This month sees a flurry of activity around Pink Floyd as they release their monster new box set focusing upon their early years. To join in the Floydian celebrations, we decided to ask the stars of the rock world to tell us about their favourite Pink Floyd song (only ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons cheated and gave us a whole album instead!). Here we present the songs they (and we) picked and reveal the stories behind them.
Have You Got It Yet? – Unreleased, 1967
There’s no evidence that this song ever got as far as the recording studio, but it illustrates the gulf that had grown between Syd Barrett and the rest of the band by the end of 1967 while also demonstrating that whatever mental struggles Barrett was going through he still retained his impish sense of humour.
As Waters remembers it, Barrett showed up for a band rehearsal with a new song. Although some of his recent songs, such as Scream Thy Last Scream, had proved to be unreleasable, he was still the only hope the band had of scoring another hit – and without hit singles their future looked ominous.
Barrett ran through the chords and the rest of the band started playing along with him. Except that midway through he would change the chords and the song would grind to a halt. This happened repeatedly until the band gave up, defeated. Waters recalls: “He kept singing: ‘Have you got it yet?’ and I was singing: ‘No, no.’ Terrific!” HF
See Emily Play – UK single, 1967
It was May 1967, and after four months producing album sessions for The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Norman Smith was exasperated by Syd Barrett (“Like talking to a brick wall”) and concerned that the bandleader’s material offered nothing to scratch the singles chart. All it took to change his outlook was one perfect three-minute pop nugget. “When I heard See Emily Play,” Smith told Mark Blake, “I finally thought: ‘This is it. This is the one.’”
Sun-kissed, woozy and perfectly in step with the Summer Of Love, See Emily Play was originally titled Games For May, and written for the concert of the same name held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 12, 1967. Floyd’s management smelled a rare hit single, and although Barrett was vehemently opposed to pursuing the song (Smith: “It didn’t do a thing for Syd. In fact I don’t think he was happy about recording singles full-stop”), he reworked it, introducing references to his Cambridge childhood. “I know which woods Syd is talking about in See Emily Play,” Roger Waters noted in 2004. “We all used to go to these woods as kids. It’s a very specific area, one specific wood on the road to the Gog Magog Hills.”
Greater speculation surrounds the titular Emily, with possible subjects including the wayward aristocrat (now noted sculptress) Emily Young and Barrett’s flatmate Anna Murray. But Waters batted the question away: “Emily could be anyone. She’s just a hung-up chick, that’s all.”
In any case, Smith was glad to get his hands on a more straightforward tune, working with the band to create a version that was supremely melodic yet decorated with artsy touches such as Barrett scraping a ruler across his guitar strings. “I dressed it up and put one or two [effects] on,” the producer recalled in Guitar World. “They didn’t mind whatever I was doing to it. I don’t think Syd was too keen, but by that time I’d gotten used to that so I pressed on.”
By now Barrett was deep into the LSD habit that would soon swallow him, and visibly struggling. On a visit to the studio during the Emily sessions, David Gilmour found a “glassy-eyed” presence far removed from his childhood friend. “Syd didn’t seem to recognise me and he just stared back,” the guitarist told Tim Willis. “He was a different person from the one I’d last seen in October. I’d done plenty of acid and dope – often with Syd – and it was different from how he had become.”
True to Smith’s prediction, See Emily Play reached No.5 in the UK after its June 16 release, prompting an invitation onto Top Of The Pops and a rave review in NME (“It’s full of weird oscillations, reverberations, electronic vibrations, fuzzy ramblings and appealing harmonies”). Yet it is also pinpointed by band insiders as Barrett’s final flash of clarity before he fell into the void. “Emily was the last time that Syd was focused and together, in my view,” manager Peter Jenner said in 1996. HY
“I was into early Pink Floyd, so it’d have to be something from the Syd Barrett era. See Emily Play has such an incredible sound. That’s the one for me.”
Astronomy Domine – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967
Talk about laying down a marker. The opening blast from Floyd’s debut LP is a psychedelic freak-out from the pen of Syd Barrett, inspired by his burgeoning interest in all things celestial and kick-started by manager Peter Jenner listing names of various planets through a megaphone. Barrett and Rick Wright share vocals, although it’s the breathless interplay of the whole band that really impresses. Wright’s Farfisa organ and Waters’s truculent bass keep the ship docked in orbit, while Nick Mason doles out flurries of drum fills and Barrett heads into the cosmos with echo-delay guitar and an exploratory sense of awe.
Astronomy Domine remained part of Floyd’s live shows even after Barrett’s departure, despite them baulking at the suggestion that it was a prime example of ‘space rock’. Indeed Waters dismissed the popular notion of Barrett as a leader in that field, perplexed by “this whole fucking mystique about how he was the father of it all”. RH
MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT, Opeth
“When I was growing up I considered Pink Floyd dinosaurs; I didn’t consider them to be cool. But all I had heard was Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2). I didn’t get into Pink Floyd until the late 80s. I discovered Astronomy Dominie because [Canadian metal band] Voivod covered it. Then I saw that clip of Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett performing it on TV. It freaked me out a bit, it was almost scary. At this point I had got into The Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here, but this was so different. Astronomy Dominie was the first time I was exposed to psychedelic music that was stranger than The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper. It made me think: ‘What is this?’ I was fascinated by Pink Floyd after that.”
Interstellar Overdrive – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967
When The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn arrived in August 1967 it was hard to square Pink Floyd’s debut album with the free-form, acid-laced freak-outs that had made the band’s name on the London club scene. With Abbey Road sessions produced by Norman Smith – a sometime jazz man who openly admitted that psychedelia “didn’t interest me” – Syd Barrett’s ragged chaos had been cut, buffed and tamed into a more palatable brand of art-pop.
Only once on the tracklisting were the band given free rein to indulge what manager Peter Jenner called “the weird shit”, opening Side Two with the 10-minute, semi-improvised instrumental Interstellar Overdrive. Though officially credited to all four, the tune had been initiated in early 1966, when Barrett heard Jenner attempting to hum Love’s cover of My Little Red Book and filled the gaps on guitar. “I’m not the world’s greatest singer,” reflected Jenner. “He played back a riff on his guitar, said: ‘It goes like this?’ And of course it was quite different, because my humming was so bad.”
