing to the music. Syd looks pretty zoned out, although not nearly as catatonic as legend has said he was on this show. The cameraman is deliberately avoiding showing him though, which is quite noticeable since the lead singer is usually what a show like that would focus on. When Dick Clark does a "fluff" interview with the band after the song, he seems rather uncomfortable being near them.

The final bit of the regular videos is a feature shown on the BBC called "Tomorrow's World". While demonstrating how various lighting effects can be used to decorate walls, they have Pink Floyd improvise a musical backing for a couple minutes. It's a brief but nice jam that's another thing I wish they had included on the CD. The demonstration of using light for decoration probably would have worked better if it weren't in black and white.

Now we get to the "bonus" material. The first actually contains some nice audio of the band jamming at the UFO club - it probably got put in the bonus bin because there's a voice-over in the middle of it where a reporter explains the psychedelic scene in German (English subtitles are available). Footage is black and white.

The next video clearly belongs in the bonus section because it has some serious problems. The liner notes list it as "partially restored" - what that means is that there are thin, horizontal black lines running through a lot of it, and occasionally the picture craps out entirely. Which is a shame, because otherwise this is a nice nice black and white video of the band performing "See Emily Play" on the Top of the Pops program.

The Scarecrow Outtakes are next, and this is actually quite good color footage. It must be leftovers from that Pathe Pictorial video for "The Scarecrow" - there was enough that they could make this second, alternate video for the two minute song.

And lastly we get a nearly ten minute color video of "Interstellar Overdrive" performed at The Roundhouse in London. It's occasionally overlaid by an announcer speaking German (English subtitles available) giving a talk that comes across like existential poetry. Even with the overdubbed talking, seeing the light show and the hippies dancing around is a blast. Inexplicably, there are also shots of various monuments and buildings inserted. This couldn't look more 60s if it tried.


Set 2: 1968, Germin/ation

Cover of the Germin/ation set And just like that the Syd Barrett era comes to an end and David Gilmour suddenly appears on the scene. Apart from one publicity photo on the first page of the "black booklet" glued into this set which shows the short-lived five man Pink Floyd line-up (Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour), Syd is completely absent from this set and most of the rest of the box (he'll be back for some of the bonus BBC tracks on the Continu/ation set).

This is one of the shortest sets in the box, with just one CD and one DVD/Blu-ray. It covers the period of the Saucerful of Secrets album, but the band still frequently plays their early singles and songs from Piper. Hope you like the song "Let There Be More Light", because there are six versions of it here between the CD and videos.

This set doesn't come with quite as many paper doo-dads as the previous set:

CD

The disc begins with four more songs that owners of the Early Singles disc will already be familiar with: Odd that they picked this order - "It Would Be So Nice" was the earlier single so it should have come first, and why is "Careful" three tracks away from its original A-side, "Point Me at the Sky"? Speaking of A and B sides, anyone else think "Julia Dream" should have been the A side of that single? It's a much more interesting (and psychedelic) song than "It Would Be So Nice".

Those early singles are followed by a couple real rarities, two songs that were recorded at Capitol Studios in August of 1968 but never released:

The former track is an instrumental piece that would have fit nicely on the Saucerful of Secrets album. Three minutes long, vaguely psychedelic, some nice guitar leads and lots of Wright's swirling organ sound. It's a good track and I'm surprised that it remained off the radar even of bootleggers for so long.

Based on the title, I was expecting "Roger's Boogie" to be a loose jam, similar to "Nick's Boogie", but it's actually a fully composed song, and another one that (as far as I know) had never been heard before this boxed set came out. It sounds almost like a hymn, starting with angelic, wordless falsetto vocals and including lyrics about a divine lady being told that Gabriel came to her stable last night. Kind of an odd tune, but not bad. Another one that would have fit in well on the Saucerful album. I wonder why the band never did anything with it.

The first of the live-in-the-studio BBC sessions is next, recorded in June, 1968:

Before you get all excited thinking those first two are rare, unreleased Floyd songs, they're just alternate titles for a fully instrumental version of "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" and a shortened version of the title track from Saucerful of Secrets. These tracks were all on that 2-CD BBC bootleg that I had downloaded a while back, and I was happy to hear that the boxed set includes John Peel's very British, very laid-back, hipper-than-thou song introductions. He comments that "Saucerful" sounds like "something that ought to be coming out of a church".

Another BBC session from December, 1968 ends the disc:

"Point Me at the Sky" sounds almost exactly like the studio single until about a minute and a half in, then it goes into a minute long psychedelic keyboard interlude that sounds like something from the Syd era before seguing back into the "If you survive til 2005" section. Neat.

I think this might be the earliest appearance of the song "Embryo", although it's just a three minute version that hasn't been fleshed out with sound effects and jamming yet. "Interstellar Overdrive" on the other hand is a nearly ten minute version full of spacey improv that sounds unlike any other version I've ever heard. There's a pounding, repeated riff that I've never heard in this song before, a middle section where the guitar sounds like a ticking clock and chirping birds, a drum solo and some "haunted house" sounding piano and organ. Really weird version of "Interstellar". I wonder if this was the post-Syd band's attempt to "reclaim" one of their signature pieces for the new line-up. Unfortunately the sound quality of this recording is not very good. It's listenable, but it's all muffled and hissy and distant sounding. It sounds like "Interstellar" came from a bootleg source while all the other BBC tracks on this disc came from a clean tape from the BBC archives.

DVD/Blu-ray

This disc is a little longer than the previous set's, timing out at about an hour and a half.

The disc starts with a black and white show from Belgium called Tienerklanken, filmed in mid-February 1968. The track listing is as follows:

The problem is, whoever created this program clearly didn't know anything about Pink Floyd or their music. They just had the band mime along to the prerecorded studio tracks, so you hear Syd's voice even though you're seeing David Gilmour (who doesn't seem all that familiar with the music yet). Even worse, nothing the band is doing is even remotely synced with the music that's playing. I guess it should have been a clue when the opening credits misspelled the band's name as "Pink Floid".

The video for the first song focuses mostly on some blond chick dancing, and it gets worse from there. For "The Scarecrow", the band is performing next to a small lake (with Wright out in the water) and if you look closely at the beginning you can see some random guy walking his dog in the background. For "See Emily Play" they're in a field next to an overpass, and it was apparently too difficult or expensive to ship the drums or keyboards there, so Nick and Rick just have to mime playing without instruments. Then the whole band gives up miming and just pretend to play cricket for a bit before doing a really embarrasing "maypole dance". No wonder they don't look back on this era fondly. For "Bike", the show didn't even bother filming any more footage, they just used still frames from previous songs. Really badly done, and if this had been my introduction to the Gilmour-era Floyd, I probably wouldn't have given them another chance.

Next comes a single song, "Apples and Oranges", again recorded in Belgium for a show called "Vibrato". This is a slight step up from the previous program, but it's still in black and white and the band is still clearly just miming (badly) to the prerecorded studio track. Plus the picture is a little fuzzy and soft focus. To the show's credit, they gave the band a set full of apple and orange crates to play on.

Next up is a French show called "Bouton Rouge", filmed in Paris in February 1968. The track listing is:

This is a big improvement on the previous videos on this disc because first off it's in color, and secondly the band is actually playing live instead of miming. The downside is that, at least for the first couple songs, Gilmour still looks a little out of place and uncomfortable trying to play the role of Syd. Fortunately the last two songs come across a little better.

The odd thing about this show is that the French host stays on stage the whole time standing behind what looks like a recording console, occasionally turning knobs and adjusting things.

Next is a black and white French show called "Discorama" on which the Floyd play the song Paintbox. I'm pretty sure they're just miming along to the studio track (the drumming in particular looks way off), and Wright looks fairly uncomfortable staring into the camera as he's singing. On the plus side, the band's oil-blob light show is worked into the video.

A color program from London called "The Sound of Change" is next, which features an opening narration and then a couple minutes of Pink Floyd doing a psychedelic improv over scenes of riot police and cemeteries. The director must have told the band to look as serious and somber as possible. At least the music is nice.

Another color show called "All My Loving" features the band playing a few minutes worth of "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" in an ornate pumping station, with red filters occasionally overlaid on the picture.

A real quick bit of "It Would Be So Nice" is next, taken from an Italian show called "Release - Rome Goes Pop". The band is clearly miming as is made obvious by the opening shot where Mason's drumming doesn't even come close to matching the audio, and the whole thing is only about a minute and a half long, but at least it's in color with a crisp, clear picture.

The next clip is also from an Italian show called "Pop '68", and this time we get a nice seven minute performance of "Interstellar Overdrive" with the band definitely playing live and in color, with great sound and picture, at least until the producer decided to obscure the band behind rotating prism shapes. I learned something from this video - bits of the song that I assumed were played on the guitar are actually Roger playing the bass right above the pickups to get the highest pitched notes possible.

Next we return to the Tienerklanken show from Belgium for a black and white clip. First an interviewer asks Roger why they chose the color Pink for the band's name ("It's just our name") and whether they considered themselves a commercial band or not ("You live here, are our records selling here?"). Then there's about three minutes worth of the band playing "Astronomy Domine" and it's clearly a live performance, with the sound volume being a little more than the recording gear can handle, but unfortunately it's edited down to three minutes. Finally it's back to the interviewer who asks Roger if he likes playing festivals ("No, generally the acoustics are bad and the damp gives you short circuts").

Another version of "Let There Be More Light" follows, taken from a black and white French show called "Samedi et Compagnie". I'm pretty sure they're just miming along to the studio version, especially since Gilmour doesn't have a vocal mic but you can hear him singing just fine. After the crowd tries to clap along and are way off the beat, the music fades out and the band follows up with "Remember a Day". This is even more obviously pre-recorded.

Next we get "Let There Be More Light" again, the studio version, set to black and white images of the band running around at night in London, and then for some reason running down into the subway and singing the song in one of the moving subway cars. Despite being set in London, apparently the video was from a French show called "A L'Affiche Du Monde: La Nouvelle Vague de la Pop Music". The clip is only a couple minutes long, so the song fades out mid-way through.

