Supererog/Ation: skimming The Early Years
Nine years ago the Reverend made the remark that any new Pink Floyd release will create some 'controversy between the fans, the (ex-)band members and/or record company' (Fasten Your Anoraks).
Almost a decade later, with the release of Pink Floyd The Early Years 1965-1972, nothing has changed. Actually it only got worse.
Pink Floyd have always been a pretty hypocritical band when it comes to making money. There is nothing bad about trying to make a good living, obviously, but when you start selling inferior material for overabundant prices it's like spitting the fans in their face. Not that anyone of them would do that.
Of course nobody is obliged to buy The Early Years box (approx. 500 Euro and limited to 28000 copies) but I duly admit: I am an absolute sucker for anything with the Floyd name on it. And perhaps it's a nice pick-up line: “Wanna see my Early Years box?”
The Early Years is a somewhat directionless, but nevertheless interesting, 28 CD, DVD and Blu-ray box containing demos, live tapes (some of bootleg quality), unreleased tracks, rarities, vinyl singles, movies and a 2016 remix of Obscured By Clouds. Someone must have said at a direction committee: 'you know what, we haven't got enough material on our Obfusc/Ation disk, let's throw in an Obscured By Clouds-remix'. Not that you hear me complain, Obscured By Clouds is in my personal top three, before Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, but it does feel a bit awkward.
For this box, Pink Floyd didn't make the silly mistake of adding marbles, scarves or toasters, like in the Immersion sets. There are plenty of mini-posters, postcards, ticket replicas and other printed items though, for those who like that. (Personally, I tend to ignore that rubble.) An image of some of those, thanks to RobNl, can be found on Imgur. Another shot can be found at the Church's Tumblr: (Un)Packing The Early Years #12.
The box has a simplistic, black and white theme, but is... too big. The outside box is about 41 x 22 x 31 cm, but the actual set tucked inside only takes 19 x 20 x 14.5 cm. It doesn't take an Einstein to calculate that 80% of the box is made of... empty spaces. (Sorry, I really couldn't resist that pun.) I have put the outside box on top of a wardrobe, where it will probably stay for the rest of my miserable life. Picture: (Un)Packing The Early Years #6.
The 'inner box' contains 7 book-boxes, with ridiculously bombastic cut/up names. 6 of those will be sold separately over the next few months, the seventh is a bonus set, exclusive to this release alone. That's why I was waving so enthusiastically with my wallet. Picture: (Un)Packing The Early Years #14.
The one gadget everyone I have spoken to really wants, me included, is the Pink Floyd 'matchbox' miniature van. Alas, these have been made for promotional use only and will probably fetch high prices on eBay.
Update November 2016: meanwhile a Pink Floyd miniature van has been sold on eBay for the whopping price of 310£ (385$, 364 €), Tumblr link.
The quality of the book-boxes is not optimal. On the web are already circulating pictures of pages that are falling out of the sets. Apparently they have been glued rather flimsily to the spine. Taking out a disk is always a matter of trial and error, and the first CD I picked broke one of the plastic 'teeth' holding it.
The inside pages contain pictures of the band, unfortunately the printing is rather average, although the 'later' sets in my box seem to be slightly better. Each set also contains a booklet with 'copyrights', thank you notes, a brief introduction by Mark Blake and seven times the same text by film archivist Lana Topham, for whatever reason, although I suppose sloppiness from the editor. These texts are printed in grey on brownish paper, making it nearly impossible to read them anyway.
If it breathes something, it breathes cheap instead of zen.
When the box was announced, a couple of months ago, in the same amateurish way The Endless River was made public, the track-listing had some important differences, as it listed 5.1 mixes for Meddle and Obscured By Clouds. These can't be found on the released set (well, kind of) for reasons that seem to be taken out of a Neighbours episode.
It all starts with the fact that Pink Floyd has had several re-mixing specialists over the years, notably James Guthrie and Andy Jackson, who, in true soap-series tradition, hate each-other's guts as they belong to rivalling factions.
Andy Jackson, from the David Gilmour camp, was asked to create the 5.1 mixes for Meddle and Obscured By Clouds and handed these over to Mark Fenwick, who is Roger Waters' manager. Mark was a good dog and passed these to Roger, for approval.
Roger Waters remembered that these remixes had originally been promised to his protégé James Guthrie and when he found out that the 'other side' had done these, without consulting him, he threw a tantrum like a kicked poodle.
So this is, in a nutshell, why the genius of Pink Floyd vetoed against the inclusion of the Andy Jackson 5.1 mixes, although liner notes and promotion material had already been printed. All that had to be redone and the 5.1 disks that had already been pressed were for the dustbin.
