Inside Pink Floyd’s New Box Set ‘The Early Years’

Die-hard Pink Floyd fans have been celebrating. Pink Floyd’s giant-sized The Early Years 1965-1972 box set came out last week on November 11th. The box set contains 6 individual volumes, each focusing on a specific period within the formative years of the group, along with a bonus volume of ultra-rare material. With 27 discs in total, the box set is the most detailed official release of material from this time period.

Although some of this material has been available in the past as bootlegs, this box set will mark the first time all of these recordings have been officially released with audio quality higher than before. All of the previously released official studio recordings have also been remastered.

Before Pink Floyd fans take the plunge, be aware the full box set costs over $500 (as of this writing, it was listed at $571 on Amazon). That said, good things come to those who wait. It has been announced that six of the seven volumes of the box set will be released in individual versions next year (the bonus volume of rarities [volume seven] will remain exclusive to the full box set).

The Pink Floyd box set "The Early Years 1965 - 1972." [Image by Amazon/Sony Legacy/Pink Floyd]

Pink Floyd History In Review; What’s In The Box Set; Nick Mason Looks Back In New Interview

Volume one of the seven-volume box set covers 1965 to 1967, with the next five volumes covering each individual year in detail up through 1972.

The volumes are titled as follows:

  • Volume 1: 1965-1967: Cambridge Station
  • Volume 2: 1968: Germination
  • Volume 3: 1969: Dramatisation
  • Volume 4: 1970: Deviation
  • Volume 5: 1971: Reverberation
  • Volume 6: 1972: Obfuscation
  • Volume 7: 1967-1972: Continuation

In a recent Rolling Stone interview promoting the new box set, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason commented on the individualistic nature of the group. The band discovered and evolved their sound largely on their own. Each member’s creative direction was left to themselves.

“… no one really ever suggested how anyone else should play their parts. We all played it as we saw fit…”

After starting out mainly as a blues-oriented rock group, by the end of 1966, lead guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd in a more psychedelic direction, extending his guitar solos to extreme lengths. This coincided with the brand-new London underground counterculture movement, in which Pink Floyd became a leading musical act. Early psychedelic gig posters from this time are included in the box set.

Following some demos in 1967, the band signed with EMI Records in March of that year. Their early singles from around this time are featured in the box set on vinyl 45s designed to look like the originals. By August of 1967, their first album (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn) had been released. However, Syd Barrett’s excessive drug use and increasingly crumbling mental state was putting the band’s future in jeopardy.

Mason commented to Rolling Stone on the musical diversity Barrett had brought to the early development of the group.

“By the time we did Piper, we were covering two or three different things. Because there was the whole Syd writing thing of ‘Scarecrow,’ ‘The Gnome,’ ‘Bike’ – it’s like English pastoral, whimsical music, I suppose. But at the same time, Syd was also leading on things like ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ or ‘Astronomy Domine,’ which were quite heavyweight, sort of heavy-metal thrash with a little bit of avant-garde thrown in. I think Syd was enormously creative because both of those aspects came from him. It wasn’t like we did anything uptempo and Syd wrote the charming songs; he covered quite a lot of ground, really.”

A new guitarist, David Gilmour, was added to the lineup in late 1967 in the hopes of keeping pressure off Barrett and allowing him to stay in the group. Barrett’s decline continued, however, and he was officially removed from the group around April of 1968. Gilmour took over as lead guitarist, and bassist Roger Waters stepped in to become the primary composer of new music and lyrics.

Mason tells Rolling Stone, “Looking back on it, there’s no doubt that LSD exacerbated the state, but I think perhaps what was happening was Syd had realized he didn’t want to be in a rock band at all… I think what was going on was Syd really was trying to leave.”

Volume two of the box set features a live BBC radio performance of “The Massed Gadgets Of Hercules,” a very early, alternative version of a song later revised and renamed “Saucerful of Secrets.” Their second album, called Saucerful of Secrets, released June of 1968, ultimately only featured one song from Barrett. Instead, the centerpiece of the record would be the title piece, the first major track composed without Barrett.

Mason felt the band did a fairly good job of recuperating following the loss of a primary songwriter.

“After Saucerful had come out, we dribbled on a little bit with singles, but the first tour without Syd, when we played the Scene in New York, I think we realized then and feel we had found our own audience for this particular band.”

Pink Floyd at this point was now established in the lineup (David Gilmour on guitar and vocals, Roger Waters on bass, Richard Wright on keyboards, Nick Mason on drums) that the majority of their most successful work would be created.

The band looked for the way forward following the loss of Barrett. Large scale commercialism did not seem like an immediate concern. They continued long-form instrumental experimentation and composed film soundtracks. Slowly, but steadily, the group improved their songwriting and production skills.

Many of these intermediary experiments are included on the box set, with live tracks and studio outtakes showing works in progress that were later developed into album cuts.

“Echoes,” a symphonic-length track that is the centerpiece of the 1971 album Meddle, began as an in-studio experiment called “Nothing” by the band. For the first time, it’s been officially released with remastered sound, and the track can be found on volume five of the box set.

The 1972 film soundtrack, Obscured By Clouds, is where the sixth volume of the box set leaves off. This record had shorter songs than in the past, more lyrics, and less experimentation. It pointed the way forward for the group. The box set features a brand-new audio remix of the Obscured By Clouds album.

Volume seven, a bonus exclusive to the box set, is something of a grab bag. It contains a variety of rare, unusual, and unreleased material from the entire range of 1965 to 1972. It features BBC radio sessions from the Barrett era, a special television concert performance commemorating the 1969 moon landing, and Pink Floyd’s score to the 1968 art film The Committee, a very rare movie that was unavailable on home video for over 30 years.

Over the rest of 1972, Pink Floyd would take the slicker production and shorter song concepts they had recently developed and finalized the album that would result in The Dark Side of the Moon. Released in March 1973, it would go on to be one of the best-selling rock records of all time. From that point forward, Pink Floyd was both an artistic and commercial force to be reckoned with.

Their next several albums, including Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall, were all instant classics, considered by many to be among some of the greatest rock albums. Many reissues of those albums have been released in the past, but rumors abound that they might be next up for the box set treatment. Nick Mason has commented that he might be interested in doing an audio remix on Animals. A hypothetical follow-up set (perhaps titled The Later Years 1973 – 1983?) might be following along in the near future, although any official confirmation is very unlikely at this time.

[Featured Image by Keystone Features/Getty Images]