From Joni Mitchell to David Bowie: The 10 best covers of Pink Floyd
It’s difficult to imagine a world without 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 an ever-present in our musical worlds. It means that they have also been an imposing figure on the lives and creative journeys of some of our favourite artists too. While the band were always determined to make strides towards the future, some groups and artists have been happy to look back and pay homage to the Floyd.
Pink Floyd didn’t earn the title of prog-rock kings without moving things forward musically and their determination to continue to evolve throughout their musical journey has meant that their music is often wholly unique. Such a position usually doesn’t encourage many mimics meaning that the amount of covers of Pink Floyd’s biggest songs pales in comparison to their contemporaries. However, some have managed to pull it off quite handsomely.
The band changed names several times before settling on Pink Floyd and it was a propensity for evolution that permeated their music too. Arriving on the psyche-rock scene in the mid-sixties, Pink Floyd, 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 come to an abrupt end as he struggled with mental health and after being supported by the inclusion of David Gilmour was eventually replaced by him. That line-up would oversee some of the group’s best work, musically. But, for one reason or another, some of the best covers of the band are of their early years with the aid of Barrett.
You can listen to our 10 favourite Pink Floyd covers below and get the full spectrum of brilliance from some of the music world’s biggest stars as they pay homage to the Floyd.
Best covers of Pink Floyd:
‘Have A Cigar’ – Foo Fighters
Many have tried to take on the vocals of Pink Floyd’s primo singers, Roger Waters and David Gilmour but few have attempted to match the vocal powerhouse of Roy Harper, the man with the mic on ‘Have A Cigar’. In a similar vein, Foo Fighters, when they took on the song, did not let usual vocalis Dave Grohl takeover but instead saw drummer Taylor Hawkins on the mic.
It makes for a rip-roaring cover of a classic song. Focusing on the rock sounds of the original, Hawkins does a fine job of the vocals while the rest of the band bring the track into the 21st century. A song about the difficultness of working with a manager, it’s rock fodder but given a new lift in this context.
‘Wish You Were Here’ – Sparklehorse ft. Thom Yorke
In yet another masterful display of musical invention through immense sensitivity from Sparklehorse’s very own Mark Linkous, we revisit the band’s brilliantly unique cover of Pink Floyd hit ‘Wish You Were Here’ — a song steeped in the history of one of the most important British bands of all time.
The song, which arrived as the title track on Pink Floyd’s now-iconic ninth studio album Wish You Were Here in 1975, was originally created by David Gilmour and Roger Waters and recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios. It’s an effort which was written specifically for Syd Barrett but has since gone on to typify the band and their magical output.
For Linkous, who had regularly collaborated with the likes of Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Daniel Johnston and more throughout his incomparable career, the opportunity to call on Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke for a special rendition of the Pink Floyd hit was too much to bear. The results are magnificent.
‘Flaming Side of the Moon’ – The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips are some of the most advanced and progressive rock bands out there. Wayne Coyne and his troupe of musicians have made a name for themselves out of the eccentric and they naturally work well under the same sonic landscapes of Pink Floyd.
So well, in fact, that they performed their own version of the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon back in 2014. Expertly titled The Flaming Side of the Moon, the band expertly toe the line between paying tribute to the album’s illustrious past and putting their very own spin on things.
‘Vegetable Man’ – The Jesus and Mary Chain
One of Pink Floyd’s pivotal figures, the icon of Syd Barrett is one that is inextricably linked to the band’s legend. In this cover the Jesus and Mary Chain pay homage to the man himself with a truly leftfield performance built on the burning fires of punk.
Written back in 1967 as Barrett supposedly described himself for those around him with Peter Jenner there at the time. He felt the songs, many of which were shelved by the band, deserve their place in the Pink Floyd canon: “I always thought they should be put out, so I let my copies be heard,” recalled Jenner.
