We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out

The peculiar relationship between Elvis Presley and his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, has been a fascinating story waiting to be told in a feature film for many decades. Now, finally, that film has been made, and what an extraordinary work it is. In “Elvis,” Director Baz Luhrmann, Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Parker have captured the ups and downs of that complicated relationship and have done it in a dazzling, thoroughly entertaining fashion.

“Colonel” Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, 1956

I first wrote about the Presley/Parker association seven years ago after having read a number of articles and books about it. Upon re-reading it, I think it holds up well, so I’m publishing it again this week, followed by some commentary by the film principals that sheds new light on the alternately triumphant and tragic tale.

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When you mention Elvis Presley’s name, so many things may come to mind.  The extraordinary voice.  The iconic songs.  The hips and the curled lip.  The “Yes Ma’am” demeanor.  The lame-o movies.  The comeback TV special.  The Vegas years.  The downward drug spiral.  The premature death.

For me and those of my age, born in 1955, Elvis was before my time, so I didn’t learn to appreciate him until many years later.  As a passionate student of rock and roll, I have since read a great deal about Elvis and immersed myself in his music, particularly the amazing, groundbreaking, trailblazing singles and albums he recorded in his first four years in the business (1954-1957).

Presley’s debut LP on RCA

The sessions he did at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis in 1954-55 are simply phenomenal, among the very best in rock music history.  Similarly, the body of work he recorded under his RCA Records contract in 1956 and 1957 still sends chills up the spine. (There’s a Spotify playlist at the end of this essay.)

Once you’ve heard and listened to what he was capable of doing, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to observe what happened to him over the next 20 years until his death in 1977.

Taken as a whole, Elvis’s career can be summed up in four words:  Gross mismanagement.  Failed potential.

And the blame for that, in my view, falls primarily on the shoulders of one man:  His manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker.  If you were to compile a ranking of rock and roll’s most notorious characters, Parker’s name would surely be right near the top.

The list of Parker’s transgressions that harmed Presley and his career is substantial:  Blatant greed.  Astoundingly poor business decisions.  Serious fraud.  Crass exploitation.  Unconscionable extortion.

Before we delve into these, we must pay the Devil his due, to be fair.

A)  It is beyond question that Parker was responsible for securing Presley’s recording contract with RCA, one of the major recording companies in the country at the time.  This took his fledgling career with the small, regional Sun Records in Memphis and catapulted him onto the national stage with the support of RCA’s broad distribution and promotion.  When that happened in March 1956, Elvis’s singles and albums were suddenly everywhere, airing on hundreds of radio stations and selling like proverbial hotcakes across the nation.

B)  As a former huckster and promoter in the circus and carny businesses, and as manager for country artists like Gene Austin and Hank Snow in the ’40s and early ’50s, Parker knew all about how to attract paying customers, and he brought those skills to bear on Presley’s behalf.  He built the Elvis brand into a money-making juggernaut through saturation marketing never before seen in the music business, not even for big stars like Frank Sinatra.  Merchandise of all kinds — charm bracelets, ornaments, record players, you name it — were plastered with Elvis’s image.  In 1956 alone, merchandise brought in $22 million, an unheard-of sum at the time.

C)  Parker pulled the right strings to get Presley invaluable exposure on popular national TV shows like The Milton Berle Show, The Steve Allen Show and particularly The Ed Sullivan Show.  These appearances, which included some of the famous “Elvis the Pelvis” hip gyrations that created such controversy (and priceless publicity), sent his celebrity status into the stratosphere.

D)  Presley was very interested in making films, and Parker was instrumental in securing a screen test with Paramount Pictures.  He then negotiated a seven-movie deal for Presley that would bring in new revenue streams, both at the box office and from soundtrack albums.  His first several efforts, including “Love Me Tender,” “Jailhouse Rock” and especially “King Creole,” were big successes and even earned some decent reviews from conservative critics who mostly disapproved of him.

E)  When authorities threatened to jail Presley for “indecent” acts on stage, Parker arranged for Presley to volunteer for a two-year stint in the Army (1958-1960), serving as a regular soldier at boot camp and on Army bases in Germany. According to author Alanna Nash in her 2010 book bout Presley and Parker, “This would sand off the rough edges of his image and bring him back as the all American boy fit for family entertainment. It was all to make him a beloved pop idol. And it worked.” Parker arranged for Presley to record a backlog of songs (including huge hits like “Hard Headed Woman,” “One Night,” “A Fool Such as I” and “A Big Hunk o’ Love”), which would be released every few months to keep his name in the public eye during his absence.

