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The icon that Pink Floyd initially wanted to replace Syd Barrett

The ‘Swinging Sixties‘ was a momentous time for music and society as a whole. The only other period of time it can be linked to is the ‘Roaring Twenties’. The second decade of the twentieth century was an equally significant decade, one characterised by hope, hedonism and groundbreaking advancements in fashion and music. In fact, the ’20s are most often referred to as the ‘Jazz Age’, which gives you a definitive flavour of the time. 

Looping back to the initial point, though, on both sides of the Atlantic, the ’60s characterised nothing short of a tectonic shift in society. Now known often disparagingly as the ‘Baby Boomers’, the young hopeful generation that spearheaded this wave were spurred on by technological advancements that allowed their ideas to be fully realised – something that the libertines of the ’20s were not duly afforded. 

If you cast your mind back and pick out the key moments/icons of the ’60s, you will see that the era is brimming with crucial historical moments and figures. The first man on the moon, Beatlemania, ‘The British Invasion’, Woodstock ’69, the assassinations of both JFK and Martin Luther King, all whilst the spectre’s of the Vietnam and Cold War’s loomed large over it all.

The music soundtracked the events, just as the events informed the music. The Beatles came to embody the ethos of the generation with ‘All You Need Is Love’, and Jimi Hendrix pioneered electric guitar playing. However, as the decade was marred by varying degrees of struggle, there was a dark side to it all, from which music could not escape. If we shift our focus to the death of the Rolling Stones founder, Brian Jones, which was attributed to “misadventure”, therein lies our point.

A decade of pushing the boundaries of things that’s limits hadn’t yet been discovered, mainly drug abuse, the ’60s paved the way for everything that followed, musically and otherwise. It is easy to categorise any event from the ’60s into one of two camps, ‘adventure’ or ‘misadventure’. Music and popular culture were indeed taken on a groundbreaking odyssey by groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, among others but suffered many casualties. If you note the members of the notorious ’27 club’, this rings true, Jones and Hendrix ranking among them.

Another of these casualties was Pink Floyd‘s founder and guitarist, Syd Barrett. Not a member of the ’27 club’ by a long shot, the shaggy-haired genius would still find himself on the receiving end of the decade’s more sinister side. He was nothing short of a tormented soul, whose experiments with LSD are widely signified to have pushed his fragile ideation over the edge. To get a flavour of it, one can dip into any point on the Floyd’s 1967 debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, to heed this. 

Pink Floyd had the troubling task of replacing Syd Barrett. (Credit: Rogelio A. Galaviz C)

Embodying an early warning of the dangers of extensive drug abuse and the need for support of mental health issues, Syd Barrett‘s departure from Pink Floyd in April 1968 is regarded as a significant point in the band’s long career. The succession of guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour in December 1967 would take the band to unprecedented heights both commercially and artistically. 

However, as this period was one of perpetual shoulder-rubbing, there was another iconic musician who was touted by Pink Floyd as Barrett’s natural successor. In 2005, drummer Nick Mason revealed all in his autobiography Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. The rhythmic maestro recalled that the band wanted Jeff Beck to replace Barrett on guitar, but “none of us had the nerve to ask him”. 

The thought of the virtuoso Beck in Pink Floyd is dizzying; as one of the most iconic guitarists du jour, this would have been a brilliant and exciting combination. However, given that Beck has always followed his own path, doubts have been cast on this combination working out, and the marriage of Pink Floyd with school friend David Gilmour is something that cannot be understated. 

In fact, in a 2010 conversation with Alice Cooper, Beck weighed in on the situation. In the discussion, Cooper told Beck that the band were too afraid of asking him to join them, to which he replies, “How incredible is that? I never even thought they would have given me the light of day. How strange.”

Whilst the thought of Beck in Pink Floyd might get you excited, it is just one of many examples of the revolving doors of music in that raucous time. Beck would receive many such offers in his career, but that is a story for a different day.

Watch Jeff Beck discuss Pink Floyd, below.