It isn’t easy to imagine a world without prog-rock pioneers and creative geniuses Pink Floyd. The band have been such an integral part of what made the sixties and beyond so powerfully creative that it feels as though they are ever-present in our musical worlds — a constant source of creative drive and artistic intent, no matter what incarnation of the group you prefer.
Despite this, many fans have only just scraped the surface of Pink Floyd’s back catalogue and can often get lost in the prog-rock noodling or conceptual construction of their work. Frankly, it’s enough to put off many casual fans; such is the density of their output. In a bid to gain some new fans for the band (as if they need them), we thought we’d play our part and pick out the best song from every album they ever released.
The group have always been a mercurial entity. They changed names several times before settling on Pink Floyd, and it was a propensity for evolution that permeated their music too. Arriving on the acid-rock scene in the mid-sixties, Pink Floyd, who were at the time comprised of Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, quickly became the talk of the town as their wholly encompassing sound provided a fresh new take on rock ‘n’ roll.
Of course, Barrett’s time with the band would abruptly end as he struggled with mental health issues. After being supported on guitar and vocals by the inclusion of David Gilmour, he was eventually replaced by him. That line-up would oversee some of the group’s best work, much of which resides near the top of this list. Soon enough, Roger Waters’ own creative control threatened to turn the band into a one-man show, and, instead, Waters took his work elsewhere. Following the subsequent death of keyboardist Wright, the band have, seemingly, laid down their instruments for good.
While it is entirely impossible to nail down everybody’s favourite song from across their 15 studio albums, we’ve given it a go. Considering the wealth of music at our fingertips, selecting just one song proved to be incredibly difficult.
The best song from every Pink Floyd album:
‘Astronomy Domine’ – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
We can already hear the groans of derision from our diehard Pink Floyd fans. The band have inspired such deep and meticulous research from their supporters that calling the most famous song from the album the best can leave a bad taste in their mouth. However, we hope they’d agree that ‘Astronomy Domine’, on reflection, cannot be beaten.
Often seen as one of the first times the band broke into their ‘space rock’ outfits, the song has been widely adored by Floyd fans since it was first shared. Opening the album with their manager reading the names of planets, stars and galaxies was always going to set an intention for the album and ‘Astronomy Domine’ sets the pace of the album and quite possibly the band.
There’s something about the song’s intention that makes it the clear winner of any album contest. The track offers an escape to all those who hear it and provides a crystal clear image of the worlds Pink Floyd were about to create.
‘Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ – A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
The band’s sophomore album only went further in its exploration of sound. Though Pink Floyd would soon achieve mainstream success, they came straight out of leftfield for their first few attempts at a full-length record. However, one of the LP’s most pertinent moments was undoubtedly one of the most easily digested songs on the album: ‘Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun’.
A favourite for us and drummer Nick Mason who, when asked for his favourite Floyd number, replied: “I usually cite ‘Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ as my favourite Pink Floyd song.” That’s because the track is “fun to play, and has interesting dynamics.” Mason and the band were sincerely influenced by jazz, and this is one song where that inspiration is easy to see.
The now-iconic use of mallets on the drum solo in this Roger Waters-penned tune was lifted straight from jazz. “I know exactly where it came from in terms of the drum part, which was Chico Hamilton playing in a film called Jazz On A Summer’s Day,” Mason remembers. “He does a drum solo played with mallets. It’s beautiful, and so different to any other drum solo.”
The song remains a shining moment for Pink Floyd.
‘Green Is The Colour’ – More (1969)
This album sees a significant moment for the group. As the band began to experience life without their frontman Syd Barrett and also their trusted producer Norman Smith, More was the record that showed there was light at the end of the tunnel.
The LP is by no means a vintage piece of their back catalogue, but More is a reminder of the difficulties the band both faced and overcame to produce some of the finest albums of all time. Waters is at the helm of songwriting, and Gilmour takes on all the vocals—clearly, the band were finding their feet, but it does leave a difficult task of picking our favourite song from the tracklisting.
Created as a soundtrack for the film, picking out a favourite song is no mean feat, as they’re all intended to be played alongside one another. However, there’s something pure about ‘Green Is The Colour’, and it has to take the accolade.
‘The Narrow Way’ – Ummagumma (1969)
Usually, when picking out one’s favourite song form an album, it can be easy to be dazzled by the singles released. After all, if the band saw fit to package them out as single, the chances are that it was one of their better efforts for the full-length. However, when looking at Pink Floyd’s extensive and conceptual back catalogue, there aren’t many standout singles to choose from; it’s certainly the case for 1969’s Ummagumma.
