There’s a time-honored tradition when it comes to the music of Pink Floyd, at least there is for many music fans. You start with the band’s multimillion-selling 1973 concept-album masterpiece, “The Dark Side of the Moon,” and move forward, taking in 1975’s “Wish You Were Here,” 1977’s “Animals,” 1979’s “The Wall,” and so forth. After that, if you’ve studied the band’s history at all, you might go back and check out its 1967 debut album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” released before the group’s main songwriter and guitarist Syd Barrett began suffering from a gradual mental breakdown that would eventually drive him from the band.
But there’s a period between 1969 and 1973 that doesn’t get nearly as much attention, a period when Pink Floyd — bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, keyboardist Rick Wright, and new guitarist David Gilmour — had to recover from the loss of their leader and forge their own way forward. That era consisted of six albums, multiple abandoned or fully realized concepts, and the band’s gradual blend of the psychedelic pop of its early days and a more experimental, wide-screen sound that stretched its ideas and songs to album-length epics.
It is that era that Asheville, N.C., music journalist and author Bill Kopp studies in his new book, “Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon.” Kopp, who’s been published in “Billboard,” “Trouser Press,” and many other music periodicals and written liner notes for 20 albums, took the opposite path than most after hearing “Dark Side.”
“I was a kid when it came out, and once I heard that I was hungry for more,” Kopp says. “I wondered, ‘What else is out there?’ So as ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Animals’ and ‘The Wall’ came out, I was working my way backwards.”
What Kopp found in albums like “A Saucerful of Secrets” and “Atom Heart Mother” was the roots of what would eventually become an era-defining album.
“I really feel like with the benefit of hindsight that the seeds that made ‘Dark Side’ special were planted in those intervening years,” he says.
But the secret to the best-selling works that Pink Floyd would create in the 1970s didn’t just come from the band’s studio work, and Kopp has plenty of bootleg live shows to prove it.
“I have hundreds of Floyd shows going back to 1967,” he says. “There’s a tour they did performing two pieces called ‘The Man’ and ‘The Journey’ in 1969. Those were loosely conceptual works designed for the stage, with narratives from beginning to end. That’s a real prototype for what they would use on ‘Dark Side.’”
Kopp, who will be reading from and signing copies of “Reinventing Pink Floyd” at Fiction Addiction in Greenville on Saturday, says these narrative works weren’t the result of a specific vision the band had; they were motivated more by uncertainty than anything else.
“If you listen to the first few things they did in the wake of Syd’s leaving, they weren’t too good,” Kopp says with a laugh. “They were self-conscious attempts to run with the vibe that Syd had developed, and it just didn’t suit them. So they began fumbling their way forward. It’s also worth pointing out that in any other era, if you were a band signed to a major label and your lead person is gone, your label wouldn’t be nurturing you. They wouldn’t say, ‘Here’s some money and some more time; go make another album.’ They’d say, ‘Hit the street; you’re fired!’ The fact that they got to continue when they lost their creative center could only have happened in the ’60s. Artists were given time to develop a musical personality and develop an audience.”
Ultimately, Kopp says the band found some of its direction in its soundtrack work, on albums like “More” and “Obscured by Clouds,” and partially through the gifts of David Gilmour’s vocals and guitar.
“For lack of a more delicate way to put it, they were writing to order,” he says. “The director would say, ‘I need a really pounding, hard-rock song for this scene,’ or ‘I need something atmospheric.’ That gave them a prompt. They were the sort of people who worked well under those conditions.”
As for Gilmour, “He was incredibly important,” Kopp says. “It’s impossible to imagine them being anything like they were without David Gilmour. He was not a lyricist, but his strength was as a guitarist and most importantly in his voice. It’s unmistakable and it sends shivers down your spine.”
Bill Kopp book talk and signing for “Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon”
WHEN: Saturday, March 10, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Road No. 5
INFO: 864-675-0540, http://www.fiction-addiction.com/