“I knew that Roger would never let them out, or Dave,” he continued. “They somehow felt they were a bit indecent, like putting out nude pictures of a famous actress: it just wasn’t cricket. But I thought they were good songs and great pieces of art. They’re disturbing, and not a lot of fun, but they’re some of Syd’s finest work – though God knows, I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through what he’s gone through to get to those songs. They’re like Van Gogh.”
‘See Emily Play’ – David Bowie
David Bowie and Pink Floyd go back a long way. Both the mercurial Starman and the prog-rock giants started out in the same grimy London clubs. It means that whenever Bowie has taken on one of their songs, he has done so with the utmost respect. He even joined David Gilmour for a stunning showing of ‘Comfortably Numb’ but as that also contained Rick Wright on keys, we thought it was too close to the real deal to make this list.
This cut from Bowie’s 1973 covers album Pin-Ups is about as good as it gets anyway. Approaching the song with his uncanny shimmy and undeniable appetite for a pop tune, he glitters the song with a flick of his wrist. One of the final songs Syd Barrett wrote for the band, Bowie handles it with typical swagger.
‘Mother’ – Pearl Jam
While Roger Waters and David Gilmour are both blessed with fantastic vocals, Eddie Vedder’s tone blows them out of the water. It’s refreshing then to hear his and Pearl Jam’s take on the Wall album cut. Performed across many of their live dates, the band give a particularly brilliant showing of the track while on Jimmy Fallon.
Eddie Vedder’s voice is particularly amazing on the tune, with the acoustic sections pushing him down to the low end of his impeccably appointed baritone, which makes the song sound even more grandiose and majestic than it already was.
‘Bike’ – The Hotrats
Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey decided that while being a part of Supergrass was all well and good, they needed a new outlet. They chose The Hotrats and set about creating a brief bit of buzz as they delivered an impressive covers album in 2009 titled Turn Ons.
They quickly put the band to bed after that but to forget their searing cover of ‘Bike’ — easily one of Floyds stranger songs — would be to miss out on a piece of unbridled joy. Barrett’s original may have been a bit on the odd side but the band turn it into a garage rock gem that could well be soundtracking your next trip to the club.
‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ – Joni Mitchell
uly 21st 1990 was an eventful day, an occasion which is written into the history books as Joni Mitchell performed at the site of the fallen Berlin Wall. The imposing structure of oppression had been lined up for destruction the previous November and it was an evening for celebration as the two sides of Germany were united at long last.
The Wall – Live in Berlin was a live concert performance by Roger Waters and featured numerous high profile guests including Van Morrison, who took to the stage to perform tracks from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It’s safe to say, it was a night to remember with Mitchell’s emotionally charged performance of ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ was the pick of the bunch.
‘Nobody Home’ – Metric
Taking on a lesser-known song of a huge band is always a tricky thing to complete well. Not only are you put under the scrutiny of millions of fans but, perhaps more importantly, thanks to the obscureness of the song you’re put under the most intense scrutiny from elite level fandom. Metric, a bruising indie rock outfit, did just that when they decided to cover ‘Nobody Home.
While Waters had the original feeling more closely akin to a movie than a song, such were the drippings of cinematic grandeur, Metric strip it all the way back to its bare bones. It’s a particularly brilliant vocal from James Shaw in the final moments, one that lifts the entire production.
‘Take up Thy Stethoscope and Walk’ – Ty Segall
The most prolific man in rock, Ty Segall was always likely to have covered Pink Floyd in his time. After all, he’s taken on pretty much every other song ever composed in his monumental run of records, why not the Floyd too? While he has also covered ‘See Emily Play’, this version of ‘Take up Thy Stethoscope is positively bristling with everything that makes Segall so brilliant.
A flurry of razor-sharp riffs and a pounding rhythm mean that you’re well aware of the song’s power right from the get go. A classic form the band’s debut album it may well be but there’s something about Segall’s cover which feels equally authentic as the original.