Pink Floyd fanatics are pretty much split up into two prominent camps: those who think Dark Side of the Moon is the greatest piece of music to bless the human consciousness, and those who feel the same way about The Wall. That’s completely understandable, given that they’re some of the biggest selling records, are incessantly hailed as some of the greatest of all time, and have single-handedly ingrained themselves in popular culture; I mean, how many bands can you really name whose album covers are pretty much a symbol of fashion and art at this point? But all of that is irrelevant to the topic at hand here.
There have been countless writings, as well as contentious debates, over what Pink Floyd album is great, which one is not, and what the absolute superlative album is. Everybody has differing opinions on what era of the bad truly reigns supreme. Was it when original frontman Syd Barrett was the creative force? Or was it when principle songwriter, vocalist, and bassist Roger Waters steered the band into a different direction that would soon lead them on a path of inescapable success? It’s all subjective; just like this top ten list is.
This isn’t some kind of disquisition looking to dissect each album in terms of merit or longstanding influence, because let’s be honest, every Pink Floyd album is wonderful in its own way. This article is just meant to highlight all of those wonderful eccentricities that make each of their albums artsy, idiosyncratic, anthemic, and outrageously bizarre.
Maybe a small part of this list is based on my own thoughts and feelings towards each of these records, since Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands whose music got me through a lot in my youthful years; I think it was set in stone ever since I heard Dark Side of the Moon for the very first time as a child. Those psychedelic melodies were so new to my infantile ears and the rest was history; I was now a precocious child influenced by the exciting and alien world of Floyd’s cutting edge classic rock sound. But enough about my life story; time to get into our top 10 list:
# 10 – A Saucerful of Secrets
After their debut album, former frontman and founder Syd Barrett became disillusioned with their newfound fame and eventually became a recluse consumed by drugs and mental illness. By the time they cut this 1968 album, the other members were already on their last leg with Syd Barrett’s erratic behavior and soon kicked him out by this point; this would also be the first album to feature their newest member, guitarist David Gilmour.
A Saucerful of Secrets carries on with their space rock experimentation they perfected with their debut, and houses a few really good psychedelic songs like “Let There Be More Light,” “Remember a Day,” “Corporal Clegg,” the 11 minute title track, and the closing song “Jugband Blues,” which was written and sung by Syd Barrett before he would leave the band for good.
# 9 – Atom Heart Mother
Not a whole lot of people talk about this record when mentioning their best work, but it’s a pretty interesting listen that showcases their elongated parity of psych and progressive rock; it’s also quintessential Pink Floyd with its ambiguous album cover of a cow in a pasture that just oozes ‘pop art.’ Released in 1970, Atom Heart Mother sees the band continuing on their avant-garde path with “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” a bizarre 13 minute sound collage that consists almost entirely of their roadie Alan Styles cooking and eating breakfast.
But then there’s the hefty 23 minute suite of the title track that brings together the prog rock instrumentation they were beginning to refine a little bit with their previous album, Ummagumma, as well as the folksy and sunshine-laden If and Summer of ’68, two of the most underrated songs in their discography, that makes this album worthy of a spot on this list.
# 8 – More
This is surprisingly enough one of my all time favorite albums; if I want to fall asleep and have some strange and unusual dreams, I’ll throw this one on. It’s a soundtrack album they did for the 1969 film More, about the 1960’s counterculture and drug addiction on the island of Ibiza, Spain; a pretty weird movie that only the completely weird soundscapes of Pink Floyd could compliment.
Even though this isn’t really an album that gets compared to the likes of Dark Side of the Moon, it still has a small collection of some really good music. Songs like the dreamy “Cirrus Minor,” the proto-punk “The Nile Song,” the soft and pretty “Green is the Colour,” the dark and brooding “Cymbaline,” and the nightmarish “Quicksilver” make More one of their most criminally overlooked albums.
# 7 – The Division Bell
At a certain point, a band reaches their creative peak and suddenly hits a standstill; producing nothing but underwhelming music that just doesn’t match up to their earlier work. But then there are certain bands who are the exact opposite; they release some of their best music later on in their career. Of course, Pink Floyd are in the former category, unfortunately. That still doesn’t stop 1992’s The Division Bell from being a nice return to form from a band who had to kick out their egotistical songwriter and visionary, Roger Waters.
It’s a straightforward blues rock album with only faint glimmers of their art rock proclivities, but there’s a certain warmth and ethereal in its production. Plus, the closing song, “High Hopes,” is one of the most poignant, and extravagant anthemic, pieces of music the band has ever constructed; the way it keeps building and building tension, until it finally crescendos into a memorable finale.
# 6 – Meddle
Up until this point, Pink Floyd’s style was still betwixt and between; they didn’t know if they wanted to be psychedelic, avant-garde, pop, or prog. But with 1971’s Meddle, they had finally found the sound that would come to define them as monolithic purveyors of popular music just two years later after this record.
This album has every facet of the band: the experimental horror show of the opening track “One of These Days,” the sweet and moody ballad “A Pillow of Winds,” the folksy dream pop of “Fearless,” the jazzy “San Tropez,” the quirky blues of “Seamus,” and the prodigious centerpiece that is the 23 minute closer, “Echoes.” There’s not a bad thing about this album, and it’s really a shame that it’s as overlooked as it is; their number one album wouldn’t have been attainable if it wasn’t for this one.