Born from that happy accident, Interstellar Overdrive became a live staple, opening the Floyd’s UFO club sets, where it would frequently sprawl into a half-hour odyssey. Arriving at Abbey Road, the band set out to bottle that visceral live approach, playing at volumes that reportedly destroyed four microphones. As staff engineer Peter Bown recalled: “I opened the door and nearly shit myself. By Christ, it was loud. I thought: ‘How the fuck are we going to get this on tape?’”
Opening with a sinister judder of guitar that breaks into a trashy groove, then moves into a boggle-eyed improv section, Interstellar walked the tightrope between art and chaos, slipping time signatures and rummaging a box of tricks that included everything from backwards tape to Barrett’s string-scuffing. By the time it bowed out (nine minutes, 41 seconds), returning to the same proto-punk motif that opened it, the track had pushed boundaries where even The Beatles (recording next door) feared to tread.
Even so, Nick Mason would later recall that the Piper take of Interstellar was a compromise compared to the 16-minute marathon recorded for the soundtrack of the 1967 documentary Tonite Lets All Make Love In London. “Every song on [Piper] was something we had played live,” the drummer told Rolling Stone. “And the studio version was inevitably the cut-down version.”
As the epitome of the Barrett-era Floyd – and an awkward fit when the band gained superstardom – it wasn’t surprising that by 1970 Interstellar had been dropped from the set-lits. Nor does Waters miss it. “Syd was a genius. But I wouldn’t want to go back to playing Interstellar Overdrive for hours and hours,” he said in 1992. HY
“My ultimate Pink Floyd album has to be their very first, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. There are so many great tracks on the album. And although choosing just one track from that album is impossible I’ll pick Interstellar Overdrive, mainly because the band I had back then, Purple Tangerine Snowflake – don’t laugh – performed a cover version that we learned literally a day after I’d bought the album. I remember we played that number at a cricket club in Wakefield, handing the audience flowers. We were dressed in homemade psychedelic gear, gold lamé kaftans, white bell bottoms and lots of bells. The staid cricket club audience didn’t know what the hell to make of it, but we revelled in the anarchic nature of our performance, letting wild feedback and long echo delays create that cosmic feel that was inherent in the early Floyd recordings. As far as psychedelia goes, it doesn’t get much better than Interstellar Overdrive.”
“Interstellar Overdrive. I always remember that one. It’s kinda psychedelic, no singing. I remember it being around everywhere at the time. Then I never really listened to them much after that; it was maybe a little too intellectual or something for me. My rock’n’roll was always more based in the garage. But I appreciate them now. ”
Careful With That Axe, Eugene – B-side of the single, Point Me At The Sky, 1968
The seeds of Careful With That Axe, Eugene can be traced back to a couple of instrumental variants in the 12 months before it was officially released, namely Keep Smiling, People and Murderistic Woman. It would go through two more modifications later, firstly as Beset The Creatures Of The Deep and then, with a choir, as Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up, for the soundtrack of 1970’s counterculture film Zabriskie Point. The original studio version is a sublime improv jam, anchored by Waters’s bass. Wright’s organ lines meander freely, while Gilmour adds tasteful guitar. The song’s innate trippiness is further accentuated by the use of its title as a whispered motif, followed by Waters’s bedlam scream. This feels like a model of restraint, however, compared to the more voluble nine-minute live take on Ummagumma. RH
ALAN VEGA, Suicide
“Suicide were always fooling around with electronic music, but I’ve always loved rock’n’roll. I remember hearing The Piper when it first came out. That whole first album is amazing. Careful is my favourite. It really is incredible. I’m not sure about their later stuff. Syd’s Pink Floyd were better. That guy was a totally crazy motherfucking genius, man. Crazy with a capital C, motherfucker with a capital M, genius with a capital G. Syd was a great songwriter, one of the greatest of all time.”
A Saucerful Of Secrets – A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968
Poor Norman “Hurricane” Smith, the EMI house producer foisted onto Pink Floyd when they’d signed to the label. Working with the “madcap” Syd Barrett was bad enough but at least they’d scored a couple of hits. But without him the rest of the band were commercially clueless. He scoured the tracks they recorded for their second album in vain for a potential single. Still, he was impressed with the way they developed their ideas, so he taught them how a studio works and when they were left with a 12-minute gap to fill on the album he let them get on with it.
Waters remembers A Saucerful Of Secrets as “a turning point. It gave us our second breath. It was the first thing we’d done without Syd that we thought was any good”. Gilmour remembers that “it started with Roger and Nick drawing weird shapes on a bit of paper. We then composed music based on the structure of the drawing. My role I suppose was to try and make it a bit more musical, to create a balance between formlessness and structure, between disharmony and harmony”.
Mason believes that the track that ended up giving the album its title “contained ideas that were well ahead of the period and very much a route that we have followed. Even without using a lot of technique, without being particularly able in our own right, we were finding something we could do that other people hadn’t tried, like provoking the most extraordinary sounds from a piano by scratching around inside it.”
Smith hated it. According to Wright, “he just couldn’t – he didn’t – understand. He said, ‘Well, I think it’s rubbish. It won’t sell a single copy but go ahead and do it if you want to’. But we all believed it was the best thing we’d put on record.”
As Gilmour puts it, “It was the first clue to our direction forward. If you take A Saucerful Of Secrets, Atom Heart Mother and Echoes, they all lead quite logically to Dark Side Of The Moon.” HF
The Nile Song – More original soundtrack, 1969
Pink Floyd have rarely sounded heavier than on this mighty surge from Barbet Schroeder’s hallucinatory film More, about drug casualties in Ibiza. The soundtrack is actually much better than the movie itself and was the band’s first full album to be made without Syd Barrett, following his departure after the sessions for A Saucerful Of Secrets. Written by Roger Waters and sung by David Gilmour, The Nile Song serves as a proto-metal companion to the similarly inclined Ibiza Bar and, years later, Not Now John. It’s bracing to remember Floyd this way, savaging the amps like a petulant garage band. Waters’s lyrics are suitably damaged too, the song’s protagonist caught under the spell of a dark sorceress: ‘She is calling from the deep/Summoning my soul to endless sleep/She is bound to drag me down.’ RH
Ummagumma – 1969
BILLY GIBBONS, ZZ Top
“Their catalogue runs deep and this is a roundabout way of not answering your question. I’m going to pick an album – Ummagumma, the one that on the back of the sleeve has them standing amid every slither of their gear. I don’t know whether they did that for distraction, but it made you play the record multiple times, wondering whether or not they’d used those timpani drums yet. ‘Woaah – wait a minute, let’s go back…’ It certainly kept the listener on their toes. I’d recommend any Floyd fan to pay attention to every track on that album.”