And then, if you're not already sick of it, there's another version of "Let There Be More Light". This time an actual live performance in a big tent-looking building for a color French program called "Tous En Scene". They follow up "Light" with a performance of the Barrett-era song "Flaming", and Gilmour doesn't look comfortable with having to sing Syd's psychedelic lyrics and belting out "Yippee!" Oddly, the performance is from the top of the audience area instead of the stage and everyone in the audience seems to be looking at the stage instead of the band. Wonder what was going on over there.

Hey, what do you know, another color French show with a performance of "Let There Be More Light". This time from the November 1968 show "Surprise Partie". It's a live performance with slightly muffled sound. Fun to watch the hip young Paris youth trying to dance to that song. This is a pretty long version, clocking in at six and a half minutes.

The video portion of this set concludes with a promo the band recorded for the single "Point Me at the Sky". It starts with sepia-toned close-ups of the band's faces, and eventually goes full color as the band dons old-timey pilot gear and takes to the sky in old biplanes.


Set 3: 1969, Dramatis/ation

Cover of the Dramatis/ation set 1969 was a busy year for Pink Floyd. With David Gilmour now more or less fully integrated into the group, they started trying to figure out what kind of band the post-Syd Floyd was going to be. While keeping some of their early psychedelic sound, they also dabbled in hard rock, folky sounding ballads and even some countrified tunes. While the year didn't see a real "band" studio album release, they did put together a soundtrack album (for the film More) and released the half-live, half-solo-works album Ummagumma. At the same time, they put together and performed a conceptual concert piece called "The Man and the Journey". Quite a busy year, and one that is fairly well documented on this two CD, one DVD/Blu-ray set.

The paper bits that come with this one include:

CD 1

The first disc begins with four unused or alternate versions of songs from the More soundtrack sessions: "Hollywood" is a nice, short (just over a minute long) tune that's a little reminiscent of the song "Cymbaline". The "Theme" track is the same melody from the released soundtrack, but played with a driving "beat" rhythm. "More Blues" is, I think, the same blues jam that's on the the released soundtrack but where that version ends with an abrupt "whock" noise of the tape being stopped, this one continues on for another minute or two of blues noodling.

There was some consternation in the bootleg collecting community when this set first came out, because apparently there's an oft-bootlegged song from the More movie called "Seabirds", and the one on this box isn't it. The one on the bootlegs is overlaid with dialog from the film, so collectors were hoping this would be a "clean" version of the song. Instead, it's a completely different piece, a slow, psychedelic, noodly instrumental improv similar to "Quicksilver" from the original soundtrack. The box set's producers say that the master tape for the "Seabirds" in the movie was given to the filmmakers and is no longer available, and that the tape presented here was also labeled "Seabirds". Since the More movie is included as part of this box, you can hear the other "Seabirds" there (sort of).

The next thing on the CD is a studio version of the song "Embryo". This song has also appeared on the Works compilation album, but this one is a little different - it's a very slow, mellow version that features sped-up vocals of (what I'm guessing is supposed to be) the embryo giggling and making sounds. This track originally appeared on an out-of-print, multi-band vinyl sampler called Picnic. The band insists that both of the studio versions of "Embryo" were just demos that weren't intended for release, but as a fan it's nice to hear them. I'm surprised the Works version wasn't also included in this box.

Next, we go back to the BBC radio sessions, this time from May 12th, 1969:

Nothing you haven't heard before, assuming you have the More and Ummagumma albums, but this BBC session presents us with a nice, clean recording of the band's live take on this material. At this point they were sticking pretty close to the album arrangements, so there's not much improvisation or jamming going on. "Green is the Colour" features some ocean wave and seagull sound effects that may be unique to this version. It also has a nice segue into "Careful With That Axe" that the band would keep using in future set lists.

The disc concludes with four live tracks recorded at a concert at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on August 9th, 1969:

As you can see, they were mostly playing "oldies" here, but this recording shows how polished they had gotten and how much more confident Gilmour was with this material by this point. His guitar work on "Careful With That Axe" in particular is just blistering, especially toward the end where he goes completely off the rails into high-speed riffing. In fact, I wonder what got into him at this show as his guitar work in general sounds a lot heavier and angrier than usual.

The liner notes specify that this was an all instrumental performance, but three of those songs are normally done as (mostly) instrumentals anyway, so I'm betting they were just having the same vocal amplification problem that they had at the Stockholm show on CD 2 of the first set. If you listen closely to "Set the Controls" you can hear some vocals that sound far away and very quiet.

This version of "Interstellar Overdrive" is a fairly short one at just over four minutes, almost as if the recording only captured the last part of the song. It's a surprisingly jazzy version. Well, maybe not jazzy exactly, but moreso than the song's usual arrangement, and features an almost heavy metal tone from Gilmour's guitar.

The remaining three songs all make up for the first track's briefness by sprawling out to a total length of almost 36 minutes. Sure, all these songs have already been covered in this box, but the performances here are excellent and the recording has great sound quality.

CD 2

The second CD of this set presents a live recording of the conceptual concert peice "The Man and The Journey". Captured for a radio broadcast, this live recording from The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on September 17th, 1969 has great sound quality. I've had this as an internet download bootleg for years, and it's nice to finally have an official CD release. My only complaint is that they didn't include the opening introduction, but since it's not in English and I have no idea what they're saying, I guess it's not that big a deal.

For those who may be salivating at the idea of a full-length, unreleased concept album from Pink Floyd...don't get too excited. Most of the individual pieces of this were recycled into the More, Ummagumma and Relics albums under different titles. There are a couple unreleased bits, but often they're just the sounds of the band hammering on wood or being served tea on stage. Still, there are a couple interesting tidbits.

Here's the full track listing, with the titles the songs would later be released as in parenthesis:

Part 1, The Man

Part 2, The Journey

The concept of "The Man" was to present a day in the life of an average guy, as he gets up in the morning, goes to work, has afternoon tea, goes back to bed and has a nightmare. "The Journey" was a more abstract piece, taking someone (possibly the dreaming man from the first part) on a psychedelic journey (possibly a drug trip in musical form).

While a lot of this material has been heard in other contexts, it's interesting to hear it here, presented as part of a longer concept. It works surprisingly well, flowing from one part to the next.

Of the tracks that weren't later recycled, "Work" is a semi-improvised percussion piece with someone (Mason?) playing a xylophone-like instrument while the rest of the band bangs on cymbals, hammers things or saws wood. "Sleeping" is the sound of a ticking clock and heavy breathing followed by reverb-drenched guitar noodling with cymbal and gong accompaniment. "Labyrinth" starts with the sound of an alarm and then about a minutes worth of ticking clock before applause signals the end of the first half of the show.

"The Labyrinths of Auximinies" begins with bubbling noises and reverb-drenched organ, eventually accompanied by squealing guitar, pulsing bass and thumping drums. It's not exactly any released Floyd song, but it sounds like many of their other improvs. "Footsteps/Doors" is exactly what the title says - the band showed off their Azimuth Co-Ordinator, which was a device that created a "surround sound" effect by distributing sound to speakers placed all around the audience, by having the sound of footsteps and slamming doors encircle the theater for about three minutes. "Behold the Temple of Light" starts off sounding like something from Rush's 2112, but soon becomes a slow and menacing sounding "march" with lots of keyboards and guitar. At over five minutes long, it really is a "lost" Floyd song - wonder why they never did anything else with it.

DVD/Blu-ray

This set comes with one video disc (DVD/Blu-ray) that's about an hour and a half in total length. It's split into five sections, the shortest about 10 minutes long and the longest nearly half an hour.

First comes 20 minutes of black and white footage from a French show called Forum Musiques from January 1969. The band play "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" and the title track from Saucerful of Secrets. The band is clearly just miming along to the studio tracks, and at the beginning the announcer even mentions that there are so many sound effects and subtleties to Pink Floyd's music that it wouldn't be fair to ask them to play it live. The small audience of well-dressed French youth sitting around the band mostly just look bored or amused. During "Set the Controls", Roger forgets to play the bass a couple times while singing. Mason plays most of the set without any drum sticks, and when he does finally pick them up he accidentally makes sounds that interfere with the pre-recorded track. The cameraman seems more focused on showing the kids in the audience than the band.

I didn't realize that David Gilmour is fluent in French, but he must be because he speaks for the band in an interview between songs. When the interviewer asks what they just played, Gilmour says "Point Me at the Sky" and "Set the Controls", but for some reason the first song isn't included here.

Next up is fourteen minutes of black and white footage of the band rehearsing material from "The Man and the Journey" suite at the Royal Festival Hall in London in April of 1969. The band is actually playing this time, and occasionally pause to work out some detail of the arrangement. They play parts of "Biding My Time", "Green is the Colour", "Cymbaline" and "Careful With That Axe". There's one bit where Roger fiddles with a drum machine and cranks it up to play as fast as it will go, and suddenly Mason starts blasting away on the real drums, trying to outplay the machine. The footage ends with a couple minutes of Rick Wright rehearsing the end of "Saucerful of Secrets" on a big pipe organ. This is one of the more interesting things on these DVDs so far, because it shows the band's creative process back when they were all getting along.

That's followed by nineteen minutes of the band at the Essener Pop and Blues Festival in Essen Germany on October 11th, 1969. They play "Careful With That Axe Eugene" and "A Saucerful of Secrets". The footage is in black and white, and the band look like they're playing in outer space - the background behind them is either pitch black or a ton of smoke and fog. There's only a couple spots where you can see that they're actually playing in front of an audience. The picture is good and the sound, while a little on the tinny side, isn't bad. The band is clearly playing live and not miming along to studio tracks. Recorded with multiple cameras, with lots of close-ups of the band members. Oddly, a title card saying "Pink Floyd" isn't shown until the start of the second song.

