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The top ten Nick Mason drumming moments
I'm no drum expert, and I know nothing about the technicalities of the instrument. But I know what I like. And while Nick Mason may not rank up there with Carl Palmer, Neil Peart and Bill Bruford, et al, he sure sounds great to me. There is something indescribable about Nick's playing. There are others that drummed faster and crazier and more powerful, but none more subtle and brilliant than Nick Mason. In the early years Nick was clearly at the top of his game, but there's plenty of brilliance in the mid- to late-'70s, too. And while Nick's contributions in the post-Waters era has been disputed, rightfully so, it cannot be denied that those live shows present flashes of that old Nick Mason brilliance. We also cannot forget Nick's solo efforts. As a fan like myself would figure, there are lots of great Nick moments on Fictitious Sports and Mason and Fenn's Profiles. I recently saw a short video clip of Nick playing drums with Robert Wyatt on a cover of "I'm A Believer" in 1974. Nick Mason playing The Monkees. Seriously, it was great.
So there really is a long list of great efforts from Nick throughout the years. With so much to choose from, it was extremely difficult to narrow the list down to the ten best. What I looked for were Nick moments that move me, that make me break out the 'air drumsticks' and have a go at it myself. The way he keeps the pace, hitting the right beat at just the right time. Here then are the Top Ten Nick Mason Moments, and this doesn't include some really great ones... there are just too many!
10. "Remember A Day" - A Saucerful of Secrets
Let's begin at the beginning. This Rick Wright song was a Piper outtake that ended up on Saucerful. It allegedly includes both Syd Barrett and David Gilmour. And it has Nick's typical driving drumbeat in the early days. Syd plays a beautiful slide guitar over Nick's drums. The drums open the song and have you moving to the beat right from the start. As for the five-man Floyd, this is basically it. I chose this song over other early efforts mostly because it's one of early Floyd's best moments, not just Nick's.
9. "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" - Animals
Jumping ahead a few years... I still can't believe it when I hear Nick Mason playing a reggae style drum beat. And the wood block is priceless. Who doesn't hit the wood block in the air when you hear this song? Totally different from anything he'd ever done, but just as good. I think the word I'm looking for here is "originality".
8. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)" - Wish You Were Here
This is one of those efforts from Nick that make you say "Wow". Really, in the opening to Part VI, the whole band are at the top of their game. But it's Nick that gets us going and into the song. The wind swirling and that first whack of the drums that you hear? Know what I mean? Go ahead, say it. Wow. Wipe the sweat when the song finishes.
7. "Obscured By Clouds"/"When You're In" - Obscured By Clouds
How could this one not be on the list? Easy to overlook because it comes from the most overlooked LP in the Pink Floyd discography. Can't make that mistake here, though. The synth and the bass kick it off. Gilmour's guitar takes over the song, yet the drums continue the hard, steady beat right into "When You're In". I have these two songs together because the band played them live that way and it just seems they belong together. You can choose any live version to place here too. They're just brilliant live and really show how good Nick Mason can be.
6. "Time" - Dark Side of the Moon
This one's here for the roto-toms. Talk about brilliant! Together with Roger Waters' bass, the toms create one of the all-time great openings to any song. The roto-toms are played to perfection, each rap, each whack, in perfect time and tone. Clearly one of Nick Mason's greatest moments.
5. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" - Ummagumma
I list this one from "Ummagumma", but again, any live version will do. In fact, any version of this song in whatever form with whatever title, including "Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up". It really is just one chord, but it is eerily intense, highlighted by Nick Mason's soft and subtle playing. But the soft playing doesn't last. Building and leading into Roger's scream, the drums really kick in and Mason's drumming becomes frantic on a frightening level, only to slowly power down back to the soft and subtle fade out. Try "air drumming" this one in the car on your way to work.
"Atom Heart Mother" from Atom Heart Mother
4. "Comfortably Numb" - The Wall
Nick's drumming on this one always amazed me. It really is hard to put into words. The soft and steady cadence, hitting the right notes in exactly the right spot. You're almost swaying to Nick's beat, not the vocals. Obviously this song is in everyone's Top Ten David Gilmour Moments, but it belongs way up here on this list for Nick too. It's just classic Nick.
