I’m not sure that Pink Floyd need an introduction – they’re one of the most loved classic rock bands. Most of the attention is given to their 1970s stadium rock blockbusters like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, but they also had a lengthy career on either side.
The band started recording in the psychedelic 1960s, led by Syd Barrett, but he was replaced by vocalist and guitarist David Gilmour after burning out on LSD. After the confident debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, where Barrett was Pink Floyd’s clear leader, the band underwent a series of interesting albums where they tried different styles, but sometimes seemed directionless and self-indulgent.
In the early 1970s, bassist Roger Waters assumed control of the band, and his lyrical concepts took the band to new heights of popularity. Pink Floyd are at their best when Waters’ lyrical concepts are enhanced by the musical abilities of Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason. As the 1970s wore on, Waters became more dominant, and limited the contributions of the other members, and 1982’s The Final Cut was effectively a Waters’ solo album. Gilmour took the band through three further albums, including their swansong, 2014’s The Endless River.
Here are my picks for the five best albums from Pink Floyd:
Obscured By Clouds
As a soundtrack, it’s easy to overlook Obscured By Clouds – but it’s from my favourite era from the band, and it works well as an album, a relaxed collection of overlooked songs. Waters starts to explore the themes that would dominate the group’s later 1970s work on songs like ‘Free Four’, but there a lot of good songs that aren’t among the group’s standard, like the instrumental ‘Mud Men’ and the pretty ‘Stay’.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Syd Barrett’s only full album with Pink Floyd is an often stunning distillation of his psychedelic vision – spacey jams like ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, and nightmarish fairy tales like ‘Lucifer Sam’ and ‘Bike’. If you like it, remember to check out non-album singles like ‘See Emily Play’ and ‘Arnold Layne’.
Dark Side of the Moon was Pink Floyd’s commercial break-though, but the group’s spacious sound was already in place for 1971’s Meddle. The side long ‘Echoes’ is my favourite piece that Pink Floyd ever recorded, while the first side features essential songs like ‘One of These Days’ and ‘Fearless’.
The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd enjoyed a lot of commercial success in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s – even the challenging Atom Heart Mother was a number one album. But The Dark Side of the Moon took the band to stratospheric heights of popularity, helped by the new lyrical focus with Waters taking control, and the pristine production from Alan Parsons. It’s also fun to watch in synchronicity with The Wizard of Oz.
Wish You Were Here
It must have been intimidating following the hugely successful Dark Side of the Moon, but Pink Floyd bettered it with 1975’s Wish You Were Here. Roy Harper guests on ‘Have A Cigar’, the title track is acoustic and pretty, while the epic multi-part suite ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is beautiful and memorable.
What are you favourite Pink Floyd albums? I’m aware my list is a little oddball – many lists would include 1977’s Animals (which would have been my number 6) and The Wall (which suffers from the lack of input from the band’s other members).