Before somebody could say 'several species of small furry animals' the rift between the David Gilmour and Roger Waters camp was back in place and it seems that it won't be solved in the near future.
So the Obscured By Clouds and Meddle 5.1 mixes are not in the box, right? Wrong. Well, partially wrong.
It was found out that the 1971 Blu-ray contains a hidden segment with the complete Meddle 5.1 mix. However, you can't play it on a regular Blu-ray player as one needs to extract the files to a computer first (or burn them on another Blu-ray with the hidden files set to visible).
Apparently this is not an Easter egg but a simple mistake. Or an act of Insubordin/Ation. Take your pick. Instead of deleting the Meddle 5.1 mix from the disk the Floyd's technical leprechaun only deleted the shortcut from the menu.
Keep on smiling, people.
The week before the box got released there was an impromptu announcement of the record company.
Pink Floyd fans ordering 'The Early Years 1965-1972’ will get an extra piece of the band’s history.
The box-set will now also include a supplementary disc featuring the band’s seminal Live At Pompeii concert as a 2016 audio mix.
The 6 tracks totalling over 67 minutes include live versions of 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene', 'Set the Controls For The Heart Of The Sun', 'One of These Days', 'A Saucerful Of Secrets', ‘Echoes' and an alternative take of 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene’.
The truth is slightly different. When the sets were already made and put in the boxes for shipping a bright brain decided it was about time to check if the disks really contained what was printed on the booklets. Only then it was found out that the Obfusc/Ation set did not have Obscured By Clouds, but the Pompeii soundtrack. By then it was too late to open 28000 shrink wrapped boxes and replace the disks, so the Obscured remix was put in a carton sleeve and thrown on top of The Early Years box set, before closing the brown shipping parcel. Picture: (Un)Packing The Early Years #2.
At least the carton sleeve has the guts to say the truth:
REPLACEMENT CD DISC FOR OBFUSC/ATION
PFREY6 – CD
(STEREO 2016 MIX OF PINK FLOYD 'LIVE AT POMPEII' CD SUPPLIED IN ERROR)
Some quality control, huh? By the way, the 5.1 Obscured By Clouds mix is not in the box, but you probably already figured that out.
Update: some boxes seem to come without the Obscured replacement disk, as was expected...
(For those interested, the Pompeii CD contains an extra take of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, but no Mademoiselle Nobs. The box also has the Pompeii movie, without the interviews, without the singing dog, but in the director's cut version, so I have read. Another Indic/Ation that the Floyd team doesn't seem to know what lives in the fan community as that version of the movie is mostly regarded as inferior to the original.)
Update: the new 'mix' of Obscured By Clouds is (to quote Cenobyte) 'too top endy'. The mix generally repairs the muddiness of the original mix and brings everything out in a brilliant way, but adds this layer on top and that kind of ruins it. Some posters even think that something went wrong during the mastering process. (The same applies to the new Pompeii mix as well.)
Several Floydian movies can be found in the box, but some come without English subtitles. This may not be a very big problem for More but La Vallée is basically spoken in Frenglish. And of course these boxes are shipped all over the world, to places were people are not familiar with the English language and could use subtitles.
It only feeds the rumour that the Floyd randomly added things onto the disks, just to fill them up, regardless of quality.
(Note: in my box, The Committee, that is on another Blu-ray than More and La Vallée, does have subtitles, even in Dutch.)
The Committee's soundtrack does not contain music from Pink Floyd alone. One, pretty famous scene has underground colleague Arthur Brown singing Nightmare, but his name is not mentioned at all in the booklet. It is weird that a band that scrutinises YouTube looking for copyright infringements neglects Mr. Brown's rights.
As a matter of fact Pink Floyd even censored Nightmare from Arthur Brown's personal YouTube place, a few months ago, because they claimed his song hurt their copyrights. Unfortunately Arthur Brown doesn't have a legion of lawyers to fight this.
Don't ask a slice of my pie, how utterly convenient.
Some of the tracks on this Compil/Ation are from inferior or bootleg quality. We know that and can live with that.
But what if we say that the Pink Floyd mastering team deliberately ignored some good takes and put inferior ones in the box?
Seems unthinkable for a band that used to flirt with high-end quadrophonic effects.
The 1967 BBC radio sessions, for instance, are in a bad quality, examples are 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun', 'Reaction in G' and 'Pow R Toc H' that is even incomplete.
It needs to be said that Pink Floyd consulted the official BBC archives but these are in a bad state. The BBC had a habit of erasing their own masters and only has copies of the Pink Floyd 1967 gig 'taken' from the air.
