Pink Floyd music is dynamic. Depending on your mood, you hear a different song – whether it be the lyrics or the melody.
If you’re down, hungover, or tired, you hear the depressing lyrics, you perceive the sad lyrical allusions, and you go deep into the song’s melancholy vibe.
If you’re happy, alert, or well-rested, you hear the complex audio undertones, cheerful phrases, and subtle minute sounds.
And if you just listen to the lyrics without looking into the meanings, you hear a strange, ridiculous, story about all sorts of random things.
12. Have a Cigar
A lesser-heard gem from the enlightening album Wish You Were Here, this stagy guitar licking song is filled with more of a lighter fare than the breadth of Floyd songs, and it stands out as one of their more “standard rock songs”, but it still manages to have some interesting allusions and lyrics.
It is laced with a blunt message about the recording industry, featuring straight-forward satire such as:
We’re just knocked out.
We heard about the sell out.
You gotta get an album out,
You owe it to the people. We’re so happy we can hardly count.
It sounds like the record execs really like your stuff boy, and the best part is they’re honest about it:
And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it Riding the Gravy Train.
They’re going to ride that Gravy Train until it crashes. Have a cigar, then have a listen:
At first it might be a little hard understanding why I chose Sorrow. It starts with such a rough entry into the track that it seems like it’s going to be a slow song. But the patient listener will be struck with a bolt of musical juice at one minute forty-five (1:45), when it really picks up and changes tempo.
From the album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Sorrow is a unique take on lost paradise, and even has literary references influenced by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, featured in the opening lines of the song:
The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land
Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky:
A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers,
But awakes to a morning with no reason for waking
10. Pigs (Three Different Ones)
This illustrious track features cowbells, guitar slides, and pig noises (what do you expect from a song on an album called Animals) and is a three verse song that present three different “pigs” as the topic of discussion.
Through the midpoint, David Gilmour utilizes a Heil talk box to mimic pig noises through his guitar, as a break point between the three types of pig archetypes Roger Waters finds: Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep.
Try to listen for the three pigs and the talk box solo:
9. Hey You
Hey You might be one of Pink Floyd’s more popular songs in general, and helped flesh out masterpiece album The Wall. The piece does get used the most on classic rock stations and in movies, and why not? It has great lyrics:
Hey you! out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old, can you feel me
Hey you! Standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles, can you feel me
Hey you! don’t help them to bury the live
Don’t give in without a fight.
For me, it’s the crushing guitar section in the middle, with the repetitive and powerful leitmotif that pounds into your brain. Speaking of brains, Floyd also throws in this delightful vision of confinement:
No matter how he tried he could not break free
And the worms ate into his brain.
This track is part of a bigger story set in the world of The Wall, and alludes to themes and tones found throughout the album. Extra credit if you listen to this album while watching V For Vendetta.
Originally demoed as Raving and Drooling, Pink Floyd’s Sheep has a slight resemblance to the Doctor Who theme song, features a vocoder spoken parody of the Bible passage Psalm 23, poking fun at the phrase “The Lord is my shepherd” and even suggests that we can, “Through quiet reflection and great dedication, Master the art of karate“.
Towards the end, right before the sheep “baas”, it has some rock riffs that sound like something Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin would have devised, but all in all this song is a worthy ballad.
Try the song out alongside this music video featuring scenes from Peter Jackson’s gross-funny horror Black Sheep. It almost seems like Jackson planned for this to work so well:
Echoes was one of the early extended songs that Pink Floyd is famous for. They just play and play and play – and the track keeps going and inspires you to keep going.
With experimental melodies that just worked, Floyd floats most of the song in C-sharp minor, and some of the most unique noises (like the seagull sound) were actually caused by accident – David Gilmour had mistakenly reversed his wah-wah pedal, creating the scary atmosphere of a bird in despair.
Another interesting aspect of this song is the rumor that it matches up concurrently with the final segment of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, very much like the idea that Dark Side of the Moon synchronizes with the Wizard of Oz movie. Either way, you can’t go wrong with Stanley Kubrick and Pink Floyd mixed together – so try it out!
6. Comfortably Numb
The epitome of an overmedicated patient, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb starts as a casual conversation between what appears to be a stressed individual and their doctor or therapist. As the song progresses, the narrator starts to become more lost in their fever, and are slowly overcome by their sickness and its cure.