So Parker made himself invaluable to Presley in those early years, as a manager, as a father figure, as a mentor and confidante.  This bond, while initially comforting and financially beneficial, would prove to be hugely detrimental to Elvis from 1960 on.

Consider the following ways Parker hindered, obstructed, and cheapened Elvis’s potential and reputation, and cheated him (knowingly and unknowingly) out of untold millions:

A)  Presley loved the contact with fans through live performing, and had toured incessantly during his pre-Army years.  That came to an end in 1961 when Parker pulled the plug on Elvis concerts for nearly all of the 1960s, convinced that his future instead lay in Hollywood.  This lack of live appearances during his prime hurt Elvis terribly, as the popular music scene changed in 1964 with the arrival of The Beatles and the “British invasion,” Motown groups, folk rock acts, psychedelic rock bands and more, all of whom thrived in the vibrant club/concert scene.  Presley was conspicuous in his absence, and it helped foment the perception of him as a has-been, a relic from a previous era.

The soundtrack LP to Presley’s 1967 bomb

B)  Parker signed Presley to a long-term movie deal that in hindsight can only be described as disastrous.  Elvis fancied himself a serious dramatic actor, but when his first few efforts in that vein fell flat, Parker pushed him to star in a total of 27 (!) lightweight, low-budget musical comedies which, although profitable, were universally panned.  Even the songs Parker arranged for Presley to sing in these inconsequential films were, at best, average and, at worst, cheesy and embarrassing.  The soundtrack albums sold well for a while, producing a couple of hits each, but by 1965, both the albums and the singles had trouble breaking into the Top 40.  His credibility with music fans plummeted.

C)  Presley was approached multiple times over the years to tour internationally to Europe, Japan, South America, Saudi Arabia and more.  Parker said no to all offers, regardless of how lucrative they were, and here’s why (and the new movie stresses this point):  Unbeknownst to virtually everyone, Tom Parker had a secret past.  He was, in fact, Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, born in Holland, who worked on the docks at a young age and entered the United States illegally at age 18 by jumping ship in New York harbor, eventually enlisting in the Army, taking the name “Tom Parker” from the colonel who interviewed him, and later got in trouble and earned a dishonorable discharge.  Much later, as an illegal immigrant with no passport, he refused to travel abroad for fear he would ultimately be detected and deported, or refused re-entry.  So Presley’s many opportunities to earn more money and fame on the international stage was ultimately thwarted by Parker’s fear of deportation.

Priscilla and Elvis on their wedding day, 1967

D)  While stationed in Germany in 1959, Presley, then 23, met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, and they ended up conducting an on-again off-again courtship for nearly seven years, mostly hidden from public view at Parker’s insistence (to his credit, since the public would find it scandalous).  Elvis’s flings with his Sixties movie co-stars angered Priscilla, who by 1967 pressured him to marry her or risk exposure of their “sordid” relationship and the kind of negative publicity that sunk Jerry Lee Lewis’s career in the ’50s.  What did Parker do?  He sided with Priscilla, citing a “morals clause” in Presley’s contract with RCA, and joined those pushing for the wedding.  Elvis felt railroaded with no options, and reluctantly agreed.  Six years later, when the marriage ended, the financial consequences proved enormous (see next item).

E)  To satisfy the demands of the divorce settlement, Elvis needed quick cash, so Parker made a decision that now looks so ill-advised as to be insane:  He sold Elvis’s back catalog to RCA for $5.4 million — everything he recorded prior to 1973.  Some say neither Presley nor Parker could have known how valuable the back catalog would become, but others say that’s nonsense, and that a savvy business manager would have seen the folly in giving it up.  The Presley estate has estimated that the lost royalties from the catalog have been well over $2 billion.

F)  In the music business, a manager typically received a cut of between 10-20%, but incredibly, Parker engineered contracts with Elvis that eventually gave him up to 50% of everything — royalties, merchandise, record sales, concert appearances, the works.  Some of Presley’s inner circle (the “Memphis Mafia,” a group of friends who were with him from the beginning) urged him to stand up to Parker, but he rarely did, for a number of reasons:  naiveté, an inclination to be deferential, gratitude for making him famous, and a resignation exacerbated by the prescription drugs that made him lethargic and ambivalent.  In any case, Parker’s money grab reeks of greed and self-interest at Elvis’s expense. The fact that Parker was in the grips of a serious gambling addiction with huge debts only partly explains the man’s insatiable lust for more than his fair share of Presley’s wealth.

