Even within the world of music, a realm fraught with subjectivity, it is an ‘undisputed truth’ universally acknowledged that 1971 was one of the most glowing years of popular music to date. From soul classics like Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ to The Doors’ iconic ‘Riders on the Storm’ and the arrival in earnest of David Bowie with ‘Changes’, music was evolving in all areas in the year that the seventies slipped free from the peace and love shackles of the sixties.
In amongst the seminal melee was the truly influential force of Pink Floyd’s 24-minute epic ‘Echoes’. Only a decade earlier, such a song would’ve been entirely inconceivable; you needed radio play to sell singles and to get radio play, you had to come in at four minutes or less, generally speaking. Then, however, artists like Bob Dylan began to focus more on LPs and turned their back on radio dependence, changing music forever.
As the eponymous punk poet John Cooper Clarke wrote in Sniffin’ Glue, “I love Bob Dylan but I hold him responsible for two bad ideas: a) the extended running time of the popular song and b) the lyric sheet.” Pink Floyd took the former to the limit on their revolutionary album Meddle. Dr Clarke does go on to say that Dylan gets away with it by occupying the additional time with interesting excursions, whether you think ‘Echoes’ does the same is in the ears of the beholder, but for many, it is a sui generis masterpiece of the highest order.
In Abbey Road Studios, the band hunkered down and attempted to craft the sprawling anthem that would set up their new identity without their former frontman Syd Barrett. The track was a homage to the minimalist composer Terry Riley, and it started as a piece entitled ‘Return of the Sun of Nothing’ before developing into the track we know now over a six month period.
This development, however, was not a linear journey of expansion, as the clip below reveals. The 1971 documentary 24 Hours – Bootleg Records focussed on the impact of bootlegging on the music industry. The documentary claimed that rough cut bootlegs were impacting the sonic output of band’s as it lowered the original quality.
The footage sees Pink Floyd jamming away in Abbey Road studios, working on a movement in ‘Echoes’. An intense focus is writ large on each of the member’s faces as they aim for atmospheric perfection for the record that was due to cost a then-astronomical £15,000 to produce.
Clearly trying to capture the sound of empathy on tape doesn’t come cheap as Roger Waters once told Rolling Stone, “[he was trying to describe] the potential that human beings have for recognizing each other’s humanity and responding to it, with empathy rather than antipathy.”