The disc concludes with close to forty minutes of footage from a documentary about the "Music Power and European Music Revolution" aka "Festival Actuel" in Amougies Mont De L'enclus, Belgium on October 25th, 1969. The first half hour is just Pink Floyd playing live, with the set list of:

I'm kind of surprised that this wasn't listed as "bonus" material (or maybe it was and I just didn't notice), because while the picture is in color and is pretty good (other than being a little dark), the audio is pretty crappy. It's right at the edge of being too loud for the recording gear so it's slightly distorted throughout, and again it's mostly treble without much low end. The band look absolutely exhausted, like they were playing at 3am after driving all day to get there. Still a pretty decent performance though. Another nice, seamless segue from "Green" into "Careful". After a while the cameraman starts wandering around, so we get shots of audience, the backstage area, the lights, etc. Eventually they ran out of even that footage and started inserting random clips of people roaming the festival grounds, sleeping, trying to sneak a view of the show through a hole in the tent and even helicopters hovering over the tent. There's one eerie shot of a lone, distant figure wandering in a blue haze that's pretty neat - I have no idea what it's supposed to be though.

And then, the holy grail of bootlegs. The "I can't believe this actually exists, much less that it was included on this boxed set" video. In the early days of the internet, rumors circulated on music message boards that Frank Zappa had jammed with Pink Floyd and other bands during a festival at some place called Amougies in the 60s. Somewhere over in Europe. No one believed it.

Then, several years ago, bootleg audio recordings of these jams surfaced, including what was supposedly Zappa and Floyd playing "Interstellar Overdrive" at this festival. The sound quality was pretty crappy, but it certainly sounded like Floyd, and the guitar sounded Zappaish in parts. Could it be real?

Well, here it is. The last eleven minutes of this disc shows the actual performance. The picture quality is only so-so, and the audio is even worse, but it's definitely Zappa and Floyd on stage together. Before they play, Roger comes over and talks a bit with Frank, and then Zappa and Gilmour go over guitar pedals, and suddenly they all launch into this psychedelic jam. Unfortunately, the keyboards and sometimes Gilmour's guitar often drown out everything else, but you can hear Zappa's guitar in places. Frank doesn't look too excited at the prospect of jamming with Pink Floyd, instead he's the picture of cool with his smoking cigarette jammed into the headstock of his guitar. By the time the rambling jam finally starts to resemble "Interstellar Overdrive", the camera has cut away from the band to show young French hippies in sleeping bags and then the end credits start to roll. But wow...bad sound or not, I never thought I would actually get to see this. This 11 minute clip alone almost makes me not totally regret spending $500 on this set.


Set 4: 1970, Devi/ation

Cover of the Devi/ation set This set covers the era of the Zabriskie Point soundtrack and the Atom Heart Mother album. Hope you like the side-long title track from AHM - it's on the CDs three times and the video discs four times. To be honest, the title song from Atom Heart Mother has always been one of my least favorite Floyd tracks, so seven versions is way more than I wanted, but it's nice to have access to all this for historic purposes if nothing else.

This set's paper doo-dads include:

CD 1

The disc begins with a live performance of the Atom Heart Mother suite, and this one is unusual in that it's just the four members of the band performing on drums, bass, keys and guitar. None of the orchestra and choir from the album version. And interestingly, I like this version a lot better. All that extra stuff on the album version kind of turns the track into a bloated, pretentious mess, but this stripped-down live version is a pretty good Floyd piece. Gilmour replaces a lot of the orchestration with smokin' guitar work, and the choir bits with his "boy soprano" vocals. Whether you think that's an improvement or not would depend on your tastes, but it works for me.

The rest of the disc is taken up by another BBC live-in-the-studio session, this time from July 16th, 1970. The John Peel introductions are included. The songs performed are:

By this time, "Embryo" had expanded out to be an eleven minute piece with pre-recorded sounds of children playing and "screaming seagull" guitar added. This version of "Fat Old Sun" is an early one that sticks pretty closely to the short, folky arrangement on the album. Later discs show how it got expanded and turned into more of a band jam piece. The Green/Careful combo features the seamless segue arrangement. "Careful With That Axe" features some truly creepy vocalizing from Roger - he sounds like he's speaking that snake language from the Harry Potter movies.

The inclusion of "If" is interesting in that it might be the only song from this period that only appears once in this boxed set.

The "Atom Heart Mother" that ends the disc is the full arrangement with choir, cellos and brass instruments. It sounds suspiciously like parts of it may be pre-recorded, especially the way the drums fade in and out in places, and the choir and orchestration sound exactly like the album, but maybe I'm just imagining things.

CD 2

Most of disc 2 is made up of unreleased tracks from the Zabriskie Point soundtrack sessions. Apparently the band recorded a ton of music, and then the director decided to only use a few songs in the movie, plus a few more when an expanded soundtrack was reissued on CD. What's here is mostly the stuff that wasn't used. Most of the tracks are only a minute or two long and are generally just instrumental sketches, not fully fleshed out songs: In general, these Zabriskie Point tracks sound really good, although they're maybe just a tad too "bright" (too much high end). They still sound better to my ears that the official soundtrack CDs (for the songs that are on both) and obviously much better than the bootlegs that some of these songs have appeared on.

This might be a good place to mention that it seems to me like they weren't very careful about mastering material on all the CDs of this boxed set to ensure that everything was relatively the same volume level. I was listening to the Devi/ation CDs in the car on a drive down to Baltimore and back, and found that I had to keep turning the volume up to hear some tracks, and then was blasted by the next track which seemed much louder. Maybe it's just me, but I noticed this problem on a couple of the other discs too. It's a very minor thing to complain about, but it would have been nice if they could have maintained a universal "average volume" across the whole set.

Anyway, after all the ZP material, disc two concludes with a nearly 20 minute long "early studio version" of the Atom Heart Mother suite. This is similar to the live band-only version that started disc one, except this is a studio recording. But it's just the basic band tracks, without the orchestration and choir. And it's an earlier arrangement. The most noticeable difference is that after the "big finale" around the 14 minute mark, the song fades out with just drums, there's a pause and then the drums fade back in and the full band plays the main theme again for another four minutes or so. I guess they eventually dropped this "coda" concept.

DVD/Blu-ray

This set is unique in that it contains two DVDs, but only one Blu-ray. I guess the Blu-ray could hold more content, since it has everything that's on the two DVDs, just arranged in a slightly different order. The total video content is about two and a quarter hours long, and then there's the quad mix of the Atom Heart Mother album in there too, so these DVDs and Blu-ray disc are jam packed. The content is as follows:

On April 30th, 1970 KQED television in San Francisco aired "An Hour With Pink Floyd". The opening credits (shown over images of solar flares) misspelled David Gilmour's last name as "Gilmore". Oops. As often seems to be the case for Pink Floyd music videos, rather than just showing the band performing the director frequently decided to add "artsy" visuals like helicopter shots of a desert for the first seven minutes of "Atom Heart Mother", shots of trees and nature during "Grantchester Meadows", a green filter effect on the picture during "Green is the Colour" and of course a shot of a setting sun for the end of "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (and closing credits). He pulled out all the stops for "Careful With That Axe", using various color filters, a "duplication" effect that makes a ghostly double of each band member, swirling smoke effects, etc.

When the band is shown, it's often just a tight focus on whoever's singing. A lot of the time they're playing extended improvs though, as you might expect from the fact that they only played six songs during an hour-long show. And there's no messing about here - as soon as one song finishes, the show cuts to the beginning of the next. No interviews or anything like that.

Oddly, the performance of "Cymbaline" includes a shortened version of the "footsteps/doorslam" sound effect sequence while the band just stands around looking awkward. At least the show is in color, although the picture looks a little soft and the sound is a bit muffled and low volume.

The full track listing for the KQED show is:

From the August 1970 "Pop Deux" festival in St. Tropez, France, we get six songs: This isn't just a concert video, it's almost a "day in the life of Pink Floyd". We hear a car driving around town with a loudspeaker advertising the show, then we head out to the venue where it must have been stifling hot that afternoon because everyone is stripped down to their shorts. Holy crap, Roger Waters was ripped. I had no idea. Look at the six-pack on that guy. And Gilmour displays his fluency in French again as he tells the cameraman not to film him playing with the drums, because he's not the drummer. (Note: To see this part you have to choose "Play All" from the menu because if you go to the track-by-track menu and pick the first entry, it skips over the introductory stuff and goes straight into "Cymbaline". This had me confused as heck for a while - "I could have sworn there was footage of Gilmour playing drums here somewhere"). Once everything is set up, the band plays "Cymbaline" as a soundcheck and complains about the volume level of the PA system.

After a couple minutes of soundcheck, the film jump abruptly to that night's performance, with the band part-way through AHM. You can't see the audience, in fact anything beyond a few feet of the band is pitch darkness. The performance footage is occasionally intercut with shots of the band from that afternoon's rehearsal, the band sitting in the audience area, the crowd waiting to get in, etc.

This must have been shown on television in France because it's split into two parts. After "Embryo" they roll credits (in French), then "Green is the Colour" begins with opening titles that identify this as "Pink Floyd 2". I like how Roger politely screams at the audience to "SIT DOWN!" at the beginning of part 2. In both this video and the KQED one, "Green" segues directly into "Careful With That Axe" so they sound like one long song.

All in all, it's very nice footage, in color, decent quality, good sound except during some of the loudest bits where it gets just a tad distorted. It occurs to me that someone with good editing software and a lot of patience could probably go through this entire set and pick the best live performance of each song and put together a really good three or four hour concert video.

