The 50 greatest Pink Floyd songs ever

30. Coming Back To Life

Arriving after a studio lay-off nudging seven years, the title of this Division Bell standout was apt (perhaps it also nodded to Gilmour’s cocaine-free lifestyle since meeting journalist, collaborator and future wife Polly Samson). 

The guitarist’s lead work was defiantly melodic in the era of Britrock, and there’s more to his open-hearted lyric than meets the eye (“The ‘dangerous but irresistible pastime’?” he mused in Q. “Oh, it’s sex, obviously. Sex and procreation…”).

29. See Emily Play

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, 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.”

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.”

28. Set the Controls For The Heart Of The Sun

This woozy Saucerful Of Secrets highlight was the only Floyd track to feature all five members (both Barrett and Gilmour provide freeform guitar). Yet it’s arguably the greatest showcase for Mason, the drummer thrumming his skins with timpani mallets in salute to US jazzer Chico Hamilton’s performance on the 1958 concert film Jazz On A Summer’s Day

“I thought that was just the cleverest thing I’d ever seen,” he told Rhythm. “Set The Controls is a great drum piece, lots of room for both dynamics and space, to stretch out.”

27. Goodbye Blue Sky

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.’

26. Another Brick In The Wall (Pt. 1)

Three tracks into The Wall, listeners got a first taste of the haunted melody that would be taken overground with the UK-chart-topping Part 2 – and a glimpse into Pink’s psyche as the album’s anti-hero is scarred by his soldier father’s death (“Daddy’s gone across the ocean, leaving just a memory”). 

That experience was Waters’ own, of course, but the track is arguably Gilmour’s, the guitarist’s clickety-clack delayed riffing casting the darkest of spells.    

25. Astronomy Domine

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”.

24. On The Turning Away

When Waters walked, he didn’t quite take all the politics with him – even if Gilmour’s protest song at the mid-point of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason was more wistful than Wall-style polemic (“We have these rather right-wing conservative governments,” he vaguely explained, “that don't seem to care about many things other than looking after themselves”). 

It might not have been particularly barbed, but On The Turning Away was undeniably beautiful; the synth lead-in and lone vocal are still the stuff of shivers.   

23. Eclipse

Segueing in from previous track Brain Damage to close out the album, Eclipse does feel like a coda, a musical and vocal summing up of everything we’ve heard on the album. 

The seamless segue into the uplifting finale of Eclipse set the marker in how to close out a concept (or indeed any) album. It has never been bettered. It 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.’ 

There’s something valedictory going on here, almost as if the band wanted to let us know they knew they were onto something big here. They really weren’t wrong. The song was later used for the finale of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony in London.

22. Young Lust

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.

21. Sheep

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.

In contrast to the despotic Pigs and combative DogsSheep 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.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. 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. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.