Pink Floyd in race against time to reissue albums

The mammoth CD reissue program undertaken by Pink Floyd is an acknowledgment that the era of physical CDs and lavish artwork is coming to an end, as fans increasingly opt to download music digitally, drummer Nick Mason said on Wednesday.

Two years after the Beatles unveiled a similar program, the British progressive rock band is reissuing digitally remastered versions of all 14 of its studio albums, both individually and as a boxed set on September 26.

But Pink Floyd is doing something the Beatles never did, to the disappointment of Fab Four fans. Three albums will also be reissued with plenty of rarities in multi-disc versions. Revised and expanded artwork was a heavy priority for a band with a history of visual innovation.

"There is a slight sense that we are coming to the end of the period where people will buy the physical record with all the packaging and the information and so on," Mason, 67, told Reuters at the Hollywood outpost of the band's EMI Records label.

"I think it's really important to try and have a last go at that, because if we do end up just downloading everything from now on it would be a shame if there wasn't on record all that good artwork and the things that went with it."

The band's 1973 smash "The Dark Side of the Moon," one of the biggest selling albums of all time, will additionally come out on six- and two-disc configurations.

Exact details of the contents were not available, but EMI previewed several previously unreleased tracks including a fast-tempo live version of "Money," and an early mix of "The Great Gig in the Sky" without the soaring vocals of session singer Clare Torry.

Mason was particularly proud of a track he assumed had been lost to history, a version of the title track from 1975's "Wish You Were Here," featuring French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

It dates from sessions at London's Abbey Road studios, Pink Floyd's primary recording base, when Grappelli and fellow violinist Yehudi Menuhin were working down the hallway.

"They came to say hello, which was delightful," Mason recalled. "Someone plucked up the courage to ask them both if they'd like to play something on the record. Stephane absolutely was up for it and I think Yehudi would have liked to, but he's not an improviser and I think he just felt he couldn't do it."

The band opted not to use that version, although Mason in hindsight considers it an unfortunate decision. The two deluxe versions of "Wish You Were Here," available in five- and two-disc configurations, will be released on November 7.

The third disc to get the special treatment is the 1979 double album "The Wall," a semi-autobiographical concept work masterminded by former singer/bassist Roger Waters.

EMI previewed an early version of the hit single "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)" featuring different lyrics. Waters' opening couplet goes "We don't need your adulation, we don't need your starry gaze," instead of "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control" from the final version.

The band will issue seven- and three-disc versions of "The Wall" in February. Expanded versions of its other albums are in the works, as is a DVD documentary about the making of "Wish You Were Here."

While there are no plans for a tour - singer/guitarist David Gilmour has firmly quashed any speculation of that over the years - but Mason said he hoped the three surviving members might reunite for a charity performance, as they did in London in 2005.

That show marked Waters' first appearance with the band since he angrily left in 1985.

Tensions have eased somewhat between Waters and his former bandmates, and he was fully involved in the reissue program. Indeed, Mason said he planned to attend the London stop of Waters "The Wall" world tour on Thursday.

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