The story & evolution of Pink Floyd: A playlist
Find a rock music fan of any shade and chances are they will be a fan of psychedelic legends Pink Floyd. At the very basic level, Another Brick In The Wall — 2 & Wish You Were Here is as much part of an engineering college’s curriculum as Thermodynamics is. At an average rock gig, you’ll have one level of snob sneering at a young kid wearing a Dark Side Of The Moon t-shirt proclaiming that he knows Echoes. Tr00 fans of course, won’t even be at that gig, they will be home listening to Reaction in G on vinyl.
In a way that’s the beauty of the band — they probably have the widest fan contemporary fan base of any music act, and are the most mainstream a band labelled progressive ever got (with the arguable exception of the Beatles, but that’s another story).
The marathon six-hour session
My friend Berty and I are big fans of Floyd. He is a walking encyclopedia, and I love digging down archives of famous bands. We’ve both done guided listening sessions for Headphone Zone (we talk on a Zoom webinar, then listen to tracks on Spotify/Tidal/Apple Music) in the past — the history of rock, guitar solos, an exploration of TOTO. A dedicated session on Floyd was one of our most requested and we decided to finally put the damn thing together. Most of these sessions are scheduled for 2 hours, and would go on for 3, and even that would be made possible only by listening to segments of some tracks. For Pink Floyd, though, there was no way this time limit could be adhered to: Berty himself could talk for a day non-stop on the band, I tend to ramble a fair bit, and even the most liberal Floyd fan would not excuse Echoes being truncated — itself 23 minutes long. So we cleverly scheduled the session to start at 6 PM on a Sunday — knowing we had the leeway to go on for a while. We joked that we might end up at midnight, and guess what — we did. What’s more, Berty hosted an “after-hours” for another hour or so.
That’s right. 7+ hours of Pink Floyd music, stories, discussions and… puns. 200+ registered, 130–150 showed up, and even at the end we had 40 people staying on! It was an insane evening of music.
Guys, your playlist is 4 hours long :O You do have plans of stopping sometime, right? — Headphone Zone CEO Raghav Somani on seeing our playlist for the first time
Many people who had to drop out, came in early or couldn’t come asked us if we had a recording or to share the playlist. We didn’t do the former since we distinctly want to drive people towards the live experience which we believe is better. And standalone playlists don’t make sense — it’s not a compilation of the best of a band. Each song is curated to make a point and there might be some choices that might seem questionable, bereft of context.
So I thought I’d make myself a nice big cuppa French Press and get down to writing a line or two about each song and why we chose what we did. This is ideal for anyone: Fans curious about rock, those who’ve listened to only the popular tracks and are curious for more, and for hardcore Floyd nerds, too.
While I’ve embedded YouTube videos below, for better audio quality, use the streaming links: Spotify | Apple Music | TIDAL. Then read through the below. Some tracks are not there on some platforms, so use the YT links for those.
In this post, I’m going to be taking mostly about the songs and not the history of the band — that would take up too much space here and there are reams written on this already.
The personnel you should know:
Syd Barrett: Founder and the creative force in the early days. Unpredictable behaviour coupled with mad drug use led to his ouster from the band. Many fans don’t even know about him, but without Syd, there would be no Floyd. Passed away in 2006, in obscurity.
Roger Waters: Mercurial bassist, primary lyricist during their peak years and de facto creative force / band leader after Barrett ‘left’. Acrimonious relationship with the band at various points of time.
David Gilmour: One of the world’s greatest guitarist, known for a ‘feel-based’ style of playing. Syd’s childhood buddy who was brought in to augment the band to hedge his unpredictability, ended up coming into his own. Leader of the band after Waters left, continues carrying the band’s name today though it’s inactive.
Richard Wright: Keyboard player who was so instrumental (heh) to the Floyd sound, and a damn fine songwriter / singer himself. Was temporarily ousted from the band by a drunk-on-power Waters, and brought back by Gilmour. Passed away in 2008.
Nick Mason: The drummer and only constant member. Often overlooked, but had a very distinctive style that was more ‘feel’ than technical virtuosity, fits in perfectly with the various Floyd sounds. Also a fine writer and artist.
