Saturday November 25, 2006
Barrett may have been the one with the ideas and the tunes, but Miles dismisses simplistic divisions between the original Pink Floyd and its post-Barrett incarnation. He notes that the group, though tuned in to avant-garde figures such as Cornelius Cardew, always wanted to be rock’n’roll stars. And, with the exception of keyboardist Rick Wright, they weren’t going to let their relative inadequacy as musicians get in the way of achieving this goal.
In true punk style, Pink Floyd’s improvised psychedelic jams arose as much from a reluctance to master the instruments as from the acid ingested by its leader. One of the band’s most famous early numbers, "Interstellar Overdrive", resulted from Barrett’s attempt to mimic Love’s "Little Red Book". And even with Syd gone and Dave Gilmour, technically a more accomplished guitarist, on board, the group’s preoccupation with soundscapes rather than musical virtuosity persisted. The result was that the series of records they produced in Barrett’s wake, culminating in that consummate expression of adolescent angst Dark Side of the Moon, may often have been pretentious, but the group has endured because the songs tended to lack the noodling trills and histrionics of Pink Floyd’s prog rock peers.
Hailing from the same corner of west London as the Clash, Rough Trade Records opened its doors in 1976. Two years later, and partially in response to the original punk vanguard signing to major labels, the shop branched out and started to put out records. Rob Young’s Rough Trade (Black Dog Publishing, £19.95) is a beautifully illustrated profile of the firm’s sometimes troubled 30-year history. A marvel for independent music aficionados, it also serves as a fascinating, and occasionally salutary, trip through more idealistic and ideological times – in the 80s, for instance, staff at the label that is today home to trustfund rockers the Strokes refused to handle future Nirvana producer Steve Albini’s Rapeman album on the grounds that the band’s name was sexist.
Although mainly preoccupied with determining members of Kajagoogoo’s favourite colours, the recently defunct pop weekly Smash Hits wasn’t averse to tackling the political issues that mattered in Thatcher’s Britain either, as Mark Frith’s lovingly assembled The Best of Smash Hits: The 80s confirms (Little, Brown, £14.99). Weighing up the options in "The Great Smash Hits Nuclear Debate of 1986", Doctor, of Doctor & the Medics, remained unconvinced about unilateral disarmament as he suspected the Russians of possessing "a gas that they can drop on a country and the nation wakes up as Reg Varney". Who knows what narcotics he was on, but for anyone whose life was touched by pop stars in outsized suits and Day-Glo knitwear, this volume offers plenty of food for thought.
Tupac Shakur: Legacy, by Jamal Joseph (Simon & Schuster, £30), is a sumptuously produced package. It’s a fully illustrated book in a box with numerous inserts and even an hour-long CD of exclusive interviews with the rap star who was gunned down in 1996. I have to confess, though, that unfurling the facsimile of a hand-drawn map to his memorial service proved a bleak experience.
· Travis Elborough’s The Bus We Loved is published by Granta.