Roland Petit Ballet, Paris - I was expecting the band to be performing as the music for ballet dancers, but that's not what this is at all. In front of a backdrop with pink artwork and pink lighting, the band improvises for a while, sounding a little like the middle bits of "Set the Controls" or "Careful With That Axe", and then launches into "Embryo". It's listed in the program as "Improv 1/2/3" and "Embryo", but it seems like one continuous performance that was, for some reason, badly edited. During the improv bits, Waters keeps whispering the name "Steven" with a ton of reverb on his voice - wonder that that was all about? Creepy enough to make me glad my name's not Steven. The whole thing is only around six minutes long and cuts off before the band even gets to the lyrics part of "Embryo". Would have been nicer to see the unedited footage, but at least this is in color, has good picture and sound and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Bonus material - Blackhill's Garden Party. This is listed as "bonus" because it's in really bad shape but is of enough historic interest to include in the box. Black and white footage that looks like it was transferred to a VHS tape and then left to rot in someone's damp basement for 45 years. It shows the band at a free concert in Hyde Park on July 18th, 1970. They play the complete Atom Heart Mother suite. Well, almost complete - it fades in with the song already in progress and fades out a minute or two from the end, but the video is over 21 minutes long so the majority of the song is here. The band is backed with a full brass section and choir. It's actually pretty cool, it's just a shame it doesn't look and sound better. The picture has occasional "snow" and/or black lines running through it, and the audio in a couple spots will briefly speed up or slow down, like the tape had gotten stretched. I think it's only a single cameraman, and he must have been crammed onto what was already a very full stage, because most of the shots are very tight close-ups of someone singing or someone playing french horn, usually with the back of someone else's head obscuring part of the view. Worth watching just to see how "1960s square" everyone in the brass section and choir looked. I can just imagine one of the ladies in the choir telling her grandkids 30 years later "Oh yes, that Pink Floyd band, I played a gig with them once" and blowing their minds.

The DVDs/Blu-ray also include audio-only tracks of the original 1970s quad mix of the Atom Heart Mother album. If you play it through a modern surround sound system, it assigns the four channels to the front left, front right, rear left and rear right speakers. The three "song" tracks don't sound all that different in quad, but the title track and "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" sound great. They both have so much going on, with the sound effects in each and the brass, cello and choir in AHM that there was plenty for the sound engineer to spread around to the four speakers. Sometimes the keyboard and guitar parts slowly rotate around the room. There's a section of AHM where two alternating dissonant organ chords are accompanied by a bunch of sound effects - that part sounds awesome, like you're right in the middle of it with chaos swirling all around you. Slightly annoyingly, "Alan's" cuts off abruptly at the end before it gets to the sound of water dripping that was in the original album's run-out track. It's odd, but of these multi-channel Floyd albums that I've heard, I usually like the original quad mixes from the 70s more than the modern 5.1 surround mixes.

All in all, this volume gave me a whole new appreciation for the Atom Heart Mother album, which as I mentioned above has never been one of my favorites. But now it's growing on me. I just won't want to listen to the title track again for a while after hearing it like a dozen times over the past couple days.


Set 5: 1971, Reverber/ation

Cover of the Reverber/ation set This set covers the transition from Atom Heart Mother to Meddle. It's probably the shortest set in the box, with just a single CD (with only five tracks, albeit mostly long ones) and a single DVD/Blu-ray disc.

The paper bits that come with this one include:

CD

Here's the track listing for the entire disc: That opening track is part of the series of recordings that the band made which eventually lead to the studio version of "Echoes". This seven minute instrumental track plays like a condensed version of the whole song, starting with the opening "ping" sounds and building up to an early version of the multi-tracked guitar finale. It skips over the lyrics and "screaming seagulls" section and simplifies other parts, but has an overall structure that is recognizable as an early "Echoes". Annoyingly, the people who put the boxed set together said online that they had all the other "Nothing" parts and had originally planned on including them all in the boxed set, but got busy working on other aspects of the box and ran out of time. Maybe we'll eventually see them as part of another remastered Meddle package sometime in the future.

The remaining tracks are all from a BBC radio session recorded on September 30th, 1971. This version of "Fat Old Sun" has been fully fleshed out, lasting over fifteen minutes and building from its folky opening to a fairly rockin' full band jam. We also get a nice "One of These Days" (with the spoken bit both at the middle of the song and again at the end), another ten minute long version of "Embryo" and a full 26 minute live-in-the-studio performance of "Echoes". Good stuff,once again featuring John Peel's introductions.

So this disc fits the bill of covering 1971, but unfortunately isn't all that exciting. A second disc with all those "Nothing" sections would have fleshed this set out nicely.

DVD/Blu-ray

The video portion begins with a German show called "Aspekte". It's mostly a pompous announcer negatively criticizing Atom Heart Mother in German (English subtitles are available) for ruining the band's improv skills by tying them to an orchestra and a score. Hilariously, he concludes the clip with a quote that sounds like a Trump tweet: "The Pink Floyd have become kitsch. Sad." Aside from these pronouncements, the section of the video includes interviews with band members and other music critics. There are a couple very brief bits of the band performing "Atom Heart Mother" in an echoey hall with a full brass section and choir. There's also a bit of "Saucerful of Secrets" played live, but it's mostly screaming guitar and distortion. At one point Rick Wright gives a demonstration of how the Azimuth Co-ordinator system works. Most inexplicable bit - a minute or two of footage of pilots flying a commercial jet set to the studio version of "Saucerful". Most annoying bit - the German narrator translating the band interviews into German so we can't hear what the band members are saying in English, and then the subtitles translating the German back into English instead of just listing what the band actually said.

Next is a French show called "Cinq Grands Sur La Deux" on which the band played "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and "Cymbaline". The setting is an old cathedral, which gives the music a nice, echoey, slightly creepy vibe. The performance is live, the songs are mostly complete and the footage is in color (although often a little out of focus) with decent sound (apart from occasionally being able to hear people talking in the background). The big problem is that the cameramen seemed completely unfamiliar with rock music in general and Pink Floyd specifically, so they're never quite sure what to point their cameras at.

That's followed by a black and white clip of a rehearsal for an Austrian music festival called "Musikforum Ossiachersee". We get a three minute excerpt from "Atom Heart Mother" played with a choir and brass. The picture's a bit grainy and the sound is only so-so, but it's still better than some of the other live-with-choir "Atom Heart Mother" footage in this box. Oddly, this is the only clip in the box (as far as I can remember) that is explicitly identified as black and white (B&W) on the disc menu. I wonder why.

An Australian (no to be confused with the previous Austrian) show Called "Get to Know" shows a performance of "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" at a horse racing track on what appears to be a chilly, windy day. There's only a couple minutes of music which is then ended by a really bad edit into some applause. That's followed by a fairly interesting three or four minute interview with the whole band about everything from their earliest days to their writing process to how they get their sounds on stage to the upcoming album, Meddle. This whole segment is in black and white.

Next is about six minutes of color interviews. First a British show called "24 Hours" tackles the topic of bootlegs. Interestingly, they interview a bootlegger first, who claims that he not only got permission to release his live album "Pinky", but in fact when he called the band's manager Steve O'Rourke he was really excited about the idea. Then they interview the band and O'Rourke, and they insist that they never talked to this guy. The interviewer even plays them a snippet of the bootleg album, and they're aghast at the bad sound quality. Includes some nice footage of the band in the studio recording a bit of "Echoes" while the announcer talks about how expensive it is to create modern pop music. That's followed by another color British show called "Review" which interviews the Hipgnosis guys (Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell) about designing Pink Floyd's album covers. Best line was Storm talking about the Atom Heart Mother cover: "It's a goddamn picture of a goddamn cow."

There's a four minute animation called "French Windows" that an artist named Ian Emes created back in 1972 to go along with the song "One of These Days". The song is noticeably edited down to fit the shorter video, but the hand-drawn animation is spectacular. It starts with a shadowy figure sitting in a chair next to French windows. The windows open, the curtains blow and the figure flies out to join three other multi-colored men for an elaborate dance in front of constantly moving backgrounds of streetlights, geometric shapes, highways, etc. Eventually the dancers turn into clowns and briefly into apes, and then the shadowy figure is floating by himself over a concert audience. It's all pretty trippy, and some of the images were lifted for later Floyd animations, like a shot of clocks flying through space that was expanded and projected behind the band during the song "Time" on future tours. Really neat little video, one of the highlights of the boxed set.

The remaining 20 minutes of the disc is labeled as "Bonus Material 1971".

We return to the Austrian "Musikforum Ossiachersee" concert for a color retrospective TV show about the festival. Over a five minute excerpt from what is clearly the album version of "Atom Heart Mother", we see hippies hitch-hiking to the concert, people water skiing, the band on stage with the choir, etc. An announcer describes the event in German (with English subtitles available). I'm not really sure why this is in the "bonus" section, as the picture and sound are both quite good. Maybe because it's not an actual live performance? That didn't qualify other footage as "bonus" elsewhere in the box. Odd.

The video portion concludes with a fifteen minute long performance of "Atom Heart Mother" recorded at the Hakone Aphrodite Open Air Festival in Japan. It's the just-rock-band version, without the choir and orchestra. This footage definitely belongs in the "bonus" section - it's grainy and often shaky and somehow manages to have both film scratches and occasional VHS snow and distortion. Worst of all, they made no attempt to synchronize the film with what sounds like it's the audio from the actual live performance. We see Nick Mason (listed in the opening credits as "Nicki") playing drums when no drums are heard, see Rick Wright holding down chords while the audio is of him playing a running melody riff, see Roger Waters singing while we're hearing David Gilmour's voice, etc. Perhaps to minimize this problem, the film often jumps away from the band on stage (the music continues uninterrupted) to show the band arriving in Japan, traveling from the airport to the hotel to the gig, playing frisbee in the field, doing press interviews, etc. There's an attractive woman traveling with them - I'm guessing she's one of their wives. There are also shots of the audience, the surrounding area, etc. It's interesting to see at least once, but I almost wish they'd just included the audio on the CD instead, since it's so frustrating to watch.

In addition to the videos, the DVD/Blu-ray discs contain an audio-only quad mix of "Echoes". I'm pretty sure it's a different mix of the song from the album (I mean, apart from it being in quad), because I could swear I was hearing bits and pieces that I had never heard before, like a lot of extra "ping" sounds and some keyboard and guitar bits I had never noticed. There's one point where they went a little overboard with swirling the guitar part all around the room, but other than that the quad mix is very nice. I particularly like the lines at end "So I throw the windows wide, and call to you across the sky" because they mix it so that that bit swoops from the front speakers to the back. I have my rear speakers set up fairly high on the back wall of the room, on either side of a window, so it sounds like Wright is actually flying out the window and calling to me across the sky as he sings that part. Neat.