Before Floyd found even their early sound, Syd experimented with many sounds varying from R&B to pop. This is a fine example. Remember, our journey that ends in High Hopes starts here.
See Emily Play
One of two early Syd-led singles that saw Floyd capture considerable underground interest (the other being Arnold Layne). This is whimsical and poppy. This madcap video was made post-Barrett (for a promo) but pretty much summed his own music up.
As a YouTube comment said: Syd was himself a genre.
The centerpiece of their debut album, 1967’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. A long instrumental, often improvised during live performances. You can also hear the spacey elements here and get a sniff of the Floyd that was to come.
This is also from the same album and my personal favourite off it. Sounds closer to those early singles. Completely poppy and whimsical. A combination of the two above sounds + Water’s biting lyrics + Gilmour’s brilliant playing is what Floyd would eventually become.
Reaction in G
This is kinda similar to Interstellar Overdrive. Another song they used to play a lot live, never released on any formal album. Nice bluesy-spacey instrumental track. This is from a 1967 Stockholm show. Barrett, sadly, was losing it slowly and his live performances deteriorated badly.
The first non-Syd song we’ll play is a lovely track composed & sung by Wright. Not on any album. Nice tune, this, one of my favourites from that era. Also say hello to David!
Let There Be More Light
The opener of the second album (A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968) is also the first to feature a Gilmour solo in a studio track. You can feel the transition from Piper to Echoes!
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
The Interstellar Overdrive of the second album was a cornerstone of the band’s psychedelia and atmosphere-building capabilities. This is the only song to feature all 5 members of the band on one recording (Syd was only partially involved in this album’s recording). The original studio version is nice, but it’s the live versions that REALLY do this track justice. So here’s a nice one for ya!
Syd’s last contribution to Floyd was the closer of the second album, a biting song about being shoved out of the band, perhaps more sarcastic than anything Waters himself wrote. “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here, and I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here”, he sings gut-wrenchingly in a beautiful melody. Thank you, Syd.
Biding My Time
After Syd left, Floyd mucked about for a bit looking for direction till they found it on Echoes. But that was Floyd mucking about, meant we got some great songs spanning various genres. They did some excellent blues-y stuff, like this.
Or beautiful wistful melodic music like this. Gilmour’s developing into a fine singer, as you can hear.
My favourite track of that experimental era is this magnificent blues track which shows Gilmour really coming into his own as a guitarist. These three tracks were not there on any Floyd album proper, but were released as part of box sets. Enjoy this, especially if you’ve never heard it before.
Floyd also provided music to a music called More, whose OST is considered their third album. It’s a nice listen but nothing very essential, if I were to be honest. This is a good track and representative of the album as a whole.
Careful With That Axe, Eugene
Them boys showing their atmosphere-building skills again, often using minimal notes and a repeated bassline to put the listener in a trance. This is an excellent example and remains a cult favourite. Oh, and… Wait for it :)
Atom Heart Mother
The Echoes before Echoes and Floyd’s first foray into writing a ‘suite’. A 24-minute instrumental to cap off their fourth studio album of the same name, which features prog’s most famous bovine, Lullubelle III on the cover. This song is an absolute trip.
One of These Days
Kicking off Meddle, often considered to be their best pre-DSOTM album. I think this is their most aggressive song and has some of Waters’ best bassplaying. And features a Nick Mason scream for the only ‘lyrics’.
We’re going to break the chronology a bit here and skip ahead to the next album, their 6th — Obscured By Clouds. This album is often forgotten, sandwiched between the brilliant Echoes that ends Meddle, and the hockey-stick-curve-point that was the brilliant Dark Side of The Moon. That being said, it’s a decent album on its own, this being a good track from there. It sounds very much like Have a Cigar from two albums down. Ideally, this album should have come pre-Meddle for a cleaner transition!
Okay, let’s go back to Meddle now and end the first half of Floyd’s career. While the album ends with the incredible Echoes, which many consider their finest work, we need to address what many consider their worst.
Random noodling and a dog howling is this song. At this point in their careers, Floyd sounded more confident and sure of their sound than before, so my only guess as to why this excrescence of a track was here was to make the next track sound EVEN better. Almost like deliberately underperforming in order to elevate the real performance even more. Or how drinking raw lime juice can make even water taste sweet. And for that, I doff my hat to them. So, please endure the next two minutes. It will be worth it after that.
