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The 20 best Pink Floyd songs, as chosen by 40 different musicians

Pink Floyd in 1972
(Image credit: RB/Getty Images)

There aren't many bands who've defined a type of sound as well as Pink Floyd. Describe something as 'Floydian' as people instantly know what you mean: that spirit of grand adventure, that scale, those epic instrumentals. 

From Syd Barrett's psychedelic whimsy to the stadium-filling grandeur of The Wall, Pink Floyd's music has inspired generations, not least the musicians who've followed in their sonic footsteps. And in 2009, Classic Rock asked several dozen about their favourite Pink Floyd songs. 

A number of those we spoke to are no longer with us: Ronnie James Dio, Greg Lake, Kevin Ayers, Joey Jordison, Rick Parfitt and Alan Vega

Alt

Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)

Floyd’s greatest hit – their only hit – in their post-Syd Barrett incarnation, as the unlikely disco rhythms on Part 2 proved irresistible on the dance floors across the UK. No such luck for Parts 1 and 3, however.

James ‘JY’ Young (Styx)
I can still picture myself driving around in Greece, with the head of promotions of Styx’s record label, in a convertible and listening to The Wall. As we reached the Acropolis, Another Brick In The Wall began to play. There I was in this ancient setting for the first time, listening to an album that at the time was extremely modern. It was quite a paradox. 

Ed Kowalczyk (Live)
Although I was more influenced by alternative mid-80s rock of bands like the Smiths, U2 and REM, The Wall was the first album I ever bought. I picked it up as a cassette at a flea market. I remember playing Another Brick In The Wall and identifying with that feeling of being part of some machine – wanting to step out and become an individual. As an adult, I’ve really grown into Pink Floyd and they’re now extremely important in my life. 

Rick Wakeman (Prog wizard)
I first heard Another Brick In The Wall when I was living in Switzerland in the lateish 70s, and thought immediately that it was a classic song. What made it special was that the recording is so impressive. At the time, I believed we’d all be talking about this for years to come. And I was right. 

Greg Lake (ELP): I really like David Gilmour’s guitar solo in Another Brick In The Wall. He’s just a lovely guitar player. The clever thing about Pink Floyd records is if you took away one single element, the whole thing would disintegrate into rubbish! It hangs together by the thinnest thread, but somehow it’s enough to make it great. 

The line between greatness and crap is so fine, and they tread it with the skill of a mountain goat. And all of a sudden, it gets to the guitar solo, and then you know why they’re as great as they are. You hear the greatest guitar solo, that will endure for generations. They’re great musicians, great thinkers and great conceptualists. They’ve got the ability to be simple, in the same way The Beatles did In My Life

Robert Flynn (Machine Head)
To this day, all the rock stations in the [San Francisco] Bay Area still play Pink Floyd. Me and my friends would smoke weed and drink beer and listen to the radio. I remember The Wall was a big hit in the Bay Area. That ‘We don’t need no education…’ We were 14 years old and that whole ‘fuck school, get stoned’ stuff completely connected with me. 

I’d been taking a lot of hallucinogenics when The Wall film came out. It was really like: “Oh my God! That’s amazing. I love this band.” I was never into Dark Side Of The Moon too much, it was a bit too jammy. I preferred the more concise stuff. The Wall, to this day, is one of my favourite albums of all time. An amazing album, a masterpiece.

Ronnie James Dio
I love the kids in Another Brick… For me it was very much different than what I really love about Floyd – I love the long, bluesy passages from Gilmour. But this song seemed to have this marching flavour to it that just kicked you along. It had this wonderful metre to it. I think that’s the thing that captured me right away.

Chris Demakes (Less Than Jake)
Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) is just a timeless song. You hear it on every radio station in the world, and the radio was always on in our house when I was about a child. I measure the quality of a song by whether I tune the radio to another station. And when that comes on


Arnold Layne

The tale of a phantom knicker nicker, told with deceptively simple poetry. The instrumental break hints at Floyd’s live musical freak-out.

Kevin Ayers
Various things confused me as we began our climb up the ladder of fate. Technically, I was amazed at Pink Floyd’s control of sound, compared to ours [Soft Machine, in the 60s], which was always messy and undisciplined. It wasn’t just a case of them having better equipment, as sometimes we would use their stuff or they would use ours with the same results. 

Apart from the Syd Barrett songs, we all thought they were a rather clumsy blues band, and that we had much better ideas musically, but we were just not able to present them in their best context due to a complete absence of technical knowledge and a devil-may-care attitude. 

