The Pink Floyd Song Once Deemed ‘Too Sad’
After forming in 1965, Pink Floyd wasted little time expanding their creative horizons. Simply recording studio albums would not be sufficient.
Within just a few years of being a band, they turned their attention to film, composing their first score for 1968's The Committee. The following year they did another for a film called More. Then came a production called Zabriskie Point, an American movie directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Set in Los Angeles, it involved counter-culture protestors, police and California's famous Death Valley.
For about a month, Pink Floyd lived in a luxury hotel in Rome where they began writing music, only some of which would ultimately make its way into the final film. One of those rejected songs was penned by keyboardist Richard Wright, titled "The Violent Sequence," intended for, as its name suggests, a particularly violent portion of the film.
Wright's original composition can be heard in the 2003 film, Pink Floyd: The Making of 'The Dark Side of the Moon,' in which he describes sitting in the studio, watching the aforementioned part of the film and beginning to play the chord sequence of a new song.
"At the time," Wright said. "I think everyone thought 'This is really good.'"
Not Good Enough for 'Zabriskie Point'
The band thought the song was a winner, but Antonioni thought otherwise.
"It's beautiful," Roger Waters recalled, mimicking the director's Italian accent, "but is a too sad, you know? It makes me think of church."
"He needed desperately to have control," Nick Mason said. "So even if you did the right thing and it was perfect, he couldn't bear to accept it because it wasn't a choice."
Thus, "The Violent Sequence" did not appear in Zabriskie Point, which was released in February of 1970. It promptly flopped at the box office and received widespread criticism.
Watch Pink Floyd in Abbey Road Studios Working on 'Us and Them' in 1972
But as any seasoned songwriter will tell you, throwing ideas away, even rejected ones, is not advisable. "It was obviously waiting to be reborn," David Gilmour noted.
Three years later, "The Violent Sequence" had its name changed to "Us and Them" and was the first song the band worked on in Abbey Road Studios during sessions for 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon.
"Being an engineer for Pink Floyd was arguably the biggest challenge I ever gave myself," Alan Parsons told Guitar Player in 2023. "They're so sound oriented; they used the studio to the absolute maximum. So it was a big challenge as an engineer. But I think I learned a bit, and I think they learned from me as well. It was a really good team effort overall."
The Rebirth of a Song
Clocking in at nearly eight minutes, "Us and Them" became the longest track on the album, credited to Wright and Waters, who contributed lyrics. Even if the new version didn't sound quite as sad as Wright's original, Waters' words still evoked imagery of conflict, which was arguably just as rampant in 1972 as it had been in 1969.
"The first verse is about going to war, how on the front line we do'’t get much chance to communicate with one another, because someone else has decided that we shouldn't," Waters explained to Classic Rock in 2022. "The second verse is about civil liberties, racism and color prejudice. The last verse is about passing a tramp in the street and not helping."
"Us and Them" was also released as a single on Feb. 4, 1974, and though it didn't chart, it still remained an integral part of The Dark Side of the Moon.
Listen to Pink Floyd's 'Us and Them'
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso