Interview: Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, Engineer John Leckie Discuss the Making of 'Meddle'
In 1971, Pink Floyd were only five years into their professional career, but they had already been through several phases and permutations.
Their nascent period with founder Syd Barrett showed they were capable of experimenting with sound and lyrics and turning out pop hits, such as “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play.”
Following Barrett’s departure in 1968, they had tried their hand at film music composition with The Committee, Soundtrack from the Film More and Zabriskie Point, and begun to coalesce as a progressive-rock band with 1969’s Ummagumma and its follow-up, 1970’s Atom Heart Mother.
But they had yet to show signs of becoming a group capable of creating landmark works like The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. With Meddle, Pink Floyd—guitarist David Gilmour, bassist Roger Waters, keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason—did just that.
Meddle is the linchpin between the itinerant creativity of Pink Floyd’s early years and the sophisticated conceptual work for which they are hailed today. Fittingly, the 40-year-old album is getting a facelift as part of EMI’s campaign to reissue several of the band’s significant albums in editions that include studio outtakes, live recordings and rare tracks. The new Experience and Immersion editions of Meddle help shed light on this vital, defining disc in the Pink Floyd catalog.
Meddle is the first album on which the Floyd got everything just right. In it, you can almost hear The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and even Animals. You couldn’t necessarily say the same about Atom Heart Mother or Ummagumma.
Those albums, brilliant as they are in their own way, are the sound of the Floyd finding their way, trying to escape from the shadow of Barrett, their brilliant, erratic and insufferable former frontman, and the whimsy of the albums they’d made with him: Piper at the Gates of Dawn and its less satisfactory follow-up, A Saucerful of Secrets.
Meddle, on the other hand, shows a focus of artistic vision, if not in the whole of the album then certainly in the individual songs. The tracks seem to be driven along purposefully and with an urgency, as if the Floyd knew they had hit upon a vein rich with musical possibilities. Perhaps importantly, none of the divisive “creative differences” that eventually drove the band apart were present at this point in Floyd’s evolution. They were simply four musicians trying to come together in the absence of their leader, Barrett.
All of these things may be responsible for Meddle’s charismatic sonic qualities, and explain why it—more than Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall—finds a spot in the heart of true Pink Floyd fans, such as Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, who has long championed Meddle as the great Floyd album.
“It’s got that 1971 sound,” he says. “It’s so warm and organic and so golden, and there’s something about that. Things were just coming out of psychedelic music and the influence was still there, not completely gone.”
The album contains just six tracks: five on the original release’s first side, and one—the 23-and-a-half-minute stunner “Echoes”—on side two. The fizzing energetic opener, “One of These Days,” demonstrates the group’s psychedelic jam tendencies, yet it remains infectiously tuneful as it boogies along like a stoner-rock version of ZZ Top’s “La Grange.” “Echoes,” on the other hand, combines moody, slow rock with atmospheric sounds, synthesizer weirdness and other sonic effects.
The “ping” that opens and closes the track was produced by keyboardist Richard Wright playing a single note on a concert grand piano and feeding the signal through a Leslie rotating speaker. “I remember, Dave Gilmour had just got the same wah-wah pedal that Jimi Hendrix used,” recalls engineer John Leckie, who started on Meddle as a tape operator but was eventually credited as engineer. “The ‘seagull’ sound you hear on ‘Echoes’ is that, the Cry Baby. Hendrix died in the middle of recording, which I think affected them a bit.”