Listen to This, Not That: Pink Floyd

Now that we’ve gone through the whole British Invasion, it’s time to move to other music scenes, psychedelia and prog rock! And what better band to start off with than Pink Floyd? They got their start in the 60s as a psychedelic band led by Syd Barrett, whose mental health caused him to leave the band and left Roger Waters and replacement David Gilmour to take over the direction of the band and evolve into a progressive/space rock sound that everyone knows and loves.

In this blog post, we’re going to go beyond the obvious hits and popular songs played on the radio and talk about the under appreciated songs in their discography that the classic rock radio stations overlook – so get ready for a lot of Syd Barrett and some stuff from the pre-DSOTM era. If you want to dive deep into Pink Floyd’s discography, this is the blog post for you and true to Pink Floyd fashion this will be a long blog post – gotta get that target audience who love 20+ minute long songs with very long intros and multiple movements.

Which one’s Pink? Who are these guys?

Pink Floyd were formed in 1965 by students Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Rick Wright. An artistic bunch, Waters and Mason studied architecture at London Polytechnic in the early 60s and they met another architecture student Rick Wright later on and formed a group with him called Sigma 6. Syd Barrett, who was a few years younger than the other members later moved to London to go to art college. He met up with his childhood friend Roger Waters and joined the band. They went through a series of names before settling on Pink Floyd, which came from two blues musicians Syd Barrett liked: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

Like a lot of British rock bands, their live shows were full of R&B staples and some of their original songs had an American R&B influence, before they found their own sound and came into their own. While playing a show at the famous Marquee Club in Soho as The Pink Floyd Sound, LSE lecturer Peter Jenner was impressed and wanted to manage them and told them to shorten their name to just Pink Floyd. Quickly, Pink Floyd became a sensation in the underground music scene and were known for their really long jams and use of psychedelic light shows. Perfect for while you’re tripping on acid.

In 1967 they got a record deal and started releasing songs. Syd Barrett got more and more into LSD and was becoming increasingly out of it. It wasn’t long until they decided to bring in a new guitarist, David Gilmour, who was a friend of Syd’s from Cambridge. Syd Barrett’s behaviour became more and more erratic and it was so difficult to work with him and so he departed in 1968 after contributing a little bit to the sophomore album A Saucerful of Secrets and went on to release two solo albums before leaving the music industry and becoming a recluse.

Pink Floyd kept recording music and became extremely successful, touring the world and blowing people’s minds with Roger Waters’ concept albums, which would reference Syd Barrett from time to time. The band never forgot about Syd. The rest is history,

Why should I care?

Why care about Pink Floyd? Is this a real question? They’re one of the top selling rock bands of all time, selling over 250 million albums. Many consider them in the top tier of classic rock bands. They’ve influenced countless musicians. You really can’t be a progressive rock or classic rock fan without loving Pink Floyd. I’ll never forget when I first listened to DSOTM and got it as my first vinyl ever as a gift from my friend in secondary school. I was so happy when she surprised me with it one day at lunch.

What are the rules?

Progressive rock bands are a little different from more mainstream bands because of the nature of the music. Progressive rock songs are longer and the bands tend to be on the pretentious side, eschewing releasing singles so there’s not going to be a whole lot of chart hits. I will also run into a similar problem when I write about Led Zeppelin.

Pink Floyd though are an incredibly popular classic rock band that you’ll certainly hear on classic rock radio. This presents a challenge for me. I can’t do the usual “no top 20s” and “no greatest hits”. What constitutes a greatest hit? I decided on not including any songs from their best known albums: The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall. There are a couple of chart hits in the early years like “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, which I do not believe to be overplayed or overrated songs but since they are the most popular from the Syd Barrett era, we’ll focus on other songs from that time. “See Emily Play” is one of the best Pink Floyd songs in my opinion.