3. "Echoes" - Meddle
Speaking of classic. Watching Nick play this one in the Pompeii film is priceless. The different drum sounds for the different sections shows Nick's versatility. Nick even acted as the song's "editor," according to Cliff Jones' book Another Brick in the Wall. If I ever wanted to show someone that Nick Mason is as good at what he does as anyone, I'd play them this song. Come to think of it, it's hard not to place this one at number one or two on this list.
2. "Dogs" - from Animals
When discussing Nick's drumming abilities, this song is often overlooked. But for me, it ranks right up there with Nick's best. The whole band really gets to showcase their talents, and Nick is just amazing throughout the entire song. He provides a steady drumbeat for most of the song, and unleashes a magnificent finish. If the roto-toms on "Time" are one of rock's greatest openings, the drums that finish up "Dogs" make up what could be one of rock's greatest endings. The drums at the final finish are mind blowing and leave the listener stunned at the sudden silence.
1. "A Saucerful of Secrets" - Ummagumma
One thing I love about Nick Mason is he never really went into any long drum solos like most prog drummers of his time felt were necessary. Every time I listen to a live Floyd show I thank the Rock and Roll gods for that small favor. The closest we really ever get to a drum solo by Nick is the drum solo before 'Celestial Voices' on "A Saucerful of Secrets". You have to love the mad cymbal-crashing going on in the beginning, leading up to the big moment when the repetitive drum pattern kicks in. Banged out with such passionate fury, it's Nick at his absolute all-time best. I don't know how he keeps it up so perfectly and precisely for so long. You almost have to think it's a machine playing. It isn't. It's the number one Nick Mason drumming moment of all time.
Upon re-reading these opening paragraphs I feel that I may need to explain some of the above terminology for the younger generation. (Don't worry if the above doesn't make sense to you; your kids will have no clue what mp3s were or what an iPod is.)
When I encountered my first RoIO, I was about 18 years old. In those days (around 1988) the CD was still new and showing promise (lower prices, better sound quality). I had heard about live recordings before. The back pages of the better class music magazines had small ads where people advertised audience-tapes. 4 stamps (2 to cover postage, 2 for the owner) would give you the trader's list, and he (mostly always 'he' rather than 'she') was willing to sell you shows for 5 to 10 guilders per tape (about $2.50 to $5, or about twice the price of a 90-minute chromium tape.). I never replied to those ads.
Then in University I encountered a friend who was also a Pink Floyd fanatic, and who actually possessed some of those live recordings and was willing to tell me more about them. In fact, he was more then happy to tape his entire live-LP collection (all two of them) for me. I then found out that near the university was a shop that specialised in selling rare and collectible recordings, including RoIOs.
A new world slowly opened for me. The aforementioned friend occasionally bought new vinyl recordings, and even on occasion (gasp, shock, and horror) was able to find a RoIO that had been remastered to CD.
Time went by, and my live collection had grown to about 10 different tapes (comprising between them about 10 shows) when I encountered the internet Pink Floyd fanbase through the Echoes mailing list. Members of this list were actively discussing the arcane minutiae of Pink Floyd songs, the relative merit of the various solo efforts, and even occasionally would make mention of being in the possession of live recordings.
Through e-mail contacts with those few who admitted to owning the sacred live recordings I was able to set up the occasional tape trade, whereby I would copy my tape (through the old-fashioned mechanism of a dual cassette deck) and send off the copy. I would then receive another show in return. Sometimes people would go all out and adorn their tapes with beautiful handmade inserts and/or tape labels.
As more and more people were trading live shows, some of them came together and undertook the mammoth task of detailing all known live recordings and (much more importantly) give a quality rating with each of them. This mammoth task, which eventually became the online http://www.pf-roio.de/[Pink Floyd ROIO database], proved on one hand to be an invaluable help in judging whether entries on someone's tapelist were worthy of obtaining, and on the other hand it was a tantalising glimpse into what was out there to be had. Mystical shows with something entitled The Man and The Journey were mentioned. LPs were listed that contained songs called "Return of the Son of Nothing" and "The Amazing Pudding", not to mention the mysterious "Labyrinths of Auximines".