A mock-up of “what might have been”

G)  On more than one occasion, Presley received offers to appear in films or participate in recording sessions with other established artists.  Elvis was Barbra Streisand’s original choice to be her co-star in the huge 1976 film “A Star is Born,” but Parker turned it down because he didn’t want Elvis to be upstaged, nor to play the part of a star on his way down.  Presley was reportedly enraged when he learned of Parker’s decision.  Likewise, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, a huge Elvis fan from way back, wanted to record some material together with Presley in the mid-’70s, but again, Parker said no, fearing the comparisons between Presley and the much younger, fitter Plant.

The heartbreaking upshot of all this, of course, is that the world will never know how much more outstanding work Elvis Presley could have accomplished if given the chance.  Just think if he’d been out on the road, here and abroad, giving more concerts during his peak years.  Imagine him recording much better songs to compete with the higher caliber of material coming from emerging artists at the time.  Fantasize about him jamming with Zeppelin, or John Lennon, or Ray Charles, or who knows who else.   All of it might have been possible if Parker had not stood in his way.

It’s a mighty sad commentary on Parker’s myopic focus on his own self-aggrandizement that, at Parker’s funeral in 1997, where Priscilla Presley delivered the eulogy, she ended it this way:  “Elvis and the Colonel made history together, and the world is richer, better and far more interesting because of their collaboration.  And now I need to locate my wallet, because I noticed there was no ticket booth on the way in here, but I’m sure that the Colonel must have arranged for some toll on the way out.”

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There’s a scene early in the film where Presley is performing at a country music venue, and his electric stage presence ignites something deep down in the young women in attendance. In the words of Parker, whose character narrates the story in retrospect, “If I could find an act that gave the audience feelings they weren’t sure they should enjoy, but did, I could create the greatest show on Earth.” That was Parker’s mission, and he largely achieved it, but not without dire consequences down the road.

At the time of the film’s release in June, Luhrmann had this to say: “If Elvis represented the soul and the ‘new’ in America — the possibility in America, the rags and riches in America, all those positive, very American things — the Colonel represents the sell. The promotion. The branding. The promises. But the more I learned about Parker, the more I saw that it was the sell overwhelming the other side.”

Tom Hanks as the devious “Colonel” Tom Parker

Hanks, who has played mostly admirable characters in his film career, was intrigued by Parker’s paradoxical nature. Said Hanks: “Baz said to me, ‘There would’ve been no Colonel Tom Parker without Elvis. And there certainly would’ve been no Elvis without Colonel Tom Parker.’ And when he said that, I said, ‘Oh, well, okay, now that’s a new take on the Elvis legend.’ Up to that point, my limited understanding of Parker is of this mercurial, puppeteer-like, quasi-evil, greedy manager who took advantage of Elvis from the get-go. The Parker-Presley partnership made some of the most brilliant moves in the history of show business, but because of his own personal problems, Parker felt forced to manipulate his star into doing things detrimental to his career.”

I would be remiss not to mention the eye-opening performance of Austin Butler as The King. Whether he’s performing as Elvis the energetic 20-year-old, or as the sluggish 40-year-old, or just interacting with his family or his posse, Butler has absolutely nailed Presley’s demeanor and mannerisms. He is a joy to watch.

Elvis clearly demonstrates the ways in which Parker was integral in crafting Presley into an icon, but it also doesn’t hold back in exposing the abuses and limitations of that relationship — a paradox and tragedy that Hanks says became the most intriguing driving force in his portrayal. For the devoted Elvis fan, and for the casual observer, Luhrmann’s new movie is an absorbing revelation.

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This playlist includes #1 hits and personal favorites, most of which were featured in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” film.

Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?

Periodically, I use this space to pay homage to artists I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary body of work and a compelling story to tell.  In this essay, I take a closer look at one of the pioneers of progressive rock who went on to become one of rock music’s most popular yet fractious bands ever:  Pink Floyd.