These albums have all been talked about so many times and any serious record collector has all of these albums and may or may not have worn them out because they’re that amazing. Roger Waters will regularly play songs from The Wall and DSOTM at his concerts so I will count those as greatest hits. Now that I’ve covered the “Not That”, let’s go onto the “Listen to This”.

Listen to This:

In this section, it only makes sense to divide things by album, but in the early years with Syd Barrett there were some non-album songs and I’ll just talk about them after A Saucerful of Secrets and before More and Ummagumma.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

This was Pink Floyd’s debut album. What really caught my eye was the psychedelic photography on the album cover. Personally, it inspires me a lot in my own photography. This is the most psychedelic of their albums, as Syd Barrett was basically the band leader writing a majority of the songs and singing lead vocals. Overall, this is an amazing album and one that I wish I had listened to more in its entirety, but I’ve always appreciated the nearly 10 minute long jam “Interstellar Overdrive” and opening track “Astronomy Domine” – can’t you tell how much I love anything with a space related title?

Other great moments are “Lucifer Sam”, “Matilda Mother”, “Flaming”, “Pow R. Toc. H”, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, and “The Gnome”. As a cat person, I really love “Lucifer Sam” and as someone who loves to think about the past I love “Matilda Mother”. A real oddball album and nothing like it. Syd Barrett was really a genius.

A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

This was the last album with Syd Barrett, but he didn’t contribute as much to this one as he did on the debut. In fact, he only contributed one song, “Jugband Blues” and played guitar on a couple other tracks. This was more of a team effort. In my opinion, this album isn’t as good as the first one because the band were still trying to find themselves in this transitional time, but there are some good moments on here like “Let There Be Light” and “Jugband Blues”. When I listen to Pink Floyd, this isn’t the album I choose to listen to.

Non album songs – 1965-1970

There are quite a few good songs from the early years that didn’t make it onto an album that are ones I really enjoy. If you want to hear their take on R&B from their very early years before all the psychedelic stuff, listen to “Lucy Leave”, “Double O Bo”, and “Butterfly”.

Some non-album psychedelic songs I really like are:

  • “Apples and Oranges” – one of the few Pink Floyd love songs
  • “Candy and a Currant Bun” (which was originally known as “Let’s Roll Another One” but re-written because ‘drugs r bad m’kay’)
  • “Paintbox”
  • “In The Beechwoods” – a beautiful jazzy/prog/psych instrumental
  • “Vegetable Man” – originally supposed to be on A Saucerful of Secrets but deemed too dark
  • “Point Me at the Sky” – an early Gilmour/Waters collaboration and one of the rarest of Pink Floyd’s official releases
  • “Julia Dream” – the first Pink Floyd song recorded with David Gilmour on lead vocals. Has a psych-folk sound
  • “Careful With That Axe Eugene”

More wasn’t the only movie they recorded music for. Pink Floyd also recorded music for the soundtrack of the Michelangelo Antonioni film, Zabriskie Point. Zabriskie Point is in Death Valley National Park in California. The movie has cult status and is about counterculture. Some other classic rockers had songs on the soundtrack like The Youngbloods, Kaleidoscope, The Grateful Dead, and The Rolling Stones. My personal favourite of the Pink Floyd songs on the soundtrack is this instrumental, “Unknown Song”, a dreamy, beautiful instrumental, but there are some other good tracks like:

  • “On The Highway”
  • “Auto Scene Version 3”
  • “Take Off”
  • “Crumbling Land”

More (1969)

This soundtrack album is considered one of Pink Floyd’s worst albums. The movie, More, was filmed in the Spanish party island of Ibiza and was the first movie directed by Barbet Schroeder. As you can imagine, it’s a movie about sex, drugs, partying, and some rock and roll. Isn’t that what the 60s was all about? Even on a “bad” Pink Floyd album, I can still find good songs. There’s some heavy songs like “The Nile Song” and “Ibiza Bar” and some more chill songs like “Green is the Colour” and “Cymbaline” (my favourite on the album). There are quite a few instrumentals on this album but not their best ones. Personally like the Zabriskie Point ones better.

