The run of albums Pink Floyd released during the 1970s contain songs whose invention, ambition and creativity continues to dazzle and resonate with a global audience. The passage of time has done little to diminish those songs’ capacity to astonish, move and enthral. We choose ten of their very best.
10. Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Though collaborations between rock bands and orchestras were nothing even in 1970, Floyd’s willfully experimental and typically idiosyncratic approach put them in a field of their own. The title track for their fifth studio album finds Ron Geesin’s bold score for brass, strings and chorus enhancing the surreal and often dream-like quality that so characteristic of this side-long extravaganza.
9. Waiting For The Worms (1979)
The unhinged fascistic whine of Roger Waters’ histrionic demagogue brings 1979’s The Wall hurtling towards its chaotic climax. More unsettling however, are the emollient tones voiced by Gilmour – reasonable on the surface, but beneath their respectable veneer just as vile. Juxtaposing sunny harmonies against darker, grinding riffs, Floyd’s brutal, uncompromising psychodrama remains ominously disconcerting.
8. Time (1973)
As impressive a piece of musical engineering as the inner workings of the massed clocks which open it. This Dark Side Of The Moon staple sees Gilmour’s impassioned guitar effortlessly falling in slow motion slo-mo into a plangent bed of backing vocals, though it’s Rick Wright’s diffident and unvarnished vocal – ‘hanging on in quiet desperation’ – which deftly steals the show.
7. One Of These Days (1971)
What might otherwise be a nondescript riff is collectively transformed into an elemental howl of rage on this opening track from Meddle. Transposing music concrete techniques onto an unstoppable head-shaking force, torrents of echo-enhanced bass, snarling guitar, propulsive beats and slashing keyboards coalesce into one of most formidable moments in the Floyd canon.
6. Money (1973)
Floyd’s affection for experimentation pays off as it seamlessly merges found-sound tape loops with quirky time signatures to fashion this unlikely hit. Dick Parry’s shrill, klaxon-like tenor sax adds another surprising dimension to their palette, but it’s Waters’ barbed lyric and Gilmour’s exquisitely structured soloing that really hits the jackpot.
5. Comfortably Numb (1979)
Though Waters’ sombre account of an individual’s slide into personal dislocation and isolation is grim and unflinching, Gilmour’s anthemic solo magically transcends the bleak subject matter. Taking on a life of its own in concert, its sonorous tones rally the spirits, articulating the human need to connect with one another.
4. Sheep (1977)
Emerging from the cosseted glow of Wright’s electric piano, Floyd go for the jugular with their most caustic cut from Animals. Underpinned by Waters’ glowering bass, Gilmour’s strafing chords graze and bite through Mason’s driving pulse. As the pensive atmosphere bleeds out into the grotesque, distorted psalm, it’s genuinely chilling.
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3. Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 1 - 5 (1975)
Floyd frequently prove dramatic music needn’t be all about fiery grandstanding, and never more so on this emotive two-part epic that bookends Wish You Were Here. Unfolding at a glacial pace, Waters’ meditative lamentation of Syd Barrett’s tragic arc from brilliance to illness smoulders with a fierce, heartfelt intensity. The emotional weight of the tolling four-note motif ushers in one of Gilmour’s more thoughtful excursions.
2. Echoes (1971)
With their desire in developing long-form writing well established by 1971, Echoes showcases their refined, consummate grasp of textural detail. From the very first ‘sonar’ ping through to the exultant, radiant climax, via strange alien hinterlands, the piece ripples steadily outwards; a sustained masterclass in controlled tension and triumphant release.
1. Wish You Were Here (1975)
Floyd’s intimate vulnerability remains startling, even at the height of their fame. On the title track of 1975’s Wish You Were, melancholic recognition that something and someone has been irrevocably lost is tempered by the acceptance that time has moved on. Neatly avoiding any showiness, sentimentality or self-pity, this is undoubtedly Pink Floyd at their most poignant.