I still think today that a Floyd track like Interstellar Overdrive is a bit second-rate Soft Machine. When we produced our first single, Love Makes Sweet Music, the Floyd brought out Arnold Layne a few weeks later and I thought: “Fuck!” We sounded like a Saturday night pub band compared to the slick production of a great sound and song. I don’t know how much was due to the production or the band itself, but it was definitely under good control, and the arrangement was very smart. 

Whenever I hear Arnold Layne I think to myself how great it is. Even if Pink Floyd hadn’t gone on to become hugely famous, I think Arnold Layne would still be considered as one of the best pop songs to come out of the 60s. You do not forget someone like Syd Barrett. He is there in your life somewhere.


Astronomy Domini

Morse code bleeps, an indecipherable voice through a megaphone, eerie instrumental noises, stop-start rhythms, disconcerting lyrics – ‘Stars can frighten…’.

Dave Brock (Hawkwind)
Why do I like it? Why indeed? It was on their first album [The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn] and then it was on the live half of Ummagumma. In the era that we were all in, it was just one of those long tracks it was good to get spaced out to and listen to. I liked Pink Floyd. I did see them once, in 1967, down the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road where everybody used to dance around. 

When Pink Floyd did live gigs, they used to play long numbers and, well, I mean, it was the music everybody used to drop acid to. And there was a good light show – the blobs floating round the big screen. Astronomy Domine just had one of those familiar chord sequences that used to get everybody jumping around, really. It was that magical era of the beginning of psychedelia. I liked the lovely, free improvisations of spaciness.


Brain Damage

The nub of the Dark Side Of The Moon album.

AJ Pero (Twisted Sister)
My favourite Pink Floyd moment would be Brain Damage into Eclipse, from Dark Side Of The Moon. Why? Because when I was 16 I kept showing up at an ex-girlfriend’s house, and she and her friends always sang: [from Brain Damage] ‘The lunatic is on the grass…’ True Story.

Vernon Reid (Living Colour)
I think a lot of people would say Comfortably Numb. But I like Brain Damage – ‘The lunatic is in my head…’ I like the idea of someone lucidly assessing the fact that they’re in an insane asylum.


Careful With That Axe, Eugene

This track comes in several different versions. All of them share the same brooding, slow build-up, some have menace with malice, a few have Roger Waters’s blood-curdling scream. For some the more concise studio original is more potent, while for others the live version on Ummagumma is superior in its chilling-ness.

Alan Vega (Suicide)
Suicide were always fooling around with electronic music, but I’ve always loved rock’n’roll. I remember hearing The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn when it first came out in the 60s. That whole first album is amazing. There are lots of great songs on there, but oddly enough Careful With That Axe, Eugene, which they did without Syd Barrett, is my favourite Floyd song. It really is incredible. 

I’m not sure about their later stuff like Dark Side Of The Moon, they were a totally different beast by then. Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd were better. That guy was a totally crazy motherfucking genius, man. Crazy with a capital ‘C’, motherfucking with a capital ‘M’, genius with a capital ‘G’. Syd was a great songwriter, one of the greatest of all time. 

Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)
It’s one of those tracks that inspires a lot of speculation about its ‘meaning’, fuelled perhaps mostly by late-night drug intake. I have to admit that when I first heard Roger Waters’s primal scream bit I jumped up, mid-toke on a bowl of weed, and nearly singed the shag carpet. 

The studio version on Relics is definitely a way cool instrumental exploration, while the Zabriskie Point soundtrack version, called Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up, is a more explosive studio realisation. But for me the version on Ummagumma conjures up all the sinister, paranoiac, drug-addled, post-hippie, Mansonite ambience of the early 70s that I associate with this track.


Comfortably Numb

This was a show-stopper from the moment it first appeared, and has become a Floyd classic. David Gilmour deftly leads Roger Waters’s dark lyrics towards the sublime chorus before delivering his finest guitar solo, and one that still takes many a musician’s breath away.

Chris Robertson (Black Stone Cherry)
With Comfortably Numb, even though it’s about drugs and things that we really don’t know anything about, you just have to listen to what Dave Gilmour does on that track. It’s absolutely amazing. It still sends shivers down my spine listening to his guitar solo at the end. 

Joe Elliott (Def Leppard)
It’s my favourite of theirs, just for the guitar solo alone. Gilmour’s performance on that song is quite incredible. It’s probably the best thing I’ve heard him do. Lyrically speaking, too, Roger Waters just nailed it with those lyrics, although I believe it’s one of the few songs on The Wall that Gilmour legitimately helped to write. Maybe that’s why it works so well. Like Lennon and McCartney, those two were always better together than apart.

Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy)
There are just so many great Pink Floyd songs. Here was a band totally comfortable in the studio. So much so that it was their second home. Thin Lizzy always wanted to get out of the studio as soon as possible, but Floyd embraced the environment. Everything about Comfortably Numb is amazing. The groove, the passion, the melody… and David Gilmour’s fucking immense guitar sound. He is the tone master. If you can’t learn from him, then you can’t learn from anyone. 

Kim McAuliffe (Girlschool)
Why Comfortably Numb? David Gilmour’s guitar playing is just phenomenal. I can listen to what he does and be amazed every time. And the song is so emotional. I recall hearing the band playing it at that Live 8 show, and really wishing I could be in Hyde Park just witnessing it in person.


Corporal Clegg

This was Syd Barrett’s last Pink Floyd contribution. While Roger Waters poured scorn on the military, Barrett opts for surreal sarcasm. The kazoo solo helps.

Jesse Hughes (Eagles Of Death Metal)
I prefer the earlier, more Syd Barrett-influenced, harder-edged psychedelic shit. It’s just a hard rock song. Pink Floyd as ‘trippy’ as they got, their first few albums… I don’t care what anyone says, without them there would be no Black Sabbath, there would be no heavy metal. A lot of people get credit, and that song particularly is true, nether-worldly, majesty of heavy metal. It’s just bad-ass. It’s psychedelic without being too trippy, and it’s heavy as a ton of bricks.


Echoes

Pink Floyd’s first tour-de-force, on which their best attributes are gathered together into one, 23-minute epic. After the anticipation of the opening sonic ‘ping’, the controlled tension gradually rises to the climax and – even better – the afterglow.

Aviv Green (Blackfield)
With its intro of a piano being played through a Leslie speaker, it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Each time I hear its great melody it feels like someone has given me a joint.

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)
This has to be my favourite Floyd track of all time… and the Live At Pompeii version is even better than the original studio version from Meddle. I can’t listen to this song without picturing the four of them gathered around each other, jamming in the Italian afternoon sunshine; a shirtless, young David Gilmour looking so cool jamming out with his hair blowing in the breeze. 

This song has it all for me: a moody atmospheric intro, great Gilmour/Wright harmonies, an awesome Roger Waters groove jam section, and a trippy psychedelic middle breakdown. To me, this is the quintessential pre-Dark Side Floyd track.


Eclipse

The yang to the yin of Brain Damage.

Boz Boorer (Rockabilly Hero)
I remember buying Dark Side Of The Moon as a kid, from a junk shop. And I must have played that more than I thought, because when I bought the reissue a few years ago I was playing it while I was driving to Vegas and was surprised I remembered most of the album. My favourite is Eclipse, the last track. I particularly like that backing vocal, which is very haunting, with loads of reverb on it. And then of course the heartbeat and the words at the end: ‘There is no dark side of the moon.’


High Hopes

The last track on (probably) the last ever Floyd album. The end?

Danny Cavanagh (Anathema)
This really beautiful piece of work yearns for the days when the world was young. It’s probably the most accomplished song of Floyd’s post-Waters era, belonging right up there with earlier greats like Shine On You Crazy Diamond – another incredible song that really could top this list. 

But I went for High Hopes for the essence of the lyric, which is a nostalgic return to innocence, to hope, to love. I’ve covered it at my acoustic shows many times and I never fail to be moved by the final chorus: ‘The grass was greener…’ David Gilmour’s voice is really beautiful in this song, too. It has spoken to many, many people and will always do so.


Interstellar Overdrive

This is the freak-out, originally on their debut album, that gave Pink Floyd their ‘underground’ reputation back in the 60s. The simple riff that bookends the piece is no problem, but the wild, anarchic sounds that swirl around in between really mess with your mind.

Mark Arm (Mudhoney)
Both Interstellar Overdrive and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun are journeys. It’s total head music. They’re a couple of the finest examples of psychedelic rock that there are. I might have to pick Interstellar Overdrive as my favourite, just because of that little part where it breaks down and the guitar is just playing that high E. And the riff is just great. 

I think that song in particular really pushed the boundaries of what rock’n’roll was. I mean, it was really early – it was recorded in, like, ’67 – and compared to what American bands were playing at the time… I mean, I love Jefferson Airplane, but they weren’t nearly as far-out as that. That was probably the most far-out rock’n’roll thing at the time. I think my favourite Pink Floyd album is the live stuff on Ummagumma. And I really like Live At Pompeii. It seems like that whole era of Pink Floyd pretty much caused the whole Krautrock movement.

