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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