I've been meaning to mention this but couldn't figure out a place to wedge it in so far, so I'll just mention it now. The menus for each DVD/Blu-ray disc feature background images similar to early Floyd light shows, with psychedelic patterns and lava lamp-like colored oil blobs shifting around the screen. And there's some really nice ambient, instrumental background music for each menu that sounds like it may or may not be a mix made from elements of Pink Floyd songs. Definitely in the early Floyd style at least. There have been a couple times where I've just left the menu music looping in the background as I've typed out this page. Right now I've got the menu music for the Reverber/ation set playing and it's good stuff. I almost wish they'd included an extra CD of just the menu music. I had to dig pretty deep into the fine print of one of the white credit booklets to find "Menu audio loops: Andy Jackson and Damon Iddins." Jackson did the audio mastering for the whole box. Not sure who Iddins is. At any rate, nice work guys.

The blu-ray disc of this set (but not the DVD, as far as I know) also contains an extra treat, but you have to have the right equipment to uncover it. Apparently the set was originally going to include 5.1 surround mixes of Obscured by Clouds and Meddle. The latter album even got as far as the mix being created and put in the "prototype" for the Blu-ray disc before the idea of including these in the boxed set got vetoed. But whoever authored the disc only took the option off the menu, they forgot to remove the actual files. So it's possible to hear it, and it's a pretty good mix - I particularly like the way the bass swirls around all four speakers during "One of These Days", the way the dog sounds like it's outside in "Seamus" and the first few minutes of "Echoes". Be ready to jump through some hoops to hear it though - if you want to give it a try, see my Extracting Meddle page.


Set 6: 1972, Obfusc/ation

Cover of the Obfusc/ation set The is easily the most disappointing and least "essential" part of the box, especially if you already own the Obscured by Clouds album and Pink Floyd at Pompeii video. The sound for both is remastered and/or remixed into multi-channel here, but apart from about 45 minutes worth of "new" footage on the DVD/Blu-ray, there's nothing here that you haven't probably seen and heard before. And the video version of "Pompeii" presented here is an even more hacked-up version than that dreadful "Director's Cut" that came out in 2003 turned out to be.

On the plus side, this set has lots of paper trinkets:

CDs

This was meant to be a single-CD set, with just a remastered copy of the Obscured By Clouds album. Someone, somewhere, screwed up and included a soundtrack CD for the Pink Floyd at Pompeii movie instead. Or maybe it was done intentionally to justify naming the set "Obfuscation"...nah, that's a reach.

Anyway, upon opening the packaging for this boxed set, purchasers found an extra CD in a paper slipcase sitting on top. That turned out to be the Obscured by Clouds disc. The one that came pre-packaged into this set is the "Pompeii soundtrack" disc. Since the promotional materials for this boxed set had promised a remixed Obscured by Clouds, the producers had no choice but to include both. This seems like too huge of an oversight to have been an accident - I mean the discs even have matching artwork - but however it happened, Floyd fans got a bonus disc. Nice of them to throw in something extra for that $500 price tag.

So, how's the remastered "Clouds"? Well, I never had any problems with the original CD release, and to my ears while the new version sounds crisper and clearer, with a little more "punch" to the drums, it also sounds way too...tinny? Brittle? Harsh? Bright? Over-compressed? Too much treble in the equalization? However you want to put it, on this particular disc I'm completely in agreement with the folks that say whoever mastered this set must have had tinnitus and could no longer hear high frequencies. The cymbals are obnoxiously loud and most of the disc is just slightly painful to listen to. I did a track-by-track comparison after ripping this disc to my MP3 player, and I thought in nearly every case the track from the original (old) CD release was more listenable than the remastered track. I tried listening to the remaster in my car's high-end audio system, and had to keep turning the volume and treble down. It seems to me that the sound gets a little better as the disc goes on, and is actually pretty good by the end, but maybe I just got acclimated to it.

I'll be sticking with the original CD. It may just be because I'm used to that version, muddy sound and all. In fact that slight muddiness adds a vague air of mystery that seems to suit this album. But whatever the reason, I'm not keeping this new version on my MP3 player.

I kind of wonder why there aren't any actual "rarities" from the Obscured by Clouds era on this disc. Surely there must be a few outtakes from the recording sessions that could have been included. I'm guessing that since the band was also working on Dark Side of the Moon at the time, playing songs from Obscured wasn't a big priority at concerts. But Wikipedia claims that they occasionally played the title track, "When You're In" and "Childhood's End" in 1973 - weren't any of those peformances recorded? You could argue that 1973 falls outside the scope of this boxed set, but so does the live version of "Echoes" from 1974 that's included on the next set. Whatever the reason, sadly the only representation of the Obscured by Clouds album here is the (bad) remaster; nothing "obscure".

The "soundtrack" CD for Live at Pompeii features six tracks:

The full-length Echoes was split into two sections in the movie but is put back together into a single track here. I think this might be my favorite version of "Set the Controls" because of Wright's keyboard work, although the organ seems to have an overdriven, crackly distortion noise to it in spots (the distortion also crops up in "Echoes" in a few places). Waters' bass on this "One of These Days" is the meanest sounding version I've ever heard. Overall the sound of these Pompeii tracks is pretty good. They're mostly crisp and clean, as you'd expect, although they don't sound all that "live". They suffer a bit from the same over-bright, over-loud cymbals sound of the remastered Obscured tracks, but it doesn't bother me as much on this disc for some reason. My problem is with the video version that's on the DVD/Blu-ray, which I'll get to in great detail below.

The CD ends with another Careful With That Axe, Eugue, which Wikipedia says is an "alternate version", presumably also recorded during the same sessions that the Pompeii songs were recorded. It's a little slower, moodier and darker sounding. I like it.

DVD/Blu-ray

The majority of this video disc is taken up by the Pink Floyd at Pompeii movie, now with 5.1 surround sound. Before that begins though, we get about 45 minutes of various odds and ends:

Recording Obscured by Clouds, Chateau D'Herouville, France Feb 1972 - starts with a five minute black and white slide show of photos from the recording sessions (some of which are also featured in the "black booklet" that comes with the set) synched to the studio version of the song "What's...uh the Deal". The pictures go by pretty quickly, so it's hard to focus on any of them. That's followed by a seven minute color interview with the band about recording the album. The narration is in French and while the questions and answers are in English, the narrator annoyingly repeats everything in French over top of the English dialog, so you end up having to read the whole thing as subtitles. And from what we can hear of the English parts, the French narrator is clearly simplifying, altering or ignoring some of what's said. This section concludes with some shots of the band working in the studio.

Next is about 16 minutes of a performance from Brighton Dome in June 1972. The band plays "Set the Controls" and "Careful With That Axe". The clip starts with a fish-eyed lens shot of a big city, as seen from space (sort of). I know I've seen that image before, possibly in another Pink Floyd video. While we've seen and heard these songs a bunch of times now over the course of this boxed set, this version has particularly good sound and picture (and is in color). Since this was filmed just months before Dark Side of the Moon came out, I wonder if this was one of the last times the band played these "oldies". Roger chain-smokes through the entire performance and even mounts his cigarette in the headstock of his bass while he's playing. Wonder if he saw Zappa doing that when they played together and thought it looked cool.

One particularly neat bit is that when Roger blasts the big gong note at the climax of "Set the Controls", the gong's frame bursts into flames and then burns in the background for the rest of the song. Neat effect, that. Wonder if they got the idea from seeing Arthur Brown in the Committee movie. Similarly, when "Careful" gets to the screaming freak-out section, two columns of brightly lit smoke suddenly erupt behind the drum stand. There are sections where the music continues but the video switches to shots of lava flows, volcanic eruptions, etc. Kind of a precursor to "Pink Floyd at Pompeii". Interesting that after abandoning the psychdedlic light show they had used back in the Syd days, the band was now starting to find other "stagecraft" effects, a tendency that would grow to epic proportions on upcoming tours.

Roland Petit Ballet news broadcasts - ah, this is what I thought the "ballet" tracks on the previous Blu-ray disc were going to be. Actual ballet dancers writhing and jumping and doing awkward moves to Pink Floyd playing the songs "One of These Days", "Careful With That Axe" and "Echoes". The footage is presented in four short excerpts, as broadcast on various news programs. Three of the four broadcasts are in color, but the footage is pretty grainy and the sound occasionally "wobbles", speeding up or slowing down slightly and changing pitch. Total length is about 15 minutes. The footage is sort of presented "backwards", starting with a performance of the final production and then going to rehearsals and interviews with the band (in French, with English subtitles available). I have to say, I'm not a particular fan of ballet dancing, but the moves they're making here look spectacularly goofy, more like they're doing a Jane Fonda workout tape than a ballet. I wonder what the dancers made of it all.

The last thing on the disc (other than the Pompeii film) is a five minute, black and white clip from a French news program (with English subtitles available) showing Pink Floyd loading in their gear and getting set up for a concert. Several French hippies in the crowd give one or two sentence sound bites of their opinions about the band. Being French, they can't quite bring themselves to say anything nice about them. This is listed as a "bonus" feature, but I'm not really sure why. The picture and sound aren't too bad.


Pink Floyd at Pompeii - the concert movie you probably already know and love, but now with a 5.1 surround sound audio track...and even more butchered than the "Director's Cut" that came out on DVD in 2003. The version here features five songs:

The songs are all performed live in an empty, ancient amphitheater in Pompeii (although the band reportedly went back and touched the tracks up in a studio). I particularly like "Careful With That Axe" which was filmed at night with a bank of 20 or so movie lights of various sizes and heights behind the band. They start out barely lit, but as the song builds up the lights get brighter and brighter. When the band hits the middle bit with Roger screaming, the lights are glaringly bright, and then as the song winds down the lights gradually get dimmer and dimmer until the band finishes the song in darkness. Neatly done.

