There’s heavy, as in metal, and heavy… man! And it would be true to say that both could be applied to the progressive institution that is Pink Floyd. But for the purposes of this list, we’re looking at the rock. For a band known primarily for their soundscapes, atmospherics and heavy concepts, they have also made some strikingly heavy rock music. Here’s our top 10…
INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE (1967)
This is one of two long-from pieces from the band’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, (the other being the more commonly known Astronomy Domine), which apparently originated when then-band leader Syd Barrett heard manager Peter Jenner trying to hum the tune of a song whose name he couldn’t remember (allegedly Love’s version of My Little Red Book). Described variously as one of “the very first psychedelic instrumental improvisations by a rock band” and “an abstract piece”, when the band move from the Frank Zappa/AMM inspired free-form section back to the main pounding riff, the effect is quite startling. Not bad for a song Roger Waters once told Barrett reminded him of the theme to TV’s Steptoe & Son.
THE NILE SONG (1969)
From the soundtrack to Barbet Schroeder’s psychedelic drug-fest More, which was the first full-length Pink Floyd album not to have any involvement from founder member Syd Barrett. Written by Waters and sung by David Gilmour, The Nile Song is one of the heaviest songs Pink Floyd ever recorded, almost a proto-version of Not Now John which features later in this list. It was released as single in France, Japan and New Zealand, and was covered by Floyd fans Voivod on their 1993 album The Outer Limits.
ONE OF THESE DAYS (1971)
The opening track from the band’s 1971 album Meddle, the album that saw Floyd beginning to move away from the space rock of their earlier albums, working in a more defined manner and beginning to veer towards conceptuality. For many the side-long Echoes is what makes Meddle such an important album in the Floyd canon. But the bass-heavy instrumental opener, with Nick Mason’s heavily effected “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces” spoken interlude the only vocal. In the 80s, when performed live, the legendary Pink Floyd pig, Algie, would fly menacingly over the audience.
THE GOLD, IT’S IN THE… (1972)
Floyd returned to work with Iranian film director Barbet Schroeder on his bizarre voyage of self-discovery La Vallee, set in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, naming their soundtrack Obscured By Clouds. One of the very few Pink Floyd songs that doesn’t feature any keyboards whatsoever, this tune ranks alongside The Nile Song and Not Now John as Floyd at their most metallic. Capturing the essence of the free-spirited 70s, this was also the B-side of the single from the album, Free Four, another up-tempo rocker.
Often described by Gilmour as the band’s “punk album” (or also as “a slog” by late keyboard player Rick Wright, whose relationship with self-appointed band leader Roger Waters was deteriorating to the extent that Waters would instigate Wright’s sacking during the making of follow-up The Wall). If Animals, Waters’ treatise on society in a manner akin to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, was heavy going, then the 10 minutes of Sheep was the heaviest song on the album, building to a caustic Gilmour guitar attack, with Waters equally venomous in his lyrical delivery.
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IN THE FLESH? (1979)
The opening track from the epic double concept album The Wall, and named after the 1977 Animals tour on which, at the final show in Montreal Waters legendarily spat at a member of the audience, an event that sparked the alienated rock star concept. It’s certainly an explosive start to the album, all crashing keyboard power chords and blazing guitars. The original riff was taken from what would become Waters’ solo album The Pros And Cons Of HitchHiking, which he had written concurrently with The Wall. When performed live, backing musicians made to look like Floyd performed the song, as the “surrogate band” mentioned in the lyrics.
THE THIN ICE (1979)
The second track from The Wall is almost a segue of the opener, telling the story of the central Pink character growing up (opening with the closing crying child from In The Flesh). All runs relatively smoothly, lyrically and musically, until Waters takes over from Gilmour on vocals, warning of “the thin ice of modern life…”, and soon all hell breaks loose with a huge heavy rolling riff reminiscent of In The Flesh.
YOUNG LUST (1979)
A rather simple blues-based hard rock song from The Wall that tells the tale of casual sex on the road. The telephone conversation at the end was inspired by a real-life event when Waters phoned home while on tour in 1975 only for a man to answer his home phone, revealing his then wife’s indiscretion. Album co-producer James Guthrie staged a real telephone call to a friend in Los Angeles so he could record the reaction of the operator, who remained unaware she was being recorded.
NOT NOW JOHN (1983)
A storming hard rocker from Floyd’s 1983 offering The Final Cut, Waters’ anti-war concept album some have suggested was more a solo album than a Floyd one. However, Not Now John features David Gilmour’s only vocal on the album and some of the most incendiary guitar playing ever recorded (possibly reflecting the terse nature of the recording). Released as a single,it had the main refrain of “Fuck all that…” replaced with “Stuff all that…” as the lyrics railed against corporate greed and corruption.
The closing track from 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the band’s first release since the acrimonious split with Roger Waters and the court case that followed. It’s pretty much a Gilmour tour de force, written and largely recorded over the space of a weekend at the guitarists’s Astoria house-boat. Given he admits lyrics are not his strongpoint, Sorrow, inspired by Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes Of Wrath, began as a poem to which Gilmour set music (normally he works the other way round), and in the live arena, serves as the perfect vehicle for his stunning guitar playing.