That. One. Note.
I could write for ever and ever about this. Gilmour’s playing. The lyrics (“a million bright ambassadors of morning” — has sunlight been described more poetically?). The atmosphere. The meaning this track has in Floyd’s career arch. But I would do it a disservice. Just listen to it. Make your own conclusions. It all starts with…
That. One. Note.
If you’ve already heard the track before, I highly recommend this music video.
Phew, so that was the first “half” of Floyd’s career. Now comes the good stuff.
And here, we’re going to be doing some covers for some of the more popular tracks. That being said — if you haven’t heard the originals, please do that first.
Speak to Me + Breathe
Kicking off one of the most celebrated albums of all time, Dark Side of The Moon, are these two. Too much is already written about this album and its concept, and you really should look it up (reading about Floyd’s songs makes them seem even more powerful).
One thing I love about Floyd is how ‘coverable’ they are, while also giving the cover-er room to bring their own style in rather than be a carbon-copy of the original. So let’s kick them off, shall we?
Time (cover by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)
Exactly what it sounds like. Justice totally done. Original here in case you haven’t heard it yet.
Money (cover by Edgar Winter, Bill Bruford & Tony Levin)
When members of King Crimson & Yes cover your song, you know you’re a big deal. Phew. Original here. The song itself is wonderful, the highest-charting song to be written in 7/4 time, and features a great sax solo.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts 1–5) — Live version
Right, now we move on to my favourite Floyd album, Wish You Were Here. A tribute to Syd Barrett, who randomly landed up in the studio during its recording causing members to break down (neither party recognized each other at first). SOYCD is one of Floyd’s most popular songs, made even more powerful if you know the story behind it. I once imagined Barrett, alone in his Cambridge attic, watching this, as a band he founded at the height of their powers, bringing his vision to life in a way he himself could have never done. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a small tear when I had that scenario in my head. The version that Gilmour plays at his Gdansk concert is one of the best versions of this song — complete with glasses and all! Original here.
PS: Shine On You Crazy Diamond = SYD.
In your face, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds!
Welcome To The Machine (cover by Kassogtha)
This is one of the best, most imaginative covers of a Floyd song I’ve ever heard and when I played this with great trepidation during the listening session, the response was more than what I ever expected — people loved it. Just… Check it out. Totally brings the atmosphere of an already heavy song to another level. Warning: A little heavy. Original here.
Have a Cigar (cover by Bobby Kimball, Bruce Kulick, Mike Porcaro, Greg Bissonnette)
A prog-star-cast cover of a very very fine song with a lovely guitar-bass riff through the song. Original here.
(as you can see with the shorter text, there’s not much ‘story’ really to be told now — and reams are written about each album anyway and you should check them out)
I didn’t think anything could ever replace Comfortably Numb as my favourite Floyd song, but every time I listen to Dogs, that position looks increasingly at risk. Dogs has everything, man — Roger at this finest, lyrically. Gilmour’s playing. It’s freakin’ 16 minutes long. The chord changes are glorious and highly rewarding to play on an acoustic. That ending. Everything. Just a work of 70s prog art, this. Roger Waters could be a very frustrated ol’ man and boy did he channel that angst into his lyrics.
The entire Animals album is great. It’s often a toss-up between that and the preceding WYWH as Floyd acolytes’ favourites.
In The Flesh?
A nice little ditty to start The Wall, Floyd’s last great album, and possibly their deepest, darkest one.
Another Brick In The Wall — Part 1 & 2 (cover by Layne Staley, Tom Morello, Stephen Perkins+)
Everyone’s heard ABITW (Originals here — Part 1, Part 2 — latter being the more famous one with Waters’ iconic bassline). This quite excellent pair of covers amps up the grunge. What do you expect when Alice in Chains’ Layne Stayley and RATM’s Tom Morello are at the helm? Part 1 is a sludgy instrumental that will make you want to SCREAM out the chorus that you already know. Both are wonderful — both are combined back to back in this convenient video for your kind perusal.
