Pink Floyd – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of “Meddle”

Nov 17, 2021

By Austin Saalman


With time to bide before their ascent to international stardom as heralders of legendary pop culture phenomenon The Dark Side of the Moon (released two years later, in 1973), Pink Floyd had since recovered from a dramatic personnel shift from frontman Syd Barrett to guitarist David Gilmour three years prior, successfully transitioning from colorful blues-influenced psychedelic outfit to artsy, forward-thinking prog experimentalists. Preceded by 1969’s mind-bending sonic collage Ummagumma and 1970’s perplexing yet grand achievement Atom Heart Mother, the group’s sixth studio album Meddle further refined their burgeoning sound, helping to set them apart and pave the way for major works that would earn them universal recognition, all the while standing in its own right as one of its era’s key prog masterpieces.

A psychological product of the band’s rigorous touring schedule, the often delirious Meddle was recorded incrementally during their downtime, and upon its October 31, 1971 release was greeted with positive reception, the influence of Gilmour’s increasingly prominent presence being noteworthy to some critics. In terms of atmosphere, Meddle feels heavier and murkier than Atom Heart Mother, whose largely sunny disposition had been responsible for much of its charm. Like its predecessor, however, Meddle boasts a brief but diverse tracklist that wastes no time dithering over devotion to one specific genre.

The foreboding “One of These Days” opens with the sound of billowing wind hissing behind a series of throbbing basslines, announcing Pink Floyd’s newfound bite to enthusiastic audiences and hinting at more solid instrumental compositions to come, such as 1973’s “On the Run.” Eventually collapsing into a wash of stellar guitar rock, once interrupted by the voice of drummer Nick Mason—manipulated so as to resemble a gurgling demonic snarl—declaring, “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces,” “One of These Days” was exactly the opener needed to place Pink Floyd in competition with prominent peers Yes and Genesis, whose own respective creative boundaries had expanded far enough to culminate in the following month’s Fragile and Nursery Cryme.

Just as suddenly as “One of These Days” comes on, the startlingly unassuming ballad “A Pillow of Winds,” while still underscored by tangled compositional complexity, swiftly switches gears, exploring the familiar sleepy psychedelia of tracks such as the previous year’s twangy and sentimental “Fat Old Sun.” Here, Gilmour, whose hushed vocals grace a number of Pink Floyd’s more downtempo recordings, reveals himself as a multifaceted artist, as adept at serenading as he is raising the pulse and pointing a defiant finger. He shines once more on the subsequent faux-country rocker “Fearless,” which stands as one of the group’s finest early recordings, its warm, folksy sway representing an aspect of Pink Floyd’s earlier sound seldom, if ever, found in their post-Meddle output. The track ends with a broad chorus of voices belting, of all things, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Balmily romantic “San Tropez” and largely forgettable “Seamus” are representative of the group’s far reaching musical tastes and willingness to experiment, the former realizing more success than the latter. The vision of bassist and principal lyricist Roger Waters, “San Tropez” is a rose-tinted fantasy of life on the French Riviera, while “Seamus,” named after Humble Pie frontman Steve Marriott’s border collie, is a parodic country blues number and features the mournful howls of the titular pooch throughout, the only moment at which the album ever genuinely lags.

Clocking in at over 23 minutes in length, closing epic “Echoes,” of which Side B consists in its sprawling entirety, stands as one of Pink Floyd’s major achievements as a group, finding them dutifully prepared for the coming decade. A smorgasbord of sound and an appropriately trippy lyrical journey through the subconscious, the structural groundwork for Wish You Were Here’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” was laid here. With its introduction of nearly three minutes and an intricate, suite-like flow that drifts in and out of mellow introspection, hallucinatory madness, and expertly engineered, guitar-heavy prog perfection, “Echoes” finds each member performing his necessary function in one of Pink Floyd’s most cohesive performances to date. An unforgettable closing track and a landmark recording of its genre, “Echoes” is Meddle’s greatest offering, beginning to shine its brightest at about 17 minutes in.

As the group’s trio of indisputable masterworks arrived between 1973 and 1977, Pink Floyd’s pre-Dark Side releases are sometimes easy for the casual listener to eschew in favor of their more esteemed siblings. Do not be fooled though, as Meddle is equally meritorious, albeit a bit unrealized, and still certainly worth the time, remaining a solid effort 50 years after the fact.

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