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Music

Pink Floyd's 10 most psychedelic songs

Pink Floyd are one of the most influential bands of all time. Their long and decorated career saw the band take off from the raw psychedelia that marked their first epoch, the Syd Barrett-fronted one, and jump with feet first down the rabbit hole of musical and studio experimentation. 

Unsurprisingly for a band with a career so long, they released many misfires, but the great moments they crafted are really that. Be it MeddleThe Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were Here, or even The Wall, the debate concerning the ultimate Pink Floyd album will likely still be raging long after we’ve departed from this earthly realm, a testament to just how incredible their highlights are. 

One thing that everyone can agree on though, is that although Pink Floyd, throughout the ’70s and beyond, established a style that is viewed as prog, it wasn’t prog in the same way as, say, King Crimson or Yes. This Pink Floyd version of prog-rock could quite easily fit into the category of psychedelia as it could with all the bombastic wizardry of prog. Regardless of prog being an offshoot of psychedelia, it is safe to say that Pink Floyd never really forgot their early acid-drenched roots, all the way up until 2014’s The Division Bell. Put it this way, you wouldn’t catch David Gilmore wearing a glittery cape. 

There’s a reason why some of Pink Floyd’s best moments are some of the trippiest out there. They were one of the original bands to do it, but showing their progressive nature as artists, they just adapted the formula, which was then hailed by the press and fans as prog. 

Indeed, the compositional differences between their debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and The Dark Side of the Moon, are stark, but one would argue that they’re both still psychedelic records, the latter makes a bold claim for being the most intoxicating record of all time. Even cuts like ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, long hailed as prog staples, have their style firmly rooted in the dazzling psychedelia of earlier Pink Floyd

As much of a psychedelic band as they are a prog band, join us as we list a collection of Pink Floyd’s most psychedelic songs. 

Pink Floyd’s ten most psychedelic songs:

‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ –  A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

Taken from the band’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ is classic psychedelia. Featuring keyboardist Richard Wright’s slightly ominous eastern-influenced line, David Gilmour’s vocals evoke imagery of an intense acid trip, totally engulfed by the experience.

If there was a song that embodied the period where hippiedom lost sight of reality and took a darker turn, this is it. There are also flecks of post-rock here, and honestly, this could quite easily be a Swans single. An all-encompassing track, prepare to be enchanted. 

‘Interstellar Overdrive’ – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

A Syd Barrett classic, his guitar work here is iconic. The opener to the band’s debut album, this set a precedent for the rest of their Barrett-era, and immediately established Pink Floyd as one of the most exciting bands of the time.

Meandering and always threatening to come off the rails, you get a sense that ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ was the sound equivalent to being inside of Barrett’s mind when he was on one of his many acid trips. Again, there’s that sinister edge that intrigues you and has you totally captivated. A nine-minute long romp, it’s one of the bands rawest.

‘Echoes’ – Meddle (1971)

Comprising the entire second side of Pink Floyd’s lauded album Meddle, ‘Echoes’ is a psychedelic classic. Whether it be the album version or the one live from Pompeii, it is a psychedelic adventure with many iconic different parts.

Be it the drawn-out intro, the Phantom of the Opera riff, or David Gilmore’s guitar sounding like a seagull, for Pink Floyd purists, you don’t get much better than this. Inducing a narcotic-like haze for sober listeners, ‘Echoes’ is the perfect way to escape the mundanity of everyday life. 

‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ – Atom Heart Mother (1970)

The fifth and final track from the band’s polarising fifth album, ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ was written primarily by drummer Nick Mason, but is credited to the whole group. Famously, the song features the band’s roadie Alan Styles talking about breakfast, the one he’s preparing and one’s he’s had in the past. 

The track has a largely conceptual feel, and in many ways, can be seen as the immediate predecessor to the work they’d do on Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon. Added to Styles talking, there’s also the numerous sounds of the kitchen of him making breakfast, including pouring milk on cereal and cooking on the stove. A three-part instrumental, this masterpiece is best enjoyed high. 

‘See Emily Play’ – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

The band’s second single, ‘See Emily Play’ is perhaps the most well known from the Syd Barrett era. Featuring the late frontman’s iconic BBC-esque vocals, Roger Waters’ pulsating bassline, Richard Wright’s droning keys and the psychedelic freakout in the middle, there’s no surprise the song enjoys a coveted status.

Truly psychedelic, it makes you want to lose it, and as Barrett sings “See Emily Play” at the end of the chorus, it’s as if he’s pulling you into the vivid psychedelic wonderland that he so often conjured with his music.

‘Astronomy Domine’ – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

One of the shorter pieces in Pink Floyd’s psychedelic armoury, this is the most psychedelic piece of their debut album. Written and composed by Barrett, it starts off with the sound of a desperate morse code, before Barrett’s dissonant guitar cuts through the mix.

A cacophonous sound, the vocals are shared between Barrett and Wright, and the almost Gregorian sound they create is magical. Added to the dazzling music, Barrett’s mention of the planets places this track firmly under the psychedelic bracket.

‘Speak to Me / Breathe’ – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

The first and second tracks from the band’s conceptual masterpiece, The Dark Side of the Moon, ‘Speak to Me’ is an intense instrumental with all the sound of tills, clocks, insane human laughing, screaming, and other noises, that pull you to the edge. If insanity had a sound, it would probably be this.

Fear not, though. It quickly hauls you in and wraps you in the comfort blanket of tape effects, and Roger Waters’ warm bassline. A heroic piece of psychedelia, it’s the perfect track for when you’re floating above the clouds, on an aeroplane heading to warmer climes.

‘Julia Dream’ – (1968)

The B-side to 1968’s ‘It Would Be So Nice’, this entry is one of the more downbeat bits of psychedelia that Pink Floyd released. As Barrett sings about Julia being the queen of all his dreams, we’re transported into the dream realm by Richard Wright’s airy Mellotron sounds.

Mellow yet eclectic, ‘Julia Dream’ is the perfect music for the post-club comedown. Ironically, the lyrics reference an eiderdown, and it’s like being wrapped in one.

‘Flaming’ – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

Similar musically to ‘See Emily Play’, ‘Flaming’ is one the more fun songs that Syd Barrett wrote. Featuring his unmistakable overly-English accent, it’s a warming piece of music that instantly removes you from the clutches of ordinary existence.

The lyrics describe a youthful game, which Barrett enriches with fantastical imagery, and there’s no clearer of his intent than the line “here we go, ever so high”. Also, the line, “watch the buttercups cup the light” is pure genius. Barrett really established some of the essential psychedelic characteristics on ‘Flaming’.

‘Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict’ – Ummagumma (1969)

A highly experimental track, particularly for the time, this is one of the most visceral cuts Pink Floyd ever released, even if there is minimal music. The track consists of several minutes of noises resembling rodents and birds, all the while Waters’ voice is augmented by studio techniques and effects.

Weirdly, the bird and rodent sounds, when they speed up, sound like an early version of the breakbeat. Feeling as if the song is always about to fall apart, this is perhaps the most mind-bending song that Pink Floyd ever released, ironic given the fact that it’s mainly comprised of vocals.