Summer ’68 – Atom Heart Mother, 1970
Sex and Pink Floyd have always seemed like uneasy bedfellows. The only time they tackled the deed was on The Wall, via Mother’s dark oedipal overtones and Young Lust’s uncomfortable declaration – ‘Ooh, I need a dirty woman.’ Or so it seemed.
In fact, Floyd’s ‘quiet man’ keyboard player Richard Wright got there first in 1970. Years later, Wright told the press Floyd had been pursued by groupies on their 1968 US tour: “They’d come and look after you like a personal maid, do your washing, sleep with you and leave with a dose of the clap.”
The oddly pointed lyrics to Summer ’68 saw him addressing the transient nature of touring and one night stands (‘Tomorrow brings another town and another girl like you’) over a surging brass fanfare by the EMI Pops Orchestra. Buried on the second side of Atom Heart Mother, Summer ’68 sounds like a last hurrah for Floyd’s psychedelic pop era, while Wright’s gentle piano fills suggest the beginning of something new; a road that would eventually lead to The Dark Side Of The Moon. MB
Atom Heart Mother – Atom Heart Mother, 1970
The title track to Pink Floyd’s first Number One album grew out of a chord sequence that Gilmour had written. “It sounded like The Magnificent Seven to me.” When Waters heard it he thought it had a “heroic plodding quality” that was worth pursuing. “We sat and played with it, jigged it around, added bits and took bits away, farted around with it until we got some shape to it,” Gilmour remembers.
At this point the piece was called The Amazing Pudding and the band road-tested it on their British and European dates at the beginning of 1970. They decided it would benefit from orchestral arrangements and a choir, so they brought in Ron Geesin, a classically trained musician who had worked with Waters on the Music From The Body soundtrack. The band played him the basic tape of the rhythms and chords, made a few suggestions and headed off for an American tour, leaving Geesin to it. “It was a 25-minute piece, which was a hell of a lot of work,” says Geesin. “Nobody really knew what was wanted. And none of them could read music.” The band returned in time for the recording session. But nobody had thought to hire a conductor. Geesin volunteered for the job despite never having conducted an orchestra before. It was, he now admits, a mistake. “They were hard, uncaring types who weren’t going to tolerate anyone green or naïve.” Geesin, of course, ticked both boxes. He was put out of his misery when choirmaster John Aldiss showed up, realised what was wrong and took over.
The piece only got its proper title when it was about to be played on The John Peel Show. Waters saw the headline Atom Heart Mother in the Evening Standard above a story about a pregnant woman with an atomic pacemaker. And when designer Storm Thorgerson’s “totally cow” cover was accepted, the band gave some of the section titles a bovine twist, like Breast Milky and Funky Dung. HF
Echoes – Meddle, 1971
With the frazzled Syd Barrett now departed (in every sense), the Floyd survivors were gripped by an identity crisis, and although 1970’s Atom Heart Mother had reached a reassuring UK#1, the line-up would later dismiss this fifth album as “a load of rubbish”.
David Gilmour would subsequently describe Echoes as “the point at which we found our focus”, but this mojo-restoring track didn’t come easy. In January 1971, having signed a new contract with EMI that granted them unlimited studio time, the band moved from Abbey Road, to AIR, to Morgan, all the while amassing a so-called “rubbish library” of sonic doodles and half-formed song ideas with inauspicious working titles (Nothing One, Nothing Two, The Son Of Nothing etc).
In early 1971, Pink Floyd only broke their studio residencies to play live. That April, the band made a critical breakthrough, debuting a piece then known as The Return Of The Son Of Nothing live in Norwich, pulling structure from the madness, and returning with the bones of Echoes. “When they came back,” engineer John Leckie told Floyd biographer Mark Blake, “they’d got it into shape because they’d been playing it live. It was conceived as one big thing, bits in various sections, so it was recorded that way.”
Credited to all four members, this sprawling work represented Floyd at their most collaborative, and AIR’s 16-track technology running at full stretch. Rick Wright achieved the eerie U-boat ‘ping’ by running a grand piano through a Leslie rotating speaker. Waters supplied some of his most evocative lyrics (‘Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air’).
Leckie recalls Nick Mason coming up “with a lot of the crazier ideas”, while Gilmour’s guitar work was typically dazzling, morphing from the hanging notes of the introduction to the shrieks of the mid-section. “The seagull sound you hear on Echoes is the Cry Baby [wah-wah pedal],” the engineer told Guitar World. “Hendrix died in the middle of recording, which I think affected them a bit.”
Mason would later complain that Echoes “sounds a bit overlong”. True, this was certainly a colossal work, taking up the entire second side of 1971’s Meddle. But every measure of this 23-minute opus was solid gold. Expansive, otherworldly and brimming with atmosphere, it represented the gearshift away from the Barrett era, and gave the band the creative confidence that would take them into the stadium league. HY
AVIV GEFFEN, Blackfield
“The intro with the Leslie piano and the great melody is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear this song it feels like someone gave me a joint.”
“Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun is my favourite. And I really like Echoes. I love the earlier, more experimental side of the Floyd catalogue.”
One Of These Days – Meddle, 1971
The enormous Echoes may have given them a live epic that would dominate their shows for years to come, but arguably it’s the more succinct One Of These Days that condenses the quintessential Floyd experience into just under six minutes. Waters’ opening one-note bass riff was fed through a Binson echo unit, a piece of technology that they’d hung on to since the Syd Barrett days; its pulsating insistence becomes the driving force of the song. “You make a sort of rhythm between yourself and the echo,” explains Gilmour. “Originally, it was just that sound but later on after we’d recorded it, it didn’t sound like it held up on its own for the whole number, so we added some heavy vibrato for the middle section that we cut in. And then we started laying on the whole boogaloo; all the organs and the fast guitars.” The “boogaloo” includes a snippet from the Doctor Who theme as well as Mason’s only vocal contribution to Pink Floyd when he intoned menacingly: _‘One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces.’ _HF
Free Four – Obscured By Clouds, 1972
Pink Floyd’s 1975 song Welcome To The Machine has always been the moment listeners first realised how disenfranchised Roger Waters had become. But it didn’t happen overnight. The lyrics to Free Four were thoroughly bleak, but disguised in a brisk, almost country rock song, released as a single in the US, and included on Obscured By Clouds, Floyd’s 1972 soundtrack to the French art-house film La Vallée.
