Considering the Fab Four helped kick off the acid-tinged movement that bought psychedelia into the mainstream, it’s no wonder Pink Floyd frequently cited The Beatles as a major influence on their stadium-shaking brand of psych-rock. But The Beatles did more than inform Pink Floyd’s sonic aesthetics, they also taught them a valuable lesson in songwriting.
It all started in 1967. The two bands had been in close proximity until that point but never met. Led at that time by their enigmatic frontman, Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd were rapidly developing a reputation as one of the leading lights in the new British acid-rock scene. With the dedicated following at their feet and several high-profile fans singing their praises, it wasn’t long before Pink Floyd were in Abbey Road recording their debut album.
Just next door, The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper. Floyd were able to sit in on some of the band’s sessions. As drummer Nick Mason recalled in a 2011 interview, “We were recording in Abbey Road, the temple of greatness, and they were recording ‘Lovely Rita’. They were God-like figures to us. They all seemed extremely nice, but they were in a strata so far beyond us that they were out of our league.”
The experience taught Pink Floyd the value of honesty, both between band members and in regards to one’s own songwriting. As Waters once recalled, he learned many of the most important lessons from classic blues players like Huddie Ledbetter and Bessie Smith.
However, it was The Beatles who taught him that being open and vulnerable was essential to good songwriting: “I learned from John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison that it was OK for us to write about our lives, and what we felt — and to express ourselves. … That we could be free artists and that there was a value in that freedom. And there was,” he concluded.
It was this same freedom that allowed The Beatles to craft Sgt. Pepper, an album that, by all accounts, sounded as though it had fallen to earth from space when it hit the shelves in 1968. It certainly had a profound impact on Roger Waters, who still remembers the moment he heard the finished product for the first time. “I remember when Sgt. Pepper came out, pulling the car over into a lay by, and we sat there and listened to it. Somebody played the whole thing on the radio. And I can remember sitting in this old, beat up Zephyr Four, like that [sits for a long period, completely agape].” Yep, I know the feeling.
The two bands would spend the next years continually vying for the top spots of most critically and commercially successful groups of all time.