Behind the Album: How Pink Floyd Paved Their Way to the ‘Dark Side’ with ‘Meddle’

Pink Floyd did not take a direct path to their 1973 masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon, the album that turned them from prog-rock cult heroes to rock superstars. There were fits and starts along the way, artistic wrong turns and dead ends. Without the 1971 album Meddle as a precursor, it’s hard to imagine the band reaching the heights they did on Dark Side.

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With this record, the band finally began to form a distinctive musical identity separate from the one first forged by original lead singer Syd Barrett, who had been gone from the band for several years by then. Let’s take a look back at Meddle, both as a classic album in its own right and as a precursor for much bigger things from the band.


After Barrett, who struggled with mental problems that were heightened by substance abuse, was dismissed from Pink Floyd in 1968, the band floundered a bit to find themselves. Their albums over the next several years were a mixed bag of soundtracks or works with outside collaborators, none of which showed the same spark the band possessed when Barrett was leading the way.

That began to change for a few reasons as the ’60s ended. First, guitarist David Gilmour, who had joined the band shortly before Barrett was ousted, started to feel comfortable enough to assert himself creatively, and his melodic genius brought the band’s sound into more accessible realms. Second, the band began to realize that bassist Roger Waters was the strongest lyricist of the four members, and so they started ceding those duties exclusively to him.

What the band found was that there was a way to combine some of the heady, experimental soundscapes—on which they had been relying without Barrett—with the strengths that Waters and Gilmour brought to the table. All of that came to roost on a piece called “Echoes,” which would take up the entire second side of Meddle.

Stirring the Echoes

For “Echoes,” the band wrote over 35 distinct little bits of music that they then began to interweave into a cohesive whole. The strange ping of Rick Wright’s piano played through a Leslie amp gave the piece its chilling beginning. From there, Floyd interspersed sleepy, meandering passages with thrilling crescendos.

As far as the lyrics are concerned, Waters managed to include the flights of fancy for which Floyd had been known to that point, with mentions of labyrinths in coral caves and sunlight wings. But he also began to ground these elements with more human concerns for love and connection. The second verse recounts the meeting of two strangers and the hesitancy of one to reach out to the other.

In “Echoes,” you can hear harbingers of pieces like “Breathe (in the Air)” and “Eclipse,” songs that would become such a huge part of Dark Side of the Moon. Other Meddle songs also hinted at what was to come. “Fearless” featured the band at their most tuneful, while Waters’ lyrics touched on themes of isolation to which he would often return. “One of These Days,” a relentlessly thrilling instrumental, offered glimpses of the breathless Dark Side track “On the Run.”

The Legacy of Meddle

If there’s an issue with Meddle, it’s that the three songs we’ve mentioned tower far above the other three. “A Pillow of Winds” is pretty enough acoustic folk, but it wafts away on a slight breeze. “San Tropez” offers a little light lounge music. And “Seamus,” with barking dogs interrupting pretty much every bluesy note the band plays, is just bizarre.

Nonetheless, the high points made Meddle a thrilling listen. And even if it didn’t expand their commercial horizons that much, it did set the table for the massive success to come. In that respect, you might not find a more important album in the band’s rich history.

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