Sean ‘Grasshopper’ MacKowiak (Mercury Rev)
When Mercury Rev were first forming, we were making soundtracks for experimental/no wave/avant-garde-type films. At that point, some of the music that was a big influence was John Cale and Tony Conrad’s music from Inside The Dream Syndicate, melded with the sprawling grandiosity of Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive

Interstellar Overdrive isn’t just an off-thecuff jam, it is a well-thought-out piece of music with re-occurring themes and guitar flip-outs. There’s the theme at the beginning, with the riff that keeps coming back. I think the whole thing is so well-constructed, especially in the way it keeps building and building. It’s way ahead of its time. Listen to something like Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth and you can see the influence. Early Floyd was really exciting for me.


Money

One of Pink Floyd’s most iconic songs. It’s a shame some people still don’t get the irony of the lyrics.

Carl Palmer (ELP)
The Floyd were sometimes a bit too cosmic for me. Having been in ELP, I appreciated the concept angle, and they were more sophisticated than we were. But I found the music wasn’t as interesting as it should have been; it sounded a bit too droney. The exception was Money, which I thought sounded very clever at the time. Coupled with the concept, you can see why the Floyd were bigger than ELP. Conceptually they were way in front, and much more adult in their approach. 

Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
Money is the one, because it broke the band. If you look at their connection with Capitol Records in those times, Floyd weren’t dismissed in America, but they were ‘unusual’ in America. The head of Capitol at the time was determined to get them an opportunity to break out – particularly through radio. And so Money was the track. It’s a very sophisticated track, really, especially when it changes into a different gear with the sax. Money is the one that always gets me vibed up. 

The other night on TV they were showing a programme about the making of certain classic records, and it was all about Dark Side Of The Moon, which to me is the ultimate Pink Floyd record. I love Floyd. I remember seeing them in the very, very early days, at a little club in Birmingham. For all Floyd fans, it’s a definitive moment. The band was just so full of creativity. It was really cool to see how they pieced it all together. They would ‘play out’ their songs in public before they actually went into the studio to record them. 

Of course, this is before bootlegging, the internet and downloading. Just great, incredible players. And the wonderful thing about Floyd is that a lot of their stuff is based on the simple blues format. You felt you were experiencing something incredibly new, yet the roots of Floyd are very much in progressive blues-rock. Which was where Priest and a lot of bands from England in the early 70s cut their teeth.

Manfred Mann
When I hear it on the radio, it’s such a great record. It’s in an odd time signature and it has a complicated riff but it’s also incredibly simple. It’s easy to be clever, but to create something that amazingly simple is rare art indeed. It’s something that The Beatles were able to do. 

Micky Waters (The Answer)
I love Money because of that bass line. It’s one of those bass lines that sticks in your head; you’ll be walking down the high street one day and it just comes into your head. It’s got this strange time signature and the bass is playing off it – absolutely amazing. I love the production work on it – the till closing and the cash and all that – and the sentiment of Roger Waters’s lyric, which is pretty much about greed. Maybe we’ll start listening to it more as we get richer. 

Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)
It’s one of many of theirs that I love, and it was done so fantastically. You have to admire the creativity involved in a song like Money. Somebody obviously sat down and thought about it. Its rhythm is in one of those complex timings that Quo don’t really use, which helps me to appreciate it even more.


Obscured By Clouds

Pink Floyd used their …Clouds movie soundtrack to test the latest studio and synthesiser technology to the max.

Ozzy Osbourne
Some bands were, like, weekend hippies, but Pink Floyd were the big, professional hippies. I can’t think of an individual song, but I really like their album Obscured By Clouds. That was the soundtrack, wasn’t it? I remember listening to it while I was high on drugs. It had those weird bubbles on the cover. The Floyd made good albums; I don’t think they ever made a bad one. Dark Side Of The Moon is the obvious one.


One Of These Days

A howling wind, a menacing bass riff, some searing slide guitar, Nick Mason’s terrifying: ‘One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces’, and the Dr. Who theme. 

Joey Jordison (Slipknot)
It was one of the first songs I’d heard as a kid that freaked the fuck out of me. The distorted vocals and the growl, and just the overall drive of it, it was like pre-industrial. That shit was fuckin’ heavy. It was just a very, very odd song, and it really intrigued me as a kid.

Christian Livingstone (The Datsuns)
I have many favourite Pink Floyd songs, but I suppose it’d be One Of These Days, particularly the live version. There’s some really killer guitar playing from Gilmour on there, which is what makes it so special. When I was getting into the guitar, that song was one of the reasons for making me want to play. I remember hearing the live version from Delicate Sound Of Thunder and I had no idea how he was playing it until I saw him on the video with the slide guitar. It’s an incredible sound.