Before we get into THAT track, here’s an initial version of it :)
After hearing so many covers of Comfortably Numb, it’s lovely to sort of see a proto-cover by the band themselves!
Oh, gosh, here we are. Floyd’s greatest? The most magnificent guitar solo of all time? What everyone looks forward to during any classic rock session? What every college guitarist tries hard to master given the deceptively easy notes (including myself — sorry, MICA).
Let’s make it clear — this is a great song but it’s ALL about the second solo. And I’ve heard pretty much every version of it that exists on YouTube and this would be the one I would pick as the best version. Bumblefoot plays the original solo and then does his own take. A glorious version in a beautiful setting. Enjoy this. Oh yeah, original here. What I love about this song is how each version — including those by Gilmour — is different, almost giving you a new experience each time.
Bonus: This crazy 10-minute solo version!
Phew. Now we move on to the ‘decline’ era, I guess.
Two Suns in The Sunset
A good track of a good album, except it had the misfortune of following DSOTM, WYWH, Animals & The Wall. Oh and it was acrimonious and pretty much a Waters solo effort, pissing off Gilmour, getting Wright fired and the eventual departure of its protagonist. Not pretty. But hey, at least we got some nice music, eh?
Sorrow & Marooned
The next two albums were Gilmour-led and it shows. Both A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Divison Bell were nice albums and gave us some memorable songs but lacked the ‘bite’ of Waters’ songwriting and lyrical input. Still, any excuse to hear Gilmour play guitar. Two damn good tracks, one off each, here.
The Division Bell also had High Hopes which features what many (self included) would consider Gilmour’s finest solo after Comfortably Numb. But we’ll get back to that. Let’s skip ahead to 2014 when Gilmour, in a tribute to his late bandmate Rick Wright, released a series of outtakes from the TDB sessions under what would be Pink Floyd’s final official release, The Endless River.
While it can be considered a nice tribute, I think it sullies the legacy of a band and brings the average down. Surely it could have been released as part of a box-set or as a rarities set rather than an official studio album — but alas instead we got an official release with a bunch of sounds and no real ‘song’. That being said, there are some decent tracks, and the whole album is best listened to in one sitting for continuity. These four tracks when played together are the best part of the album, in my opinion. Conveniently put in a playlist for you… Stop after the 4th song though.
Allons-Y (part 1) + Autumn ’68 +Allons-Y (part 2) + Talkin’ Hawkin’
Okay, then, it’s time to wrap things up!
But before we get there, I want you to see the track listing of their best-of album, Echoes.
You’ll notice it’s largely chronological with one very distinctive standout — Bike. The closer of this compilation is actually a Syd Barrett song which was the last song of the first album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It’s probably very interesting nod to the Floyd roots, made all the more profound that High Hopes ends with a bell, while Bike starts with one.
I thought that was damn profound and wanted to work it into the session, knowing I’d be playing High Hopes — but I didn’t want to end with the loony little Bike, so I flipped the order. We start with…
“Never forget your roots” is something that both Indian parents and fans of Floyd might well say. It’s amazing to think that Comfortably Numb, SOYCD and Money wouldn’t have come about if it weren’t for Syd Barrett’s madcap beginnings. Floyd’s sound was an evolution, not a drastic shift away. So, let’s give this one a listen… And it’s a shocking kick back to the 1960s, where we started this journey.
Rest in peace, Syd.
This is one of my favourite solos ever. Gilmour plays a lap steel guitar and I could hear him play this for hours. In my mind, their finest song post-The Wall. And I can’t think of a better way to close. I’ve heard every version of this available on YT, including the covers, and in my opinion, its best version is from the 1994 PULSE concert. Enjoy.
Sometimes, I think it’s amazing this was written after Smells Like Teen Spirit, Jeremy and Metropolis Part 1.
And there you have it!
Thank you for reading to the end, if you did and coming on this voyage with me :)
Of course I left out many favourites, including some engineering college staples — but we had limited time (er, 6 hours :P) so we needed to keep it short. This is by no means a ‘best of’ compilation, and for that we recommend the aforementioned best-of album or the many playlists that exist on a streaming platform of your choice. I personally would also recommend you check out Gilmour’s solo work (Raise My Rent being my favourite) if you like his Floyd stuff.
See you next time :)