Free Four is the first Pink Floyd song to reference Waters’s father. Eric Fletcher Waters was a soldier in the 8th Royal Fusiliers, killed during the Second World War when his son was just five months old. ‘I am the dead man’s son,’ sings Waters, ‘And he was buried like a mole in a fox hole.’ Waters’s questioning lyric continues over the song’s near hypnotic, seesawing rhythm and David Gilmour’s spitting guitar solos. ‘You shuffle in gloom to the sickroom/And talk to yourself ’til you die,’ offers the final pay-off line in a song whose lyrics are as despondent as its music is upbeat. MB
Breathe – The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
As the first song on The Dark Side Of The Moon, Breathe is a sea of tranquillity: gentle wafting rhythms, lush guitars, a gliding lap steel, lyrics that conjure up the calm of those first minutes after waking up, before you remember all the things you’re meant to be doing.
And yet you already know this peaceful feeling is misleading. The opening heartbeat, the murmuring voices – ‘I’ve been mad for fucking years’ – and maniacal laughter that gets drowned out by a surge of Apocalypse Now-style whirring helicopters, have already given you the sense that Breathe is a temporary lull. And so it proves.
The song’s perfectly realised mood is born of familiarity. Along with several other songs on the album it was performed under the collective title Eclipse for almost a year before it was recorded. “It made a big difference,” explains Gilmour. “You couldn’t do that now of course, you’d be bootlegged out of existence. But when we went into the studio we knew the material, the playing had a natural feel.”
And while Waters later had misgivings over the simplicity of the lyrics – “It always amazes me that I got away with it really because it’s so Lower Sixth. You know, ‘Breathe, breathe in the air/Don’t be afraid to care’” – the simplicity of the words helps create the song’s atmosphere. HF
Time – The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
The effects that adorn Time are a prime example of how Pink Floyd’s working methods in the studio could transform a song. Without them Time might have been an Obscured By Clouds outtake.
The ticking clocks that gradually grow in intensity before breaking out in a cacophony of alarms is just the beginning. How fortuitous that engineer Alan Parsons – en route to his own Project from an apprenticeship working with The Beatles – should have been dispatched a month earlier to make a series of field recordings for a sound effects album EMI was planning. This included recording the aforementioned clocks at an antique clock shop.
And that deep sonorous guitar note that follows – how long did it take before Gilmour and the band were satisfied that they had exactly the right sound? How deep? How sonorous? And then the tom toms that bring a syncopated edge to the rhythm; that’s not Mason flailing away on his drum kit. He’d found a set of rototoms – metal framed drums with no shell that are tuned by rotation – lying around the studio.
All this happens before a word has been sung. Try starting the song without them, however, and it loses much of its impact. The melody is a pretty bog-standard Floyd construction lifted by occasional genius lyrics like ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’. HF
Brain Damage/Eclipse – The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
David Gilmour supposedly had to convince a reluctant Roger Waters to take the lead vocal on Brain Damage, his sensitive meditation on mental collapse that came to signify the undoing of Syd Barrett. Waters turned out to be the perfect fit, his vulnerable tone gliding over a serene melody and soft harmonies from a quartet that includes Lesley Duncan and Doris Troy. The manic cackle that interjects belongs to Floyd’s then-road manager, Peter Watts. The composition’s origins were rooted in the Meddle sessions of 1971, with Waters’s working title – The Dark Side Of The Moon – eventually being used to name the album it finally appeared on. One couplet in particular addresses Barrett’s gradual dissociation from the rest of his bandmates: ‘And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes/I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.’
Brain Damage segues into Waters’s equally pacific Eclipse, which closes with the dim thump of a heartbeat and the line: ‘And everything under the sun is in tune/But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.’ The song was later used for the finale of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony in London. RH
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Money – The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
There’s the clank of a cash register. A jangle of coins. A tearing of till receipts. A loping bassline, built on just eight notes. And finally, David Gilmour’s opening gambit (‘Money! Get away…’). So begins Money: Pink Floyd’s first international signature tune, their ticket to the stadium league and the most unlikely smash hit of the 70s (or until Another Brick In The Wall Part 2).
Nobody could have predicted those impending plaudits when Waters arrived at Abbey Road in June 1972 with the bones of the song: an awkward 7⁄4 composition that tested both Nick Mason (“It was incredibly difficult to play along with”) and guesting tenor saxophonist Dick Parry. “It’s Roger’s riff,” noted Gilmour. “Roger came in with the verses and lyrics for Money more or less completed. We made up middle sections, guitar solos and all that stuff. We also invented some new riffs – we created a 4⁄4 progression for the guitar solo and made the poor saxophone player play in 7⁄4.”
“Occasionally,” Waters reflected in Rolling Stone, “I would do things and Dave would say, ‘No, that’s wrong. There should be another beat. That’s only seven’. I’d say, ‘Well, that’s how it is’. A number of my songs have bars of odd length. When you play Money on an acoustic guitar, it’s very much a blues thing.”
For the studio take, Waters would re-record the sound effects that he had originally created in his garden shed by throwing coins into a bowl used by his wife for mixing clay. Yet the song’s most dazzling moment came from Gilmour. Though the guitarist would self-deprecatingly refer to Money as “nice white English architecture students getting funky”, there was searing soul in his solo, which adrenalises the song at the three-minute mark then drops its effects for the ‘dry’ section at 3:48.
While Floyd’s management quickly identified Money as a potential “monster hit”, the bandmembers themselves were ambivalent, feeling that the tricky time signature would hold it back, and also envious of Led Zeppelin’s refusal to issue singles or pander to radio. “We didn’t think anything would happen with Money,” noted Rick Wright. “And suddenly, it just did.”
And how. Released on May 7, 1973 – two months after parent album The Dark Side Of The Moon had topped the Billboard chart – Money climbed to US No.13, announcing Floyd as rock heavyweights and making Waters’s wealth-baiting lyric ring a little hollow. With Money in their locker the band found themselves harangued at shows across the planet. “It was quite a shock,” Gilmour told In The Studio, “to be confronted with people down the front all screaming for us to play Money – when previously our slightly more reverential audiences were sitting in absolute silence waiting to hear the next pin being dropped.” HY
“I think I’ll go for Money because of the way it’s edited and the fact it became an industry standard once it was released. Nick Mason’s father was a sound engineer who did documentaries and that comes through on this song. I love Dave Gilmour’s guitar sound. He’s a very good player and I love his voice, but 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.”
