The legacy left behind by London rock band Pink Floyd is undisputed. With a variety of awards, millions of records sold, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame it’s impossible not to have at least heard of Pink Floyd, even if you’re not too familiar with their songs. They were, and continue to be, a huge influence on musicians due to the unique compositions of their songs, which include incorporating non-instrumental sounds, long instrumental pieces, and pairing these with lyrics that speak about a range of concepts, including isolation, loss, and growing up. Their musical journey runs its course through 15 studio albums, but if 15 albums is overwhelming to get you started on a Pink Floyd kick, Culture Trip has selected 10 songs to provide the right stepping stone into the world of these rock legends.
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is the perfect place to begin the journey into Pink Floyd—it’s the only song of theirs that featured as number one on multiple music charts. The song comes from Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album, The Wall, as part of a three set song series all titled Another Brick in the Wall. The album showed a harsher musical direction for the band, and follows the journey of a character named Pink as he experiences isolation and abandonment. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 follows Pink to school, featuring a choir of school children, and as the song ends, the sounds of children on a playground with a teacher yelling. The song has both a music video and a film version (shown below) which plays on this as it shows Pink in school, where he dreams that the school is a prison and all of the children nothing more than parts of the machine, until they rise up, revolt, and physically tear the school apart. The song ended up being banned in South Africa in 1980, after it was used in boycotts of racial inequalities in schools due to apartheid.
Time was one of Pink Floyd’s singles off of their eighth studio album, Dark Side of the Moon. The album as a whole focused on concepts like greed, mental illness, and the passage of time. With lyrics like, “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you / No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”, Time deals with the way in which time flies by without anyone realizing in the moment that it’s passing. The opening of the song features overlapping clock chimes and alarms ringing, and each clock was individually recorded in an antique store, and then layered on top of each other. Time, released as a single in 1974, is the last song of Pink Floyd’s to credit all four members.
Shine on You Crazy Diamond serves as a tribute to Syd Barrett, the lead singer, guitarist, main songwriter, and founding member of Pink Floyd. His departure from the band came in 1968, after a series of erratic behaviors both on and off the stage. Shortly after, there came the speculation that Barrett suffered from a mental illness. The tribute is compiled of nine parts, and bookends the album, Wish You Were Here, totaling a length of 26 minutes when all put together. It starts out with a long instrumental period, and the lyrics seem to mourn Barrett as he once was, saying lines such as, “Well you wore out your welcome with random precision”.
Astronomy Domine comes from Pink Floyd’s very first studio album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and has the kind of introduction that came to characterize many of Pink Floyd’s songs, made up of a voice saying the names of planets and rapid beeping before segueing into the instruments. The song’s lyrics reference planets and moons as well, living up to its working title, which was Astronomy Domine (An Astral Chant). The song became a crowd favorite during live performances, and was played regularly until 1971, when Pink Floyd retired it only to bring it back on their 1994 tour, as a slightly different version than the original.
Comfortably Numb also comes from The Wall, and was released as a single in 1980, becoming one of Pink Floyd’s more famous songs. In it, Pink seems to alternate between himself as a child, ill with fever, and a doctor-like figure attempting to help him, though ultimately Pink finds himself an adult, and unable to feel anything. The music video shows Pink as an adult, being found unconscious. Doctors attempt to revive him, but once they do, he begins to hallucinate that his body is changing. At the end, however, he manages to return to his human state, calm. The track is the longest of any on The Wall, and part of its appeal comes from the multiple guitar solos it features.
Dogs comes from the tenth studio album, Animals, which plays upon the comparison between animals and human behaviors, much like George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The album provides a critique of society and politics through these comparisons, and Dogs centers around the world of business. While the title is Dogs, the lyrics never mention a dog, instead alluding to them while describing a businessman who appears charming at first, but then becomes aggressive and predatory, before slowly becoming empty as an old man.
The second single from The Dark Side of the Moon, Money begins with the clanging of coins, and the cha-ching of a cash register. The sounds come from recordings of coins clinking, cash registers ringing, papers being torn, and counting machines clicking, and then put together on a loop, which can be heard throughout the song. Money centers around greed, accompanied by a music video that features different ways of making money. Money also makes a reappearance in the music video for Another Brick in the Wall Part 2—the poem the teacher reads out in order to humiliate Pink is a verse from Money.
The music industry and insincerity are the targets of the third track from the Wish You Were Here album, Have a Cigar. The song pinpoints what Roger Waters felt were hypocritical and greedy about the music business, such as a label exec who takes credit in the band’s success without even really knowing them. It’s one of the only two songs where a permanent member doesn’t sing the lyrics. Because both Waters and Gilmour were not happy with their own vocals, they enlisted Roy Harper to sing it instead.
Learning to Fly comes from the album, A Momentary Lapse in Reason, and on the surface, tells the love story of a man and flying a plane. The theme of the song comes from David Gilmour, who really did love flying. He was the primary lyric writer, but in his pilot seat, the lyrics also seem to be about experiencing something life-changing. The song was a regular in live performance sets during the two tours following the departure of previous leader, Roger Waters, who David Gilmour took the place of.
Pink Floyd close out their final studio album, The Endless River, with the track, Louder than Words. It is the only song on the album to feature lyrics—the rest of the album is entirely instrumental. It is the relationship of the Pink Floyd members that is at the heart of Louder than Words, with lyrics written by the wife of David Gilmour, Polly Samson, upon watching the members of Pink Floyd interact. The track is slower than many of their previous works, and with the lyrics, “It’s louder than words, this thing that we do”, the song feels less like a good-bye and instead like a confirmation of the legacy that Pink Floyd leaves behind.