Few bands have had as many phases as Pink Floyd. It's almost as if the band tried everything it could to lose the thread and the universe wouldn't let them. Their first leader, Syd Barrett, went crazy. His replacement, David Gilmour, gave the group their progressive rock sound. And their bass player, Roger Waters, took advantage of the group's inertia and turned the group into session musicians for his own biographical visions.
Much of how you view Pink Floyd depends on where you came in or what your musical preferences might be. If you grew up with them in the 1960s, you might be a bit bewildered by the group they became. If you turned onto them in the late 1980s, you might never think of Roger Waters or Syd Barrett as being real members of the band. (Wow!) And if you're like so many who discovered them on FM radio in the 1970s and helped make them one of the best-selling rock 'n' roll outfits of all-time, you probably like to argue over whether Dark Side of the Moon is better than Wish You Were Here and Animals.
Who would think that a band could have a lasting masterwork such as The Wall and still many of the group's original fans openly dislike it? Don't forget that The Final Cut, considered in many quarters to be a Roger Waters solo album, is both hailed as a classic and a piece of garbage!
In hopes of starting arguments wherever fine crazy people go, I've assembled my list of the best. You'll see my own taste for the group is pretty well spread out. I've been enjoying the Discovery box set that features all their albums remastered and with booklets to read. And thanks to the fine folks at EMI Music, I'm also staring at the wonderment that is the Immersion box for Dark Side of the Moon, where a mix of six CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays gives me the option of listening to this classic album with all five ears! Surround Sound is spectacular, but it often makes me think someone is breaking into my house.
25) "Cirrus Minor" (More): Initially, I was going to take "The Nile Song" for its fangular delivery, but I decided I often enjoy Pink Floyd for their abilities to make music that feels like it barely moves. "Rocking," after all, was pretty standard since day one. But sounding like you were lost in a field was pretty much their invention. Organ is a much misused and underrated instrument. Not here!
24) "Goodbye Blue Sky" (The Wall): This is a great tune for sitting back on the grass and staring into the warm nothingness. In California, fans never really have a day where they say "Goodbye" to pleasing blue skies but on the East Coast, we call this day May 23, before the stifling humidity kicks in and destroys what little joy we have.
23) "Embryo" (Works): The lone disappointment of EMI's ambitious re-issue program is the lack of a CD that collects all the singles, b-sides and oddities that weren't on the official albums. This creepy track from the Ummagumma sessions became a "concert favorite" and was issued in the U.S. on an album called Works that also included a few other weird remixes.
22) "Another Brick In the Wall, Pts. 1, 2 & 3" (The Wall): "Part 2" became the hit. You know, "We Don't Need No Education," but all three parts comprise an epic of their own, often presented as such on classic rock radio stations. It is also one of the "funkiest" tunes the group ever recorded. Which is kinda funny when you think about it.
21) "Remember A Day" (A Saucerful of Secrets): It should be pointed out that Pink Floyd were an "album band," even if they admit they often ran out of ideas before they finished their albums. What they lacked in prolific inspiration, they made up for in basic innovations. They convinced large masses of people to buy their music, proving weirdness could be made accessible if you knew how to keep it simple on the ear. This song makes you wish you were still a teenager in love and rolling in the grass, unafraid of contracting Lyme disease.
20) "The Final Cut" (The Final Cut): Later Pink Floyd is either marred or empowered by Waters' moany whining (a double punch!), depending on how you hear it. As someone who loves superstar self-pity, I adored this when I was a teen. What 14-year old doesn't worry about his wife leaving them, selling their story to Rolling Stone and taking the kids away?
19) "One of These Days" (Meddle): For all the hoopla surrounding Dark Side of the Moon, you'd hope that people who bought it would be at least curious about their other albums. Meddle's often the hardcore Gilmour fan's choice. This track sounds like the beginning of a video game, which is fascinating since even Pong didn't debut until 1972 and the sound here is a lot more interesting than batting a freakin' dot across the screen.
18) "Vera Lynn" (The Wall): The joy of The Wall isn't its ridiculous narrative but rather its quirky little pieces that would fit nowhere else. I'm thinking of "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives," "Empty Spaces" and this little ditty that's nearly overshadowed by the so-loud you-have-to-race-to-turn-down-the-volume loudness of "Bring the Boys Back Home." These days not only do most fans not know who Vera Lynn was, they don't know who Vera from the TV show Alice was either! Maybe they've heard of Vera, Norm's wife from Cheers.
