Does collecting bootlegs hurt recording artists?
Help me understand the best I can
Bootlegs reveal the rest of the Pink Floyd story
"I hate bootleg recordings. Please let us make the recordings."
Pink Floyd are a band whose live shows are legendaryand rightly so. Bootlegs are now often the only traces of these showsaside from fading memories.
Unlike seemingly every other band in the history of music, Pink Floyd has always avoided the career-spanning boxed set. The re-issue programme. The 2-CD and DVD Luxury Edition with demos and live songs. Pink Floyd's career has always been an exercise in relative and efficient minimalismthe albums are the albums, and no appendices of alternate versions (despite their obvious existence) have yet to see the official light.
According to the official discographyincluding concert videos and DVDsthe official Pink Floyd live canon is remarkably small: four complete shows on VHS/DVD (from 1970, 1988, 1994, and 2005), and three complete shows on CD (from 1980, 1988, and 1994)... and most of the material from 1988 and 1994 is taken from the same shows. Aside from 45 minutes recorded live in 1969 from Ummagumma, that's it. Numerous recordings exist from almost every period of their career (a quick search of YouTube will reveal almost every film and TV appearance they've made), but for some strange reason, you can't purchase them.
If all you know is the official studio material, you're missing out.
And when you've tired of the 14 studio albums, a few compilations, and the concert stuff, what's left? Apart from a handful of solo albums, nothing.
Instead, the fan has to delve into the relatively obscure world of unofficial bootlegs. Not because these recordings are unworthy of release (many are, in fact, far superior to the official live material), but because, in the words of Nick Mason, "I still think we should be allowed to control our output rather than an obligation to release innumerable versions of the same songs."
But if all you know is the official studio material, you're missing out on an enormous wealth of Pink Floyd that simply never escaped. Material that couldn't fit into release patterns, or simply never found a suitable place for release at the time of recording. Material that now, given the band's economical release schedule and lack of interest in archival releases, will probably never see the light of day. The pressure of the market place has left this material sitting in the vaults, never to be heard again.
So if you want to hear anything new by Pink Floyd, bootlegs are the only way to do so. And without bootlegs, the Floyd's world would be much smaller.
With them, a Pink Floyd fan can live and relive the bands oft-forgotten and unnoticed legacy: that of a band that often saw the recorded versions as a mere template or starting point. In concert, the band used the song as a skeleton upon which to hang their considerable skills, or to hone the bare bones of a song into the versions we know and love today. During the first decade of their career1966 to 1976the Floyd used the road as the medium through which they would create and re-create their material. Often the band would perform a blues jam, or perhaps improvise through a known song to create a longer, more varied version: a fascinating, musical "Extended Director's Cut". New songs would be whipped into shape, and old songs would grow to fulfill their full potential. "A Saucerful of Secrets" grew up to 22 minutes in length by the time it was retired in 1972. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", and "Fat Old Sun" grew from their 5-minute recorded versions to quarter-hour epics in concert. "Embryo", at up to 26 minutes, was nine times longer than the recorded version.
Did you know that "The Great Gig in the Sky" used to be known as "The Mortality Sequence"? That instead of the unforgettable-soundtrack-to-a-million-shags with Clare Torry, the song was a plaintive, solo piano lament built upon taped samples of religious speeches? And, unless you were lucky enough to be there in 1972, you would never have a chance to hear itif it weren't for the multitude of concert recordings made in secrecy.
Did you know that "Embryo", the great lost Pink Floyd song mutated to a half-hour epic that later turned into "Echoes"? Without them, all that would exist of "Embryo" would be a scant, 3-minute 30-second demo of one portion of the song on a long-deleted compilation.
Wouldn't you like to hear the original lineup (recorded professionally) perform The Dark Side of the Mooncomplete with a 8-minute version of "Any Colour You Like" and a 27-minute extended version of "Echoes"? With bootlegs, you can!
And, if you knew where to look in the early 1990s, or if you were able to find a unscrupulous record dealer, you could get hold of an illicit CD manufactured somewhere in Europe containing this music. The original artefacts (manufactured in runs of mere thousands instead of the 5- or 10- or 30-million official Floyd albums sold) are now much sought after. But at the time they were hard to find and often harder to listen to. These days, thanks to the democratising abilities of the internet, the proliferation of file sharing sites, MP3 blogs, forums, and Bit-Torrenting, you can find almost anything with a quick Googleif you know where to look.
Yes, some of the recordings are rubbish, and some of the performances barely different from the original studio recordingsbut for a fan, the moments that reveal the heart of the machine are fascinating: the extended jams, the live improvisations, the unheard songs. The moments where the band tentatively find the song and nailed it, where David curls out a lick that suddenly reminds you of something you've been listening to for years, when in "Embyro" he starts the peeling seagull motif that defines "Echoes", and your ears suddenly open up to a massive world of possibilities. It's moments like that where bootlegs expand the world of Pink Floyd.
