Advertisement

Pink Floyd’s Top 20 Songs

A collection of gems that will never be eclipsed by the moon

Advertisement
Advertisement

Set the controls for the heart of every Pink Floyd fan: We’re celebrating Roger Waters’ highly anticipated return with a week of Floydian features that will make you wish you were here forever. Today, the staff collects the band’s songs that aren’t so obscured by clouds.

The time to reconsider and reaffirm our appreciation for Pink Floyd could hardly be more apt. Not only does this summer mark the 50th anniversary of the group’s acid-tinged debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but it also brings us the return of former Floyd lynchpin Roger Waters in the shape of a concept album entitled Is This the Life We Really Want?.

That question, vague yet pointed, reflects the kind of prompt the band excelled at during their ‘70s heyday. Waters, along with David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and, briefly, Syd Barrett, set their controls for the heart of, well, the heart, feasting on the chemistry that fuses the intellect with the soul. They pondered the difference between heaven and hell, contemplated England’s destiny with Orwellian overtones, and explored the outermost reaches of a genre — psychedelic rock — that threatened to grow stale after its late-’60s peak. The 1970s were the years of Vietnam, Watergate, and Britain’s emerging populist right. Pink Floyd found ever more inventive ways to address this widening gyre of chaos and cynicism, whether through the tension of being and non-being in Waters’ lyrics or the sense of space-age isolation in Gilmour’s breathtaking guitar solos.

Why does all that matter now, though? Because time, my friends, is cyclical. Because for one glorious day this summer, residents of Chicago will look up and see four golden pigs obscuring the name TRUMP and think, for a moment, that no image could be more fitting. Because a band that taught our parents everything they ever needed to know about the insanity of modern life makes a lot of sense in the fucked-up world of 2017, when pulling the sheets over our heads or taking the longest bong rip we can muster sometimes seems like the easiest solution.

Waters’ latest effort may not go on to have the same cultural impact as Animals or The Dark Side of the Moon or even The Final Cut, but at the very least it stands as a reminder of his former band’s potent creative flame. In the interest of keeping that flame healthy and alive, we’ve revisited Pink Floyd’s 20 greatest songs in the following list. This isn’t the place to bask in deep cuts, but rather to celebrate the most undeniable, timeless compositions of the band’s six-decade-long career.

–Collin Brennan
Senior Writer

__________________________________________________________

20. “Interstellar Overdrive”

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

A landmark composition in the history of psychedelic rock and perhaps Syd Barrett’s greatest achievement as frontman of Pink Floyd, “Interstellar Overdrive” is only a song in the nominal sense. This sprawling, shape-shifting instrumental took on a different contour every time Barrett-era Floyd took the stage; sometimes it stretched across 20 minutes of jazzy meanderings, and other times it held tighter to that central descending guitar hook and wrapped up in a relatively concise fashion. Floyd fans who generally ignore the Barrett era may find little to love in any version of “Interstellar Overdrive”, but squint hard and it’s undeniable: The song’s wild, reckless spirit planted the seeds for Floyd as we know and love them today. –Collin Brennan
__________________________________________________________

19. “Goodbye Blue Sky”

The Wall (1979)

Pink Floyd’s political bent grew more pronounced as Roger Waters’ influence became more dominant, but rarely was it ever as pretty as it was on “Goodbye Blue Sky” — perhaps because this anti-war lamentation invokes the WWII demise of Waters’ own father, documenting his vulnerability in a way that the philosophical musings of Dark Side and the caustic commentary of Animals never could. It’s telling that Waters himself doesn’t sing on the track. Instead, David Gilmour’s vocal harmonies, a crucial but oft-overlooked aspect of Floyd’s aesthetic, float toward the heavens like the spirit of Waters’ old man. –Zach Blumenfeld
__________________________________________________________

18. “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 2)”

The Wall (1979)

Have you heard this one before? Of course you have. It’s without question Floyd’s most popular song among the general public, and it’s easy to see why. There are the chanting children in the classic chorus. There’s that funky, funky Gilmour guitar, and who can forget the outro that poses the question: “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” It’s a question as old as time and one I dare not investigate. The first (and last) Floyd single to hit number one on the Billboard charts, “Brick 2” is a classic rock staple. Chew on that, laddie! –Justin Gerber
__________________________________________________________

