Pink Floyd’s First Masterpiece: An Audio/Video Exploration of the 23-Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971)

Of the many things that can and have been said of Pink Floyd’s 1973 mas­ter­piece, The Dark Side of the Moon, one con­sis­tent­ly bears repeat­ing: it set a stan­dard for how a rock album could func­tion as a seam­less, uni­fied whole. There have been few releas­es since that meet this stan­dard. Even Floyd them­selves didn’t seem like they could mea­sure up to Dark Side’s matu­ri­ty just a few years ear­li­er. But they were well on their way with 1971’s Med­dle.

Med­dle is real­ly the album where all four of us were find­ing our feet,” said David Gilmour. The obser­va­tion espe­cial­ly applied to the 23-minute odyssey “Echoes,” the “mas­ter­work of the album — the one where we were all dis­cov­er­ing what Pink Floyd was all about.” All four mem­bers of the band learned to com­pose togeth­er in the rehearsal room, Nick Mason recalled, “just sit­ting there think­ing, play­ing… It’s a nice way to work — and, I think, in a way, the most ‘Floyd-ian’ mate­r­i­al we ever did came about that way.”

“Echoes,” indeed, was the band’s “first mas­ter­piece,” argues Noah Lefevre in the Poly­phon­ic “audio/visual com­pan­ion” above. The song was orig­i­nal­ly titled “The Return of the Son of Noth­ing” because the band had gone into the stu­dio with “noth­ing pre­pared,” Nick Mason remem­bered lat­er that year. As they strug­gled to find their way for­ward after the exper­i­ments of Ummagum­ma and Atom Heart Moth­er, tour­ing con­stant­ly, they felt unin­spired, call­ing all their ideas “noth­ings.” They expect­ed lit­tle from inspi­ra­tions like the “ping” sound that opens “Echoes.”

Instead, they cre­at­ed the most sub­stan­tial mate­r­i­al of their career to date. Inspired by Muham­mad Iqbal’s poem “Two Plan­ets,” Roger Waters “wrote lyrics to an epic piece” about being at sea, in every sense, yet glimps­ing the poten­tial for res­cue and con­nec­tion. Richard Wright wrote “the whole piano thing at the begin­ning and the chord struc­ture for the song,” he told Mojo in his final inter­view, show­cas­ing his seri­ous com­po­si­tion­al tal­ents. And the range of tones, effects, and styles that Gilmour pio­neered on “Echoes” have become leg­endary among gui­tarists and Floyd fans.

“Echoes,” says Lefevre above, changed the band’s direc­tion lyri­cal­ly and musi­cal­ly, help­ing them break out of the crit­i­cal box labeled “space rock.” Instead of  “anoth­er song about look­ing upwards to the stars, Waters looked down into the cold, strange depths of the ocean.” It wasn’t the first time rock and roll had vis­it­ed what Lefevre calls the “psy­che­del­ic under­wa­ter.” Hen­drix was there three years ear­li­er when he turned into a mer­man. But Floyd found some­thing entire­ly their own in their explo­ration. Learn how they did it in the styl­ish video above, clev­er­ly synced to the whole of “Echoes.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch the Last, Tran­scen­dent Per­for­mance of “Echoes” by Pink Floyd Key­boardist Richard Wright & David Gilmour (2006)

Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” Pro­vides a Sound­track for the Final Scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pom­peii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Lindsay Buttery says:

    Meddle,and Echoes,dominating the entire of side 2 was sel­dom off the turntable for my friends and I fol­low­ing its release. To be blunt & hon­est, play­ing Echoes whilst ‘com­ing-up’, with­in flight dura­tion or,in a very manda­to­ry way, gen­tly com­ing down from high qual­i­ty LSD, feath­ered by the finest hash, when such were avail­able, would be, I feel sure, a very com­mon­placething for many. It is the most beau­ti­ful & absorb­ing piece of music sans chem­i­cals, but in those short hand­ful of years, ones I would not exchange for any­thing, Echoes would always sur­prise, nev­er more so than with hallucinogenics…little changes pre­vi­ous unheard…it would dance between dark­ness & light, through oth­er­world­ly tones, occa­sion­al men­ace & fear, as it’s tem­po whipped and changed, cli­max­ing with the most mov­ing crescen­do of Gilmore’s gui­tar work, before gen­tly cradling us in peace & love­ly tran­quil­li­ty.
    It is a piv­otal work of immense beau­ty.
    My friends & I would often mar­vel at how very skilled the band were, to trig­ger & explode so many deep emotions.…how it was craft­ed, very obvi­ous­ly & specif­i­cal­ly engi­neered to enhance the already mas­sive­ly pow­er­ful effects of the acid & super-strong hash.….few albums can match or come close to Med­dle and, specif­i­cal­ly Echoes.
    Of course, we were wrong, pre­cious few drugs were ever tak­en by the band, save the excess­es of poor, and once great Syd Bar­rett. Many peo­ple, I know, felt the very same thing about DSOTM, and jus­ti­fi­ably so, of course, but no, it was­n’t quite that way…just a fur­ther mas­ter­piece, anoth­er in which our minds could bathe, and mar­vel upon time and again.
    There would be many, I sus­pect, in rel­a­tive terms, who were intro­duced to the band by the mas­sive suc­cess of Dark Side, unaware of Med­dle for the main part.…if any still remain, you are in for a real treat, to put things mild­ly, if you put some half decent cans on, and let go a lit­tle.
    Medal, Echoes, Car­a­van’s ‘In the Land of Grey & Pink ’ plus DSOTM monop­o­lised so many evenings & ear­ly morn­ings as our small gath­er­ings would set­tle down, with­in the safe­ty of some­one’s flat/apartment, after an evenings fly­ing, to these beau­ti­ful pieces of music, time & time again, watch­ing the qua­vers, min­ims, crotch­ets dance their way from the soeak­er cabinets…so very beau­ti­ful.
    Please for­give my indulgence…these mem­o­ries, each one of the very fond­est kind, are among the most powerful,remain still to this day as clear as crystal,and never,ever leave me.

  • Pteacher says:

    What Poet unspired3 PF Bassist to The Echo era Album? Id love to read That Mans Works
    Preach­er OS Gui­tarists

  • Andy Cambridge says:

    Well, Lind­say, you have described a set­ting and an expe­ri­ence that my group of friends and I mir­rored time and time again. After the evenings in town we would fall back to “num­ber 62a” to smoke and lis­ten to Car­a­van, Audi­ence (House on the Hill) and sim­i­lar and always the finale was Echoes. 4 or 5 bod­ies strewn across the floor in a state of ecsta­t­ic semi-obliv­ion, trip­ping on every note and phrase of the 23 minute epic. Crescen­do after crescen­do — this piece of musi­cal genius trans­ports the mind in a way that noth­ing else does. In this writer’s hum­ble opin­ion — the best piece of music ever writ­ten. Head­phones are a rec­om­mend­ed tick­et to reach the ecsta­sy that Echoes can deliv­er. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Donn c hoganson says:

    Great stuff!

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