And this is why we need bootlegs. Because without them, you're only seeing half of The Dark Side of the Moon, when as we all know, it's all dark.
Who is the strongest, who is the best?
The top ten Pink Floyd bootlegs
My first taste of bootlegs came in the late 1970s when I bought Knobs, from 15 March 1977, and despite the rather poor sound quality I have been enamored with these live concert recordings ever since. It doesn't matter to me if the setlist is the same throughout a particular tour. Listening to different nights of a tour, one can hear how a song can be played differently from night to night. Some differences can be stark, while others can be very subtle. So while setlists may stay the same, even from year to year let alone night to night, no two Pink Floyd shows are ever the same for me. A song may be sung differently, a lead may be played more emotionally, or the drums and keyboards may be tighter or more pronounced. I suppose that's part of Pink Floyd's magic and a darned good excuse to keep collecting.
From LPs to cassettes to CDRs, there are plenty of Pink Floyd concert recordings available, making a Top Ten list nearly impossible. Even today, thanks to the Internet and Bit Torrent, there are plenty of "new" Pink Floyd concert recordings surfacing. I even played a hand in a few recordings myself back in the day. I know it's not an easy thing to do, and we owe a debt to everyone who has attempted to capture a Pink Floyd concert to share with other fans. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the people (such as Harvested, Digital Lunatics, Pigs On The Wing, and the Digital Floyd Archives, to name just a fewnot to mention those of yesteryear like The Digital Floyd Project, Great Dane, The Swingin' Pig, and many others) who put their heart and soul into this hobby.
Do these recordings harm the band in any way? Not in my view. These recordings only enhances the band's mystique, introduces Pink Floyd to new generations, allows fans to hear some great concerts that they weren't able to see, and thus adds to overall sales of commercially released albums. Thankfully, Pink Floyd are smart enough to realize this and don't really seem to care about the hundreds of concert recordings chronicling the history of the greatest rock band ever. And there are so many good ones. Here, then, are my personal favorites.
10. Out of This World, Earl's Court, 20 Oct 1994
Some may scoff at this one because of the absence of Waters, but this tour was the first live exposure to Pink Floyd for many fans too young to appreciate the Floyd as a foursome. The Floyd without Waters do the music complete justice. Gilmour's playing in '94 was as crisp and inspired as ever. If you need proof, just check out the jaw dropping "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" opener. Perhaps it was the need to further validate his claim to the Floyd legacy. Whatever the case, the performance left an indelible mark. And keep in mind that this bootleg is far better than the official PULSE release in that there is no touching up of the music; it's raw, it's live.
9. Hammers, Nassau Coliseum, 28 Feb 1980
Originally released as a three-LP set, this particular date has been subsequently released on CD, most notably the three-disc set titled Brick By Brick which also contains the famous Wall rehearsals. In any format, this show was captured in superb sound quality. I first heard the LP version years ago and the quality was stunning. Despite the fact that Pink Floyd have officially released a Wall concert, the boot of this date remains a favorite for the awesome performance and the brilliant sound quality. To be honest, though, with the official release of Is There Anybody Out There? the bootleg has become an afterthought. The official release is in my opinion one of the best live recordings as it truly captures that live feel that many other official concert recordings lose through production.
8. Roger Waters, Pros and Cons In New Jersey, 21 July 1984
Waters' first solo tour, joined by Eric Clapton on guitar, is captured in all its glory on this bootleg. A good friend of mine recorded this one and I donated the tapes to The Digital Floyd Archives, who converted them to CD. The result is a great live recording of a great show. Clapton is quite possibly at his best during this Hitchhiking performance. And Roger is not at a loss for words with the crowd when an M-80 explodes. It's classic Waters. If you want to hear a good Pros and Cons show, this is the one to get without question.
7. At Dawn, BBC Sessions 1967-69
Every Pink Floyd bootleg collection has to have some of the early material. But most of the material from the early Floyd wasn't captured with any decent sound quality. At least that's how I felt until I heard At Dawn. Harvested also has released the same material in their BBC Archives series, but for some reason I just prefer the tone and quality from At Dawn. It's all here, the 1967 sessions with Syd Barrett, the 1968 sessions, and the amazing and otherworldly 1969 session.
6. Live In Montreux, 18 and 19 September 1971, Switzerland
A great-sounding Meddle-era show recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Both "Atom Heart Mother" and "Echoes" were performed that night, and the sound quality is nothing short of perfect. The finish is a rousing version of "Celestial Voices". This show has long been a favorite, but be forewarned: the original bootleg and pressed CD releases run way too slow. Be sure to get the speed corrected version. Other good shows from 1971 include Obscurity, which is misdated and is actually from the Taft Auditorium, 20 November 1971 (famous for the 30-minute jam version of "Embryo"), and M-502, Hamburg, Germany, 25 February 1971.