BRUCE WATSON, Big Country
“Money is one that everyone will pick, but I always loved its slightly odd time signature. And of course the mad cash register sound effect really helped to make it so memorable.”
Us And Them – The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
JUSTIN HAYWARD, The Moody Blues
“I always liked it because of the third chord in the verse. If you listen to it there are two chords and you think, ‘Oh, that’s quite ordinary’ but when they hit that third chord it still makes me sit upright. I always like surprises in a song. I don’t know who wrote Us And Them, whether it’s by Roger or David as they’re both friends of mine – I kinda hope it was Dave, but it was probably Roger… it would be nice if it was both of them [It was actually Richard Wright and Waters – Ed].”
“I’m sure that a lot of other guitarists will have picked Money, and that song does have David’s best guitar solo, but I really like Us And Them for various reasons. It has a somnambulist aspect; the production with the repeat echo on the vocal is superb; it’s also got a disaffected element. When Floyd work at their best their songs seem to address – or be aimed at – the walking wounded. This is one of them. There’s a great anger in the chorus, and it’s a very powerful song. I used to hear it so many times at the Speakeasy club in London. It was a part of the soundtrack to that place; great memories from the early 1970s.”
The Great Gig In The Sky – The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
Closing the first side of the Dark Side Of The Moon album after the sensory overload of On The Run and Time, The Great Gig In The Sky is a disquieting come-down that ponders mortality. It’s Rick Wright’s unsurpassed contribution to Pink Floyd as his simply embellished piano chords rise above a snippet of the Lord’s Prayer and English philosopher Malcolm Muggeridge’s thoughts on death “I am not afraid of dying, any time will do, I don’t mind” – before session singer Clare Torry temporarily obliterates the calm with a primal wordless howl that seems to rail against dying before bowing to the inevitable in what Gilmour describes as “that orgasmic sound we know and love”.
The song was among the last to be completed as the album took shape. Engineer Alan Parsons recommended Torry who admits she didn’t know much about Pink Floyd before she arrived at the Abbey Road session. According to Wright, “We knew what we wanted. Not exactly musically but we knew we wanted someone to improvise over this piece. We said, ‘Think about death think about horror, whatever’.”
Torry recalls that the band didn’t seem to know what they wanted, but after the first take they knew what they didn’t want. “They said, ‘No no. We don’t want any words’. That really stumped me. I thought, ‘I have to pretend to be an instrument’. That gave me an avenue to explore.” Wright remembered: “She went into the studio and did it really quickly. Then she came back out looking embarrassed saying: ‘I’m really sorry’, while the rest of us were goin: ‘This is really great.’”
In 2004 Torry began legal proceedings against Pink Floyd, claiming co-authorship of the song. The case was settled out of court, details unknown, but she now gets a credit alongside Wright on the album. HF
Wish You Were Here – Wish You Were Here, 1975
Rewind to January 1975, and Abbey Road hummed with bad vibes as Pink Floyd embarked on sessions for their ninth album. With David Gilmour admitting to NME that 1973’s The Dark Side Of The Moon had left them “creatively trapped”, Roger Waters explaining the Wish You Were Here concept as working “with people whom you know aren’t there anymore”, and Nick Mason quipping on Capital Radio that “I really did wish that I wasn’t there”, this latest album was the signpost to the great Floyd fallout.
And yet, even on a record that Gilmour remembers “started quite painfully”, the title track brought a moment of easy serendipity and happy synergy between the members. “I had bought a 12-string guitar,” Gilmour recalled in a video interview to promote the Immersion reissue of Wish You Were Here. “I was strumming it in the control room of Studio Three at Abbey Road, and that [opening riff] just started coming out. Roger’s ears pricked up and he said, ‘What’s that?’ I had a terrible habit of playing bits of songs by other people that were good. And I think Roger was a bit nervous asking, in case it came from something else, by someone else.”
While Gilmour became “mildly obsessed” as he developed the guitar part, the band’s brainwave was to open Wish You Were Here with the effect of a listener cycling through radio stations, alighting on Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, before finally settling on a distant-sounding 12-string riff, which is shortly joined by a warmer acoustic passage.
“The idea,” explained Gilmour, “was that it was like a guitar playing on the radio and someone in their room at home, in their bedroom or something, listening to it and joining in. So the other guitar was supposed to be a kid at home joining in with the guitar he’s listening to on the radio.
“And therefore,” Gilmour added, “it wasn’t supposed to be too slick – and it wasn’t. Every time I listen to the actual original recording, I think, ‘God, I should have really done that a little bit better.’”
While a cameo by the French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli was largely edited out (some claim it’s just audible at the end), more significant was Roger Waters’s wistful lyric, with a standout couplet – ‘We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year’ – that could be read as a nod to the bassist’s unravelling marriage, but was principally a salute to the fallen Syd Barrett.
“Although Shine On You Crazy Diamond is specifically about Syd, and Wish You Were Here has a broader remit,” noted Gilmour in one documentary, “I can’t sing it without thinking about Syd.”
Indeed, when the classic Pink Floyd line-up reunited in London at Live 8 in 2005, Waters and Gilmour made sure that the Hyde Park audience were in no doubt of Wish You Were Here’s subject matter as they performed the song on acoustic guitars. “We’re doing this for everyone who’s not here,” announced the bassist, pointedly. “And particularly, of course, for Syd.” HY
Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Wish You Were Here, 1975
A cornerstone of the band’s repertoire, David Gilmour has called Shine On You Crazy Diamond “the purest Floyd song”, the summation of their mid 70s development. The entire thing unwinds over some 26 minutes, marked by Gilmour’s distinctive four-note guitar figure and undergoing a series of inspired transformations that involve lap steel, distorted riffs, tenor sax and multi-tracked synths. Roger Waters conceived the lyrics as a tender tribute to Syd Barrett, then in the midst of a descent into mental illness. Like the music itself, it’s a malleable construct, bittersweet feelings of regret tied up in the memory: ‘Remember when you were young /You shone like the sun/Shine on you crazy diamond/Now there’s a look in your eyes/Like black holes in the sky.’
