As one of the most successful bands to come out of Britain in the ’60s and ’70s, Pink Floyd are hardly strangers to the masses. Everyone knows at least one Floyd song, and the covers of their albums are nearly as iconic as the songs on them. As successful as their most popular albums were, such as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, Pink Floyd produced so many wonderful, but lesser known, tracks before and even during the height of their popularity. These tracks are evident of the evolution of the band’s style as they moved from experimental psychedelia in the Syd Barrett years to the mainstream art rock that they came to personify in the mid 1970s.
I am admitting my own bias in this piece by stating that I’ll be focusing on tracks from the group’s inception through The Final Cut, the last album with Roger Waters. I am personally not familiar with the David Gilmour-led era of the band and therefore won’t pretend to have any credible opinion on those songs. That being said, if you have a favorite track from those years, please feel free to share in the comments!
1) “Bike,” The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
From the first album, this disjointed mash of cacophonic sound effects, and lyrics of a nursery-rhyme-like innocence is perhaps most representative of Syd Barrett’s unusual, enigmatic style. It seems like a puppy-love song, but verses about Gerald the mouse and gingerbread men don’t really match up with the chorus. Yet it is indescribably fun and heartwarming, like the storytelling of a five-year-old who is just learning how to play an instrument.
2) “Corporal Clegg,” A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
A Saucerful of Secrets marks the only album in the band’s discography featuring five members, with David Gilmour joining and Syd Barrett about to depart. This track maintains the childlike, experimental style of Barrett, such as the “lead kazoo” so prominent in the song. However, the track also features some darker, heavier bass tones that would begin to take over the Waters-led years.
3) “Jugband Blues,” A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
A truly melancholic tune that is anything but what you’d expect a blues song to sound like, this song marks the end of Syd Barrett’s time in Pink Floyd. The lyrics are rambling, despondent, and even a little bitter, suggesting Barrett’s awareness of his increasing isolation from the band’s activities and perhaps of the purported mental illness from which he was long-rumored to have been suffering. It is a doleful ode to the end of an era for the band.
4) “The Nile Song,” More (1969)
This might be the most atypical song the band has ever produced and yet it still sounds unmistakably Floydish. Lyrically the song is very much in line with their style at the time, but the screaming vocals of David Gilmour and pounding drums by Nick sound more akin to bands like Black Sabbath and later heavy-metal groups. More is perhaps the least-known album by the group, likely because it is actually a soundtrack to a film of the same name.
5) “Fat Old Sun,” Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Departing from the avant-garde nature of the band’s previous discography, “Fat Old Sun” offers a gentle, swaying emotion in a Beatlesesque tribute to the summertime that sounds like it belongs on The White Album. It is a precursor to the softer but more dramatic tones that would be the cornerstone of their sound at the peak of their career, such as on DSOTM.
6) “Fearless,” Meddle (1971)
Like “Fat Old Sun,” this is another track with a primarily acoustic lead guitar and a mellow groove with country-chic. It is a quiet champion’s cry about facing adversity and overcoming, culminating in the confident chanting of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, as chanted by Liverpool F.C. fans. It is that finale that makes the track a distinctly English track.
7) “The Gold, It’s In The…,” Obscured by Clouds (1972)
Perhaps another uncharacteristic track off of another little-known album, it has a blues-rock feel that seems more appropriate for a band like Humble Pie than the art-rock pioneers of Pink Floyd. The missing element is keyboardist Richard Wright, who provided much of the backbone of the Floyd sound, especially during the mid-70s.
8) “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” Animals (1977)
I’ve deliberately overlooked the two most successful Floyd albums as all of the tracks on those albums were exceptionally well-known and well-received by fans. While Animals as also a milestone album, it turned off some fans because of it’s highly politicized lyrics. Unlike previous albums which philosophized more on existential human concerns, Animals was overtly antiestablishment. In an unusual move that paid off, Gilmour was actually responsible for the strong, prominent bass on the album in addition to his lead guitar work, while Waters played rhythm guitar.
9) “Vera,” The Wall (1979)
Although this is an extremely short track, it is one of the most poignant from The Wall. The album produced many radio-hits that are still massively in-demand, such as “Hey You,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” but the songs that held the most meaning toward the semi-autobiographical rock opera got lost in the success of the album. This particular song alludes to wartime songstress Vera Lynn, who is often credited with providing a sense hope and unity for Britain during World War Two and is most well known for “We’ll Meet Again.” Waters’ vocals evoke a desperate
10) “Not Now, John,” The Final Cut (1983)
“Not Now, John” criticizes both the Thatcher administration, always a hot-topic in ’80s Britain, and the nation’s increasing competition with global powers in the context of capitalism. The track is notably explicit with the repetitious use of “fuck it all,” which was edited as “stuff it all” for commercial use. Although the majority of The Final Cut is sung by Roger Waters, David Gilmour acts as lead vocalist for this song.