Roger Waters, Meet Me In The Garden, New York City, 11 and 13 July 2000
David Gilmour, RCMH, New York City, 4 April 2006
Beset By Creatures of the Deep London, 9 May 1969
Complete Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 17 September 1969
Fillmore West San Francisco, 29 April 1970 (evening show)
Dawn of the Piper, 1965-67
The Lost New York Tapes, New York City, 7 October 1987
5. Live At Empire Pool, Wembley 16 November 1974
You want live Dark Side of the Moon? OK, folks, this is the one you want. There have been many, many versions of this show releasedsome with the correct date, some with completely wrong dates, and even some dated Philadelphia 1974, which they never played. It was broadcast on FM radio in 1975, and rebroadcast years later. It's probably been broadcast many more times. The point is, the sound quality is great. But here's the thing, a version has surfaced recently that is a "matrix" source, comprised of the pre-FM master reel, taken from the original pre-broadcast tapes, overlaid with an unknown audience recording "likely off cassette masters". It's the classic Floyd Foursome playing a complete Dark Side set, and it includes the "Echoes" encore. Heard enough of Dark Side of the Moon? Give this one a try! Even if you've heard this one before, if you haven't heard this matrix source you will fall in love with Dark Side of the Moon all over again.
4. Bowl De Luna, Hollywood Bowl, 22 September 1972
Originally released on LP as Crackers many moons ago, and re-released as Staying Home To Watch The Rain on CD years later, this Harvested release of a classic Pink Floyd concert ranks as one of the best bootlegs ever. Harvested has done such an outstanding job of cleaning and primping this classic, it's like they could actually improve the Mona Lisa. It now outshines another one of my personal favorites from 1972: Live in Switzerland on December 9. Since that show actually includes a crisp, clean version of "Childhood's End", every Floyd fan's live rare favorite, you'd think Switzerland would be on the list rather than Bowl De Luna. But Bowl De Luna is just that good.
3. BBC Archives 1970-71, The Paris Cinema Sessions
Another FM broadcast, of which there are only a few in the history of the band, this set includes both BBC sessions from 1970 and 1971. It has been released over the years in many different versions under many different titles. But we all know what we're talking about, the BBC sessions from the Paris Theatre. I first heard this set on the 2-LP set titled Atom Heart Mother Goes On The Road and the sound quality then was outstanding. Once again, Harvested has improved on perfection. Actually, they even improve on their own improvements, as the two concerts were originally released by Harvested as Mooed Music and Meddled.
2. Boston Garden, 19 June 1977
The 1977 tour must be represented on this list. A complete Animals and a complete Wish You Were Here. But which show to choose? There are so many, and so many good ones. Harvested has once again done a fantastic job in cleaning up another classic boot with Animal Instincts from Oakland Coliseum (9 May). And Harvested also has the best version of one of Pink Floyd's most famous concerts ever with Who Was Trained Not To Spit On The Fan from Montreal (6 July). Not to mention some great releases from early in the tour like the tour debut in Dortmund, West Germany (23 January), Animals From The Soundboard in West Berlin (29 January), and Desk Pig in Vienna (1 February). I chose the Boston Garden show not necessarily for the sound qualitywhich is very goodbut rather for the performance. It's just an outstanding performance, most notably for Gilmour's soaring guitar work. I've heard pretty much all of them and this one is the best. (And since I am just about out of time and I'm mentioning other shows, can I mention Harvested's Supine In The Sunshine from 19 May 1973? It's a real good one too.)
1. Steel Breeze, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 28 June 1975
Harvested has released so many great live Pink Floyd shows, it's hard to not include all of them here. In addition, there are many shows from the '75 tour available on different labels. There are some that also sound great, such as Random Precision from the Nassau Coliseum (16 June 1975), or the Boston Gardens show called Crazy Diamonds from 18 June 1975. This one, however, is simply the best. You get most of the Animals album in the form of "Raving and Drooling" and "You Gotta Be Crazy", almost all of Wish You Were Here in "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Have A Cigar", all of The Dark Side of the Moon, and half of Meddle with the "Echoes" encore. What more could you ask for? And the performance is top-notch. Gilmour's guitar work is incredible. The tone and sound quality overall is simply outstanding. In my view it is the number one Pink Floyd bootleg. Let's just say the boys were at their best that night and we're lucky enough to enjoy it over and over again.
This list could go on and on. There are just so many more Pink Floyd bootlegs that are just as good and deserve to make the list. But the time is gone, and the list is over....