Is it an overstatement to say Pink Floyd is one of the greatest rock bands of all time? We don't think so. Honestly, we can't think of the world of rock 'n' roll the same way without the English 60s band in the picture.
Arising in popularity around the same time as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd contributed to the psychedelic/progressive rock side of the British Invasion. They're known for their extended instrumental compositions that hold nothing back, sonic experimentation, philosophical lyrics, and elaborate live shows. In other words: they're one of the coolest rock bands to ever walk the earth.
Pink Floyd was founded all the way back in 1965 by Syd Barrett (guitar, lead vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass guitar, vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals). The band is still alive today...sort of. Although 3 of the 5 original members are now out of the picture, Pink Floyd has recently been in the news again thanks to the Gilmour and Mason-created "Hey, Hey, Rise Up!" The anthem is an ode to the fighting spirit of Ukraine during the Russian invasion of the country. It's got riveting guitar solos, a type of social awareness hard to find in modern hits, and it's just textbook, classic, rebellious, old-school Pink Floyd.
Since the legendary band is now back in the public eye, we thought now is the best time to unveil a Top 10 list of their best hits. Yes, we know: Pink Floyd is an album band. In a sense, it's pointless to create a ranked list of their songs since their tracks are meant to be listened to collectively instead of as singles. Still, there are a few standout tracks in Pink Floyd's discography that shine as their own works of art. That's what we're honoring now.
Without further ado, here are our picks!
Pink Floyd's sixth album was a turning point for the band. The group inched closer to more structured songs, as opposed to the atmospheric set pieces that dominated their previous recordings. The standout of Meddle is "Echoes": a piece that runs more than 23 minutes and includes a mix of long instrumental passages and vocal patches.
Many consider "Echoes" to be the first big Pink Floyd song in their progressive rock era, and also believe this to be a preview of what was to come on their game-changing album The Dark Side of the Moon. "Echoes" is simply about the joys of the human experience, and bears some inspiration from John Lennon’s “Across the Universe.” This song is also the only one from Meddle to feature vocals from Richard Wright.
9. "Hey You"
Slow and haunting, "Hey You" feels like a mix of soft contemplation and hard toiling. While this was written by Roger Waters, it feels like a signature David Gilmour song due to his beautiful acoustic guitar intro and solid vocals within the track.
In keeping with the story of The Wall, Pink Floyd's eleventh studio album, "Hey You" is about a man (named Pink) who starts to wonder if he's made the right choice in isolating himself from the world. He represents both death ahead and an already-dead person, and calls out to those who have passed on behind his newly-built wall. Meanwhile, death itself is calling out to a lone elderly person - asking if the human can feel death coming for him.
"Hey You" is one of many Pink Floyd songs about mortality. While we don't think it's their best song about the concept, we do believe it's their death song with the greatest guitar riffs. Seriously: Gilmour gives his A-game on this bop.
8. "Brain Damage"
The penultimate Dark Side of the Moon track is a fan favorite. It's also considered the album's theme song, considering the album's title is sung within the chorus.
More than any other cut on the record, the aptly-titled "Brain Damage" surveys the mental scars left on both the band and Syd Barrett after their former bandmate's mental illness forced his departure - first from the group, then from life itself. It's both jovial and melancholy: as if to celebrate the good times and respect the hard ones.
The recorded version is sung by Roger Waters, but David Gilmour took over as lead vocalist when the band performed "Brain Damage" live on the band’s 1994 tour. Pink Floyd originally called this track “Lunatic” during live performances and recording sessions. It's often played back-to-back with the album’s final track, “Eclipse,” so feel free to queue that song next after listening to this one.
7. "The Great Gig In The Sky"
It seems impossible that a song featuring a prolonged string of lyricless, belting vocals can sound so good...until you listen to "The Great Gig in the Sky." This Dark Side of the Moon jam proves you don't need complicated lyrics or an amalgam of contrasting sounds to get your artistic message across - just focused work, some experimentation, and a little bit of talent.
Written by Richard Wright, "The Great Gig In The Sky" is ultimately about mortality, but it communicates the unexplainable feeling of death through poignant minor keys, a steady drum beat, and of course, 25-year-old Clare Torry's powerhouse vocals. There's also some spoken words from Gerry O'Driscoll, the EMI Abbey Road watchman.
The band brought in Torry to do the vocal bits, and at first, they didn't know what they wanted. "I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really, really do not know what to do. And perhaps it would be better if I said “Thank you very much” and gave up," Torry recounted during a 2005 interview. "It wasn’t getting anywhere: it was just nothing. "That was when I thought, ‘Maybe I should just pretend I’m an instrument.’...Alan Parsons got a lovely sound on my voice: echoey, but not too echoey. When I closed my eyes – which I always did – it was just all-enveloping; a lovely vocal sound, which for a singer, is always inspirational."
Obviously, "Time" is one of those Pink Floyd tracks that works better as part of a larger album experience than just a standalone track. Still, there's a reason why "Time" is one of the most-played songs on digital platforms. That booming clock introduction, Nick Mason's drum solo near the beginning of the song, and David Gilmour's ripping guitar solo in the middle of the piece all help to cement "Time" as one of the greatest Pink Floyd songs ever made.
This is the only track on Dark Side of the Moon that credits all 4 members of the band as songwriters. The message is simple: it’s about how time can slip by, but you never realize it until it is too late. Roger Waters got the idea when he realized he was no longer preparing for anything in life at age 29. "The idea in 'Time' is a similar exhortation to 'Breathe.' To be here now, this is it. Make the most of it," he once commented.
Maybe it's because all four members played an equal part in creating "Time," but something about this track just feels very well-balanced. We promise you'll spend a lot of time listening to it.
5. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1-5)"
Perhaps there's no Pink Floyd song more epic than "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1-5)." This is another song about Syd Barrett's descent into mental illness, but what makes this anthem so special is just how much love and care was put into it. Besides heartfelt guitar bits, a bomb saxophone solo, and emotional vocals, the title of the track is actually a secret acronym for Syd Barrett's first name. (Syd: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”)
A wild fact about this song and about the album it comes from: after many years of no contact with any of the band members, Barrett randomly walked into the studio with a shaved head during the recording sessions for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and other Wish You Were Here songs. Roger Waters, his childhood friend, didn’t even recognize him at first. After about forty-five minutes, he broke down in tears when he realized the stranger who had randomly appeared was, ironically, his old pal. Whether the instance was a work of manifestation, luck on Barrett or Waters' parts, or of greater forces at play, we're just happy they all got to reunite.
Of all the songs in Pink Floyd's discography, this one is definitely the most...badass? Gritty? Sultry? Sexy? "Money" is a lot of things, but most importantly, it's an anti-greed rant that became the band's first hit single and set Dark Side of the Moon on the path of unprecedented success.
Written by bassist Roger Waters, "Money" opened side two of the original Dark Side of the Moon vinyl LP. It's also the only song on the album to enter the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Money” is particularly notable for its unusual 7/4 time signature, its groovy bassline, and the seven-beat “loop” of money-related sound effects that opens the track. You can hear coins clinking, a cash register ringing, the pull of a slot machine, and more.
"Money" emphasizes how important cash is in our everyday lives, but it also stresses that humans will do anything to get it. It begs the question...is the goal of obtaining more money similar to recreational drug use, since greedy humans are hooked on it?
3. "Wish You Were Here"
Oftentimes the first song from Pink Floyd many people listen to, "Wish You Were Here" is the tear-jerking title track of the band's ninth studio album. This moving song ties Barrett's plight to Waters' own distancing from society, but it resonates with anyone who feels like they've lost someone in their life: whether they're dead or still alive.
The Dark Side of the Moon touched on the mental illness that crippled Barrett, but Wish You Were Here was an album-length tribute to his genius and madness. In this titular track, Waters sings about his feelings of alienation, his connection to Syd, and the band’s distaste for the pressures of the music industry; the same pressures they felt caused Syd to crack.
"Wish You Were Here" is a rare instance of Roger Waters and David Gilmour mutually collaborating on a song, as they rarely wrote together. Gilmour had the opening riff of "Wish You Were Here" written and was playing it in the studio at a fast pace when Roger Waters heard it and asked him to play slower. The deep song built from there, with the pair writing the music for the chorus and verses together, and Waters adding the sorrowful lyrics.
Fun fact: 42 seconds into the song, you can hear Richard Wright cough in the background. When he heard the recording of his cough later on, it inspired him to quit smoking.
2. "Another Brick In the Wall, Pt.2"
The ultimate "school sucks" song. "Another Brick In the Wall, Pt. 2" is Pink Floyd's most commercially-successful track. In fact, it's the only bop from the band to hit #1 on the U.S. singles chart.
While the song makes more sense within The Wall's storyline (it's about Pink's feelings of isolation stemming from his childhood in a cynical education system), many can relate to "Another Brick In the Wall." If you've ever had a strict teacher or a boring classroom atmosphere where you felt like you weren't learning anything important, this song strikes a chord. It almost makes you want to throw a desk across the room in rebellion!
"Another Brick In the Wall" is also notable for being a Pink Floyd song with disco-esque sounds. David Gilmour credits producer Bob Ezrin for that. "He said to me, 'Go to a couple of clubs and listen to what’s happening with disco music,'" Gilmour once said. "So I forced myself out and listened to loud, four-to-the-bar bass drums and stuff and thought, Gawd, awful! Then we went back and tried to turn one of the 'Another Brick in the Wall' parts into one of those so it would be catchy. We did the same exercise on 'Run Like Hell.'”
However, Roger Waters felt the iconic beat on "Another Brick In the Wall" was more than just a catchy disco sound. "The song ran slow, almost like a chant or mantra, at 100 beats per minute," he said. "To give it a bit of punch, Bob Ezrin added a kick drum on every beat, which made the song a different animal than something strummed on an acoustic guitar. It’s not a disco beat, as many people have said, but more of a heart beat. It’s very cool."
1. "Comfortably Numb"
"Comfortably Numb" from The Wall may not be Pink Floyd's most commercially-successful song, but it's certainly their most beloved and enduring. If you're a guitar player, you know just how important "Comfortably Numb" is in the world of legendary electric guitar solos.
Waters penned most of The Wall by himself, tracing childhood issues to Floyd-era conflicts. "Comfortably Numb" is one of the few songs written with David Gilmour, who supplies the echoey, droning music and astounding guitar solo. The song shows up in the middle of The Wall, as Pink struggles to get through another show due to a drug-induced malaise. Gilmour's guitar solo rips through the foggy sounds, providing a reality check to listeners - and a glimpse of cathartic clarity.
While Gilmour's solo is the most celebrated part of this track, we also think credit is due to Nick Mason for his pounding drum beats. Roger Waters also deserves praise for his soft-yet-chilling vocal performance. Waters has explained the lyrics of "Comfortably Numb" were inspired by an experience where he was injected with tranquilizers before a 1977 concert in Philadelphia. "That was the longest two hours of my life, trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm," he said.
"Comfortably Numb" has all the elements of a classic Pink Floyd song: it's epic in sound, lyrically philosophical, and has a simple-yet-effective execution. Therefore, we think it's deserving of our #1 spot.
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