Just listen to all 23 minutes of the otherworldly euphony that is “Echoes” and then try to proselytize my opinion if you think otherwise.
# 5 – Animals
If there’s one Pink Floyd album that inspired me to pick the guitar up, it’s 1977’s Animals. This is the band at the apex of their progressive rock ferocity. Roger Waters wrote the concept of the album after being loosely inspired by the George Orwell novel “Animal Farm,” and decided to turn the album into a visceral commentary on capitalism and the British politics of the time period; using dogs, sheep, and pigs, like the novel, as metaphors for different social classes.
This is the album that cemented their legacy as a force to be reckoned with in the midst of the new wave and punk rock movement of the mid-70’s; Pink Floyd proved they weren’t a couple of dinosaurs trying to capitulate to a new generation of rock music. Every song on here is sinister and perfect; from the 17 minute “Dogs,” to the 12 minute “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” and finally the 10 minute “Sheep.” And given our current political climate, Animals feels just as relevant now as it did 40 years ago.
# 4 – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Here’s the debut album that started it all. Even though this is more of the brainchild of the weird and imaginative Syd Barrett, it’s still a classic psychedelic pop album that captured the whimsical and forward-thinking atmosphere of the 1960’s; kind of like what The Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was not surprisingly enough released in 1967, the same year as The Piper.
To put it bluntly: this isn’t typically the album to get you into Pink Floyd if you’re just starting out; it’s usually the one you gravitate towards last after you’ve listened to the rest of their discography in reverse chronological order starting with The Wall. But I know when I first listened to it when I was really getting into the band, it blew my mind with its extraterrestrial soundscapes and acid-laced lyrics about gnomes, scarecrows, riding bikes, and a siamese cat named “Lucifer Sam;” there was just something wholesome and innocent in all of its avant-pop grandeur.
This is truly a brilliant album on behalf of a band that was just blossoming early on in their career, and made the late, great Syd Barrett an idiosyncratic enigma and folk hero for thousands of weird indie musicians in the coming decades.
# 3 – Wish You Were Here
After the astronomic success of their previous album, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd decided to go a step further and create an album that was a merciless takedown of the music industry. Wish You Were Here effortlessly marries the band’s art rock splendor with a nihilistic hatred for their omnipresent fame and greedy record execs with songs like “Welcome to the Machine,” as well as “Have a Cigar,” which highlights David Gilmour’s superlative guitar work. Then there’s beautiful tribute to Syd Barrett and his deteriorated mental health with the classic title track, and the sprawling epic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” which bookends the album.
Wish You Were Here was also David Gilmour’s and keyboardist Richard Wright’s favorite album they ever recorded, and honestly, if it weren’t for the next two albums in this entry, this would be my number one choice.
# 2 – The Wall
Alas, we’ve reached the endpoint of this top 10 list, and this is really where I had an arduous time figuring out which album was their best between these two. It’s pretty much the most disputable question that’s brought up on every album poll or Reddit thread: Which Pink Floyd album is the best? Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall? My personal feeling is that if I had to choose one to take on a desert island with me, it would most definitely be this one…but then I’d also want to take Dark Side of the Moon with me, because they both are near and dear to me. Now it’s a Sophie’s Choice scenario: which one do I choose?
From a critical and artistic standpoint, they’re both equal in every way, and there’s just something so universal about The Wall that makes it just as great, if not better, then the number one album on this list. It’s a rock opera that tells the story of a rock star who wants to isolate himself from the perils of society in the symbolic form of a “wall.” Written entirely by Roger Waters, he uses his own childhood, as well as Syd Barrett’s life, to further the album’s themes of abandonment, loneliness, mental health, and disillusionment.
These are central ideas Pink Floyd haven’t already done before, and this isn’t even the first rock opera ever written, but it’s beloved by everybody, and has stood the test of time 40 years later; even people who aren’t familiar with The Wall, or even Pink Floyd, know most of the songs on this album, because they’re all classic rock staples. I mean, come on; Another Brick in the Wall? Comfortably Numb? Hey You? Young Lust? Run Like Hell?” This album is unrivaled, and even though it’s at the number two spot, it’s still number one in my eyes.
# 1 – The Dark Side of the Moon
And just like The Wall, this is also the greatest piece of music the band has ever constructed. Millions of artists can only dream of creating an album that’s as culturally and aesthetically important as Dark Side of the Moon; the only band who has ever come close is Radiohead with OK Computer. All of that aside, Dark Side of the Moon is absolutely perfect. The overall theme, which encompasses a wide range of topics like life, death, isolation, greed, consumerism, war, mental illness, and existentialism, is something that everybody can relate to; underneath its intellectual and rock-driven exterior is an album that continues to cross-pollinate throughout future generations of people just discovering the perpetual magic of Pink Floyd.
Few albums will ever be remembered 100 years from now; this is not one of them. This is a piece of art that will be in a time capsule buried under the pyramids for the next race of mankind to excavate and marvel over for a hundred more years to come.
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