Ummagumma (1969)

Ummagumma, an album with a funny title which comes from this codeword a roadie of theirs used for “sex”, is far from Pink Floyd’s best work and is often at the bottom of album rankings. There’s better Pink Floyd out there. I honestly found myself skipping a lot. I typically don’t review live albums of bands so I will be skipping the live portion of it and focussing on the studio portion.

I respect what the band were trying to do on the experimental studio side with each member contributing their own compositions, but it’s not something I see myself being in the mood for. Only something I’m listening to for the purposes of this deep dive. “Grantchester Meadows” and “The Narrow Way” (Parts 1 & 3) are the best on the album in my opinion.

In typical Pink Floyd fashion, when you’re listening to this album you’re going to wonder if your speakers or headphones are broken because the intros are long and quite soft. Not a bad thing, but it’s a running joke in the fandom, along with all the Roger Waters horse/stone/concept album/dad memes.

The band later considered the album a disaster even though the press praise the live side of the album. Nick Mason called it a “failed experiment”.

Atom Heart Mother (1970)

This is another album that people consider among Pink Floyd’s worst. I don’t know about that, but I love the 23 minute long title track that Stanley Kubrick considered using in A Clockwork Orange. Came in handy at the radio station when I wanted to take a break. The album cover was designed by Hipgnosis, who would design a lot of their other album covers and covers for various other bands and was the first one without pictures of the band members on the front. Other good tracks are “If” and “Summer ’68” – I really like the piano on this one. I have a petty complaint about “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, the eating and chewing noises and chatter, I don’t think that was necessary.

This is an album I really appreciate a lot more now and I’m happy to have given it a proper listen for this blog post.

Meddle (1971)

Once again another album that was a team effort, but more cohesive than the previous one. Lots of different moods, even going country with “Seamus”. The album cover is another Hipgnosis creation and I one time saw an edit with Patrick Star on it and I can’t unsee it. I definitely see some growth here and I love the songs “One of These Days”, “Fearless”, and “Echoes” – the 23 minute long closing epic filled with a bunch of experiments. You have to watch them perform it in the film Live at Pompeii, it’s a real experience. Just like with Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz and people thinking those are synchronised, people think the same of “Echoes” and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Roger Waters claimed Andrew Lloyd Webber plagiarised “Echoes” (at about 3:50 in) in Phantom of the Opera, but in the end he decided not to sue.

Obscured by Clouds (1972)

You mean there’s no long songs on this album? What is this? Is this really Pink Floyd? It was yet another album based on a soundtrack for a movie, this one a French movie called La Vallée. It definitely shows that Pink Floyd have a lot of promise and potential and they’ve grown since Ummagumma and More. The strongest moments in my opinion are “Obscured By Clouds”, “When You’re In”, “The Gold… It’s in The…”, “Wots… Uh The Deal”, “Mudmen” (instrumental), and “Free Four”. “Free Four” was released as a single and had some radio airplay, but I thought I’d include it in this series because it’s not a song that’s overplayed. Whenever Pink Floyd comes on the radio it’s always something from those three albums: DSOTM, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall.

Animals (1977)

Now this is what a Pink Floyd album is all about! A full blown cohesive concept and theme throughout the album and pretty much the whole album is made up of epic length songs that are not radio friendly. Of course, Roger Waters came up with pretty much the whole concept album, hence all the memes of him talking obsessively about concept albums. This is a fan favourite, but is overshadowed by the more famous albums, but I’d say this is in the same tier as them, which is why I am talking about it in the Listen to This section.

As you can guess from the title, the album takes a lot of inspiration from George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, which is about farm animals who rebel against a human farmer so they can live free and equal. Sounds good, right? But of course this is George Orwell and we know what’s gonna happen, things take a turn for the worse when a pig named Napoleon becomes the dictator. There are parallels between this story and Stalinism. Once again, Hipgnosis designed the iconic cover showing Battersea Power Station with a pig shaped balloon floating in the air nearby.

