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“Making Sense of Some Pretty Puzzling Rhetoric on the Pink Floyd/Radiohead Debate”

I think I was looking through that big book of old Creem excerpts one time and I saw this one article where this dude referred to the Boston Red Sox as “baseball’s answer to the Denver Broncos.” He was joking, of course, and I think toward, not completely unjustly, throwing shade at this ill-fated, arbitrary practice of saying this band is “the next” that band, and thereabouts, with this particular discussion handling whether Radiohead were “this generation’s Pink Floyd” [1].

Anyway, one thing this very proposal obviates is that Pink Floyd has fully made a name for themselves in this world, an idea with which I am on board indeed. I might point out, however, that in the case of the great tweakers in the sky known as Floyd, there are no common frontmen to the band’s genesis and ultimacy. That is to say, they began as a guitar rock firebrand spearheaded by the charismatic Syd Barrett [2], who would own to songwriting, vocal and lead guitar duties, with Roger Waters on bass, and today they stand as, essentially, the half-prog/half-singer/songwriter vehicle of David Gilmour’s virile ambitions. The only two constants are drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright, neither of whom, per any reports I’ve ever heard, have ever been catalysts in the songwriting or vocal enterprises. 

My point is that when you say “Pink Floyd,” there’s not one automatic image or specific identity sure to manifest. From a songwriting standpoint, Barrett, Waters and Gilmour all stand in stark contrast from each other, even more so, probably, than, say, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, or Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter. 

Obviously, in terms of semantics, Radiohead’s approach of member continuity and a pluralistic songwriting method (there’s actually a philosphical debate as to who actually WRITES their songs I’ve hurled about and each member has done side projects, helping to establish their credibility) is vastly preferrable. What’s more, Radiohead’s twisted, polymorphous songwriting blueprint that was so emphatic within their third through sixth albums (in my opinion their four best albums they ever did) stands with such sovereignty that nobody would mistake their former four-bar alt-rock routine of “Creep”; “High and Dry”; “Fake Plastic Trees”; et. al.; as their main event. It’s got to be that jazzy, eerie, dreamy and wayward aesthetic that bequeathed the key change midway through “Karma Police”; the tempo changes in “Paranoid Android”; the phrasing unorthodoxies in “There, There,” etc., that to this day define them as a band, with “Just”; “The Bends” and company standing as apt but ultimately subservient etudes in pop. With Radiohead, that is, experimentation have undoubtedly prevailed over convention. I’m not sure we can entirely say that in the case of Pink Floyd. Granted, if Floyd failed at this, it’s partly the fault of the unfortunate departure of Syd Barrett from the band, and then the acuteness of the emotion which followed this that might have assuaged them from the need to be “experimental” in order to be effective. And this is not to say that they completely didn’t dabble in the experimental or vanguard, obviously, following A Saucerful of Secrets, but truly, their most effective outings (“Time”; “Money”; “Comfortably Numb”; “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2”; “Have a Cigar”; “Learning to Fly”; et. al.), are anatomically pretty simple and by-the-book, save perhaps for the seven-four time signature governing “Money.” 

I think I’ve taken some baby steps in this diatribe above toward proving that Radiohead made greater use of songwriting experimentation in their career than Pink Floyd, which I’m sure will get me cane-whipped by a couple of crusty old dinosaurs who still have a crush on Reese Witherspoon, but is true nonetheless. It’s ironic, then, when in some Facebook post that asked if Radiohead were this generation’s Pink Floyd, this one dude (who had a cat as his profile picture… gotta love that type) accused Radiohead of being “repetitive in their modes [3] and melodies.” I asked him, then, “What’s the time signature in ‘Pyramid Song’? [4]” You could have heard a pin drop. I’m still awaiting his response. 

Anyway, this comment had been partly prompted by this one curmudgeon’s quip that “Pink Floyd were good and Radiohead suck,” to which I responded that Radiohead have been covered by pop stars, professional jazz pianists and reggae bands, many of color, nonetheless. And then cat dude chimed in that that doesn’t necessarily give them any credibility, except he used a really haughty, cocky and dismissive tone for doing so. Hard for a man to stay cool, enit? Maybe I’ll try finding a really badass cat for my Facebook, claws intact and with a steady acid hookup. 

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[1] Of course, this inquiry is doubly ludicrous as Radiohead are pretty much cemented in “last generation,” with Pink Floyd a proud denizen of “the generation before,” at this point. I mean, I’m 38 and Ok Computer was my point of intersection with these guys.

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[2] Yes, at the time he was indeed charismatic, per reports.

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[3] I’m educated in music theory and as far as I know “modes” is not a musical term at all, being indeed a computer term and a mathematics term, but I assume him to have meant time signature and key, more or less, by basic, arbitrary and obtuse intuition.

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[4] There was an interesting tidbit in cokemachineglow.com one time about this dude witnessing a fist fight break out over an argument about what this song’s meter were. 

5 thoughts on ““Making Sense of Some Pretty Puzzling Rhetoric on the Pink Floyd/Radiohead Debate”

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