Pink Floyd are known as the king’s of the abstract — the premier adherents of the concept album. Whilst not the first band by a long shot to have explored the notion of an album as a unified body of work, Pink Floyd are its most well-known proponent. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966), the Beatles’ Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and the Who’s Tommy (1969) are widely regarded as the first true examples of the concept album.
However, if we were to move forward from the haze of 1960s into the murk of ’70s, after the flower-power dream had died, you would see that this is the decade that Pink Floyd truly flourished. Founder and frontman, the unmistakable Syd Barrett, left the band in April 1968 owing to severe mental health problems. Curiously, due to Barrett’s ongoing erratic behaviour, in December 1967, friend and guitarist David Gilmour was invited to join the band as an emergency “standby”. This invite was extended as Barrett’s on-stage performances had become nothing short of dire, given the fact he was rapt by LSD use. This is also credited with adding to Barrett’s severe mental illness. Both the dangers of LSD use and mental health issues were not discussed back in the late ’60s.
Coming back to David Gilmour, though, his accession to the band would solidify their “classic” lineup. He stepped up to the plate to fill Barrett’s shoes on the guitar, as bassist Roger Waters also filled his shoes as the band’s chief conceptual mastermind. Together Gilmour and Waters formed a cerebral hybrid of an ultra-frontman, and after a string of releases such as More (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971), they would catapult Pink Floyd into the new decade and prog-rock history.
Come 1973; Pink Floyd would perfect the “complete album approach”. The Dark Side of the Moon, released on March 1st that year, would set the standard for all future attempts at a concept album. Throughout the ’70s and beyond, Pink Floyd would carry on providing us with unified bodies of work that were woven together with overarching themes. Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), The Wall (1979). The latter is considered by many to represent the zenith of the concept album. Due to ongoing differences, Waters would leave the band, leaving it up to Gilmour to be the band’s principal songwriter for the rest of the band’s career, with its final outing, The Endless River coming in 2014.
For a band that became known for weaving its songs together, it should come as no surprise that two of David Gilmour’s favourite Floyd songs are actually linked. Embodying meta before meta was even a thing, this duo is brilliantly self-referential. Who’d have thought that the pastoral psychedelia of ‘Fat Old Sun’ from 1970’s Atom Heart Mother and ‘High Hopes’ from 1994’s pompous The Division Bell would share a common thread?.
Gilmour has consistently played the two songs as part of his live act, and in 2008 he revealed of the lesser-known ‘Fat Old Sun’: “I’ve always liked the song, one of the first I ever wrote. I tried to persuade the rest of the Pink Floyd guys that it should go on Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd, but they weren’t having it. I played the drums on the original recording, but the drums are so bad.” The song rings out with some church bells during the early moments that signify the tune to come.
Bells also appear in ‘High Hopes’, a track Gilmour has often pointed to as one of his most beloved from the band. Is it a coincidence? Not a chance.
It turns out that the bells at the beginning of ‘Fat Old Sun’ were identical to the ones one ‘High Hopes’. Gilmour revealed that this was because they were borrowed from Abbey Road Studios’ sound effect library. This wouldn’t be the only way the highly emotive ‘High Hopes’ would be connected to another Pink Floyd track, either. The Endless River takes its name from the closing line of ‘High Hopes’. Unsurprising as both records came from the same sessions.
Furthermore, the final couplet of ‘High Hopes’ also finds its origins elsewhere. The line “The endless river/Forever and ever” is a direct reference to Barrett-era Floyd’s 1967 classic ‘See Emily Play’. Indeed, old friend Syd Barrett was with the band until the very end, and his influence colours most of their work. Just like the man who penned it, the line “Float on a river/Forever and ever” is now immortal. In this sense, there can be no surprise as to why ‘High Hopes’ is one of Gilmour’s favourite Floyd tracks, as it is a direct link to his old buddy Syd.
Listen to ‘High Hopes’ below.