All art battles obscurity with each passing year, fighting for exposure and prime real estate in our minds, but no other creative discipline is quite as vulnerable to the sands of time as music.
It takes a great deal of cultural and sonic savvy for a song to reach popularity in such a saturated musical landscape, and if said song is to survive its initial hype, true genius.
Needless to say, pioneers of the British prog scene, Pink Floyd, had more than enough talent to produce such a song.
In fact, they produced at least 10 tunes capable of transcending the decades, and I’m going to be breaking them down in this here post!
So here we are, my pick of the:
Top Ten Best Pink Floyd Songs
10. “Dogs” (Animals – 1977)
“Dogs” is a glimmering microcosm containing all the crucial elements we recognize when thinking about Pink Floyd as a whole.
Brimming with psychedelic synth lines, shimmery acoustic passages, and buttery-smooth guitar solos, I think of it as a little rock pool retaining waters from the tides of Pink Floyd’s sonic ocean — A little world of itself.
Don’t get me wrong, a number of Pink Floyd tracks draw you into their ecosystem, shut the door behind you, and guide you by the hand.
But something about the 2nd person, imperative lyrics of “Dogs” doesn’t so much guide you by the hand as it does hold a gun to your back, propelling you towards something unknown and epic on the horizon of this 17-minute musical odyssey.
Lyrics such as “You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to / So that when they turn their back on you / You’ll get a chance to put your knife in” betray the soft, meandering musical blanket beneath, creating an intense and enticing unease that leaves you teetering on your back foot but unable to look anywhere but straight ahead.
One of my favorite tracks from their 1977 album Animals.
9. “One Of These Days” (Meddle – 1971)
How’s this for a lyric that cuts to the quick… “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces”?
And bear in mind that this is the only line uttered in the entire 5:55 runtime of “One of These Days”, an otherwise captivatingly dark instrumental.
The impact of these heavily modulated words spoken by drummer Nick Mason is only intensified by the foreshadowing of cymbals tracked in reverse that have an uncanny sonic resemblance to the sharpening of a large knife.
8. “Us And Them” (The Dark Side Of The Moon – 1973)
Originally composed and refused for the film Zabriskie Point, the lyrical content of this bitter, jazz-tinged tirade against the wrongs of mankind is about as miserable as the music is serene, a complicated juxtaposition executed with aplomb.
Each verse culminates in a musical burst that hits the listener like a rapturing beam of light, suddenly ousting the distance between the lyrical content and the jazzy backdrop in a moment of high drama.
Dynamically, it doesn’t get much better than “Us and Them”, with the quasi-operatic passages sewn together with threads of arpeggios, seamed by spine-tingling sax solos.
It may be a Zabriskie Point reject, but it’s found a permanent place in the annals of musical history.
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7. “Echoes” (Meddle – 1971)
Perhaps the best way to introduce “Echoes” is to mention that it’s a side-long piece, by which I mean this one track accounts for the entire second side of Pink Floyd’s Meddle.
Spanning 23 and a half minutes, this absolute opus of a tune takes you on a transformative journey, and despite its length, there are only three verses and three choruses.
However, when you can write passages as beautiful as “And deep beneath the rolling waves / In labyrinths of coral caves / The echo of a distant time comes willowing across the sand / And everything is green and submarine”, you really don’t need any lyrical filler.
Besides, this track is more about musical experimentation than anything else.
In fact, I credit the lengthy middle section of this track as being one of the very first forays into dark ambient music outside horror scores.
With the chilling wind-like filter sweeps overlaid with ghostly howls and squealing, atonal guitar achieved by Gilmour accidentally hooking up his wah back to front in his pedal chain, you wouldn’t want to listen to this alone on a dark and stormy night.
6. “Money” (The Dark Side Of The Moon – 1973)
For a band with such an ethereal and decidedly anti-radio style, the side-B Dark Side of the Moon opener, “Money”, is remarkably hooky.
Starting with the sound of old-fashioned cash registers jittering across the stereo field, and that infamous plodding bass line, there’s an everyman’s ear quality to it that could win over even staunch Pink Floyd naysayers instantly.
Yet, with an off-the-wall 7/4 time signature, surprising musical shift at the 3:05 mark, and lengthy David Gilmour guitar solo, it’s still unmistakably progressive, thereby keeping the Pink Floyd diehards happy.
