Where to begin with Pink Floyd
The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains opens at Rome's Museum Of Contemporary Art (MACRO) on the 19th of this month and it has inspired us to get some listening under our belt. Pink Floyd is a band with such a vast catalogue, it can be daunting to start delving in if you’re new to their music.
Inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996, the band has two records (The Wall (1979) and The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)) in the list of bestselling albums of all time and they led the way in psychedelic and progressive rock across four decades (six, if you count the release of previously unheard material in their 2014 album Endless River). With this essential listening guide, join us on an adventure through “zonked-out space rock with shuddering psychedelic overtones and ominous grooves”, to use some choice words from Pink Floyd’s Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame biography.
The Wall (1979)
In his contemporaneous five-star review for Rolling Stone, Kurt Loder describes Pink Floyd’s 1979 double album, The Wall, as “a stunning synthesis of [vocalist/bassist Roger] Waters’s by now familiar thematic obsessions: the brutal misanthropy of … Animals; Dark Side Of The Moon's sour, middle-aged tristesse; the surprisingly shrewd perception that the music business is a microcosm of institutional oppression (Wish You Were Here); and the dread of impending psychoses that runs through all these records.”
So if it’s quintessential Pink Floyd you’re looking for, this album has it all. Heavily conceptual, it follows a rock star named Pink through his isolation in a dystopian society characterised by war, brainwashing and running from internal personal demons. The live shows supercharged the concept with a dramatic spectacle featuring a literal wall and, in 1982, Roger Waters teamed up with director Alan Parker to release a film version with Bob Geldof as Pink. Get started with the iconic “Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two” and “Comfortably Numb”.
The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
From earlier in Pink Floyd’s output comes their other best-selling album, The Dark Side Of The Moon. A defining record of its era (and way beyond), the album stayed in the Billboard album charts for years and includes huge Pink Floyd hits “Money” and “The Great Gig In The Sky”, which by all accounts was completely improvised and the result of only three takes combined into the one hair-raising passage we hear on the record. Like all of Floyd’s albums, the artwork is nearly as important as the music and Dark Side’s light through a prism remains one of the most iconic album covers ever made.
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
If we wanted to take our Pink Floyd playlist right back to early days, we could do worse than giving their debut, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, a listen. It’s the go-to place for the beginning of London’s psychedelic scene and is also an opportunity to hear Pink Floyd with its original lineup, which includes founding member, Syd Barrett. Barrett was the songwriter and creative force behind Pink Floyd from 1967 to 1969, but he became a casualty of LSD experimentation and was asked to leave the band.
He embarked on a solo career but soon retreated from the industry altogether. The UK pressing of the album is pretty experimental, but the US version includes the more accessible “See Emily Play”, which spent some time in the UK charts after being released as a non-album single here.
Wish You Were Here (1975)
The hugely successful Dark Side Of The Moon was followed up with Wish You Were, an album that speaks of the callousness of the music industry and pays emotional tribute to founder member Syd Barrett. Most of the album is made up of the poignant extended elegy to Barrett, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", which is recorded across eight tracks.
The Endless River (2014)
Having made it through several classic Floyd albums by now, it might be time for us to check out what the band has done more recently. After the 1983 album The Final Cut, Roger Waters left Pink Floyd, but there have been three studio albums since then: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987), The Division Bell (1994) and The Endless River (2014). The latter was released by original Floyd drummer Nick Mason (the only member of the band to play on all studio albums) and vocalist/guitarist David Gilmour, based largely on material they had recorded with Floyd vocalist/keyboardist Richard Wright before he passed away in 2008. They enlisted the help of session musicians for the album and after it’s release formally said farewell to Pink Floyd.