Top collectors, those that have the 'holy grails', informed the Floyd that (a copy of?) the masters of the 1967 recording are in a private collection but the Floyd didn't find it necessary to check this out. Andy Jackson received high quality stereo copies of the BBC recordings from at least two sources but the powers that be decided to use the inferior mono tapes instead.
Isn't is ironic that the 'bootleg' community has better versions of these Pink Floyd live tapes and early acetates than the band itself and that they are giving them away for free? The Floyd has thanked them by shutting down Harvested and threatening to shutdown Yeeshkul in the past. (More of these vicious rumours at: The loathful Mr. Loasby and other stories... )
Just as with the Immersion sets some Blu-rays come with errors, in this case (as far as we know): the 1972 'Obfusc/ation' Blu-ray and bonus package 'Continu/ation' Blu-ray 1. According to several testimonies the menu screen loads, but halts there. You better check out your version before it is too late.
Fans were happy to find out that Seabirds was finally going to find a place on this collection. Seabirds is a song written by Roger Waters for the More movie, where it can be heard during a party scene, but it does not appear on the soundtrack album.
The song in the box though with the same title is not the one fans were looking for but an alternate take of the instrumental Quicksilver. God knows why this was erroneously labelled, but once again it seems that the Floyd historians didn't do their homework right and just threw songs on a CD without checking them out first.
Pink Floyd itself issued a statement, trying not to make it sound as an apology. It appears that the master tape of the 'real' Seabirds was given to the movie producers who used it for their final cut and who destroyed the only copy afterwards.
While Pink Floyd is not to blame for that mishap we can at least say they have been badly communicating to their fans about this track, but Communic/Ation has never been the Floyd's strongest point.
(Another possible mistake can be found on the Stockholm disk where the first instrumental number is titled Reaction In G while most scholars think it is another 'untitled' instrumental, loosely based upon Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk. This was already published by the Church in 2011 so the Floyd had plenty of time to correct this. See also: EMI blackmails Pink Floyd fans!)
At 500 Euro a box this is a pretty hefty Christmas present, especially when you realise that at least 85% of the box has been circulating before, on bootlegs. Of course it is true that some visual material has been beautifully restored and some audio tracks sound crispier than ever. Other tracks have just been added for the sake of adding them, so it seems. Anything in the bin we can still use?
There are still plenty of tracks not in the box that the fans were hoping for. It has already been confirmed that one of these will be issued as a Vinyl Record Store Day exclusive.
Somehow I have the feeling that during the Cre/Ation of this set, that took twenty years, the energy went lost, or the interest. Perhaps there was a lack of time when the deadline came closer. Perhaps a greedy manager decided that they had already spend too much money on it. Perhaps Waters and Gilmour, and their servants Guthrie and Jackson, have been busy rolling over the floor fighting, rather than working together, in a cooperative way.
This could have been such an exquisite rarities box, an example for other bands to follow, if only the Floyd had put some extra effort in it, if only the Floyd had consulted their fanbase that gathers at specialised music forums.
Nick Mason, the gentleman drummer, probably takes better care of his cars than he takes care of his musical legacy.
"Those ungrateful fans, it took us 20 years to make this box and Felix Atagong, the Reverend of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit, just needed 20 minutes to trash it."
Update: this post was only published for about an hour when a new 'error' was published on one of the forums.
Belgian TV footage (1968): while the image transfer is great,
Pink Floyd made a stupid mistake by overdubbing the video with the
regular stereo versions instead of the original 'mono' sound. This leads
to the following errors:
1. The stereo Paintbox is about 15 seconds shorter than the mono version, the last seconds of the clip are almost silent while there was still music during the original TV broadcast.
2. An unique early version of Corporal Clegg with an alternate ending has been replaced with the common stereo version.
3. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun has lost the early mono mix that was used instead of the album version.
Video transfers. Frame rates differ between 'vintage' movies and digital technologies like DVD and Blu-ray. When old movies are transferred to digital they have to be 'stretched' which is a pretty straightforward process. However, one may not stretch the soundtrack the same way because it will result in a sound distortion. Guess what, at least one movie in the box runs with half a tone difference than originally recorded.
So here is another case where bootlegs have it right and the official version has it wrong. Bunch of amateurs!
There are really too many people to thank for this article, but much kudos go to Ron Toon and the dozens of others who gave valuable information on the Steve Hoffman Music Forum (304 pages!), another thread on the Steve Hoffman Forum (72 pages!), Yeeshkul (161 pages!) and A Fleeting Glimpse (106 pages!). Sleeve illustrations by a forum member whose post I can't find back any more, anyway thanks!
20 pictures of the (un)packing of the box can be found at the Church's Tumblr: The Early Years.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