Drawn from Sony’s massive (27 discs of pre-Dark Side Floyd, anyone?) boxed set of the same name, this two-disc sampler set offers a winding road map—or maybe a DNA code—for the early development of Pink Floyd, from the acid-head jangle of the Syd Barrett era to the orchestral prog-rock of Atom Heart Mother. These seven years saw PF gestate within the British psychedelic pop scene, and then with the dissolution of Barrett and the arrival of David Gilmour, delve into experimental rock, concept albums, film scores, live theatrics and other projects. The band would never see a period as eclectic or far-ranging in its musical approach again, and this set catches both the spirit and the content of a time when it seemed Pink Floyd could, and did, move in any direction it wanted, with no grand expectations and no baggage to carry over from project to project.
As with any archival set, we get a smattering of canonical single and album tracks here, most in the expected remixed, remastered or single release versions. But the real gems are the ephemera and outtakes. Those make up 15 of the 27 tracks here, including the U.S. radio ad spot for the Ummagumma album, and the “Live BBC Radio” versions of deep tracks like “Grantchester Meadows,” “Cymbaline” and “Green Is The Colour,” most of which deviate in arrangement or instrumentation from their known versions. Also included is demo music from the Echoes sessions, live concert performances of “Atom Heart Mother” and “Interstellar Overdrive” and a generous selection of material recorded for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point not included on the soundtrack album. In sum, the collection is a treat for hardcore fans, and that’s as high an encomium as any retrospective project could aim for.
As a harbinger for future projects in this series, The Early Years bodes well. Even casual fans and dorm-room stoners know a lot of this music, especially that drawn from the band’s first two albums and Echoes. But this period also produced much lesser-known soundtrack work, live experimentation and blurring of the lines between signal and noise. And unlike many such “sampler” projects, this one contains a rich cross-section of the treasures to be found within the full set. Later-period Pink Floyd could skew self-indulgent in its compositional approach, but its music of this period was, in retrospect, oddly tight and focused, considering the frequent navel-gazing tendency of the late-’60s art-rock scene. Fans with ongoing mortgage payments to make will find this set a more than reasonable consolation prize for passing on the complete version.