Now, that's the good news. The bad news is...well, you need to know the history of this film to fully understand the bad news. It started out as an hour long "documentary" of Floyd playing a concert in this empty amphitheater. That version began with a black screen and a heartbeat, eventually a keyboard drone and some ominous images of ruined buildings in Pompeii were added, then we see the band loading their equipment into the amphitheater and the film crew setting up. Finally, over a long tracking shot that starts at the top of the theater and ever so slowly zooms in on the band, we hear them start playing Echoes. They play the first half of the song, then it kind of breaks down. That's followed by "Careful" as described above (with the slowly brightening/fading lights), Saucerful, One of These Days (with a neat opening that shows a shot of Nick Mason being put together bit-by-bit like a jigsaw puzzle), Mademoiselle Nobs (a blues jam with a live dog howling along, similar to Seamus), Set the Controls and finally the second half of Echoes. As that song neared its end, we got a long, continuous tracking shot backing away from the band, matching the opening shot but in reverse. When it got to the point where the band was just a dot in the middle of this huge space, the closing credits played over the ending of the song. Each song was introduced by a title card that was put together one word at a time like a puzzle. Throughout the whole movie, the footage of the band playing was occasionally intercut with images of Pompeii - bubbling mud, ruined buildings, the band running around on cooled lava flows, etc. It was pretty much a perfect "concert" video for early Floyd.

Then they wanted to show it in theaters. But at just under an hour long, it was too short for theatrical showings. So the filmmaker took his cameras to the studio were the band were recording Dark Side of the Moon. He got footage of them experimenting in the studio, recording the album, having breakfast and doing a few interviews. My favorite bit is a clearly stoned David Gilmour answering the question of whether Pink Floyd's music is "drug music" by looking right at the camera with his bloodshot eyes and saying "Oh no, you can trust us." The director stuck bits and pieces of that footage in between the songs from the original movie and, amazingly, ended up with an even better film. That's the version I originally had on VHS tape, and I loved it. BTW, the aspect ratio of that original movie was 4x3 (i.e. the size of old "square" TV tubes).

Then things started to unravel. They announced in the early 2000s that a "Director's Cut" of the movie was going to be released on DVD. Fans were understandably excited - does "Director's Cut" mean there were more songs filmed? No, unfortunately it meant that the director thought it was a good idea to replace a lot of the footage of the band performing with "space" scenes (the moon landing, the surface of the sun, etc), computer animation (satellites flying in space, the surface of Mars, distant planets, Pompeii being destroyed by volcano, etc) and helicopter shots of Mount Vesuvius. Totally incongruous stuff that sticks out like a sore thumb and ruins the flow of the movie. The song "Echoes" in particular was really hacked up, with the whole "heartbeat and load-in" sequence being replaced with archival shots of rockets being launched. Oh, and it was changed to 16x9 (widescreen) aspect ratio by chopping the top and/or bottom of the image off. WTF? The DVD did include the original hour-long concert film as an "extra", but the version I grew up with on VHS (the concert plus the Dark Side studio footage) has never been released in any digital format.

So they fixed that for the boxed set, right? This is the "good" version of the movie, right? Nope, they actually found a way to make a "worst of all worlds" version. They took the "Director's Cut", complete with out-of-place computer animation and space footage replacing actual band performance footage, cut out all the Dark Side studio stuff and for reasons unknown also deleted the song "Mademoiselle Nobs". So we just get five songs, with the picture from the revamped 2003 version, and no interviews or studio footage. Yeah, the 5.1 surround sound is nice (although it doesn't really seem to add much), but I would have rather had the movie I remember from my college years. Oh, and they also decided to edit the two parts of Echoes into one long piece, but the edit is really obvious ("Part 1" fades out towards the end and the "screaming seagulls" section fades up over top of it). It's not as noticable on the CD where you're just hearing the audio, but when you're watching it you realize the band is playing one thing and you're hearing something else fading away underneath that.

Hopefully the "original film + Dark Side sessions" version will someday be released on Blu-ray with the original 4x3 aspect ratio and 5.1 surround sound. I'm not holding my breath though.


Set 7: 1967-1974, Continu/ation

Cover of the Continu/ation set This set is the "bonus" set that is only available as part of the big box. Since it's "bonus" material, a lot of it is stuff that could have gone on the earlier sets, but wasn't used due to poor audio/video quality. On the other hand, there's some good stuff on this one too, and it's got the movies that Pink Floyd did soundtracks for (except Zabriskie Point). The spine of the case lists the years covered as 1967-1972, but the CD includes a live version of "Echoes" from a 1974 tour, so I listed it above as 1967-1974.

Sadly, this set does not contain any useless paper doo-dads. Unless you count the big collection of stuff that is outside any individual set (listed below). It does include a "black booklet" glued into the case that has pictures (mostly publicity photos and posters from the movies) and liner notes, with the same notes also printed in the standard "white booklet" in the set's pocket.

CD

First up is a BBC session from September 25th, 1967 that includes a few songs from Piper at the Gates of Dawn and, interestingly, a glimpse at the upcoming Saucerful. The set list is: It's pretty clear why this one wasn't included in the Cambridge St/ation set - the audio is definitely bootleg quality. The first song doesn't sound too bad other than being a bit muffled and hissy, but for some reason "The Scarecrow" has an annoying high-pitched whine all through it. The DJ introduces "The Gnome" by pronouncing the "G" (the Gah-nome). I'm guessing he was just trying to be funny, or maybe that's the way British people actually pronounce it. "Reaction in G" is literally just a 34 second jam with a DJ talking over most of it that sounds like it was recorded off a transistor radio over the open air by someone using a toy tape recorder. "Set the Controls" sounds the same way. The tracks are listenable, but probably not something you'll want to hear a bunch of times unless you're really fanatical about early Floyd.

Next is another BBC session, this time from a few months later - December 20th, 1967. This one includes:

Interesting that it features two otherwise unreleased songs. The sound quality is pretty dire, sounding distant, muffled and slightly distorted. In particular the piano parts of "Pow R." are all wobbly and sound like they were recorded underwater. The liner notes say these tracks were included for historic purposes because this is one of the last known recordings of Syd Barrett performing with Pink Floyd. The vocal gymnastics during "Pow R." are pretty neat.

Unlike the other CDs in this boxed set, it seems like someone put a lot of effort into making most of the songs on this disc segue into each other, so the whole thing flows like one long piece. Some of the segues are kind of clumsy though - I wonder if it was also an attempt to cover up gaps and/or recordings taken from different sources.

Jump ahead almost a year to December 2nd, 1968 for the next BBC session:

"Baby Blue Shuffle" sounds like an early version of Gilmour's "The Narrow Way". The "Blues" track is just a generic blues jam. By this time the Floyd were pretty well known (at least in England), so you'd think someone would have preserved this session with better sound quality. If anything, it's even more muffled and distorted than the previous ones. Seriously, some of the stuff on this set is so bad you'd think the producers would have just turned to bootleg collectors and said "Can you find us something that sounds better than this?" At any rate, this session must have been recorded in front of a live audience, because just before "Blues" fades out you can hear a roar of applause.

A 22 second U.S. radio advertisement for the band is next. Talk about filler. And who thought this was a good promo? Over the beginning of "Several Species of Small Furry Animals" an announcer says "Pink Floyd...doesn't mean it's not a nice band". Hunh? Were the record companies concerned that fans would react badly to a band with "Pink" in the name?

The ad track segues smoothly into the first of two pieces of music (about four and a half minutes total) recorded for the movie "The Committee". They're just labeled "Music from The Committee 1" and "Music from The Committee 2". The sound quality is good, and these aren't just retreads of existing Floyd songs, but...they just sound kind of generic for the most part, like it could have been any 60s band. And they're very similar to each other - the second track just sounds like a slower version of the first. Nice but not exactly essential. In the middle of the second song, a woman's voice from the movie says, out of the blue, "Do you play bridge?", which at least explains why I saw that phrase used as a joke on a Floyd bootleg collecting site. There are also bird chirping sounds and car motor noises in the background.

In 1969, Pink Floyd recorded seven minutes of music for the BBC broadcast of the American moon landings, which both earned them the nickname "First Band on the Moon" and created some more filler for this CD. Sound quality is listenable, although it sounds like someone may have recorded it through a 60s TV speaker. Music is just a psychedelic, instrumental jam based mostly around a repeated, descending four-note bass riff. Over that we get audio clips of superstitions about the moon ("To sleep in moonlight causes blindness, bad dreams and lunacy"). Kind of a neat foreshadowing of Dark Side of the Moon. This boxed set really does a nice job of showing how everything the band did from the Syd era onwards was pointing the way towards Dark Side.

And finally, after nearly 12 hours of music, the audio portion of this massive boxed set concludes with a 24 minute performance of Echoes recorded live at Wembley in 1974. This is easily the gem of this CD, and one of the highlights of the whole boxed set. Great sound quality, great performance and a vibe closer to Dark Side of the Moon than Meddle - it even has an extended sax solo. Someone online pointed out that this "Echoes" is the last piece of the '74 Wembley show that was started on the Dark Side Immersion boxed set and continued on the Wish You Were Here Immersion set. So if you have both of those and the Early Years box, you have the complete concert. Possibly the most expensive concert recording ever, if you're buying all three just for that.

To be honest, I mostly wanted this "bonus" set for the movies included on the Blu-ray/DVDs, so I'm not too put out by the poor sound quality of most of this CD. And that great version of "Echoes" makes it worth having.

DVD/Blu-ray 1

This is the only set in the box that has both 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-ray discs. Disc one of each begins with about an hour's worth of musical content before showing the full movie "The Committee".

