Pink Floyd’s sprawling, progressive, psychedelic epic, “Echoes” still holds its magic after all these years.
This week, admittedly, we’re on a bit of a history kick, and have been taking our cues each day from out of the catacombs of music history. Yesterday, we looked at The Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden”, and talked a lot about Ringo Starr. And today, we’ve got our eyes trained on Pink Floyd’s 1971 tour to Melbourne, Australia, part of the Atom Heart Mother World Tour.
On August 13th in 1971, Pink Floyd played their first concert at the Festival Hall in Melbourne. The set list included “Atom Heart Mother”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, “Echoes”, along with others. While the tour was named after “Atom Heart Mother” and included many songs, today we’ll be focusing on “Echoes”, the most complex and interesting of them.
But before we get into “Echoes”, let’s take a look at the album it first appeared on.
“Meddle” was Pink Floyd’s sixth album, which was written and recorded during their tour in 1971, then later released in October. The experimental songs on it foreshadow the later, more conceptual albums like “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals”. But this was also a Pink Floyd in transition, figuring out how to find their own sound after the departure of Syd Barrett.
“Meddle” included five tracks on the first side of its LP, totaling twenty-three minutes, and “Echoes” on the second side, with a run time of twenty-three minutes. While they’d experimented with longer tracks such as “Atom Heart Mother”, “Echoes” was still relatively new territory for Pink Floyd. Most notably, it marked the beginning of their move from psychedelic to progressive rock. As such, the concert goers in Melbourne must have been taken aback by the sprawling and occassionally chaotic masterpiece. But I doubt they were disappointed.
“Echoes” begins with an amplified “ping” which repeats throughout the intro and finds its way back several times throughout the song. Like Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, David Gilmour pulls us into the melody with an extended solo as the rest of the band slowly comes together, crashing into a mini-climax that leads into the first verse.
The catchiest, and perhaps best written section is the instrumental chorus following the verses. Its dark, chromatic movement from A to C# somehow sounds familiarly haunting and gentle at the same time. If it sounds too familiar, and if you’re a fan of musicals, it might be because the passage is identical to one in “The Phantom of the Opera”, by Andrew Lloyd Weber.
At seven minutes, about a third of the way into “Echoes”, begins an instrumental change led by Waters’ rocking bass and squealing, distorted solo by Gilmour. The solo erodes over the next four minutes, segueing into the weird, experimental nonsense in the middle of the song. A section that is probably the main reason why in later versions “Echoes” was heavily edited down to be more accessible.
The shrieking, at times unbearable midpoint goes on a bit too long. Four minutes, to be precise. At the fifteen minute mark, the squeals die down, and we’re reintroduced to the “ping”. From here, we take another four-minute journey to build the energy back up, and then spit us back out into a vocal-led verse.
The last four minutes of “Echoes” brings the song full circle. We get another few repetitions of the chromatic A to C#, which then builds to a final climax. Then the last two minutes take us away with an outro instrumental and solo by Gilmour.
“Echoes” is undoubtedly a masterpiece and a colossal achievement. It’s structurally well-crafted, musically bold, and lyrically vibrant and mysterious. However, I do find myself wincing occassionally through the too-long middle section. It’s experimentally improvisational at best. At worst, it’s a shrieking nightmare that tests listeners’ ability to endure a cornucopia of horrors. Headphones not recommended. Unless of course, you’re into auditory torture.
All that being said, “Echoes” is still one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs. But the edited version is definitely easier to listen to.
That about wraps up our discussion for today. I hope you enjoyed listening to “Echoes”. Just make sure you have the time to listen to the whole thing. It really is worth it.
We’ll be back tomorrow with another song to help get you through the week.