17. “Speak To Me / Breathe “

Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Life is too short to yadda yadda yadda. You’ve heard that ol’ adage, right? Probably from your parents, your teachers, or even your friends. It’s good advice, though, and traditionally a bit we often forget. Reason being, life makes it so easy to get bent out of shape over the smallest details, and that’s a damn shame since life itself is a very beautiful thing. That’s more or less the conceit to “Speak to Me / Breathe”, yet the Dark Side of the Moon opener also suggests everything is par for the course — the love, the sadness, the chaos, the serenity, it’s all good. As Gilmour advises (via Waters’ own lyrics), “For long you live and high you fly/ But only if you ride the tide/ And balanced on the biggest wave/ You race towards an early grave.” In other words, take those risks, make those leaps, but never lose your footing. Simple, cogent, timeless. –Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________

16. “Astronomy Domine”

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

The Barrett-era of Pink Floyd kicked down the doors with the band’s debut album. The first track, “Astronomy Domine”, is miles away from the singles that preceded it, if not galaxies (No shade. “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” are both beautiful and bizarre in their own rights). There’s a bit of Morse code, an indecipherable astronaut, a bumpy bass line, and all of that is before the song really starts! Delayed breakdowns, astronomy musings, and those short-lived Barrett/Wright harmonies follow. Glorious, lime, and limpid green, “Astronomy Domine” is a great representation of what could have been with Barrett at the helm. –Justin Gerber
__________________________________________________________

15. “Money”

Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

“Money” likely holds the distinction of being the most-taught rock song in collegiate music appreciation courses, its seven beats per bar standing tall as an example of how pop music can subvert expectations on the sly. Like much of Pink Floyd’s catalog, “Money” embodies the tension between subversion and conformity. It sounds both strange and familiar, using the sounds of everyday capitalism — the clinking of coins, the clanging of a cash register — to create a loop that lasts for as many beats as there are days in a week. That’s no coincidence, as this is clearly a song about the sense of dull inevitability that comes with living in a society obsessed with money. It takes one of the most searing solos of Gilmour’s career to blast through the noise and let some light in, but money, embodied by that creeping seven-beat loop, can only be held at bay for so long. –Collin Brennan
__________________________________________________________

14. “Welcome to the Machine”

Wish You Were Here (1975)

Throbbing Gristle are generally credited with kick-starting industrial music, but “Welcome to the Machine” brought aspects of the genre into the mainstream decades before Nine Inch Nails was a twinkle in Trent Reznor’s eye. It’s among the densest tracks in Pink Floyd’s catalog, showcasing the band’s ability to pile up layer upon layer of Wright’s synthesizers in the studio and come out the other side with a cohesive mix — and yet it’s simultaneously an astounding example of Gilmour’s minimalist expertise. His legendary ability to sustain a note holds up even when his guitar is acting in a rhythm capacity, strumming cosmic chords. The lyrics are typical Waters acid: a contemplative burn aimed at the music industry machinery that had helped destroy Syd Barrett, even as it launched Floyd to global fame. —Zach Blumenfeld
__________________________________________________________

13. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”

Animals (1977)

“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is peak Orwell on Animals. For over 11 minutes, the band get down and dirty in the titular beast’s trough, oinking away with talkboxes (a first time for the band) and ultra gluttonous basslines (straight from a fretless axe). Seeing how the sloppy piggies are supposed to represent the capitalists and the higher-ups, there’s a sinister vibe from beginning to end, and Gilmour and Waters keep that sleazy image alive with a delightful mess of vocals, harmonies, tape effects, and solos. The latter is arguably the strongest part of the mix, as Gilmour goes hog wild in the last two minutes, sizzling up some six-string bacon like he’s a psycho fry cook toiling away in the back of an IHOP. So, what are the three different ones? That’s always been open to speculation, of course, which has certainly aided in the song’s timelessness. Though, one doesn’t have to think too hard to figure out who’s the boar’s head of this bunch these days, no? –Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________

12. “One Of These Days”

Meddle (1971)

“One of These Days” takes full advantage of stereo sound and the talents of two musicians, Waters and Gilmour, who could appreciate the mind-melting powers of double-tracked bass decked out in delay. It’s one hell of a memorable way to open 1971’s Meddle, with the majority of the track spent building toward that line Nick Mason shouts through slowed-down tape: “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces!” As much as any other track in their catalog, “One of These Days” highlights just how much Pink Floyd thought about songs as part of a wider, larger composition (i.e. the album). It also highlights, via Mason’s comically creepy delivery, the band’s underrated sense of humor. –Collin Brennan

__________________________________________________________

11. “Hey You”

