Brian Jones and Syd Barret’s Influence on 1960’s British Pop Culture
Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones are arguable the two greatest bands to come from England during the 1960’s “British Invasion”. Eventually, both bands would end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996 and 1989 respectively). Both bands had there roots in the Blues. They were talented, had sex appeal, and were fashion suave. The girls loved them, the guys though they were cool, and everyone was trying to imitate their style. However, despite all the initial success, tragedy would strike both bands early.
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Drugs and mental illnesses would depredate and destroy both of the young bands’ prodigious, iconic front men. Both Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones) and Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd) were out of the bands they had started by the end of the 1960’s; a decade in which they helped define. The multi-musically talented Brian Jones met fellow band mates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1962 when Jagger and Richards responded to Jones advertisement in a magazine looking for musicians to audition to try out for a R band.
Jagger and Richards had become previously enamored with Jones when they saw him play the slide guitar at concert with his old band, the Roosters, and were ecstatic when they found out they had a chance to make a band with him. As a Blues purist, Jones wanted to take Blues and make it more accessible for the white youth in the United Kingdom. Jones would soon adopt the image of a rebellious pioneer; an image that many youth could identify with. His flamboyant fashion style, along side his open use of recreational drugs, made him a target of both envy and anger. As a musician, his primary instrument was the guitar.
However, he could play more then twenty instrument extremely proficiently, including: harmonica, trumpet, trombone, mellotron, sitar, saxophone, banjo, and the xylophone. Since Jones was so musically inclined, he opted to play a various of instruments during the Rolling Stones early tracks, leaving Keith Richards with most of the lead guitar responsibilities. Brian Jones was many things. But one thing he never was, was a prolific song writer. Mick Jagger and Keith Jones, however, were. They understood how to write lyrics, and together, the young tandem began to write many hits.
They also had a different view on what kind of sound the Rolling Stones should be. Blues were still their roots, but they wanted to write pop songs; they wanted to be famous. Due to the fact that they began to write the lyrics to the songs, the control of the band was being handed over to Jagger and Richards. He used to play many instruments on all the tracks, but towards the end, Jagger and Richards were only allowing him to play a minor role. Feeling alienated from the band he started, Jones’ use of drugs became worse and he started to participate even less during rehearsal.
Jagger and Richards became annoyed with Jones’ antics and attitude, so they fired him in June 1969. Pink Floyd was assembled in 1965 by longtime friends Syd Barrett and Rodger Waters. They were initially a Blues band, but Barrett’s unorthodox method of playing guitar helped them carve out their own unique niche in the burgeoning Psychedelic Rock scene in London. Syd Barrett, not unlike Brian Jones, had an original, flamboyant fashion style that was people were trying to emulate. Also, he was well known to like to have participated in recreational drugs, most notably LSD.
Energetic and imaginative, Barrett was Pink Floyd primary song and music writer. His fantastical lyrics was in sync with his psychedelic tone. He was charisma was gravitating and Pink Floyd was becoming a stable in the local underground. Everyone knew them for eccentric front man and their lively, semi-chaotic shows. As Pink Floyd was gaining more notoriety, Barrett was showing signs of mental illness. His behavior was erratic and concern grew amongst the band members. Usually loud and out spoken, Barrett was quickly becoming reclusive and despondent.
While touring for their first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, his playing was inconsistent. During some songs he would play little, if any, of it. Other songs, he would detune while they were playing. His heavy drug usage was conflicting for the band, so they hired guitarist David Gilmore. Initially, they were planning on using Syd Barrett as a non-touring member of the band. He was to still to be involved in the creation of their music. But this quickly proved to be impractical, and Syd Barrett quit the band entirely. Both Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones lost their leaders early on in their respective careers.
Syd Barrett would go on to attempted a solo career that saw him produce two albums. In 1972, he abruptly went into retirement. He would stay in seclusion until his death in 2006. Pink Floyd would continue to acknowledge his importance to them with their 1975 album Wish You Were Here. The theme of mental illness in their albums Dark Side of The Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979) is also a tribute to Barrett. Brian Jones, unfortunately, never had an opportunity to pursue and solo career or start a new band. He drowned in his swimming pool less then a month later while intoxicated.
The police report declared his death as “death by misadventure”, but there has been speculation they he may have been murdered. He is apart of the infamous “27 Club”, a list of rock stars who died at age 27. The Rolling Stones held a free tribute concert for the late Jones in front of 300,000 fans. Both Syd Barrett and Brian Jones were exceptionally gifted musicians. They both were visionaries that started bands that ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They both and distinguished styles and appetite for parties. Unfortunately, they were both spiritually taken away at a young age.