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Pink Floyd digs deep for new catalog reissue campaign
Pink Floyd's Nick Mason says he and his bandmates have never been keen on living in their past.
And even though the group has been inactive since the mid-90s, its members have always found the idea of rifling through the vaults and putting out new versions of old material "sort of pointless."
But now, as Pink Floyd launches an extensive and ambitious rollout of its 27-year active recording career, Mason says, "Maybe we're mellowing with old age."
"It is a sea change from our point of view," says the 67-year-old drummer. "We'd never put much thought into the idea of releasing incomplete or earlier versions of things, but I think the world has changed.
"One now looks at these things and realizes there really is interest in how things came about and what the early versions were and so on. We thought rather than just leave everything in the vaults, it might be worth bringing everything out and giving people a complete view of what we've done."
That effort begins on Tuesday, Sept. 27, as the Why Pink Floyd? campaign launches with the re-release of digitally remastered version of the group's 14 solo albums — both individually and as a box set — and two new editions of its landmark 1973 album "The Dark Side of the Moon." An "Experience" version covers two CDs, while the more expansive "Immersion" set whose three CDs, two DVDs and Blu-ray disc feature unreleased studio and live material, including an entire live concert from 1974 and extra tzachkas such as a book, a scarf and marbles.
The campaign continues on Nov. 7 with "A Foot in the Door -- The Best of PInk Floyd" and "Experience" and "Immersion" versions of 1975's "Wish You Were Here," while 1979's "The Wall," which sold more than 24 million copies worldwide, will receive a similar treatment on Feb. 27.
Pink Floyd — formed during 1965 in London and named after bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council — has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
"I'm a jazz fan," note Mason, "so I think of when they put out, like, the complete sets of Charlie Parker things, John Coltrane...with every note ever played, including outtakes that are 16 seconds long. You realize that if I like that, maybe it's perfectly OK to do the same thing for people who are that interested in how we did it."
While Mason, guitarist David Gilmour and bassist Roger Waters approved everything in the program — founding members Syd Barrett and Rick Wright passed away in 2006 and 2008, respectively — the work was done primarily by longtime Floyd engineers James Guthrie and Andy Jackson. "They'd send it all to us at the same time," Mason recalls. "Initially the package would arrive and I'd think, 'Oh, God, it's another version of something' and leave it for a couple of days.
"Then, when you do eventually play it, it's actually quite an eye-opener. You hear things you completely forgot you've ever done. In one or two cases you wonder why on Earth you went with the version that ended up on the record rather than this early take."
Jackson says the discovery process began five years ago, with "people trolling around the archives looking for stuff, remembering where things were, seeing what their was." Jackson notes that Mason, in fact, was in possession of a number of "a huge box of assorted tapes" that included the spoken portions of "The Dark Side of the Moon" as well as a recording of an early Pink Floyd club show "when they were still trying to be an R&B band."
Both Mason and Jackson were intrigued by the assorted "Dark Side" outtakes, which include more than an hour of "extra" audio tracks from the session and an original mix of the album supervised by engineer Alan Parsons that was subsequently changed. Also included in the "Immersion" package are 1972 live recordings of Pink Floyd trying out the "Dark Side" material in concert, some of which sounds significantly different than what wound up on the final album.
"It was the pre-bootleg era where people weren't recording your ever move at a concert on their phone or other devices," Mason remembers. "In the 'Dark Side' days we actually were able to take the music out on the road and sort of develop it." In particular he remembers the group reworking the ending pieces on the album, "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse," after their in-concert trials.
"We realized that we needed a bigger ending," Mason says, "so what we eventually put on the album was actually developed live as we were playing the piece in concert. It felt like a very natural way to do it at the time, but it's something you wouldn't think of doing now."
Jackson adds that the instrumental "On the Run" evolved from another piece called "The Travel Sequence," which is included on the "Immersion" set in both live and studio forms. "It was just another instrumental piece, sort of a guitar jam piece," he says. "It's good, but it wasn't anything special, so I think that's why they were looking for something else. When the idea for 'On the Run' came about, they thought it was better."
Another treasure found in the vaults was a 1974 concert at London's Wembley Arena that featured the "Dark Side" and "Wish You Were Here" albums played in their entireties. The performances will be featured as part of each of the reissues. "Wish You Were Here" also includes a version of the title track recorded with French violinist Stephane Grappelli that was ultimately shelved until now.
"When I heard that for the first time, I couldn't for the life of me understand why we never put that on record in the first place," Mason says with a laugh. "I felt like, 'This is great! Why didn't we use this?!' "
Now that the Why Pink Floyd? campaign is off and running, fans are wondering what more the group's vaults might yield. "Everybody's asking that," Jackson says, explaining that "it comes down to two things. If it make sense just in terms of the bottom line, if these sell well, there will be more. If not, there won't.
"And then there's only a finite amount of stuff in the archives. It's a question of what there is and what we can find."
Jackson is hopeful that the early live recording found in Mason's collection might turn into a future release. And an obvious addition to the program would be something related to 1977's "Animals" album, though the engineer notes that the "Wish You Were Here" set in November will include early versions of the songs "Dogs" and "Sheep," so more material would have to be found to fill out a separate "Animals" release.
Mason, meanwhile, expects that Pink Floyd "will do some more sort of in-depth versions of the other albums." But after the Why Pink Floyd? campaign finishes, he adds, the vaults will be "pretty bare. Frankly, I'd be embarrassed if we ever come out with another version of 'Dark Side.' "
The drummer says says that preparing and promoting the catalog campaign has becoming something of "a full-time job for him," even moreso than Gilmour and Waters. Mason joined Gilmour as special guests for Waters' May 12 performance of "The Wall" at London's O2 Arena — which he says was "terrific," but he knows better than to predict whether the three will do anything together again.
"There are no plans now," Mason says. "The long and short of it is I live in hope. I'd love to actually do something together again. All of us are open to invitations to do things; the only thing that would drive it would be some sense that...there's some particularly good reason to do it together rather than separately.
"Perhaps we're getting a bit older and more appreciative of just how much it can mean to our fan base to see us together. I think we just have to wait and see."
OTHER BOX SETS
With the winter holidays on the horizon, the music industry targets the fourth quarter of each year for special box set packages that look good in giftwrap. The Why Pink Floyd? is just one of several offerings that will take advantage of that market this fall. Some of the other notable releases include:
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Winterland, a four-disc set released Sept. 13, chronicles the trio's three October 1968 shows at the famed San Francisco venue, plus an interview recorded the following month in Boston.
- Nirvana is commemorating the 20th anniversary of its landmark Nevermind album with two special packages that came out Sept. 20: a Deluxe Edition two-CD set featuring a remastered version of the original album along with B-sides from its singles, including five live tracks, as well as a second disc of rarities; and a Super Deluxe Edition, meanwhile, with two more CDs and a DVD featuring a concert at Seattle's Paramount Theatre and music videos.
- Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 captures the Miles Davis Quintet in full virtuoistic flight just before he turned his attention to electric fusion jazz. The stellar collection includes three CDs, each featuring a different concert, and a DVD from a Nov. 7 show in Germany.
- Sting: 25 Years is a three-CD set coming Tuesday, Sept. 27, that reviews the former Police frontman's solo career. It comes with a DVD, "Rough, Raw & Unreleased: Live at Irving Plaza," from a 2005 concert in New York city, as well as a lavish hardcover book.
- Elvis Presley's Young Man With the Big Beat, out Tuesday, Sept. 27, chronicles his star-making 1956 on five discs, including every studio recording he cut that year along with live performances and interviews.
- The Smiths Complete comes out Oct. 18 and lives up to its title, boxing together the British group's eight albums remastered by guitarist Johnny Marr, with new annotation and packaging.
- U2 pays 20th anniversary homage to its Achtung Baby album with a special set on Nov. 1 that features outtakes, demos, B-sides and "From the Sky Down," Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim's documentary about the album. Five different editions of the package will be available, wtih details at www.achtungbaby.u2.com.
- Billy Joel packages all 14 of his releases together on Nov. 8 in The Complete Albums Collection, adding a 15th disc called "Collected Additional Masters" featuring 17 rare selections. The same day Joel will also release a two-CD Piano Man: Legacy Edition adding a 1972 radio station performance to the original album.
- The Who will remember its 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia with a pair of packages titled Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut due out Nov. 14. The Super Deluxe Edition includes 25 previously unheard demo tracks on its five discs along with a wealth of memorabilia, while the two-CD Deluxe Edition recreates the album in pristine, remastered form.
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