In my opinion, this is the perfect gateway track to get people into Pink Floyd. It was shown to me as a child, and ever since that fateful day, I’ve been Pink Floyd crazy, making it a shoo-in for this list.
After all, this passing of music down from generation to generation is precisely what we mean when we say something will go down in history.
5. “Time” (The Dark Side Of The Moon – 1973)
Much like “Money”, “Time” starts with some thematic sound effects to establish the concept right off the bat — A collection of clocks chime in overlapping cacophony.
It’s a bold intro that evolves into an incredibly cinematic build that wouldn’t sound out of place in a futuristic Western — Picture a showdown between gunslingers, trigger fingers twitching above their holstered pistols.
The track develops into a slow blues-country bop punctuated by a face-melting Gilmour solo with just enough reverb to push the distorted sound into fuzz territory; it’s quite possibly one of the best lead guitar tones ever recorded.
The interplay between Richard Wright’s keys and Gilmour’s guitar playing earlier in the song is equally impressive in different ways, showing the unique rhythmic approach of both musicians without a single note seeming out of place.
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4. “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” (The Wall – 1979)
“Another Brick in the Wall” may be one of the most accessible Pink Floyd songs, but no matter how much of a rock-disco romp it is, you can’t ignore Pink Floyd’s signature seething darkness bubbling beneath the funky bass line.
Confronting notions of corporal punishment and oppressive educational institutions, the lyrics of “Another Brick in the Wall” are some of the band’s most memorable, helping it reach the Christmas number-one spot in the band’s native England.
With lines like, “Hey, Teacher! Leave them kids alone”, it’s small wonder that it rustled some uptight feathers in the British education system.
The Inner London Education Authority dubbed it “Scandalous”, and according to various sources, then Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, loathed it — Yet another reason to like the song in my opinion!
3. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pts. I–IV (Wish You Were Here – 1975)
Dedicated to original Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett who left the band in 1968 due to complications with his mental health, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts.
I–IV is a rich and nuanced sequence of compositions that offer up a highly refined version of the unpolished psychedelia of the band’s formative years.
Ambient drones wash over you, embellished with silken blues guitar solos; somber synths quiver like the voice of a eulogist before a coffin; and twinkling chimes take you to another realm entirely… and that’s just the intro!
What follows is a prog phantasmagoria of twinkling guitars, soaring solos, and some truly inspired lyrics requesting of Syd, “Come on your rave, you seer of visions / Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner and shine”.
But of all the overtly fantastic things about this track, my favorite is rather subtle: the occasional use of chromatics that gives the music an air of instability in sporadic moments, artfully alluding to Syd’s condition.
2. “Wish You Were Here” (Wish You Were Here – 1975)
The Em7, G, A7sus4, G chord progression that kicks “Wish You Were Here” off has to be one of the most melancholic guitar passages ever composed.
Played on a twelve-string guitar and modulated to sound like music on an AM radio, the subsequent acoustic guitar solo paints a lonely picture of somebody playing along with their car radio on the road.
And if that’s not enough to bring a tear to the eye, the lyrics aren’t so much tinged in sadness as they are completely saturated in it, yet the true splendor of this song lies in the tension it holds between hopelessness and hopefulness.
It makes for music as complex as we are, but unlike us, it will never grow old.
1. “Comfortably Numb” (The Wall – 1979)
There’s a reason that the last song ever performed by Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and Mason as a collective was “Comfortably Numb”.
Simply put, this is Pink Floyd at their best, a perfect balance between their core ethos from the beginning and where they ended up as a band, but we’d be foolish to ignore the obviously intentional meta quality of this closer.
The song details a doctor medicating an embittered rock star so that he can play a show, a nod to the fact that the members of Pink Floyd were no longer enjoying performing together and that the end was nigh.
Still, that’s no reason to sour on an incredibly sweet song containing two of the most soul-shaking guitar solos of all time.
Not only is this track going to be remembered, but it’s also actually growing in popularity throughout the years, gradually climbing Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time list with each iteration. I know it makes my personal list of best guitar solos of all time.
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Everyone knows that Pink Floyd has some truly epic tracks, but what’s really remarkable is that the bulk of the songs listed above are taken from concept albums, and as fragments of a whole, shouldn’t stand up on their own, yet they do, each of them carving out a little place in musical history for themselves separate from their corresponding albums.
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