The title is such a great juxtaposition of ideas, an apathetic or detached being who seems complacent in their current state. The soul of this song is enriched by guitar-god shapes of seemingly never-ending melodic metal.
Go for the lyrics and setting, stay for the guitar build up at the end:
5. Welcome to the Machine
The lyrics of this song fit into an industrialized world of fear – the kind of thing that haunted industrialized England and Europe, World War 2, 60s America, Thatcher-fascism, and the ever-impending Dystopian Future. It reminds us all that no matter how successful, wealthy, or social we can be, we are all still part of a bigger machine.
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been.
This song’s theme transcends generations with its message about keeping our humanity, as well as the fear of losing it. Movies like The Matrix, 1984, Equilibrium, Brasil, Aeon Flux, are just a small chunk of pop culture that strike the same vein – and warn us about our road to conformity (if it ever comes!).
Don’t get sucked into the great machine:
4. Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts I–V, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts VI-IX
Pink Floyd’s two part track is full of solos, great rhythms, and the shiniest of word-smithing. In between the amazing saxophone serenade, riveting bass strumming, and electric guitar waterfall of aural color, you get great lines like this:
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
The songs are partly about Syd Barrett, partly about music fame, and mostly pure soulful music. The tune was not without trouble, as they had to split the song into two anthems in order to account for the recording issues, as outlined by David Gilmour in an interview with Gary Cooper:
We originally did the backing track over the course of several days, but we came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t good enough. So we did it again in one day flat and got it a lot better. Unfortunately nobody understood the desk properly and when we played it back we found that someone had switched the echo returns from monitors to tracks one and two. That affected the tom-toms and guitars and keyboards which were playing along at the time. There was no way of saving it, so we just had to do it yet again.
In the end, the two songs stand up on their own, and the remastered Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts I–VII is also a nice track to dive into.
Money – what more can I say on top of what Floyd says so well:
You get a good job with good pay and you’re okay
It’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team
Well, get back
I’m all right Jack
Keep your hands off of my stack
It’s a hit
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
I’m in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
I think I need a Lear jet
It’s a crime
Share it fairly
But don’t take a slice of my pie
So they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise
It’s no surprise that they’re giving none away
Take a loan from us, and have some Money:
2. Brain Damage / Eclipse
Treated as a sort of sewn-together track, Brain Damage / Eclipse are two Pink Floyd songs that are connected for life. Much like the Queen track duo We Will Rock You / We are the Champions, it’s almost a sin to play these songs by themselves.
Mixed into the dark, insane asylum patient lyrics, there is the overlay of an almost church-like choir of background singers, the frightening giggle of some lunatic, and voices in your head. For people who take pride in their sanity, this song almost makes listeners believe that they are going crazy.
Press play and read on:
The lyrics in Brain Damage place you in a nightmarish facility, terrorized by other patients:
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon
The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me ’till I’m sane
And then as you progress through your fugue state, you are cast away into a sort of “pain medicated” state of well being, as if your handlers have taken you down for a bit:
All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
All that you love
All that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
All that you give
All that you deal
All that you buy
beg, borrow or steal
All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say
All that you eat
everyone you meet
All that you slight
everyone you fight
All that is now
All that is gone
All that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
There is no dark side of the moon really.
Matter of fact it’s all dark.
This song is an unusual and strange look into the mind of a tortured soul.
1. Wish You Were Here
Released in late 1975, Pink Floyd’s stunning ninth album Wish You Were Here was a mix of tour-exacerbated depression, heavy exploration of the downsides of the music business (see: Have a Cigar up higher in the list), and the painful absence of Syd Barrett following his mental illness and drug-related issues.
It’s no coincidence that four of their greatest songs in our list come from this album.
Pink Floyd selected Wish You Were Here as their title track for a great reason – it lends itself well to the overall sound of Floyd and their tone. The song has that eerie light guitar strum and the painful opening lyrics that hit home with a lot of listeners:
So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
It also features a marvelous mix of different instruments that keep the song active throughout the piece. Overall, it acts as a vessel for reminiscing, remembering, and retrospecting, allowing the ear to follow a the tone of loss, life, and death. It’s cathartic in multiple directions.
Please enjoy these tracks and look for more great Pink Floyd songs – there are so many!