David Gilmour is often regarded as one of the finest guitarists Britain has ever produced. Considering the company he rose up in, the most fervent of rock scenes in the sixties, this is a serious title to take. The mercurial musician made his name on the extra-terrestrial skills that imbued Pink Floyd with its cosmic swirl and solo-heavy core. The guitarist may have been a late joiner to the band but there’s no denying his impact when he did finally join up with the group in 1968, becoming the group’s creative focal point.
Gilmour arrived as a guitarist and vocalist for the Floyd shortly before Syd Barrett, the band’s original lead singer, departed the band due to his mental health deterioration. As such, Gilmour has had a hand in shaping not only Pink Floyd but the entire concept of rock and roll. His performance, precision studio engineering, and unstoppable pursuit of perfection have often seen him qualified as one of the hardest-working players. Below, we’ve pulled out ten of the musician’s ten greatest songs for Pink Floyd, and it’s a serious list.
Beginning with the band in ’68 meant that Gilmour’s contributions to their pioneering acid rock sound of the mid-60s were relatively minimal — he was drafted in to be a replacement, not necessarily the group’s creative drive. But that didn’t stop the player from pursuing the mind-expanding performances and records that made Pink Floyd a stoner’s dream. A meticulous player, Gilmour has always managed to create guitar tones and solos that feel transportive and transcendent in equal measure.
It’s a huge chunk of what makes Pink Floyd so impressive. As well as Roger Waters’ impeccable songwriting and the powerful playing of Nick Mason and Richard Wright, Gilmour was able to be a part of one of the most progressive rock bands of all time through his genius guitar and expert songwriting. A high-concept and high-art selection of records and performances point to the Floyd as one of the best.
It may be high brow stuff, but that doesn’t mean that Gilmour’s songwriting is anything but primal at points and others, ethereal and unattainable. Here, we’ve got ten of David Gilmour’s best songs for Pink Floyd.
David Gilmour’s best songs for Pink Floyd:
10. ‘Not Now John’
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?
Meddle is arguably the album that first saw Gilmour begin to show his teeth with the band. For a few years, he was happy to play second fiddle to Waters’ immersive genius, but by 1971 Gilmour had some ideas of his own. One of the softer ideas in Gilmour’s arsenal was ‘Fearless’.
The album is certainly chock full of imposing instrumental moments, making ‘Fearless’ and even more welcome reprieve. Stuck between ‘One of These Days’ and the album’s iconic closer ‘Echoes’, the track could have easily been washed away. Yet it stands firm as one of the record’s best songs and a hint at the cosmic domination to come.
8. ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’
We have to take the songs that bookend Wish You Were Here, as one. Put together, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ acts as one of the finest moments of Pink Floyd’s career and one that most of the band remember with great fondness.
The song acts as a tribute to the band’s fallen founder Syd Barrett with Gilmour, quite aptly, managing to tell the singer’s tragic tale through his guitar. Beginning with a menacing and dark tone, he eventually lifts his style to cosmic levels and creates a fitting tribute to the late genius.
7. ‘Learning to Fly’
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 the dreamlike quality of the track is only enhanced by Gilmour’s musicianship and effervescent vocals.
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.
Not one for the faint-hearted ‘Time’ acts as another shining moment on the band’s album Dark Side of the Moon; the song houses one of Gilmour’s most famous solos of all. The real pleasure in this track is noting the duality of the song’s content.
While quite possibly the most depressing Pink Floyd song it’s also incredibly beautiful at times, highlighting the romanticism of real life. Gilmours is in full control on this track bending the notes like a comic book hero, the guitarist shows off his vast talent on ‘Time.’
It’s decisive and poignant, like a well-taught painter with a point to prove.
A lot has been said about The Dark Side of the Moon, the album is undoubtedly a piece of music folklore these days and deserves its spot in the pantheon of the greats. But one song that is often overlooked on the record is the simply stunning ‘Breathe’.
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.
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 runs 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 Gilmour manages to tell his own riveting version using only the notes on his fretboard but to devastating effect.
It’s a masterclass performance from one of the rock world’s unsung heroes.
3. ‘Wish You Were Here’
There are so many moments on ‘Wish You Were Here’ that sees David Gilmour shine. Whether it’s the 12-string intro, the acoustic solo, the rhythm guitar or the pedal steel guitar that scythes through the song— Gilmour is the band’s ace in the hole on this track.
Add to all this wonderful musicianship that Gilmour also took charge of singing the song and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. While Roger Waters was the man behind the gorgeous lyrics, it was Gilmour who read, understood and delivered them with aplomb.
Though you may wish to witness Gilmour play the song live he will never be able to give you the full studio performance. It’s one key difference between Gilmour and other guitar greats. But where he may lack in performance he makes up for in precision and talent.
Shared on the band’s 1971 album Meddle, ‘Echoes’ was a very close contender for the number one slot but just got pipped to the post. It is the ultimate in progressive rock, providing a song structure that would put some operatic composers to shame.
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.
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. Behold.
1. ‘Comfortably Numb’
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 the 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 solo and a performance that has always left an impression on Gilmour. “It was a fantastic moment, I can tell, to be standing up on there, and Roger’s just finished singing his thing, and I’m standing there, waiting,” remembers Gilmour.
“I’m in pitch darkness and no one knows I’m there yet. And Roger’s down and he finishes his line, I start mine and the big back spots and everything go on and the audience, they’re all looking straight ahead and down, and suddenly there’s all this light up there and they all sort of—their heads all lift up and there’s this thing up there and the sound’s coming out and everything.
“Every night there’s this sort of ‘[gasp!]’ from about 15,000 people. And that’s quite something, let me tell you”. For now, though, listen to the song in it’s purest form.