17) "The Narrow Way" (Ummagumma): Picking a single track off the studio sides of this album is kinda dumb. But rules are rules. Fact is, this album should be played in its entirety while you are reshelving your album collection that you've been too lazy to put back properly for too long. What is Robyn Hitchcock doing under the letter L? Ugh.
16) "See Emily Play" (Single): Contrary to their legend, Pink Floyd, when they applied themselves, had a lucrative career as a singles act. However, much of their approach was about not applying themselves.
15) "Interstellar Overdrive" (The Piper At The Gates of Dawn): I'd have to be a real idiot not to take this track with me. One could make the argument that the entire Piper album should be made essential listening. However, it is my job here to spread the wealth and I've already demanded you reshelve your album collection. Perhaps, now do the same with the CDs...
14) "Astronomy Domine" (The Piper At The Gates of Dawn): At their original inception, the Floyd divided their catalog between spacey pop songs and spacey space explorations. Maybe I should've taken "Pow R. Toc. H," instead, but this is something I have to live with.
13) "Mudmen" (Obscured By Clouds): This is proving an impossible task. Imagine saying this about many of the albums today where it's so easy to prune them down to their essence. I blame part of this on the fact that albums today are far too long and part of it on the fact that existence is getting provably worse. Have you been to New York City lately? What happened to the poor people?
12) "Hey You" (The Wall): Not only does this track make the film The Squid and The Whale that much more perfect, it also represents
a certain burn-out paranoia that was prevalent in high school smoking lounges back when such things existed!
11) "Speak to Me / Breathe" (Dark Side of the Moon): While the Immersion box with its endless mixes of an album many Floyd fans know by heart might be a tad excessive, there are few things that sound as refreshing as hearing the
electronic intro of "Speak to Me" suddenly submerge into the water and come floating back with this lovely track.
10) "If" (Atom Heart Mother): You can hear early on how Waters quite liked writing songs that didn't use every last watt of the band's firepower. He excelled at quiet, reflective pieces that didn't need to go "anywhere." Who wants to go anywhere? What's wrong with where you are?
9) "Dogs" (Animals): My favorite story regarding this song is about a group of teens from my high school who were having trouble discerning reality while hanging out on the local railroad tracks when the barking on this track began. They ran with their boombox and turned up the volume. But the dogs kept getting louder!
8) "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (A Saucerful of Secrets): This is said to be the only track to feature all five of the band's members. Other versions of the song, appearing on Ummagumma and Live at Pompeii: Director's Cut, flesh the song out beyond this five-and-a-half minute sampler. But their studio cuts often felt more like blueprints for the actual experience.
7) "The Gunner's Dream" (The Final Cut): You have to love the scream-into-the-sax bit. Well, you
don't have to love anything. You can hate me and this blog and it won't make a whit of difference. Like Whitney Houston, I will always love you.
6) "Arnold Layne" (Single): It's fascinating to think of how many Barrett-heads are out there considering how brief his career. But then rock history is jammed with folks who had their careers cut short. The idea that Pink Floyd was in any way over at the point of his departure would be like thinking Genesis had no right to exist after Peter Gabriel. Oh, wait, bad example.
5) "Wish You Were Here" (Wish You Were Here): The greatness of this track is largely in part that the chorus isn't inserted a dozen times the way a modern group would automatically do under their producer's advisement.
4) "Echoes" (Meddle): Why not start with the track that first gave Pink Floyd the inkling that they were working towards Dark Side of the Moon? There's an edited version out there on the Greatest Hits collection called Echoes (how do you like that?), but you want the full 23:35, especially if you're a college radio DJ who needs to take a dump.
3) "Atom Heart Mother Suite" (Atom Heart Mother): Lots of people aren't impressed with the rather sloppy orchestral score, but I love its ambition and its imperfect execution. It's so bold, it dominates. It sounds like the musical representation of that damn cow.
2) "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (Wish You Were Here): It sounded great on the Weather Channel and it sounds quite touching as it slowly annexes your brain waves through its careful calibrations. The band liked it so much, they let it take up half the album.
1) "Comfortably Numb" (The Wall): Yes, yes, I'm going with the FM radio staple. David Gilmour's vocal and guitar solo make a case that the group were at their best when their two creative engines - Gilmour and Waters - were working together and not arguing over who should have the right to the Pink Floyd name. If this track doesn't make you wish had your own personal Dr. Robert at your disposal, you should likely retire from the electric computer before you get hurt.