First off there's an alternate promo video for the song "Arnold Layne". It's in black and white and alternates between shots of the band wrestling around and acting strange in a park (where a lot of the photos for the Cambridge St/ation set came from) and a close-up of a random girl dancing. One scene shows the band lying at the edge of a pond with Syd standing over them and occasionally pointing at the camera and yelling "Why can't you see?"

A severely grainy, black and white German promo video follows. It starts with the song "Corporal Clegg", with the band sitting around a fancy dining table and wearing military helmets, alternating with actual war footage and shots of the band playing the song. They definitely seem to be going for a surreal/whimsical Beatles vibe here. The song ends with the band engaging in a messy food fight. For some reason the line "Clegg, I've been meaning to speak with you about that leg of yours" jumped out at me when I watched this. It's followed by a brief interview with the band (in English), and then a fairly flat and slow-paced video of the band on stage supposedly playing "Saucerful of Secrets" (although they're clearly just miming and/or not even playing). There are some "psychedelic" shots interspersed of light fixtures, close-ups of the band's faces and the words "Saucerful" and "Secrets". There's also, for no particular reason, footage of a royal wedding. That last bit was a bad idea, because the contrast between the decent quality of the wedding clip and the grainy, crappy quality of the Floyd footage really points out how bad the latter is. The song ends with the band performing in a landfill with a giant image of a black woman's face and huge afro on a billboard behind them. Very artsy, but yet another "WTF?" moment from early Floyd.

Next is a three minute clip of "Atom Heart Mother" from the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in 1970. At the time, the piece was still called "The Amazing Pudding" so that's what it's listed as on the title card at the beginning of the clip. The footage is black and white and looks like it's from a low-budget VHS tape set on the lowest recording quality setting. The band was playing live with a choir and brass ensemble, but we don't hear the audio from the performance, instead the studio version is played with little attempt to synch it up with the video. For the most part, we don't even see much of the choir or the brass ensemble, just the guy conducting them. I'm not sure what the point of including this was, other than historical completeness.

Kralingen Music Festival, Rotterdam, Netherlands, June 1970 - in color, this starts with out-of-focus shots of someone setting off fireworks. Eventually we get to the band performing, and there are on-screen credits so this must have been professionally put together for something, although the quality is fairly low. The picture isn't too bad, other than being a bit grainy and occasionally going out of focus, but the sound is muffled and sounds like a badly encoded MP3 - lots of "digital slushiness" and some hiss and high-pitched whine in places. The audio also isn't synched up with the picture very well, although it looks like they at least made an attempt. The cameraman occasionally applies psychedelic looking filters (or something) that make it impossible to tell what we're seeing. The set list is a brief "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (just the last couple minutes of the song) and then most of "Saucerful of Secrets". Total length of this clip is around 10 minutes.

Amsterdam Rock Circus, Netherlands, May 1972 - this black and white film looks like it's probably a bootleg shot by someone in the audience (occasionally other audience members walk into the shot). The filmer looks to have been about 15-20 rows back from the stage and a little right of center. Unfortunately the picture is pretty rough - grainy, not a lot of detail and occasionally streaked with white horizontal lines, but the sound is surprisingly good for an audience-shot video (apart from some crowd noise here and there). The filmer occasionally zooms in on each band member, but for the most part he gets a long shot of the entire stage. There are a few bits where he starts filming the crowd, and at one point point becomes obsessed with pointing the camera at bright lights and jiggling it around to create a "light trails" effect. Probably not the only one there that evening seeing those. Despite the low quality, this is actually a fairly interesting video because it gives as good an idea as anything in this box of what it was actually like to attend a Pink Floyd concert in the early 70s. I like this video, but you have to have a pretty high tolerance for rough looking bootleg footage to enjoy it. The video is over 35 minutes long and features this set list:

"Atom Heart Mother" is the rock-band-only version (no choir or orchestration). "Careful With that Axe" has the neat pyrotechnics (three columns of glowing smoke behind the drums) when it reaches the "frenzy point" in the middle of the song. "Saucerful" starts about mid-way into the song, with Mason already playing the rapid-fire drum pattern, but we still get to see Roger set the gong on fire.


SPOILER ALERT - If you intend to watch the movies included in this set but haven't done so yet, don't read the descriptions below because they outline the entire plot of the films. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED! If you want to avoid spoilers, skip down to the Extras section below.

The Committee - this is a low-budget, black and white British film, and the only one of the three included movies with dialog entirely in English. It's sort of a sci-fi film crossed with a dark comedy, although the jokes are generally so bad and droll that I didn't even realize the movie was trying to be funny at first. It has a running time of around 53 minutes, and seems to go by pretty quickly. I had to pause it at one point to get a pizza out of the oven and was surprised to find that I was already more than half way through it.

The film has been described as science fiction, but it's really more of a philosophical musing about the place of society in people's lives and vice versa. The movie is set in an alternate reality where citizens keep to a "contract with society". They are expected to fit rigidly into society, contributing to it and following its rules in order to obtain its benefits. At any time a citizen can be called away from their job to take part in a government committee that could be a focus group, a think tank, a party, a trial or a combination of any of those things.

The plot follows a young man the credits identify only as "central figure". It opens with him riding in a car with a man who had just picked him up hitchhiking. The driver seems a bit vapid and while he says he picks up hitchhikers to hear what they have to say, he rarely gives his passenger a chance to get a word in edgewise. Eventually he decides to pull over onto a secluded side road to check his spark plugs, and the hitchhiker impulsively slams the hood down on his neck, decapitating the driver. After communing with the head in the woods for a bit, the hitcher sews it back on the body (in a surprisingly graphic scene), then wakes the driver up and sends him on his way.

As soon as our hitchhiker goes back to his job, he gets a letter informing him that he has been selected for a committee. He travels to the location of the committe and checks in. Later when our central figure is walking up a staircase when he encounters the man whose head he cut off and asks, out of the blue, if his teeth are bothering him. The main character starts to become paranoid that this committee is going to be a trial to make him pay for what he did.

Later there's a cocktail party that seems like litte more than an excuse for some lame jokes and a performance by Arthur Brown, complete with flaming headgear.

Eventually the central figure is called into a private meeting with the director of the committee. After some initial chit-chat, the director informs him that the government knows what he did to the driver. They're not upset about it, they just want to know why he did it. So the two characters go on a long walk all around the grounds and discuss the philsophical motives and meanings of his act, and of life in general. It's obvious that the whole film was leading up to this, but it made very little sense to me, partly because I was just trying to listen to the sounds that Pink Floyd were generating in the background. At one point the central figure says "There is something that we're driving at, but I can't see what it is." That pretty much sums up that whole lengthy scene for me - a bunch of random, philosophical banter about what people owe to society and how the world should be run. Did the central figure's violent act destroy society? And if so, did he fix it by sewing the head back on? No real conclusion is ever drawn, although the director implies that he knows the answers but even if he could put them into words, no one would understand them.

With the discussion ended, the committe's work seems to be done. So the young man helps a woman load her luggage into her car, then they drive back to wherever they're from together while Floyd music plays. Eventually she turns to him and asks if he plays bridge, and the movie suddenly cuts to the end credits, shown over footage of someone in an office filing information into a card catalog. This is definitely one of those movies where you get out of it whatever you put into it, and no two people who see it are likely to have exactly the same opinion about it.

If you're thinking of watching this film just for the Pink Floyd music, it's not really worth it. There's only a total of about 15 minutes of Floyd and most of it is just background noodling with movie dialog over top. The bits that resemble actual songs are on the accompanying CD if you want to hear them.

DVD/Blu-ray 2

I've already mentioned that the main reason I went for the big, expensive boxed set rather that just wait for the (presumably cheaper) individual releases of sets 1 through 6 was to see More and La Vallee after years of listening to the Floyd soundtracks. Annoyingly, the versions of the movies included in this set have no subtitle options, so unless you speak English, French, German, Spanish and whatever language the inhabitants of The Valley speak, eventually you're going to run into a language barrier. The films aren't that hard to follow, especially with a little help from IMDB, but considering that they included English subtitles for a lot of the live performance stuff where they weren't really needed, and for "The Committee" which was entirely in English, you'd think they could have included them for the movies where they are very much needed.

More - this is the longest of the movies at nearly two hours (and watching it it seemed to take longer than that). It also features the most Pink Floyd soundtrack music, with some songs showing up multiple times. There are some noticeably different mixes for some of the music and some alternate lyrics. There's also that lost "Seabirds" song, which I think shows up in the background of a party scene early in the film. It's hard to hear because of the dialog and party noises over top of it.

The plot, like The Committee, begins with a hitchhiker. A young man named Stefan is hitching from his home in Germany to Paris, just to see the world. Once there he meets a gambler named Charlie, who takes pity on Stefan and gives him his money back after Charlie wins it all in a card game. When both of them run out of money they turn to a life of crime, but for some reason they need "seed" money before they can rob a house (that scene is in French, so I couldn't really follow it). At a party Charlie goes into the coat room and steals money from a purse. Meanwhile Stefan falls for a woman named Estelle, and it turns out it was her purse that Charlie robbed. After pulling the main heist, Stefan goes to Estelle's apartment and returns her money. They smoke some grass and it's clear that Stefan doesn't have much experience doing drugs. After they have sex, she tells him that she's going to travel to Ibiza. He has some more "business" to attend to with Charlie, but tells her that he'll come look for her in a couple days.

When Stefan finally gets to Ibiza, Estelle is not at the hotel where she said she'd be. He finds out that she's staying with an older German man named Dr. Wolfe. When Stefan finally finds Estelle, she behaves oddly and repeatedly tells him to go away. At a party, he gets a little too high and drunk and in a jealous rage slaps Estelle and accuses her of sleeping with Dr. Wolfe. She denies it and agrees to move into a house with Stefan. As she leaves Wolfe's mansion, she steals some money and a mysterious white package.

Once they're living together in a nice little house by the ocean, Stefan soon figures out that Estelle is hooked on heroine. There's lesbian scene between Estelle and one of her junkie friends and then Stefan ends up sleeping with both women. Good times for Stefan, right? That is, until Estelle talks him into trying heroine.