See Emily Play

Pink Floyd’s psychedelic pop peaks with Syd Barrett’s most upbeat song, his childlike innocence perfectly mirrored in the lyrics and music. 

Todd Rundgren
I go way back with Pink Floyd. I suppose my favourite would be something even on the first album, like See Emily Play. [It was only on the US release of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – Ed]. There were a lot of great songs on the first couple of records, when Syd Barrett was still in the band. 

Pink Floyd were supposed to be known as a psychedelic rock band, but the thing I liked about them was the ‘quirk’ factor – when things are not strictly linear kind of song structures, and the subject matter is somewhat obtuse. I find that attractive in a piece of music. 

There was also something about the keyboard sound in it. The guitar sounds were very interesting and watery and echo-y, but the keyboard sound was something a little bit off of that squeaky Farfisa [organ popular in the 60s] business, and a little bit more spooky, even though it was the same electric organ sound, as opposed to a Hammond organ sound. I just liked that weird combination of stuff – the flailing drums, a la The Who, were big with me back then.

Mick Box (Uriah Heep)
Every time I hear Floyd’s See Emily Play it transports me back to the 24-Hour Technicolor Dream Concert that we played with them in Heep’s previous incarnation of Spice. It was in 1967, at the Alexandra Palace in London’s Muswell Hill – a fantastic venue and a show to remember.


Shine On You Crazy Diamond

The epic homage to Syd Barrett that now stands as his finest epitaph

Albert Hammond Jr (The Strokes)
There are so many Floyd songs I could choose, but the one that just popped into my head is Shine On You Crazy Diamond. We were coming back from a festival about five years ago and someone put Shine On You Crazy Diamond on in the car. There was this long, beautiful intro which almost told a story with the music. 

I later found out it’s about Syd Barrett, but I had my own theories long before that. And I actually prefer not to know. The less you know about a song, the more in tune it is with your own life. I’d never heard Shine On You Crazy Diamond before, but afterwards, for that whole tour, I listened to it all the time. 


The Scarecrow

Syd Barrett’s charming nursery rhyme, matching the words to the rhythms with infantile delight. Suitable for children of all ages. 

Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
I have a thing about the first Pink Fluff album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Not to decry the great guitar work of the later Gilmour years, but it was such a landmark in the origins of what became the prog-rock era and inspired me, among others, to begin life-after-blues/Tamla/R&B. The track Scarecrow stands out as the whimsical, surreal and quintessentially English example of Mr. Syd’s wayward, weird genius.


The Great Gig In The Sky

Rick Wright’s beautiful song, featuring Clare Torry’s breathtaking vocals. 

Klaus Meine (Scorpions)
It was pretty hard not to choose In The Flesh, which The Scorpions played at Roger Waters’s amazing, historic performance of The Wall [when the Berlin Wall came down in 1990]. But I also have great memories of hearing The Great Gig In The Sky for the first time. 

We had been playing in England and had gone across the Channel on a ferry. Boarding our dirty tour bus in Calais, it came on the radio and everyone stopped what they were doing to listen. Even now when I hear that lady [Clare Torry] screaming her lungs out, it’s such a beautiful, emotional experience. It always brings me back to the first time I heard it.


Us And Them

The gentle, classical beauty of the music and the deceptively simple lyrics disguise the song’s real agenda – power struggles and violence. 

Ginger (The Wildhearts)
I was stoned in London’s [book/comics shop] Forbidden Planet one day when I heard this great song. I asked at the counter which album was playing and they said Dark Side Of The Moon. I thought, oh no, I’ve got to go and buy a Pink Floyd album. When I did so, I didn’t like it that much. 

I wasn’t very fond of Money, but Us And Them and Brain Damage are still two of the most awesome pieces of music I’ve ever heard. They’re all about audacity, something I don’t hear too often in Pink Floyd’s music. I can’t stand bands that jam on stage, let alone on their records, which is how Pink Floyd sound to me.


Wish You Were Here

It’s impossible not to sing along. 

Scott Ian (Anthrax)
Wish You Were Here is such an emotional song, and always gets to me. This may sound daft, but every time I hear this I always feel it’s being directed right at me. I know it has an odd ending, but that actually adds to the atmosphere. It’s as near to perfection as any song can possibly get. 

Mick Thomson (Slipknot)
There’s a couple of records I’ve heard and really got into – I don’t smoke weed, so maybe if I did I would get it more. But Wish You Were Here is obviously a very powerful song. I mean, you’re forced to think about there’s probably someone that all of us know that we can apply that lyrical feel to. They do really good with mood and emotion. Brilliantly written.

This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 139, in October 2009

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.