The Wall (1979)

It’s easy to forget that Pink Floyd have their roots in the blues. (Fun fact: Their name is derived from not one but two blues musicians, specifically Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.) But a tender ballad like “Hey You” is a pleasant reminder of this fact. Sure, it’s far more stylish and shiny and outlandish than anything that ever came out of Chicago or the Mississippi Delta, but when you get past the psychedelia and the creepy conceptual story involving Pink, it’s really a pained meditation on the ill-fated choices we all make and how the world can often feel so cold. It doesn’t get more bluesy than that, but Floyd expands upon those feelings with all sorts of wizardry: Gilmour’s scale drops like rain on a moonless night; the savage breakdown feels as if the floor has been swept from our feet; and Waters’ cry on his verse sounds as if he’s screaming from a black hole. The textures are all very metaphorical, and that’s partly why it’s so goddamn affecting, but again, like any age-old blues song, the success of “Hey You” boils down to its core themes and how we’ll relate to them forever. –Michael Roffman
__________________________________________________________

10. “Echoes”

Meddle (1971)

Ping. That iconic sonar sound — like the solitary bass note that begins “One of These Days” on Meddle’s other side — acts like a signal, announcing the arrival of Pink Floyd’s defining aesthetic as they finally began to step out of Syd Barrett’s long shadow. “Echoes” is a metamorphosis in 23 minutes. Its prodigious length, “Across the Universe”-inspired lyrics, and extended jam sections are reminiscent of the band’s psychedelic years, but its well-crafted melodies show the band coming into their own as songwriters, and the tightened production portends Dark Side of the Moon. “Echoes” is also among the best early uses of Gilmour and Wright’s harmonizing vocals. –Zach Blumenfeld
__________________________________________________________

09. “Us And Them”

Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Waters’ simple (yet never simplistic) lyrics are as crucial to the success of “Us and Them” as those soaring choruses. However, it’s the interplay between longtime “fifth member” and Dick Parry along with the perennially underrated Richard Wright that take this song near the top of the Floyd catalog. Wright’s Hammond organ and piano alternate between mournful and beautiful while Parry’s saxophone eases the tension, transforming “Us and Them” into a lullaby by way of inevitable catastrophe. Floyd would not have been Floyd without Wright. Oh, and that transition from “Money” to this is an all-timer. –Justin Gerber
__________________________________________________________

08. “Mother”

The Wall (1979)

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” Remember who said that? Two hints: He loves wigs and showers. Still lost? Ah, forget it. With “Mother”, Waters paints an overprotective maternal figure who’s become paranoid and delusional from the loss of her husband in the war. In a sense, she’s less Norma Bates and more Margaret White, similarly possessive though without all the religious mumbo jumbo that turned her daughter, Carrie, into such a psycho hose beast. Yet, unlike those pop culture mothers that have since given child-rearing a bad name, she cares for her son, a little too much, and as Waters suggests, she’s built a wall around him, one that she feels will protect him from any evils. The problem, as the song chews on, is that she’s also restricted him from living a life and has stunted his growth. By pairing the haunting repetition with such chummy chord progressions, Waters eerily captures the conundrum at hand: It’s a creepy situation that comes from love. Like Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep, it’s complicated. But hey, we all go a little mad sometimes. –Michael Roffman
__________________________________________________________

07. “Brain Damage / Eclipse”

Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

These twin tracks provide the thesis statement and climax, respectively, of Pink Floyd’s most famous album. Even after he expanded on themes of mental illness on Wish You Were here and parts of The Wall, Waters was never more concise about the issue than on “Brain Damage”. Meanwhile, the bombastic drums, dominant synths, and powerful background vocals on “Eclipse” showcase Floyd at an apex of their grandiosity — and yet the song’s lyrics and simple melody sound almost like a lullaby. The combination paints a masterful watercolor of the blend of chaos and comfort that constitutes both the life cycle and the cycle of Dark Side of the Moon. –Zach Blumenfeld
__________________________________________________________

06. “The Great Gig In The Sky”

Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Their most soulful song from decades worth of material, Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” sounds like it’s coming to us from a journey towards another plane of existence, what some call the “afterlife.” If you can swallow that bit of hyperbole, indulge me a little further. Wright’s holy piano takes us towards the hereafter, but nothing’s ever so simple. The legendary wailing from guest vocalist Clare Torry acts as barriers we must overcome along the way, but hope wins out in the end — a rarity in the Waters era. Another perfect song on another perfect Floyd album. –Justin Gerber
__________________________________________________________

