Recorded over a period of roughly 61/2 years, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall cemented Pink Floyd's ascension from cultish psychedelic rock band to the '70s' top-selling artists. Although rereleased in numerous versions over the decades — along with the critically lambasted Animals, which surfaced between Wish You Were Here and The Wall — the newly remastered Experience Editions, part of a massive reissue campaign of the entire Pink Floyd catalogue that began last fall, come to us with some enticing extras.
Each album has a bonus disc of unreleased concert and demo material. The original music on these albums is known well to even the most casual of Pink Floyd fans. So let's focus instead on the newly uncovered treats, which are — on each release — quite extraordinary.
The Dark Side of the Moon's Experience Edition boasts the biggest treat: a concert version of the entire album, performed in sequence at London's Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena) in November 1974. The original Dark Side album had been an international hit for nearly 18 months by the time of this performance. So when the faint heartbeat that triggers the opening Speak to Me is heard, the audience erupts as if the Rolling Stones had just kicked into gear. Available as a bootleg for years, this official, cleaned-up version boasts a remarkably intuitive feel for an album so labored upon in the studio. The clear highlight: the late keyboardist Richard Wright's piano elegy The Great Gig in the Sky, augmented by weepy pedal steel guitar from David Gilmour and the nuclear gospel wails of Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams.
The bonus disc to 1975's Wish You Were Here widens the time line considerably. Three more tracks from the same Empire Pool concert begin the set. The first is an almost processional-sounding version of Wish You Were Here's centerpiece, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Roger Waters' trippy requiem to Floyd founder Syd Barrett. Then come Raving and Drooling and You've Got to Be Crazy, blueprints of songs that rematerialized as Sheep and Dogs on Animals in 1977. The coup de grace, however, is a funereal reading of Wish You Were Here's title tune, colored by a wildly elegant solo from the great French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.
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The Experience Edition of 1979's The Wall comes with 75 minutes worth of demo recordings — all fascinating but not nearly as insightful as the '74 live material. Still, the hazy funk version of Young Lust and a truly haunting draft of One of My Turns surrounded by harmonium-style keyboards underscore the narcissistic cracks in Pink Floyd's darkest opus.