The recording of the song also coincided with one of the most famous incidents in Floyd mythology, when Barrett himself – bald, overweight and with shaved eyebrows – wandered into Abbey Road studios during the mixing stage of the track. It was some time before the band even recognised him. “He just, for some incredible reason, picked the very day that we were doing a song which was about him,” Rick Wright recalled. “Very strange.” RH
BILLY GOULD – Faith No More
“Like us, Pink Floyd went through a lot of changes and I think every one of them was pretty solid. But I particularly like this track. There’s something real about it. It feels authentic. You don’t have to know it’s about Syd Barrett to enjoy it, but I’m not surprised that it is.”
Welcome To The Machine – Wish You Were Here, 1975
As if to reinforce its theme of the music industry as a corporate behemoth that prizes financial reward over creative expression, Welcome To The Machine is built around the relentless synth pulse then decorated with David Gilmour’s acoustic guitar patterns. Roger Waters, who also brings a bank of tape effects, wrote the song as a commentary on Floyd’s own disaffection with aspects of the business. The narrative deals with the routine manipulation of a rock-star wannabe by the powers that be: ‘Welcome my son, welcome to the machine/Where have you been? It’s alright, we know where you’ve been/You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time.” It’s a strikingly powerful song, made all the more compelling by time signatures that refuse to stay still for too long.
“With a number like that you don’t start off with a regular concept of group structure,” explained Gilmour, who called the track “a form of collage using sound”. RH
BRANN DAILOR, Mastodon
“Each time I hear that song it gives me chill-bumps. It makes me think of the time I was about fourteen years old and on acid. My friends and I used to go to the house of this guy that we probably should have stayed away from. In my mind he was in his forties or fifties, but he was probably only thirty. I recall sitting there at around 3am or 4am, and he didn’t have electricity – he was stealing it from his neighbour with a long extension cord – and that song came on the radio. It was doing… er… what I needed it to do. As I listened, I watched this candle burn down. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and Welcome To The Machine was the perfect soundtrack to it.
“Thing about it now, it puts me right back in that moment. That’s what music should do; it’s supposed to be deep and evocative, to provide soundscapes. It’s what we try to with Mastodon.”
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, Coheed And Cambria
“I love how it starts off with the whole rhythmic mechanics thing. That’s what I do now as a songwriter – I go out into the world and sample things, creating organic sounds out of not such organic components. Lyrically the song’s theme can be applied to just about anything. It’s quite dark. When it comes on the radio – and it does often as it’s very popular – it can turn the prettiest day into the darkest night. It’s very thought-provoking. That’s why I love Floyd – they never fail to conjure up the imagination.”
Dogs – Animals, 1977
These days its cover image of a pig drifting over Battersea Power Station is better known than the music on Animals. Like the band’s famous mascot, Pink Floyd’s tenth studio album is a curious beast.
Part of the problem is that Animals came after Wish You Were Here and before The Wall. However brilliant it is, nothing has the everyman appeal of Wish You Were Here’s title track or Shine On. Unfortunately, after Floyd released The Wall and started having hit singles, Animals was done for.
“Animals was when Roger really started to believe he was the sole writer of the band,” complained Rick Wright in 1994. Dogs is the only song on Animals composed by Waters and Gilmour, and it’s the perfect union of the former’s venomous lyrics and the latter’s innate sense of melody.
Dogs began life as Gotta Be Crazy, and was played live on Floyd’s 1974 UK tour, although Gilmour complained Waters had originally written too many lyrics for him to sing it properly). The song was intended for Wish You Were Here until Waters decided it didn’t fit the concept. Gotta Be Crazy was revived when Floyd started recording Animals in spring 1976. Waters suggested a name change to Dogs to better suit the theme of the new album: broadly speaking, a commentary on society, where the ‘animals’ – tyrannical pigs, autocratic dogs, stupid sheep – are metaphors for the different characteristics of the human race.
Animals was book-ended by two acoustic love songs: Pigs On The Wing Parts 1 and 2, inspired by Waters’s future second wife, Carolyne Christie. The contrast between the opening romantic overture and the next song, Dogs, is shocking. Dogs arrives on a wave of ominous-sounding guitar and brooding Farfisa organ. Just as arresting is the disparity between Gilmour’s sweetly precise vocals and Waters’s vituperative lyrics, where he rails against a rich, predatory businessman with ‘his club tie and firm handshake’, who ends up ‘Just another sad old man, all alone and dying of cancer’. What makes this lyric even bleaker is the way Gilmour adds a vocal flourish – ‘ow-ow’ – to the word ‘cancer’. It’s a horrible and wonderful at the same time.
Waters sings the lead vocal in the song’s second half, explaining how his character’s grinding work ethic and constant kowtowing to his superiors has rendered him emotionally numb and a stranger to his family. Dogs is so crushingly, almost comically grim that had a generation of corporate bankers and city traders been forced to listen to it the global financial collapse of 2007 might have been avoided. Meanwhile, Gilmour and Wright’s weaving guitars and synths and Mason’s sparse drumming notch up the tension even further.
After Waters left the band in 1985, the Gilmour-led version of Pink Floyd never played Dogs live. Waters, however, has continued to perform it in his solo shows. In a world still riven with greed and fear, Dogs sounds more timely than ever. MB
Sheep – Animals, 1977
Starting life as Raving And Drooling during Pink Floyd’s 1974 tour but dropped from the Wish You Were Here album when the going got too tough, this song got a radical makeover – lyrically at least – when it was revived for Animals, Waters’s bleak Orwellian take on Britain in the late 70s.
As Gilmour recalls, Waters did not finalise the thematic approach to Animals until midway through the recording when he changed the words to reflect Orwell’s Animal Farm. It gave the whole album a snarling edge that was more punk than most of the actual posturing punk bands in 1977.
In contrast to the despotic Pigs and combative Dogs, Sheep represented the mindless, easily led herd who would occasionally rise up and riot if provoked too far. As Waters put it: “Sheep was my sense of what was to come down in England, and it did with the riots in Brixton and Toxteth. And it will happen again.” And he was right. HF
Danny Vaughn, Tyketto
“I always loved Animals. It begins so low-key and ends with Gilmour playing that triad [hums the staccato guitar riff] and those brilliant lyrics: ‘Bleating and babbling I fell on his neck with a scream’. It’s a triumphant piece of music. Animals is one of those pieces that defines the album as an art form; you put it on, you leave it be and it tells you a story.”