A double LP split between live and in-studio recordings, the release also featured the two previously mentioned songs so far, keeping ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ at the front of proceedings. As such, we’ve looked predominantly at the back end of the effort and are picking out ‘The Narrow Ways’ as our favourite from the LP.
Written and fronted by Gilmour, the song is broken down into three parts and spans 12 minutes of the album. It’s a classic piece of Floyd arrangement as the sonics soar, and the mind is allowed to wander within it. Worth replaying on every occasion.
‘Summer of ’68’ – Atom Heart Mother (1970)
One of the more curious songs from Richard Wright’s arsenal sees him at his most ambitious and grabbing the top spot for this record.
‘Summer ’68’ took on a large chunk of side two of Atom Heart Mother as each band member championed one of their songs to help balance out the album. While Waters and Gilmour had their natural wheelhouse, Wright chooses to push things even further.
He brought in a huge ensemble for the track, including big brass sections, piano embellishments all over the song and Wright’s wistful lyrics believing the melody’s upbeat tone. It sees Wright reflecting on his life thus far, particularly focusing on the road: “My friends are lying in the sun/I wish that I was there/Tomorrow brings another town/Another girl like you.”
‘Echoes’ – Meddle (1971)
‘Echoes’ is the ultimate in progressive rock, providing a song structure that would put some operatic composers to shame. It will go down in history as one of the band’s best songs, and there is simply no argument to say that it isn’t the best song on Meddle.
The song was the first real steps towards their eventual domination of prog rock, and Gilmour’s solo on the song is perhaps the most crystalline vision of that future. Gilmour combines aggression and fluidity to make a solo worthy of the Pulitzer Prize; such is the density of its instrumental narrative.
Following the solo, Gilmour gets a bit tech-happy and creates an atmospheric tone that you’re unlikely to hear from any other band in the world. In fact, almost all of the song fits this mould, and it’s why we count it as the best. Behold.
‘Free Four’ – Obscured by Clouds (1972)
Obscured by Clouds was originally written for the soundtrack to the French feature film La Vallée and offers up a welcoming series of vignettes and stunning imagery as a series of short and sharp tracks. While the record may fall down as a complete album, its ability to transport your imagination into a new realm is undeniable.
The record saw Waters and Gilmour move towards a more personal style of songwriting. Gilmour placed himself in the lyric hot seat for the first time on ‘Childhood’s End’, and Wright used his own jazz prowess to share some of the musical composition. However, it is Roger Waters’ revelatory single that wins our hearts.
‘Free Four’, named after the Cockney pronunciation of “one, two, three, four”, was written about Waters’ father dying in World War II. It was the second single of the band’s to receive significant US radio airplay and shines brightly as one of the clearest moments of expression on the album.
‘Breathe’ – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
In truth, we could have picked any one of the songs on the seminal album The Dark Side of the Moon and likely have garnered both praise and anger from the diehard Floyd fans. As such, with gone with our gut and picked out the criminally underrated song ‘Breathe’ — a track on the monstrously selling album that deserves more recognition.
Gilmour is arguably at his peak, bringing a kind of hazy distance that only the most ethereal of rock stars can hold in their esteem.
Written alongside Roger Waters and Richard Wright, Gilmour’s vocals are wonderful, but it is his steel guitar that really takes us to a new dimension. As those lilting riffs land beautifully next to Wright’s keyboards, Gilmour expels lyrics like a breath for fresh air and only enhances the song’s conception.
Of course, the only real way to listen to this album is by pressing play and not stopping until the LP finishes. However, if you don’t have the time, ‘Breathe’ is the perfect place to begin.
‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ – Wish You Were Here (1975)
It was incredibly difficult for us to pick just one song from this record. So full of intrigue and moment of personal reflection that it was nearly impossible to separate two songs. But while the title track is certainly a strong contender, in the end, ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ ran out the victor.
If you wanted an introduction to the man Roger Waters would become after he left Pink Floyd, then we should direct you to Wish You Were Here, the album which saw Waters lay down his disinterest with fame, once and for all. Perhaps working as a fable for the pitfalls of fame, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ sees Waters discuss his friend Syd Barrett.
The album itself is a tribute to Barrett, but this song, in particular, brings the story of Barrett to the fore. A nine-part epic, it not only looked at the band’s past but offered a vision of their future: Roger Waters commanding searing songs and creating gigantic musical landscapes.