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June 1975.  The four members of Pink Floyd were hard at work in the Abbey Road studio putting finishing touches on the recording of “Wish You Were Here,” their eagerly awaited follow-up LP to “The Dark Side of the Moon,” which had made the band worldwide superstars.

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Syd Barrett, 1975

The centerpiece of the new album was “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a 22-minute track broken into two 11-minute sections to open and close the album.  It was conceived as a tribute to Syd Barrett, their long-lost leader, their founder, their songwriter, their inspiration, who had fallen deep into “LSD-based mental disarray” shortly after the release of the group’s 1967 debut LP, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” and was dismissed from the band shortly thereafter.

As they worked that June night, Pink Floyd failed to notice when a strange-looking obese man wearing a white trenchcoat and shoes, clutching a white bag, wandered into the studio room.  His bald, eyebrow-less face looked ghostlike, and as he puttered around the band’s equipment, guitarist David Gilmour looked up and thought, “Who the hell is that, and why is he here?”

Roger Waters, the band’s bassist and chief songwriter, saw the interloper and stopped dead in his tracks.  He turned to keyboard player Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason and asked, “Do you know who that is?” Wright studied him for a moment, and then said, “Oh my God.  That’s Syd.”

It was an eerie coincidence, or creepy karma, that Barrett would suddenly appear after a five-year absence.  He stayed less than an hour, quietly listening and observing, and Waters said later he broke down in tears at the pitiful sight of his friend, not yet 30 but looking twice that old.  When Barrett left, they never saw him again.  (He had released two largely forgettable solo albums in 1970, and lived a strictly private life in Cambridge, dying of cancer in 2006.)

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Wright, Gilmour, Mason and Waters in 1970

Pink Floyd, born from the ashes of a group called The Tea Set in 1966, has had one of the most tumultuous yet successful careers in rock history.  Their story is fraught with epic internal tension, international #1 albums, clinical madness, floating pigs, bitter rifts between founding members, huge concert tours, and worldwide sales among the highest in the business.

Not bad for a bunch of wayward art students from Cambridge.

Let’s start with a caveat:  Despite the massive sales numbers, Pink Floyd’s oeuvre is certainly not for everyone.  There are broad swaths of music lovers who regard the band with disdain, sniffing, “It’s just boring stoner music.  Give me something I can dance to, dammit!”

Indeed, even Pink Floyd was smart enough to recognize this.  In 1981, they jokingly titled their compilation album “A Collection of Great Dance Songs.”

Floyd fans never got up and danced to their music.  That was most definitely not the point.  This was music that commanded you to sit down and listen.

Pink Floyd’s stock in trade began as experimental psychedelic rock that soon evolved into what came to be known as progressive rock, which uses rich musical textures and enigmatic lyrics to challenge the limits of rock and roll.  At its best, Pink Floyd’s music was almost overwhelming in its complexity and nuance, its mesmerizing grace and sublime brilliance, its experimentalism and radical departure.

Pink Floyd in concert, 1977

The fact that they ended up as commercially successful as they have been is, in many ways, puzzling.  Let’s examine the stats:  According to Business Insider, Pink Floyd ranks ninth in all-time sales in the US, with 75 million units sold (and worldwide sales of 250 million).  The group’s signature LP, “Dark Side of the Moon,” spent an absurd 741 weeks (that’s more than 14 years!) on the US Billboard Top 200 album chart, an achievement unlikely to be surpassed (in second place is Bob Marley’s “Legends” collection, at 386).  “Dark Side” has sold 40 million copies worldwide, and still sells about 200,000 a year.  It has been estimated that one in every six households in the US has a copy of the album, and that someone, somewhere, is playing it right this minute.

Pink Floyd’s story is much like a three-act play.  Act I covers its inception to the departure of Barrett.  Act II would be the period from roughly 1968 through their heyday to the point where Waters acrimoniously splits.  Act III takes us from 1984 to present day.

Act I:

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Syd Barrett, 1967

Syd Barrett had been a childhood friend of Roger Waters when they were growing up in Cambridge, and was asked to join the group Waters had started with Nick Mason and Richard Wright, who he had met in architecture school in London.  Barrett quickly emerged as the main songwriter, singer, guitarist and front man, and nearly every song they recorded was composed by Barrett.