One Of My Turns – The Wall, 1979
During the war of attrition between Roger Waters and the rest of Pink Floyd in the 1980s and 90s, one of the sticks used to beat Waters with was his lack of so-called musical ability. “He was great as a conceptualist and lyricist,” David Gilmour said in 1994, “but he’s not a great musician, our Rog, God bless him.”
The choirboy-voiced Gilmour could still sing Waters off stage, even at 70, but he could never convey gut-wrenching anguish as well as Waters, as he did particularly well on One Of My Turns.
The Wall was a shop window for Waters’s psychological pain. While some of its central character, the dispossessed rock star Pink, was borrowed from Syd Barrett, much of it was based on Waters himself.
On One Of My Turns, Pink has an encounter with a groupie, culminating in him trashing his hotel suite – an incident Waters based on seeing Roy Harper smash up his backstage trailer at the 1975 Knebworth festival.
The key to the song can be found at the end of the previous song, Young Lust, when a man answers the phone but hangs up when he hears an American phone company operator (‘A collect call for Mrs Floyd from Mr Floyd. Will you accept the charges?’). Waters based this scenario on the time he was with Floyd in Seattle, phoned his then wife, Judy, in London and a man answered. The marriage ended soon after.
“One Of My Turns is [Pink’s] response to a lot of aggravation in his life,” Waters explained in 1979. “He’s just splitting up with his wife, and in response takes a girl back to his hotel room. But he can’t relate to this girl either.”
The song opens with the groupie, voiced by US TV actor Trudy Young (‘Oh my God! What a fabulous room. Are all these your guitars?’), and the ugliest synthesiser heard on any mainstream rock album. The dissonant keyboard matches Waters’s voice: ‘Day after day, love turns grey, like the skin on a dying man.’ It’s impossible to imagine any other member of Pink Floyd doing this lyric the same justice.
What makes One Of My Turns so affecting is the jarring contrast between the groupie’s attempts at seduction (‘Wanna take a bath?’) and Pink’s complete disinterest. As Waters/Pink rattles off a list of increasingly desperate questions (‘Would you like to see me fly’, ‘Would you like to see me try?’) the song shifts gear with Gilmour and session guitarist Lee Ritenour trading off each other, accompanied by the din of smashed guitars and hotel furnishings and Waters’s most desperate sounding question yet: ‘Why are you running away?’
Forever dwarfed by The Wall’s big hits (Another Brick, Comfortably Numb etc), One Of My Turns distills the essence of the story brilliantly. The feeling of utter disillusionment is peerless. Roger Waters’s lack of musical ability never sounded so good. MB
Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two) – The Wall, 1979
A quarter-century before it topped the international singles charts, the seeds for Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two) were sown at the Cambridgeshire High School For Boys, where Roger Waters enrolled in 1954. “I hated every second of it, apart from games,” the bassist told Mark Blake. “The regime at school was a very oppressive one. It was being run on pre-war lines, where you bloody-well did as you were told, and there was nothing for us but to rebel against it. Most of the teachers were absolute swine.”
Naturally enough, when Waters came to air his myriad grievances on 1979’s The Wall the British educational establishment got it in the neck, with the narrative finding protagonist Pink fantasising about a mutiny against his abusive schoolmasters. Fittingly, according to Nick Mason the original music was “a funereal, gloomy thing”, until producer Bob Ezrin (having overheard Chic recording Risqué in New York) encouraged David Gilmour to absorb the prevailing disco scene. “So I forced myself out,” the guitarist recalled, “and listened to loud, four-to-the-bar bass drums and thought: ‘God, awful.’ Then we went back and tried to turn one of the song’s parts into one of those so it would be catchy.”
With the track now driven by a crisp, airtight beat, Ezrin was convinced Part Two could be a hit. But with only one verse and chorus it still wasn’t long enough to release. When the band refused to write another pass – reportedly telling the producer: “We don’t do singles, so fuck you” – Ezrin simply duplicated the existing material. Yet he still felt he was missing a trick: “The question is, he said, “what do you do with the second verse, which is the same?”
Then came the lightbulb moment that ensured Part Two’s ubiquity. As the producer of Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit School’s Out, Ezrin had brought in a children’s choir – to anarchic effect. Now, with the Floyd away in America, he dispatched recording engineer Nick Griffiths to Islington Green school, where music teacher Alun Renshaw provided some 20 pupils to record the iconic gang-chant ‘We don’t need no education’ at the band’s Britannia Row Studios, their vocals multi-tracked to give the sense of a mob. “I called Roger into the room,” Ezrin remembers of the grand unveiling, “and when the kids came in on the second verse there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record.”
Released on November 16, 1979, Part Two was a runaway hit for a band widely perceived as dinosaurs in the wake of punk, reaching No.1 in 16 countries. Yet its success was soured by dissenting voices, from Islington Green’s headmistress, Margaret Maden, who distanced herself from the song and barred pupils from appearing on Top Of The Pops, to The Daily Mail (“It seems very ironical that these words should be sung by children from a school with such a bad academic record. The grammar is appalling too…”). HY
Goodbye Blue Sky – The Wall, 1979
Roger Waters described Goodbye Blue Sky as a remembrance of “one’s childhood and then getting ready to set off into the rest of one’s life”. Rather than any cosy exercise in nostalgia, however, it’s a searing portrait of ordinary life during the Blitz. ‘Did you see the frightened ones?/Did you hear the falling bombs?/The flames are all gone, but the pain lingers on,’ sings David Gilmour, the horror of the message softened by gentle guitars and deft harmonies. Waters modelled the solitary lead character of The Wall, the abandoned Pink, after himself and Syd Barrett. As with Pink, Waters’s own father had died in action during World War II. On this track he presses home the family connection by using his young son, Harry, to announce the arrival of the bombers: ‘Look mummy, there’s an aeroplane up in the sky.’ RH
In The Flesh – The Wall, 1980
“It’s such a classic song, and John Norum and I got to perform it with an all-star band in Stockholm when Floyd were honoured with the Polar Music Prize [in 2008]. John and I both loved the story behind it, about the rock star guy called Pink. It’s full of parody and irony. I love the guitar riff and the expression of the vocal. It has such drama.”
Comfortably Numb – The Wall, 1980
Roger Waters was in agony. It was June 29, 1977, and backstage at the Philadelphia Spectrum he was suffering from such crippling stomach cramps that he faced a choice between cancelling that night’s show or getting a tranquiliser shot that “would have killed a fucking elephant”. Waters played the show, despite the muscle relaxant rendering him unable to feel his hands or raise his arms. And from that anaesthetised sensation came the seed for the key track on 1979’s The Wall.