‘Dogs’ – Animals (1977)
Another concept record, this time Animals from 1977, an album that many people will consider their single greatest achievement. Vaguely inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the tracks run as a true narrative for nearly 18 minutes of searing sonic complexity.
The storyline of the track, which focuses on the viciousness of capitalism, is one thing, but somehow guitarist Gilmour manages to tell his own riveting version of events using only the notes on his fretboard but to devastating effect.
On ‘Dogs’, he produces a masterclass performance from one of the rock world’s unsung heroes. It’s enough for us to pass on the title of ‘best song’ from the album to the barking mad construction.
‘Comfortably Numb’ – The Wall (1979)
There isn’t much about ‘Comfortably Numb’, the song which was founded on an argument between Waters and Gilmour, that Floyd fans won’t know. It’s quite simply their Magnus Opus.
While on record, it ranks as one of the finest moments of The Wall; it was performing the song live that the vision of the track truly came to life. Gilmour’s solo was front and centre. During a performance, Roger Waters arrives at the stage bathed in the spotlight before the end of the opening verse as it fades out. Next thing you know, the chorus begins from David Gilmour placed around 30 feet up in the air with lights shining from behind him on to the audience; he begins his career-defining solo. As that ends and the audience erupts with praise, the lights go out, and we’re directed back to Waters.
Another similar interchange begins with the second verse as Gilmour again takes his place at the top of the wall. Another starring solo sees the crowd open-mouthed in admiration for the guitarist as he wails on his guitar. It’s a typification of how Floyd transferred their mammoth creativity into both the studio and the live show. Arguably the band’s most famous song, it’s hard to fight its position as our favourite.
‘Not Now John’ – The Final Cut (1983)
Written by Gilmour and Waters with Gilmour taking lead vocal, a song taken from The Final Cut is being given the respect it deserves as we put up ‘Not Now John’ as one of the guitarist’s best songs. The album in question was positioned more clearly as a Roger Waters solo record until this song.
However, like anything Gilmour did, the song was punctuated with enough talent to draw attention away from the rest of the LP. Rather than his guitar, it is Gilmour’s vocals that reign supreme on this effort. Powerful and pulsating, the song lands as one of the ‘what if’ moments of Floyd’s career.
Following Roger Waters’ departure from the band, they never saw fit to play it live. What could’ve been?
‘Learning to Fly’ – A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
After Roger Waters left the band, Gilmour began songwriting as a more singular occupation. While it certainly removed a spark of tension and competition from the band, Waters’ departure allowed the guitarist to experiment without reproached, ‘Learning to Fly’ was one of those moments.
One of the most successful songs of the period, Gilmour takes Pink Floyd to a new plane as Gilmour’s musicianship and effervescent vocals only enhance the track’s dreamlike quality.
As well as all that, the song is also one of Gilmour’s more personal tunes, proving that he could commit himself to his art.
‘Wearing The Inside Out’ – The Division Bell (1994)
When Pink Floyd finally came back to the fore, following a seven-year hiatus, with The Division Bell, an album David Gilmour calls one of his favourites, keyboardist and jazz lover Wright was in fine form. Sure, time had passed, and Pink Floyd certainly wasn’t the same entity they were during their experimental heyday, but on ‘Wearing The Inside Out’ Wright delivers in spades.
Wright himself had been out of action for even longer. His contributions to Roger Waters’ masterpiece The Wall from 1979 were minimal; he was absent from The Final Cut and barely breathed a note on Momentary Lapse of Reason, meaning this return was both warmly welcomed and unexpected.
It deserves recognition as one of Floyd’s best songs, and although ‘High Hopes’ could’ve taken its place in our list easily, the Wright connection is one we can’t ignore.
‘Things Left Unsaid’ – The Endless River (2014)
As the flipside to A Momentary Lapse of Reason, this album, comprised of the final recordings of keyboardist and jazz enthusiast Rick Wright, like everything completed with the band, was intently anti-commercial, meaning few songs pop out on their own.
Instead, written for the Pink Floyd fans, the album is a deep dive into the creative interplay that made the band such a success. A landscape filled with Gilmour’s sonic strums, The Endless River is another largely instrumental record worth revisiting.
Our pick has to be the album’s opener ‘Things Left Unsaid’, which, if you press play, will entice you to give the whole record a spin. That, plus its personal tone considering Wright’s death, makes it a winner.