Named after two obscure blues guitarists — Pink Anderson and Floyd Council — they were a huge success in England from the start, first in the clubs of the London Underground with their trippy performances, and then on the charts.  Two hit singles (“Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”) and the astonishing “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” LP were all Top Five on the charts there.  Musical peers like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson has said, “Pink Floyd was colorful, creative and meaningful.  Syd Barrett’s songs were strange and funny, and they stretched my boundaries.  It’s as if they presented paintings as words and sounds.”

“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” 1967
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But Barrett was quickly unraveling from his unfortunate penchant for taking LSD on nearly a daily basis in the summer and fall of 1967.  It made him unproductive, disruptive and maddeningly frustrating to deal with, both on stage and in the studio. Within months, it became abundantly clear that he had gone beyond the pale.  The rest of the group, desperate to keep their momentum, recruited Barrett’s old school chum David Gilmour, at first just to fill in Barrett’s guitar parts in concert, but ultimately, to take his place in the band’s permanent lineup.  It was a momentous change.

Waters in particular found it painful to cut Barrett loose, but he knew it was absolutely necessary.  “Pink Floyd couldn’t have happened without (Syd),” Waters said, “but on the other hand, it couldn’t have gone on with him.”

Act II:

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One of Pink Floyd’s most memorable album covers: “Ummagumma,” 1969

The new lineup forged ahead, with Waters taking over most of the songwriting, although several tracks on the next few albums were credited to all four members.  The material they recorded on “A Saucerful of Secrets,” “Ummagumma” and “Atom Heart Mother” continued to explore new and strange sounds in the same spacey, psychedelic vein they had introduced, and the British audiences and record buyers continued to lap it up.

meddle

But all of these early records made barely a dent in the US, except among devotees listening to underground FM radio.  It wasn’t until 1971’s “Meddle,” which included the hypnotic, relentless, otherworldly “One Of These Days” and the 23-minute opus “Echoes” that American listeners started paying closer attention.  Still, the album stalled at #70, and its followup, “Obscured By Clouds,” a soundtrack to the French film “La Vallee,” managed only #46 here.

That all changed in March 1973 when “Dark Side of the Moon” was released. Now we were hearing heartbeats, ticking clocks, a cash register, a helicopter, maniacal laughter, mesmerizing synthesizer riffs, amazing guitar passages… and the voices.  Waters taped technicians, friends, even the studio door security guy, saying various things, scripted and unscripted, and dropped them strategically into the mix.

“There is no dark side of the moon…Matter of fact, it’s all dark…”

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The band in the studio, 1974

Most important, the music and lyrics had been carefully crafted over many months in the studio to be less eccentric and more appealing to a broader audience.  It hit a nerve among high school and college kids, who were spending untold hours in their bedrooms and dorm rooms under the headphones, spellbound by the lushly produced, technically proficient recordings.  Waters was now clearly in charge of the songwriting, and he was obsessed with the subject of madness and the things that make people insane — money, time, modern life.  Motivated partly by the sad fate of his old friend and partly by his own caustic view of societal injustices, Waters and the boys found a way, as Rolling Stone‘s Mikal Gilmore put it, “to make a thoughtful and imaginative statement about grim modern realities that somehow managed to soothe you with its nightmares.”

It should be mentioned that each Pink Floyd album cover broke new ground in artistic audacity.  Hipgnosis, a London-based outfit, collaborated with the band to devise extraordinarily astounding images that contributed mightily to the excitement of every new Floyd release. The artwork for “Dark Side” is one of the most recognizable covers in rock music history.

The band spent more than a year on the road worldwide doing sold-out shows in promotion of “Dark Side,” with increasingly arresting visuals augmenting the mind-bending music.  But as often happens to bands who achieve such widespread success seemingly overnight, they struggled mightily about what to do next.  Waters and Gilmour were already at odds about the direction they should take, and Waters’ uncomfortable moodiness made life difficult in the creative laboratory of the recording studio.  But Gilmour had come up with a mesmerizing four-note riff that Waters thought was a perfect foundation for a long piece he wanted to write about both the loneliness and brotherhood he felt for Barrett and his dissolution.

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From the “Wish You Were Here” album cover photo shoot

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” — and the acoustic guitar-based “Wish You Were Here” — were the Barrett tributes that became the centerpieces for the “Wish You Were Here” LP, widely regarded as a thoroughly worthy follow-up to “Dark Side.”  Just as important were the tracks that decried the submission of the human race (“Welcome to the Machine”) and the way the band was now treated by the profit-motivated record label (“Have a Cigar”).  The group felt no need to sit for interviews, and in fact, they cherished their individual privacy, something most bands were happily willing to sacrifice in the name of fame.  No matter:  The album went straight to #1 in multiple countries.

