Remembering ‘Moonhead’, the extraordinary Pink Floyd moon landing jam-session from 1969
Some people may find themselves arguing with conspiracy theorists about whether America really did land on the moon in 1969. But we get into a heated debate in the Far Out offices about the perfect soundtrack to accompany landing on an extraterrestrial planet. Luckily, the debate was quickly resolved as we remembered that like most things in rock and roll—Pink Floyd did it first.
In 1969, with one of the most historic moments of the human race taking place in front of the eyes of the world, Pink Floyd found themselves soundtracking the seminal moment in global history using their brains and their instruments. As Neil Armstrong stepped on to that glowing rock in the sky, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason were tuning up to provide some welcomed reprieve.
David Gilmour told The Guardianin 2009 of the unprecedented experience, “We were in a BBC TV studio jamming to the landing. It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other. I was 23.” It was an event that came early in Gilmour’s career in the band, having joined in 1968, and it provided another note of merit on Pink Floyd’s growing musical CV as well as an early contender for the best “I’ll tell the grandkids about that”.
The basic premise of their appearance on BBC during one of the most viewed television programmes of all time would be that Pink Floyd would provide some musical interludes during the broadcast. The show itself was the first time the BBC had ever run a schedule overnight and they were clearly a little worried about dead air ensuring people turned off the televisions. So between presenter James Burke’s comments, interludes from Ian McKellen and Judi Dench plus special moon-centric bulletins and children’s shows, Pink Floyd would provide an ample soundtrack capable of lift-off on its own.
Gilmour said: “They were broadcasting the moon landing and they thought that to provide a bit of a break they would show us jamming. It was only about five minutes long. The song was called Moonhead – it’s a nice, atmospheric, spacey, 12-bar blues.”
It really is too. The jam session, a skill that Pink Floyd would perfect well beyond their contemporaries, is an almost faultless piece of music and though it may not have been played directly as the Lunar Module descended on to that dusty old rock, in our heads, it would’ve and still does fit perfectly. It ranges from atmospheric to jubilant, from poised to existential, and everything in between.
Gilmour notes that he remembered, “At the time being in my flat in London, gazing up at the moon, and thinking, ‘there are actually people standing up there right now’. It brought it home to me powerfully, that you could be looking up at the moon and there would be people standing on it.”
Although Gilmour admitted that: “It was fantastic to be thinking that we were in there making up a piece of music, while the astronauts were standing on the moon,” but he was keen to point out that it didn’t affect their direction of music. Floyd and their principal lyricist of the time, Roger Waters, instead were “looking more into going inwards, going into the inner space of the human mind and condition. And I think that was sort of the end of our exploration into outer space.”
While the landing may not have inspired Pink Floyd to write the next psych-rock space epic, it would allow a huge audience to connect them with a seminal moment in history through the otherworldly connection of music. It also allowed Pink Floyd to further make their imprint on the British music scene.
So, if you ever find yourself in a heated debate about music, always double-check that Pink Floyd didn’t already do it because if they did, well, they probably did it better than anyone else could have.