Formed by London architecture students in 1964, Pink Floyd are one of the most beloved classic rock bands. While most attention is given to stadium-rock blockbusters like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, they enjoyed a lengthy career on either side of the 1970s.
Pink Floyd started recording in the psychedelic 1960s, led by Syd Barrett. They debuted with the confident psychedelia of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, where Barrett was Pink Floyd’s clear leader. Barrett was replaced by vocalist and guitarist David Gilmour after burning out on LSD. After Barrett’s departure, the band recorded a series of experimental albums where they sometimes seemed directionless
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 were at their best when Waters’ lyrical concepts were 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; 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 the band’s fifteen studio albums, ranked.
Pink Floyd Albums Ranked
#15 The Endless River
Pink Floyd’s final album was largely pieced together from outtakes of 1994’s The Division Bell. There’s only one song with vocals – the closing ‘Louder Than Words’. The other pieces are instrumentals, often mellow and ambient. It’s a respectable end to their career and a fitting eulogy to Richard Wright who passed away in 2008, but it’s still their least essential record.
Pink Floyd’s most indulgent record, Ummagumma is a double LP. The impressive first half is a live disc with lengthy, spacy jams on tunes like ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ and ‘Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun’. But the studio disc, made of individual tracks from the four members, is often trivial with oddities like Mason’s ‘The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party’ and Waters’ ‘Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict’.
#13 A Momentary Lapse of Reason
Roger Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985, and David Gilmour took control of the band. Wright and Mason are involved, but their confidence was low after playing with a dictatorial Waters. Instead, Pink Floyd are often augmented by session musicians. It’s one of Pink Floyd’s most atypical releases, with a glossy 1980s rock sheen. It was successful with tuneful hits like ‘Learning to Fly’, introducing Pink Floyd to a younger generation.
Pink Floyd’s third studio album was the soundtrack for a countercultural film set in Ibiza. More suffers a little from a confused identity – it’s part fully-fledged songs and part background music. But the good songs are worth tracking down – the gentle psychedelia of ‘Green is the Colour’ and the Gilmour riff-rocker ‘The Nile Song’.
#11 The Division Bell
The Division Bell is the most collaborative Pink Floyd album since the mid-1970s. With Wright back in the band, he’s a writing partner for Gilmour and his keyboards bring back the atmospheric sound of Pink Floyd 1970s pomp. The Division Bell drags a little with a 66-minute running time, but it’s very strong in places. The opening suite of songs, ‘Cluster One’ and ‘What Do You Want From Me’, recall the majesty of classic Floyd, and it’s easily their best Gilmour-led record.
#10 The Wall
The Wall is one of Pink Floyd’s most iconic albums. With Roger Waters firmly in control, it’s a 2 LP rock opera about Pink, a rock star who isolates himself from society. There are classic songs like ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’, but much of the musicality comes from Gilmour’s brief cameos, like the soaring choruses and guitar solos on ‘Comfortably Numb’. Despite some of Floyd’s best moments, The Wall is too long – too much Waters ranting and not enough memorable songs.
#9 The Final Cut
The Final Cut was Waters’ final album with Pink Floyd. He’s even more firmly in control than on The Wall, with Gilmour only allowed the spotlight on the ridiculous, yet excellent, ‘Not Now John’. But it’s a more manageable length and more conceptually interesting. It’s an anti-war album, inspired by The Falklands War and Waters’ loss of his own father in World War 2.
#8 A Saucerful of Secrets
Pink Floyd’s second album is surprisingly coherent given the circumstances. Syd Barrett was on his way out of the band, only writing ‘Jugband Blues’, and contributing guitar to two other tracks. Yet the other members step up their songwriting, with Waters’ ‘Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ and Wright’s ‘Remember A Day’ among a strong batch of songs.
#7 Atom Heart Mother
Atom Heart Mother is one of the most unlikely albums to top the UK charts. The entire first side is devoted to the ‘Atom Heart Mother suite’, a quasi-classical piece with choir and brass. Side two ends with the 13-minute ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’, partly a sound collage of the group’s commentating upon his morning meal. While ‘Breakfast’ drags a little, there are a bunch of strong songs on side two – especially Wright’s ‘Summer ’68’.
In the U.K.’s year of punk, Pink Floyd released their most aggressive album. Loosely based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the three main songs compare society to sheep, pigs, and dogs. A lot of the group’s collaborative spirit is gone, with Roger Waters dominating most of the writing and lead vocals. It’s fun to hear the group with a tougher sound on ‘Sheep’ and ‘Dogs’.
#5 Obscured By Clouds
Because it’s a soundtrack, it’s easy to overlook Obscured By Clouds. 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 are a lot of strong songs that aren’t among the group’s standards, like the instrumental ‘Mud Men’ and the pretty ‘Stay’.
#4 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’ share space with enjoyably silly ditties like ‘Lucifer Sam’ and ‘Bike’. If you like it, remember to check out non-album singles like ‘See Emily Play’ and ‘Arnold Layne’ from the Barrett era. The title is taken from a trippy chapter in the children’s novel The Wind in the Willows.
The Dark Side of the Moon sold in much larger quantities, but Pink Floyd’s spacey sound was already in place for 1971’s Meddle. The first side features Floyd essentials like ‘One of These Days’, with Nick Mason’s famous line “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces”, and ‘Fearless’. The second side is taken up by ‘Echoes’, my favourite Floyd piece that serves as a bridge between their experimental work in the late 1960s and their commercial juggernauts in the 1970s.
#2 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. Roger Waters took control of the lyrics, moving the group away from hippiedom to mass appeal, while the production from Alan Parsons is pristine. It’s also fun to watch in synchronicity with The Wizard of Oz.
#1 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. Folkie Roy Harper guests on ‘Have A Cigar’, and the title track is soulful and pretty. The main attraction is the multi-part suite ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, built around a majestic four-note riff.
What are your favourite Pink Floyd albums?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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