05. “Wish You Were Here”

Wish You Were Here (1975)

“Wish You Were Here” opens with the white noise of an AM radio, its signal eventually settling on a lonely guitar track that sounds as if it’s reaching out across the void. Gilmour’s richer acoustic guitar comes in after a while to play along, but there’s an obvious disconnect between these two tracks, as if the former is a ghost that can’t fully be summoned to life. It’s an obvious but potent symbol of the band’s relationship with former frontman Syd Barrett, who had descended into a drug-addled existence that precluded his taking part in Pink Floyd’s success. But even if you take Barrett out of the equation, “Wish You Were Here” registers as a mournful, compelling call to action — a plea to always take the “walk-on part in the war” over the “leading role in a cage.” –Collin Brennan
__________________________________________________________

04. “Dogs”

Animals (1977)

Using the word “epic” when dissecting a song or an album in music writing is usually frowned upon … but dammit this song is epic. One of the more unforgiving songs in Floyd’s oeuvre (and the only Animals track to feature Gilmour on a lead vocal), “Dogs” goes from roaring acoustic verses to arena-ready electric guitar interludes before effortlessly transitioning to a long passage of dogs barking atop eerie synths. Weird as fuck, but a perfect example of a lengthy Floyd track that never feels bloated, never feels padded. “Dogs” is 17 minutes packed full of venom and questions, but Waters never provides any answers. Who has them? –Justin Gerber
__________________________________________________________

03. “Time”

Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

“Time” kicks off with a cacophony of clocks that feels a bit on-the-nose given the subject matter, but then it shifts into a sporadic two-minute drum solo that defies the easy metaphor of life as clockwork. As with much of Floyd’s catalog, tension and duality play an outsized role here. The lyrics acknowledge that common late-20s fear of “ticking away the moments” until they’re gone, but the song itself is an ambitious, sprawling epic that requires patience and a deep breath to appreciate. Lively, buoyant verses give way to dreamy, lethargic passages in which 10 years pass by in the blink of an eye, and the effect very much mimics how life can feel sometimes: Slow, then blisteringly fast, the years spinning around in circles until one becomes indistinguishable from the next. –Collin Brennan
__________________________________________________________

02. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

Wish You Were Here (1975)

Pink Floyd embodied the duality of presence and absence throughout their career, but never more powerfully than when Waters mourned the mental breakdown of his longtime friend and creative hero Syd Barrett — a breakdown that daunted the band as they tried to find their sound without him, then haunted them after they reached superstardom. It’s the perfect encapsulation of Pink Floyd’s classic sound and the ultimate tribute to the man whose disappearance spurred that transformation. The ethereal wine glass choir at the beginning and Wright’s funereal mini-moog and textured synths evoke ghosts of the band’s past; Gilmour’s soulful guitar leads weep for Barrett’s disordered brain; and Waters’ lyrics comprise the greatest rock eulogy ever written. And yet the sheer musical talent “Shine On” exudes, from the beautiful melodies to the seamless transitions between the song’s many parts, shows a Pink Floyd that could craft a masterpiece even without its founder. –Zach Blumenfeld

__________________________________________________________

01. “Comfortably Numb”

The Wall (1979)

“Comfortably Numb” isn’t just the greatest song by Pink Floyd, but one of the greatest songs of all time. Why, though? You know, that’s something I’ve tried to figure out for a very long time. A quick and easy reason is Gilmour’s solo, which has been rightfully lauded by just about every publication that has ever written about guitars. But, that’s not it. Perhaps it’s the way Waters and Gilmour play off one another? Conceptually, the two represent a doctor (Waters) offering a prognosis to Pink (Gilmour), whose inner monologue comes to life in choruses. However, those two could be anyone — siblings, parents, lovers, colleagues, and even god and man — and whose side you’re on may change depending on where you are at any given time in life.

Of course, it also helps that Waters and Gilmour are discussing heady, existential topics, the likes of which take on a grander purpose on a long enough timeline given the song’s transmutative properties. That probably best explains why so many people have gravitated to the song over the years, but allow me to toss out one last idea: the bass line. There is something about Waters’ brooding bass that digs right into the soul, wrenching out the ugliest part of our consciousness so that we might be able to reflect upon it and bring it into the light as we keep moving forward. Then again, none of that soul searching works without every other element firing on all cylinders, so maybe it’s just a brilliant fucking song. Okay. –Michael Roffman

Advertisement