Switching over from glam rock to prog rock, I figured I should start with a track from Pink Floyd, since they are one of the most successful bands to ever come out of London. Pink Floyd often get labelled as a “prog rock” band, but they’ve never seemed especially proggy to me. They don’t typically wear capes, or play music in 11/8 time, or write songs about Balrogs and Ents, or translate their liner notes into Dwarvish, for example.
They are, however, grandiose, self-important, and humorless, and I guess that counts for something in prog circles.
Anyway, here’s the band from 1971 playing “One of These Days.” I should probably confess that I went to see Floyd play live when I was 14, and during this song they turned off all the stadium lights and floated an enormous inflatable pig (seriously, it was as big as a house) over the crowd. I’m pretty sure the pig’s eyes turned into spotlights at one point, but it was tough to see anything through the enormous cloud of the pot smoke.
One reason that I chose this song in particular is that I was excited to learn the other day that in Japan they called the song “Fuke yo kazoo, yobe yo arashi’,” which apparently translates as “Blow, wind! Call forth, storm” — and I’m pretty sure that this is meant as a translation of the opening line of King Lear’s soliloquy in 3.2: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!” I have no idea who it was that chose this line instead of “One of These Days,” but I’m intrigued.
The main reason that I chose this song, however, was so that I would have the opportunity to say something about Doctor Who, a scifi TV show that has been on the air in Britain since 1963 (except for one fifteen-year hiatus). I probably shouldn’t let myself even get started talking about the show, but the basic premise is that Doctor Who is a Time Lord, an alien who travels through space and time saving the universe (and especially the human race) from countless threats. His spaceship/time machine is called the Tardis, and it looks like an old blue British phone box. Periodically the Doctor will undergo a physical regeneration, taking on a new body, and this explains how it is that eleven actors have played the Doctor since 1963.
And he nearly always travels with a human companion or two (although for an embarrassing period in the late 1970s, he had a robotic dog called “K-9”). The current Doctor is played by Matt Smith and his companion, Amy Pond, is played by Karen Gillan. These people are FAMOUS in the UK.
Also, you should probably know that these things are called “Daleks” — the Daleks are the Doctor’s most famous enemies.
Don’t be fooled by their cute R2-D2-like appearance, though; this is what they sound like:
Doctor Who is a lot of fun — sometimes it’s campy and silly, and sometimes it’s absolutely terrifying. (Seriously: check out “Blink” from 2007 if you want to see something really spooky.) They air the show quite early in the evening on BBC, and there is a longstanding tradition of British children watching Doctor Who while hiding behind the sofa. If you have any interest in watching some British sci-fi before coming over, there’s a whole lot of Doctor Who that you can stream on Netflix. (I’d recommend starting with the Matt Smith era — this is called “Series 5”.)
Anyways, Pink Floyd was clearly thinking about Doctor Who when they recorded “One of These Days.” The riff owes a lot to the show’s theme song; Richard Wright plays the Doctor Who melody quietly at 3:02; and then Nick Mason speaks the song’s only line (“One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces”) through an effect called a ring modulator, which is the same machine the BBC still uses to make the Dalek’s voices.
In other words: in case there were any doubt about it, Pink Floyd are total nerdlingers.