This discovery marked my descent into more furious madness: serious RoIO collecting. It started innocently enough, with an attempt to get at least one recording of every tour (or every year, whichever was less). Things got really exciting when a trading partner mentioned having a recording of a Roger Waters solo show, which contained an as-yet unreleased song called "Monkey Television", and who was more then willing to send me a tape of that in exchange for one of my tapes. Every day I would rush home and search through the incoming mail, in eager anticipation of the tape. It took a couple of weeks (Dutch mail being very good at delaying international mail), but eventually there it was: a new, unheard masterpiece. And all I had to do was exchange a few dozen emails, dub a tape with a nice Floyd show, and send it off.
More furious madness continued... I learned to tell the difference between tours based on the setlists (if you've ever seen the Floyd VocalList file, you know that eventually led). I even learned to recognise the fact that some RoIOs were exactly the same, even though they claimed to be different (and usually a rehash of the BBC sessions) and eventually came to the following conclusion:
NEVER TRUST A RoIO FARTHER THAN YOU CAN THROW IT.
(And to that I usually add that I'm not very good at throwing.)
With time, things improved. Other people realised I was a serious collector, people brought me in touch with people who were really serious collectors, and who no longer bothered to list their collection by RoIO title, but who simply listed the dates of their shows. These people often had (by my standards) very, very rare shows. Eventually I had a large enough collection (the idea of obtaining one tape from every tour or year had long ago been discarded as not good enough) that the very serious collectors found stuff in my collection that they didn't have (or maybe they just took pity on me) and were willing to trade their rarer tapes with me.
By that time I had come into contact with other people who were trading non-Floyd stuff, who introduced me to the concept of tape trees, which eventually led to the creation of the second Echoes tape tree (as well as many others), which in turn brought me into contact with even more traders, and led to another explosion of tapes .
Things got better and better and I had gained so much from trading tapes that I felt it was time to do something really cool, and to create a tape tree that would be the ultimate collectible tape tree: the Echoes Rarity Tree. (Ask around amongst other ancient Pink Floyd fans. They may--if their memory is still accessible--vaguely remember that one.) With the (very) gracious help of fellow Floyd fans I set out on a quest to obtain all B-sides, rare releases (mono mixes, single edits) ever released by the Pink Floyd (excluding the mono LP releases). This eventually brought me into contact with even more serious collectors, and after months of work I had managed to collect 6 tapes worth of rare Pink Floyd material. Organizing the tape tree took another 6 weeks, and the final completion of the tree (having the tapes delivered to the last leaf on the last branch) took all in all some 6 months--and even after that I got the occasional e-mail from someone who had missed out on the original but wanted in anyway, which in turn led to more trades and more tapes and more contacts.
When I moved, and I found that I had three moving boxes full of live Floyd (and solo) music, I realised that maybe things were getting a bit out of hand, so I started to reduce the amount of trading I did. CD burners started to become popular about that time, which rendered the entire tape trading affair a bit obsolete. Fortunately, at the same time Roger Water started his 1999 tour (pop quiz--which year was this?) and pretty soon I found myself attempting to collect every show of that tour on CD (and succeeded, but that's a story for another day), but apart from that, sort of stopped trading Pink Floyd (or solo) music.
These days, of course, finding high-quality live Floyd shows is easy. I had a look at EasyTree, and within a week's time managed to download over a dozen Floyd shows (one of which I had never heard before, and all 11 of the others in equal or better quality than any recording (of the same dates) I already had.
Ten years from now we'll probably be able to just go on the internet, click a few links and be able to get any Floyd show we like, lovingly and caringly remastered by dedicated fans in 2048bit, 512Khz, Dolby 7.3 Surround quad woofer quality in streaming sound mode, all through our cellphones.
Somehow I miss the old days.