The Wall was emphatically Waters’s album – with troubled protagonist Pink a proxy for himself – and he was naturally reluctant when David Gilmour pitched a chord sequence left over from his first solo album. Waters would accept Gilmour’s contribution under duress, and claw back a degree of ownership by supplying lyrics and verse music. But still there were ructions, with the Waters and Bob Ezrin favouring a version with lush orchestration by Michael Kamen, while Gilmour preferred a leaner, harder take. “I fought for the introduction of the orchestra on that record,” says Ezrin. “This became a big issue on Comfortably Numb, which Dave saw as a more bare-bones track. Roger sided with me.”
“We argued over Comfortably Numb like mad,” Gilmour told Rock Compact Disc magazine. “Really had a big fight, went on for ages.”
Both sides thrashed out a settlement, with Comfortably Numb ultimately featuring a little of both men’s visions. “On the record,” Waters told Absolute Radio, “the first verse is from the version [Gilmour] liked, and the second verse is from the version I liked. It was a negotiation and a compromise.”
Thankfully there was no such debate over Gilmour’s two celebrated guitar solos, whose dazzling licks were performed from atop the wall on tour. “I banged out five or six solos,” he told Rolling Stone. “From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and make a chart, noting which bits are good. Then, by following the chart I create one great composite solo by whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase until everything flows together.”
For Pink Floyd as we knew them, the song was the terminal nail in the coffin (“I think things like Comfortably Numb, were the last embers of mine and Roger’s ability to work collaboratively together,” Gilmour reflected ). Yet it has also built bridges, notable as the final song performed by the reunited line-up at Live 8, and also played by Gilmour at Waters’s The Wall show on May 12, 2011. “Dave wanted to do this thing called the Hoping Foundation,” said Waters. “Finally, I’d heard enough and I went: ‘I tell you what. I’m gonna be doing a few nights in the O2. You come and do Comfortably Numb one of those nights, and I’ll do the bloody Hoping Foundation.’ And I thought he’d just go: ‘Fuck off.’ And he didn’t. He went: ‘All right.’ So we did it.” HY
“I did a version of that for a tribute album called A Fair Forgery Of Pink Floyd . I didn’t attempt the huge guitar solo at the end. Mine was very grim and dark, and compared to the original, quite short. I kind of liked it that way. Floyd’s version was downbeat too, which is why I thought it would work for someone who’s on their own. It sounds like the work of a person who’s miserable and comfortably numb. It’s a good song that sticks in your head.”
JERRY CANTRELL, Alice In Chains
“One of my favourite Pink Floyd tunes is Comfortably Numb. It’s so emotional. Just the fucking agony in that song, man. There’s just this sense of wailing agony in that fucking solo, towards the end of the tune. It’s just ungodly. I kinda subscribe to that kind of playing and that kind of thinking, I guess. There was a fork in the road when I was a teenager, when I could have went the Yngwie [Malmsteen] route or more towards Gilmour, – y’know, a little more feel and a less-is-more approach. I guess that’s always been more interesting to me. I could listen to Comfortably Numb any time.”
KIRK HAMMETT, Metallica
“I love Astronomy Domine. I love that song. But the guitar solo in Comfortably Numb is one of those guitar solos that makes everyone just stop, you know, take a breath and just take it in – the beauty, the breadth of it, the majesty of it, the vocal-like quality of it. Gilmour’s guitar sound is something of a mystery to me. I don’t know how he gets that sound, you know. Everyone will say a guitar player’s tone is in his hands. I get that. But there are also technical things that he adds to his sound that I just can’t figure out. One time I talked with Bob Ezrin and I asked him about it, and he alluded to something about echo study or chorus study that he uses in conjunction with his technique that gives him that style, or that sound. And I just looked at Bob and shook my head and said: ‘I completely do not understand’. David Gilmour is brilliant, without a doubt.”
MIKE McCREADY, Pearl Jam
“I was listening to Animals and Wish You Were Here a lot when we were mixing our first Pearl Jam record over in Surrey – on a Walkman of all things. The song that I love the most right now is Comfortably Numb, and the reason is that we’ve been playing it. I took hours and hours and hours trying to figure out how to play the David Gilmour solo, and feeling comfortable with it. It’s a very lyrical, beautiful solo that Gilmour created for that song, and it’s such a poignant, dark song. Lyrically it’s beautiful and sad and hard and amazing and descriptive, but the solo itself is the same way. So when we play it as a band I want to be able to emulate David Gilmour and I don’t want to miss one note on that because it’s so beautifully written.
The Gunner’s Dream – The Final Cut, 1983
If The Wall was Waters’s rant against the forces that dehumanise us, then The Final Cut was his deeply personal attack on the futility of war. Which partly explains why the rest of Pink Floyd are barely on it.
In The Gunner’s Dream Waters gets inside the head of a World War Two gunner falling from a plane flying over the scorched remains of Dresden, wondering if his imminent death will be of service to the post-war dream that followed. It’s depressing and yet, against all the evidence, hopeful, until Waters, whose father died in the Battle of Anzio, looks around him and vents his spleen: ‘Is it for this that daddy died?’
Written in the midst of the IRA’s bombing campaign against Britain, Waters’s cynicism is understandable, but the eloquence with which he makes his point is deeply moving, and backed by wonderful musical arrangements with gentle strings and keyboards, and the sax solo that seems to emerge organically from the words. HF
High Hopes – The Division Bell, 1994
Those who sneered at the ‘facsimile Floyd’ on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the band’s first album without Waters, had to think again after The Division Bell, on which Gilmour found his lyrical voice – less angry than Waters, certainly, but more perceptive in many ways.
High Hopes is about setting out in life and gradually understanding how the past will inevitably affect your future. Yes, Gilmour had help from his writer wife Polly, but the places that he name-checks in Cambridge where he grew up are real enough, and the bell that tolls throughout the song is a familiar sound to anyone who grew up amid the spires of the university.
The lyrics have been scrutinised for references to the feud with his childhood friend Waters, but in fact they rise above it to offer a more generalised observation. This is an older, more reflective Pink Floyd, one that ironically harks back to the early-70s Floyd before the distortion of the dark side took over.
Although the album’s title is featured in the lyrics, it took an outsider, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams, to suggest it. In their last-minute panic to find a title the band had completely overlooked it. HF