As Wright put it, “I particularly like that record, the atmospherics.  I think the best material from the Floyd was when two or three of us co-wrote something together.  Afterwards, we lost that.  There was no longer that interplay of ideas.”

Indeed, Waters took control almost completely for “Animals” (1977) and the sprawling “The Wall” (1979), Pink Floyd’s next two LPs.  He insisted on handling virtually all the music and lyrics, and even stage design, props (a gigantic inflatable pig?) and laser-show lighting.  Their lyrics — particularly for the bloated double album “The Wall” —  continued Waters’ increasingly bleak worldview and his obsession with gloom, mental breakdowns and alienation, which, in turn, alienated the rest of the band.  “Do we have to revisit all this yet again?” questioned Wright, who Waters fired during the album’s recording, yet rehired “as a sideman” for the subsequent tour.

Both albums reinforced the band’s reign as the world’s top concert draw at the time.  “The Wall” gave them their improbable #1 hit single, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II).”  But the internal dissension was growing exponentially — “None of us has ever been the best of friends,” noted Gilmour — and communication was nearly nonexistent, much like the relationship between the band and its audience once Waters executed his desire to build an actual wall of imitation concrete blocks on stage, taking the message of isolation to its extreme.

Somehow, the band managed to stay together until, in 1982, Waters presented the group with another concept and a batch of mostly-completed songs.  This time Gilmour balked, saying he thought the material wasn’t up to snuff — and indeed, most of the tracks were rejects from “The Wall” sessions.  Nevertheless, they recorded the underwhelming “The Final Cut,” which turned out to be the final Pink Floyd album in which Waters participated.

It reached #6 and sold two million copies in the US, but you rarely hear any cuts from it, on classic radio or anywhere else.  It was a deflating end to a marvelous reign.

Act III:

“A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” 1987

In 1984-85, court battles over the rights to use the Pink Floyd name (the “brand”) pitted Waters against his former mates in one of the deepest, ugliest splits in rock history, more public even than The Beatles’ infamous breakup.  Waters lost, and Gilmour, Mason and Wright kept the Pink Floyd name in the news with 1987’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” a solid album and tour that maintained the band’s momentum for the rest of the ’80s. Gilmour’s immediately recognizable guitar and vocals carried the day (much to Waters’ consternation) on tracks like “Learning to Fly” and “On the Turning Away.”

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David Gilmour on stage, 2004

The threesome topped the charts yet again in 1994 with “The Division Bell,” not their best LP by a long shot but ravenously embraced by a fan base that only seemed to grow since the ’70s. One last Floyd LP, entitled “The Endless River,” was released in 2014, truly a “scraping the bottom of the barrel” collection of discarded snippets from previous sessions, barely worth mentioning.

Gilmour had been occasionally releasing solo albums since as far back as 1978, and his strong 2006 LP, “On an Island,” reached #6 in the US, a welcome rush of Floydian music for the band’s starved fans.  A tour at that time, and another in support of 2015’s “Rattle That Lock,” met with praise and enthusiastic crowds.

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Roger Waters performing, 2007

Waters, in the meantime, produced a series of far less successful solo albums — “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” (1982), “Radio K.A.O.S.” (1987) and “Amused to Death” (1992) — and a couple of well-received tours (including a star-studded tour promoting “The Wall”) featured new songs interspersed with the best of the Pink Floyd repertoire.  He’s still at it today, participating in the landmark Desert Tour shows on the Coachella grounds in 2016 (some say he was the highlight} and perhaps his best solo LP, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” in 2017.

Live 8 London - Stage

As is often the case when bands split up, the various entities did reasonably well, but certainly not as successful as they would have been together.  An uneasy truce was reached for a couple of one-off appearances in 2005-2007, and the band members no longer publicly badmouth each other.  But it’s clear they’ll never record together again, and the band’s catalog will not see any further entries (outside of endless re-packages).

But Pink Floyd’s legacy as one of rock’s true giants remains intact, and one of the music business’s most interesting tales, with a recorded output that rivals damn near any band in history.

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