The 50 greatest Pink Floyd songs ever

10. Money

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.”

9. The Great Gig in the Sky

Closing the first side of the Dark Side Of The Moon album after the sensory overload of On The Run and TimeThe 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. 

8. Us And Them

Clearly a song often heard by Radiohead, it does that deceptive thing of starting off sounding like nothing much at all. But as it starts to take shape, it suddenly starts to show off its vast range of colours. 

Sax solos, lovely lingering piano fills, big choruses, crazy little talking additions. It actually feels quite seductive, which isn’t a word you’d normally associate with Floyd.

"Rick [Wright] wrote the chord sequence for Us And Them and I used it as a vehicle," says Waters. "The first verse is about going to war, how on the front line we don’t get much chance to communicate with one another, because someone else has decided that we shouldn’t. The second verse is about civil liberties, racism and colour prejudice. The last verse is about passing a tramp in the street and not helping."

Dick Parry, an old friend of the band’s from Cambridge, overdubbed a sax solo on the song, and a quartet of female session vocalists – Doris Troy, Lesley Duncan, Liza Strike and Barry St John – were brought in to embellish Us And ThemBrain Damage and Eclipse

"They weren’t very friendly," said Duncan looking back. "They were cold, rather clinical. They didn’t emanate any kind of warmth… They just said what they wanted and we did it… There were no smiles. We were all quite relieved to get out."

7. Dogs

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.

6. Hey You

Though having much more of a David Gilmour stamp on it than others, not least in the soaring solo, it’s Waters’ middle-eight vocal entry after it that centres the song then jumps ups the octave to add the bite. The essential Gilmour/Waters dynamic in a nutshell.

"It's about the break-up of my first marriage, all that misery and pain and being out on the road when the woman declares over the phone that she's fallen in love with somebody else," Roger Waters told Mojo. "It's a complete disaster, especially if you're someone like I was. I was flotsam on the turgid seas of women's power. Hopeless, really, I could do nothing but go fetal and weep."

The lyrics reflect Waters' pain, his desperation increasingly apparent with each verse, emphasising his growing distance from his wife and the emotional wall building between them: "Can you feel me?" "Would you touch me?" "Can you help me?

When the band toured the album it was the first song performed behind the onstage wall after it was fully built, but it didn't make the ensuing film at all, as Waters felt the lyric didn't fit the updated narrative.    

5. Time

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’.

4. Echoes

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 OneNothing TwoThe 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

3. Wish You Were Here

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.”

2. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I–IX)

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.” 

1. Comfortably Numb

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.”

Daryl Easlea

Daryl Easlea has contributed to Prog since its first edition, and has written cover features on Pink Floyd, Genesis, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Gentle Giant. After 20 years in music retail, when Daryl worked full-time at Record Collector, his broad tastes and knowledge led to him being deemed a ‘generalist.’ DJ, compere, and consultant to record companies, his books explore prog, populist African-American music and pop eccentrics. Currently writing Whatever Happened To Slade?, Daryl broadcasts Easlea Like A Sunday Morning on Ship Full Of Bombs, can be seen on Channel 5 talking about pop and hosts the M Means Music podcast.