Pink Floyd being a rather politically progressive band, they’re not criticising communism or the Soviet Union here, but rather capitalism and in the end, the sheep overpower the dogs. Punks didn’t like Pink Floyd, especially Johnny Rotten who wrote “I hate” on a Pink Floyd shirt.

The album is bookended with “Pigs on the Wing”, which has two parts. “Dogs” symbolises the aggressive, competitive, cutthroat world of business – people who will screw you over to enrich themselves. Sound familiar? Like the people on the business side of music? Managers and record labels who will take money from musicians? “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” has the famous line “Haha! Charade you are!” and symbolises the oppressive government. In this song, Roger Waters singles out Mary Whitehouse, a conservative morality campaigner, but in the 80s when this song was performed live he changed the lyric to call out Margaret Thatcher. “Sheep” is self explanatory one, the followers who don’t think critically and will just do what they’re told. By the end of the song, they take over, but the cycle of oppression continues.

The Final Cut (1983)

This album is considered one of the more disappointing Pink Floyd albums because people’s expectations were high after the last four albums. Pink Floyd kept outdoing themselves with all those brilliant concept albums.

This is the last Pink Floyd album with Roger Waters before he left the band and started touring and recording solo. Another oddity here is that Rick Wright doesn’t play on this album, as he was fired during The Wall sessions, but he came back for A Momentary Lapse of Reason and later albums. Often, Pink Floyd fans will refer to The Final Cut as essentially a Roger Waters solo album. One more weird thing about this album, no Hipgnosis cover, but rather one designed by Roger Waters and his brother-in-law Willie Christie.

Originally, this album was supposed to be a soundtrack for the movie The Wall, titled Spare Bricks. Current events like the Falklands War inspired this album. He saw Margaret Thatcher as jingoistic and dedicated this album to his father, Eric Fletcher Waters, who died in WWII. Gilmour didn’t like how political Roger Waters got on this album. Think of this album as an anti-war diss track to Maggie Thatcher.

Personally, I’d skip this album. While listening to it I was zoning out and I don’t find it as memorable as the other albums. The one single from this album “Not Now John” is easily the strongest moment on the album, but I wouldn’t consider it an obscurity really. “Two Suns in the Sunset” is good too.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

With Roger Waters gone and David Gilmour taking over, this isn’t a concept album. Pink Floyd were going through legal battles because Roger Waters didn’t want the rest of the band to continue as Pink Floyd without him. In the end, it was settled out of court and Gilmour and the rest of the band continued as Pink Floyd. The biggest hit from this album is “Learning to Fly”, which I admit is a really good song. Other than that, the album is just okay and not something I’d replay. “One Slip”, “Terminal Frost”, and “Sorrow” are okay, but nothing to write home about. I’ve heard better from Pink Floyd and unless you really really want to listen to everything they’ve done, I wouldn’t bother with this album.

The Division Bell (1994)

This is the last album I’ll be looking at since I usually stop at the 80s or 90s because this is a classic rock blog and new stuff from classic rock bands really doesn’t interest me. I know it’s a hot take, but I’m an opinionated person, that’s why I’m a music blogger, right? David Gilmour wrote a lot of the songs on this album with his wife Polly Samson, which was controversial to the band’s managers. This album has a lot of songs about communication and the breakdown of Pink Floyd and songs about the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

As you can expect, Roger Waters thought the album was rubbish and nonsense from start to finish. It’s an alright album to have as background music or for relaxing and I really like David Gilmour as a guitarist, but yeah this isn’t my favourite either, but maybe it’s something I’d give another chance, which is something I couldn’t say for the last two. The instrumentals “Cluster One” and “Marooned” are decent and I also liked “What Do You Want From Me” and “Take it Back”.

Here’s the full Listen to This, Not That playlist for Pink Floyd:

Now it’s your turn! What Pink Floyd songs do you think are underrated or overrated? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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