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Music

Watch Pink Floyd make their 1967 US TV debut in colour

You never forget your first time. For Pink Floyd, they performed for the first time on American television in 1967. Appearing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, the band performed a stirring rendition of ‘Apples and Oranges’, making it one of the very few times an American audience got to see Syd Barrett sing one of his idiosyncratic tunes in public. 

Roguishly handsome and elegantly dressed, Barrett commands the attention of the camera, but drummer Nick Mason also looks well, sporting a tidy handlebar moustache. Keyboardist Richard Wright tended to disappear into the background throughout Pink Floyd’s 30-year career, but it is odd to see bassist Roger Waters – who would later compose rock operas Animals and The Wall – take a more subsidiary role during the footage. 

Indeed, Waters is more focused on his instrument than he is on grabbing the audience’s attention away from Barrett, but the singer isn’t particularly flashy either. The performance holds an impish quality to it, something Mason recalled with great fondness in later years. 

“From ’65 to the beginning of ’67, we were a really amateur band,” the percussionist told Rolling Stone. “It’s funny because if I could add up the hours of actual drum playing I did between birth and 1966, it’d be, I don’t know, 100, 150 hours. I didn’t practice. I didn’t study. I just had a drum kit and played with my friends for fun. A year later, I’d probably put in 700 hours.”

They all look strikingly young, three of them happily clean-shaven, while Mason looks younger still, despite boasting facial hair. In many ways, they look a little uncomfortable, caught in the middle of a media storm, aching to return to their hotel rooms, far away from the prying audience. 

The quartet are going through the motions and retreating into their own bubble, from which they might not wish to return. As it happens, Barrett couldn’t fit into the world of rock icons and famously tried to vacate himself from it. The band found a replacement in David Gilmour, and although Pink Floyd went on to enjoy greater success without Barrett, they lost some of the charm that they boasted under his watchful eye. He came closest to being the band’s bonafide frontman, so the group made the concerted effort to divide vocals among themselves on future albums to make up for the lack of Barrett. 

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As ever with Barrett’s material, the lyrics are obscure, opaque yet tinged with immense sadness and beauty, albeit laced with opportunity and restraint. It’s about everything and nothing, attractions and deviations, distinctions and similarities, apples and oranges. Bolstered by a stinging riff, the tune is punctuated by an ominous chorus, where Waters and Wright join their leader in letting their inner choirboy sing out to the world around them. The single, one of the more memorable from the Barrett era, is awash with contradiction, offering a more unvarnished view of the world to the more polemically tinted rock numbers from the late 1970s. 

Behind Barrett comes the sound of Mason’s rattling drums, embellishing the rock heavy backdrop with a series of barrelling patterns, each more aggressive than the one that came before it. The focus is on the cymbals, not the bass pedal, and the tune shimmies along, playing to a slow, unhurried pace. It’s textbook Pink Floyd, embodying a lethargy that’s categorically English in outlook, in direct comparison to the urgency of their American hard-rocking peers. 

Waters would return to this form of detachment on his 1973 masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon, a probing dissertation on man’s many failings, a work that was inspired in part by Barrett. Drawn to the wilder side of the human psyche, Waters constructed a work that was far-reaching in its outlook, and universal in its values. What it lacked in the demonstration, it more than made up for in depth and density, and what it lacked in instrumental flourish, it compensated by way of its narrative text. In many ways, The Dark Side of the Moon isn’t a concept album, it is the concept album, and should be revered under that self-appointed title. 

The songs that made the band famous were also the tunes that typified the band’s modus operandi, as a quartet of precocious musicians. It’s impossible to imagine the band curating a rock record based on the performance, but it is possible to discern some of the flavours of their later work from their expressions in this clip. Whether you saw it in black and white or fleshed out in kaleidoscopic palettes, one thing is for sure: this is a performance that is worth watching.