by Ed Lopez-Reyes
The new Pink Floyd single took fans and critics by surprise – on a first listen, it might sound relatively underproduced, simplistic, and unlike Pink Floyd… but after a few listens its authenticity and spirit sneaks up on you.
A song can possess an organic quality that is hard to quantify or describe.
Singer and songwriter Seal specifically declined to print lyrics on his albums stating that “quite often [his] songs mean one thing to [him] and another to the listener.”
And music videos, despite their broad appeal and revolutionary impact on the music industry, were flawed precisely because they limited a listener’s scope of interpretation.
Seal would go on to explain that a “song is always larger in the listener’s mind because with it they attach imagery, which is relative to their own personal experience.”
Pink Floyd’s new single may take time to digest: the band was a perfect actor in the era of album-oriented rock despite its roots in the preceding singles era (a paradigm that has made a comeback over the last 20 years).
In that context, the ordinary Pink Floyd enthusiast will approach the track with a voracious appetite for an entire body of work - an album, and in Pink Floyd's case, an overall 'concept'. While this can be inherently disappointing, it forces us to take the isolated track in more studiously.
The track will likely grow on you as you begin to appreciate a number of things about it… and if you don’t, the band has already made a deal with you: revenue from the track will go to a good cause anyway.
Either way, it is all a very individualistic and organic process and your impression of whether this is a ‘legitimate’ Pink Floyd lineup, whether it ‘sounds like Pink Floyd’, or whether its charitable intent eclipses an objective assessment of its place and quality in the Pink Floyd catalog is bound to evolve.
Although initial reactions were mixed, some modern custodians and historians of rock n’ roll and the Pink Floyd legacy had flattering things to say.
Hard rock and heavy metal expert Eddie Trunk enthusiastically endorsed David Gilmour’s guitar solo on the song: “Love his solo on this new track for a great cause!”
Indeed, the guitar solo is one of three things that most clearly deliver that Pink Floyd resonance.
Gilmour’s guitar solo on the track can be divided into three segments – the last segment echoes one of his most underrated solos, his work on Paul McCartney’s No More Lonely Nights – a guitar solo that is often compared in tone and cadence to Comfortably Numb.
Asked if he hears this too, Gilmourish publisher Bjørn Riis states: “I think David’s playing is surprisingly good. He seem inspired and the tone is just amazing. I had goosebumps all the way through.” On what makes part of the solo on Hey Hey Rise Up sound similar to the solo on No More Lonely Nights, Riis explains that it is hard to discern what the similarities are rooted in:
"I’ve been researching No More Lonely Nights for ages but it’s a tricky one. That song and David’s playing has been a huge inspiration ever since I heard it in the mid-80s. There’s something about the feel of his playing and tone that, to me, is the very essence of all his work. I love that. I hear a Telecaster on the verse and chorus. That twangy tone. I might be wrong and maybe it’s just a Strat. On the solo, you can definitely hear him using the trem arm of a Strat. In Phil Taylor’s book, The Black Strat, there is a picture of David and Paul from the sessions and you can see several guitars. Including David’s Black Strat. He’s playing a 1983 V62 fiesta red Strat, which was one of the guitars he bought in early 1984 prior to the About Face tour. The guitar was used extensively on that tour and later modified with a Roland synth pickup system, which drove a Roland GR700 synth unit. The guitar can be seen on some 1986 guest and TV performances."
Floydian Slip host Craig Bailey, who premiered and offered his commentary on the track in last week’s edition of his syndicated radio show credits the guitar solo with giving the track that Pink Floyd legitimacy: “by the time the guitar solo starts, it's trademark Gilmour”. But he also points to another important element that is hard to catch on the first listen or two: “the background chorus, in parts, sounds very much like the women singing background on Time; I only wish they'd given that a little more room in the mix.” It is a keen and hard to disagree with observation.
Overall, Bailey feels “the [lead] vocals tend to overshadow the rest of the track,” adding: “How can't they?”
In his view fans will gladly take the track for what it is because of its underscoring intent. “This is a song recorded for a purpose: to draw attention to the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. And the critics can complain all they like about whether or not this is truly ‘Pink Floyd’.”
The politics the track navigates can get complicated.
On the political plane, Roger Waters has been an assertive force. Although he is often cast as liberal or left-wing his views are more complex than that: in many cases, they are more fitting of the classical liberal mold, articulating concerns about government overreach, surveillance, and corporate cronyism (that space where corporations become a ghost branch of the government or are enabled by it to avoid the responsibilities that come with the free market).
Gilmour and Gilmour’s Pink Floyd have traditionally approached politics more modestly. This has probably allowed the band, under his leadership, to retain and broaden its fan-base.
At a personal level Gilmour has done a lot for charity - especially when it comes to relieving homelessness; charity, for better or worse, can overlap politics – but his efforts in that space have eschewed controversy, sparing his involvement in causes a political hue.
Gilmour's and Nick Mason's decision to enter the Russia-Ukrainian war dialog rests in an early deliberation of what has unfolded - it fits a simple political hue.
The majority of the western world has clearly taken a side on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Hey Hey Rise Up will hopefully support civilian victims of the tragedy that is unfolding, as intended, which is at the root of the world’s concern. What is difficult to sort out is how things will be interpreted over time and how the track will age – both musically and politically. It is too early to predict what political hue will ultimately settle on it.
Politicians and civilians can be mercurial when accounted for in a longitudinal, historical context: immediately post 9/11, any action in the Middle East North Africa region could be sustained and sanctioned through broad, bi-partisan political and civilian support across the Anglo-American alliance… over time, that tide turned as questions about what drove a western presence into Iraq and Afghanistan arose. Questions about how the United States arrived at its conclusions remain. It certainly complicated the world’s view on what has unfolded in that region since 2001.
The band’s intentions in releasing Hey Hey Rise Up deserve support: it is intended to help civilians affected by the Russian invasion. It will be interesting to observe how the track ages as the intentions and objectives of leaders on both sides of this conflict are analyzed and scrutinized. None of these international conflicts fit a perfect black and white narrative – which is the case Waters has advanced, controversially, in this situation.
What Waters and Gilmour both have in common is a concern for ordinary people caught in the middle of these politics. Hopefully, support for the track translates into the charitable support that it is intended to fulfill.
Podcaster and Pink Floyd historian Terrence Reardon feels the track’s construction trajectory, though very short, is not dissimilar to other Pink Floyd songs with a substantive Gilmour impression and he is reminded of other rock acts who have used foreign language lyrics:
“Musically the song is Comfortably Numb-like as Gilmour wrote the music to that and this. The Ukrainian singing is fitting to the song. Then again, Queen had a song sung in Arabic on Jazz entitled Mustapha - Billy Joel’s You Were The One was sung partially in French as was The Police’s Hungry For You.”
The track came together quickly; it was recorded only a week before its release earlier this month.
“I saw Polly posting some pictures from the sessions, teasing that something was about to happen,” said Riis. But Riis was surprised – as most fans were – that the sessions became a Pink Floyd release. “It was a big surprise to see that David chose to use the Pink Floyd name, no doubt to get attention.”
“The use of the name was strategic, too,” said Bailey: “Gilmour knows he has a powerful asset with the name Pink Floyd, and the best way to draw attention was to use it - and it worked, obviously; this is the first time in the 30-plus years I've followed Floyd that I saw the band mentioned on the 7 o'clock news – so it's screamingly obvious this is a Floyd cut that's in a whole class of its own.”
Riis adds: “It reminds me of some of the early demo stuff from The Division Bell and Astoria, which I guess is only natural when you get Nick and David together. The arrangements aren’t typical Floyd so I guess it could fit into a David Gilmour solo project.”
The track is one of 13 featuring anyone other than official band members on a type of lead vocal (including non-lexical vocables) (14 if you count Seamus, the dog). It is not, however, the first Pink Floyd track to feature non-English language vocals.
Neptune Pink Floyd, one of the band’s top fan websites, cites the following, from Cliff Jones' book Echoes: The Stories Behind Every Pink Floyd Song, in a discussion about the track Absolutely Curtains, from Obscured by Clouds: the song features a chant from the Mapua tribe of New Guinea as it fades; Jones stated: “The words to this song are indecipherable, even to those who speak New Guinean. There are approximately 717 native different dialects and, as is the case in India, few of these different dialects can be understood by speakers of any of the others.”
Of course, the most famous of all lyrical tracks sung by an outside vocalist was Have a Cigar, whose lead vocals were delivered by Roy Harper.
On Have a Cigar a record executive asks, famously, “Oh by the way, which one's pink?”. Hey Hey Rise Up certainly stirred that pot again. The question of what constitutes Pink Floyd’s identity and which individual band members add up to that name legitimately will always haunt the band. Pink Floyd’s Live 8 performance with Waters is often cited as ‘the last live Pink Floyd performance.’ In fact, the last live performance was actually at the Barbican Centre Syd Barrett tribute in 2007, almost two years after Live 8. It was the line-up from the Gilmour era - Gilmour, Mason, and Richard Wright - which had never dissolved.
Ironically, producer, keyboardist, and guitarist Jon Carin, who played a vital role in the band’s Gilmour era, played with both Pink Floyd and Waters at that Barbican Centre event. Guy Pratt, who played bass throughout that period as well plays bass on Hey Hey Rise Up.
The fact remains that Gilmour and Mason are the current, official members of Pink Floyd and bear the legal right to the name. It’s difficult not to think of Guy Pratt as Pink Floyd’s bass player after 35 years (though some bass parts have been handled by others on occasion, e.g., tracks on The Endless River or the 1993 Cowdray Ruins gig, featuring Mike Rutherford in that role - also, the bass on A Momentary Lapse of Reason was recorded by Tony Levin).
It has been mentioned in these pages that there is room to legitimately advance a case for some of the band’s Gilmour era musicians as legitimate Pink Floyd members – that the main reason for separating these into different silos are the legalities behind song and music writing credits.
But for fans, the creative output is what matters most.
Hey Hey Rise Up came together quite quickly and is not a great barometer for the output of any particular Pink Floyd lineup. It was clearly pieced together with a very specific mission.
Riis states: “The track is what it is. A quick session to raise awareness of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. I don’t think it should be seen as a completely new single from Floyd or even be compared to some of their earlier work. I enjoyed the video and seeing David and Nick together again.” Ultimately, it is the first sign that Gilmour really does continue working on material: “One can only hope that this is the start of something new from him. We’ve seen it before. The Endless River was done, while he was already recording Rattle That Lock, which indicates that he needs to be inspired and in the right mood to be working.”
Whether one chooses to accept this as a Pink Floyd ‘Mark’ is a very subjective thing – and a perception that could change over time - we all attach our own imagery and personal experience to music and that can change. But the track was released to raise money for a good cause and that tends to cancel out much of that debate.
You can access and download Hey Hey Rise Up on Pink Floyd's website and its social media links. You can access Bjorn Riis’ work here and you can read about his published research on David Gilmour's guitar gear here. You can access Craig Bailey’s Floydian Slip at floydianslip.com and Terrence Reardon’s podcast here.