Things spiral downward from there, and the third act mostly features Stefan and Estelle doing drugs, getting naked, doing drugs, sunbathing, doing drugs, swimming naked, doing drugs, having sex and doing more drugs. Soon Stefan is hopelessly addicted to both Estelle and heroine. All this time, Stefan has been going into town whenever they needed anything because Estelle is afraid to be spotted by Dr. Wolfe's men. But one day Stefan injures his foot while literally tilting at a windmill and Estelle has to go into town. She is immediately picked up by Dr. Wolfe's henchmen. Wolfe demands that they return the heroine she stole when she moved out of his mansion, and that Stefan come work for him as a bartender/drug dealer to pay for the stuff they've already used. Stefan starts getting suspicious once again that Estelle is sleeping with Dr. Wolfe, which Estelle confirms after Stefan withholds heroine from her until she confesses.

Near the end, Charlie comes to town to try to talk Stefan into going back to Paris with him. He's seen Estelle ruin the lives of previous boyfriends, and doesn't want Stefan to come to the same end. But Stefan doesn't want to leave without Estelle, and eventually attacks and injures Charlie when he tries to prevent him from going out to look for her. Unable to find Estelle, Stefan talks a friend into loaning him a couple day's worth of heroine, but ignores the warning not to do it all at once and overdoses. The final scene shows Stefan's coffin being lowered into a pauper's grave by the other characters (although Estelle is notably missing) and then the movie abruptly ends.

Most of the dialog in this movie is in English, although there are entire scenes in French and German, plus a smattering of Spanish. And Stephan, Charlie and Estelle all have accents that make some of their lines difficult to decipher. The plot, such as it is, isn't too hard to follow even with the language barrier.


La Vallee (Obscured by Clouds) - The language barrier is much more of a problem here than the other films, unless you speak French. Probably 90% or more of the dialog is in French, which I don't speak a word of, so the plot summary below is mostly my best guess of what was going on.

After an opening narration (in French) sets up the film, there's a scene that's mostly in English, so that got my hopes up. But soon the characters discover that they all speak French, and the rest of the movie is mostly in that language.

Several years ago, I found out that a co-worker had seen this movie back in the 70s when it first came out. His memory of it was pretty dim due to the passage of time and the fact that he may not have been entirely sober while viewing it, but he described it as "a bunch of hippies go into a mystical valley and meet the natives". That, combined with the soundtrack song titles gave me the impression that it was an action/adventure movie about hippies who go into the jungle looking for gold, get captured by mudmen and have to find a way to escape. Turns out it's nothing like that.

It's more of "consciousness expansion" story, or a philosophical exploration into the pros and cons of modern civilization vs. the hippie free-love lifestyle vs. the primitive ways of the valley natives. The main character, Vivian, is a wealthy woman who has come to the jungle seeking exotic souvenirs, for some reason being particularly obsessed with colorful feathers. She meets a man named Olivier who can find the feathers...and accidentally stabs his foot. She drives him back to his camp where she meets the rest of his "hippie" group. After an explicit sex scene set to "Wot's...Uh The Deal" (I'll never think of that song quite the same way again), she joins the group on their trek into the mysterious valley, hoping to find feathers. Ominously, the map of their route ends in a white, uncharted area marked "Obscured by Clouds". Gaetan, another member of the group, is convinced that the mysterious uncharted valley is actually paradise, because no one who has set out to find it has ever returned.

As they travel together, Vivian experiences tribal culture, mind altering drugs, nature (including a nerve-wracking scene where she handles a poisonous snake while stoned), poachers, and the down side of free love (when she sees Olivier making out with another woman from their group). She tries to buy feathers at some sort of market, but is prevented by a British guy in a scene that seems like it's missing the part that explains what's going on. Then she meets a native medicine man (?) who stares into her eyes and gives her a vision of being stalked by men in creepy mud masks. It almost seems like that scene was filmed but they couldn't figure out what to do with it, so they just wedged it into the movie here. At any rate, the medicine man gives her an exotic feather for undergoing the ordeal.

In another scene that maybe made sense if you speak French, the group drives to a landing strip just as a small plane arrives. Vivian says goodbye to everyone in the group, loads her gear into the plane and flies off. But before the plane is even out of sight, it turns back and lands. Vivian gets her bags back out and rejoins the group. I guess that whole scene was meant to represent that, even though she had found the feathers she was looking for, she has now committed herself to the quest to find the valley.

The group continues on, and eventually the road gets so bad that they have to abandon their car and there's a sub-plot about trying to obtain horses. As they continue towards the mysterious valley on horseback, they fall in with a native tribe who take them back to their village, paint their faces and honor them with a ritual feast. That part features a scene of the tribesmen clubbing some pigs senseless, and it's obvious that they're real pigs and this film doesn't qualify for the "no animals harmed" credit, so if that sort of thing bothers you, skip that part.

Eventually our heroes continue on, and the trek takes them into jungle so dense that they have to set the horses free and continue on foot. Finally, exhausted and out of supplies, they collapse at the top of a cliff on the edge of the clouded area. In the morning, Vivian (who by now has been transformed into a much more spiritual and free person) wakes up and finds that the fog has lifted - she looks over the edge of the cliff and says "The valley, I see it!"...and then the movie abruptly ends.

Regardless of the plot (or lack thereof), the movie is beautiful to look at. I'm pretty sure the whole thing was shot on location in remote jungle and native villages, and the result is a very colorful, vibrant movie. The print used for this boxed set is crisp.

The film is very slow paced and meant more as art than as a plot-driven, commercial movie. It has a few lengthy dialog scenes in French, including an argument between Vivian and Olivier towards the end that I didn't understand at all until I read the translation on IMDB. Apparently that's the point where our female lead has "gone native" and left materialism behind, and Olivier tells her that she's completely misguided and that these native tribes are even worse than the civilization that she's turning her back on, that they're driven by nothing but superstition and base instincts. In response, she goes off and has sex with Gaetan.

Oddly, the Pink Floyd soundtrack music is used very sparingly - the song "Obscured by Clouds" is used over the opening and closing credits, and a few of the other songs pop up in shortened versions in the first half of the movie, but once the characters get deep into their journey the soundtrack becomes mostly dialog and nature sounds. During the sequence where the group is looking for horses, "Free Four" plays on the car radio (and oddly continues playing even after they leave the car) and I'm pretty sure it's an alternate version with different lyrics - I could just make out Roger singing something like "If you grow your own, I can tell you 'cause I know, be careful not to make yourself sick". Anyway, if the only reason you're watching this film is to hear Pink Floyd music, you'd probably be better off just listening to the soundtrack album.


Extras

Photos of the extras included in the box

In addition to all the content in the seven sets described above, the box also comes with a smaller, rectangular black box that contains a bunch of bonus items. First off, there are five vinyl singles:

The studio versions of all of the above songs (except "The Scarecrow" from Piper at the Gates of Dawn) are included on the CDs of the first two sets, so the vinyl records are more collector's items than something to actually be played, unless you're a real vinyl fetishist. Each record is housed in a paper sleeve that replicates the covers they were originally released with, and the the labels on the actual records look vintage as well (except for a "Pink Floyd Records" logo stamped on each one that looks more modern).

In addition to the 45s, the rectangular box holds a tissue paper wrapper printed with psychedelic patterns and sealed with a round sticker that says "P F E Y" (for Pink Floyd Early Years, I guess). Inside are a bunch more paper doo-dads. Fortunately you can just slide them out of the end of the wrapping paper - you don't have to tear it or disturb the sticker that seals it shut. The paper bits include:


Conclusion

So after reading the above overlong listing of the contents of this massive boxed set (or skipping it and just jumping down to this conclusion), you may still be wondering if it's worth the massive price tag? All I can say is that it took me a couple weeks to go through everything in it once, and as of this writing it's been two months since I first opened it and I'm still picking through the contents. The video portions I'll probably only watch once or twice more, if ever. But I can see myself pulling out the multi-channel surround mixes for an occasional spin, and I'll probably be listening to most of the CDs as often as I listen to the band's studio albums (which is still quite frequently).

Speaking for myself, I'm glad I spent the money and bought a copy. But as I mentioned in the introduction section, I'm pretty fanatical about Pink Floyd, especially the period covered by this boxed set. I'm also a sucker for these big boxed sets, even though they're often a disappointment that's little more than a glorified greatest hits collection. This set definitely isn't that - the bulk of its content is stuff that was never officially released before. There's a LOT here that I've either waited years to see/hear or had no idea even existed, and I'm thrilled to have finally experienced it. Overall, I feel like I've got a much better understanding of the band's pre-Dark Side history after going through this box a couple of times.

However, if you're a more casual fan of Pink Floyd or just don't want to spend that much money, you'll probably want to hold off until the individual volumes are released. By buying those and picking up the More and La Vallee movies as stand-alone DVDs, you can cobble together 90% or more of this set for presumably a fraction of the price. That's assuming the extras (vinyl 45s and posters) aren't a big deal to you. If you've never heard any pre-Dark Side Floyd and are thinking about getting this boxed set just to explore their early work, you'd probably be better off buying the studio albums first, and then diving into this material once you're more familiar with the band's early years. Remember that other than Obscured by Clouds, this set doesn't contain any of the band's released albums.

If you just like a specific era, then just get the set that covers that era. If you're a Syd fan, the Cambridge St/ation set is a must-have. If you're a fan of the Saucerful of Secrets album, get Germin/ation. If you're really into the More soundtrack and Ummagumma, get Dramatis/ation. If Atom Heart Mother is a favorite, get Devi/ation. If you really like Meddle, then Reverber/ation is probably worth picking up. I'll be honest though, unless you're a real completist or don't already own Obscured by Clouds and Pink Floyd at Pompeii, the Obfusc/ation set probably isn't worth seeking out.

And, of course, if you've never heard any Floyd prior to Dark Side of the Moon and are quite content keeping it that way...what did you read this page for?