10 Best Syd Barrett Songs

When people talk about wasted potential in rock and roll, it’s usually premature deaths like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, or Kurt Cobain. Pink Floyd’s original leader Syd Barrett also belongs on the list. Although Barrett lived into his sixties, his musical career was effectively over by his mid-twenties, burned out by a combination of LSD and schizophrenia.

Barrett left a glorious legacy of music, in a career that seemed equally informed by nursery rhymes, old bluesmen, and Lennon and McCartney’s psychedelic era. While Barrett’s recordings can sometimes be rough, marred by his unsettling vocal style and by his own struggles with mental health, he’s blessed with an impeccable pop sense and his songs are often catchy and memorable.

Despite Barrett’s relatively small output, his best work is spread out over multiple releases. His best material is concentrated on Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper of Gates of Dawn, released in 1967, and his solo debut, 1970’s The Madcap Laughs. But to get a full career overview, you need to dig a little deeper; here are ten of his best songs:

#10 Effervescing Elephant

from Barrett, 1970
Syd Barrett’s second and final solo album was light on inspiration compared to his previous projects. Its highlight was the closing track ‘Effervescing Elephant’, an animal fable that Barrett wrote in his teens.

#9 Lucifer Sam

from Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967
The psychedelic moments of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn can sometimes feel dated, but Barrett’s pop sensibility shines on songs like ‘Lucifer Sam’. People have speculated about its meaning, but it’s clearly about a cat – it was originally titled ‘Percy the Rat Catcher’. ‘Lucifer Sam’ has been covered by a wide range of artists, including The Black Crowes, MGMT, and The Lightning Seeds.

#8 Golden Hair

from Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs
‘Golden Hair’ was based on a poem by James Joyce and features Barrett at his prettiest and most plaintive. It was featured as a b-side to Barrett’s first solo single, ‘Octopus’.

#7 Scream Thy Last Scream

Cancelled Pink Floyd single, 1967
The intense ‘Scream Thy Last Scream’ was intended as Pink Floyd’s third single, but it was shelved by EMI at the last minute, along with the b-side ‘Vegetable Man’. Widely bootlegged over the years, it didn’t see official release until The Early Years 1965–1972 in 2016. It features a rare lead vocal from drummer Nick Mason.

#6 Jugband Blues

from Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets, 1968
Barrett only wrote one song on Pink Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets – he was replaced by David Gilmour as he was becoming unreliable on stage. But his sole contribution was memorable – ‘Jugband Blues’, with its opening line “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here”.

#5 Octopus

from Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, 1970
Pink Floyd had tried to keep Barrett on as a non-performing writer, but when that failed and he was removed from the group, there were attempts to record him as a solo artist. These initially failed, but after time in psychiatric care, Barrett regrouped for his solo debut. Initially known as ‘Clowns and Jugglers’, ‘Octopus’ was Barrett’s only solo single, and provided the album with its title after David Gilmour misheard the lyric “the mad cat laughed at the man on the border”.

#4 Arnold Layne

Non-album Pink Floyd single, 1967
Pink Floyd’s debut single contains the universal subject matter of a laundry stealing transvestite. We’ve all had a neighbour like that, right?

#3 Astronomy Domine

from Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967
‘Astronomy Domine’ showcases the space-rock that shares album time with Barrett’s nursery rhymes on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

#2 See Emily Play

Non-album Pink Floyd single, 1967
Pink Floyd’s second single was also written by Barrett, and it reached #6 on the UK charts – not surprising for a tuneful and succinct psychedelic song at the height of psychedelia.

#1 Bike

from Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967
Barrett at his most nursery rhyme-ish closes The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house 
I don’t know why. I call him Gerald 

Did I leave out any of your favourite Barrett songs? Are you a fan?


Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. Great to see poor old Syd getting some recognition.
    I agree with all your choices but would add the Floyd single Apples and Oranges and just about all the songs on Barrett and The Madcap Laughs, including Love Song, Baby Lemonade, Love You and Long Gone. Even the stop-start attempts at If It’s in You.
    Some say he was finished before he even began and that Piper is effectively his swansong as well as his debut. But gems like Lucifer Sam sound perfectly lucid to me.
    While I would never expect even a fellow music lover to share my love of Syd’s stuff, and to many it must be painful, embarrassing to listen to, I’m a long-time fan. Funnily enough I often use it to get through the tedium of household chores such as ironing.

    • I think he came and went a bit after his initial breakdown – had moments of lucidity. I tried to represent a broad spectrum of stuff, but I was going for favourites, I would have taken more from Madcap Laughs, as it’s my favourite of his.

  2. There is so much mythologizing going on about Barrett it is best to let the songs speak for themselves as you have done, I love Barrett’s stuff, particularly Dark Globe which is harrowing and beautiful at the same time, I love this version from Gilmour who more than most has kept Barrett’s legacy alive in an appropriate way…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGS4Xp8rLPA

  3. I didn’t know what to expect because of his reputation when I first heard Pink Floyd’s first album in the 80s. I was pleasantly surprised. You are right…he had a very good pop sense about him. I thought I was going to hear psychedelic sounds with no melody…It was actually quite good.

  4. I only know Octopus, as I’ve just never really jumped into his solo stuff. Keep meaning to, but, y’know, there’s always other stuff. Rich is right, though; this is a good primer.

    • There are about five different eras of Pink Floyd, and it’s possible to enjoy some and not others. I generally like i and iii the best.
      i) Psychedelic Barrett era (1967-68)
      ii) Experimental and democratic band (1968-1970)
      iii) AOR monsters (1971-1977)
      iv) Roger Waters is in charge (1979-1982)
      v) David Gilmour (everything since)

  5. We’ve discussed Syd before. I devoured his two solo albums (will eventually do a take). Cool that you feature his music. I’m sure he’s just a footnote with a lot of folks. Not you or me. “Baby Lemonade’, “Terrapin’, ‘Here We Go’ I love those albums. ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ is an all time fave cut, period

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