Pink Floyd were pretty good at sounding singular throughout their career. During their nascent days playing London underground clubs, their mixture of psychedelia and progressive rock gave them a unique identity, largely thanks to Syd Barrett’s unreplicable worldview.
Even as they found themselves searching for a signature style after Barrett’s departure, nobody else really sounded like Pink Floyd. Although they could be nebulous and unsure of themselves on albums like Atom Heart Mother and Ummagumma, the sprawling nature of their work and their unmatched adherence to experimentation meant that they always stood out from the rest of the pack. When Roger Waters began integrating philosophical lyrics that paired with Gilmour’s tone on his Black Fender Stratocaster, that was it: the Pink Floyd sound was born.
As albums like The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals began coming out, the Floyd rarely deviated from their signature style. And why should they? They had perfected prog-rock for a large scale audience, and they were doing it at a level that no one else could touch. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? That was the mindset until Waters wanted to make something more theatrical.
The Floyd always had a flair for the dramatic, as can be heard through their numerous concept albums, but the band hadn’t ventured into narrative storytelling until 1979’s The Wall. More than just a concept record, the album was outlined by Waters and producer Bob Ezrin with a specific central character, Pink, and his experiences that largely worked as allusions to Waters’ own life and upbringing. With a much bigger scope came a greater integration of new sounds, including disco, folk, classical, and even heavy metal.
But it was on ‘The Show Must Go On’ that Waters paid tribute to a somewhat unlikely source of inspiration: The Beach Boys. Waters wanted the lavish layers of harmony that The Beach Boys had made their own, and even convinced the members themselves to come to the studio and perform on the track. On the day of the session, only Bruce Johnston showed up, who nonetheless took charge and demonstrated to the chorus of vocalists assembled how to perform Beach Boys-style harmonies.
Part of that chorus was Toni Tennille, who had formerly toured with Johnston and The Beach Boys with her husband Daryl Dragon before launching their own career as Captain & Tennille. Another performer was Jim Haas, a sessions musician who may or may not have provided the lead vocals of ’70s teen sensation Leif Garrett’s early albums. In any case, it was a diverse array of singers assembled that still managed to get that classic Beach Boys cadence. Johnston knew what he was doing, after all.
Check out the vocals on ‘The Show Must Go On’ down below.