Uncut Magazine October 2008.
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons)
PINK FLOYD – 30 GREATEST SONGS
…as voted for by David Gilmour and Nick Mason and their friends, fellow musicians and famous fans, including Paul Weller, Jarvis Cocker, Wayne Coyne, Ice Cube, Jim Reid, Mick Rock, Robert Wyatt and more.
FOREWARD BY DAVID GILMOUR
So, the Top 30 Pink Floyd songs. Hmm. When I joined, it sometimes never looked like we’d even be able to write any songs at all, so to have 30 songs that different people love is something of an achievement, I suppose! Looking through the Pink Floyd songbook of the past 40 years surprises me sometimes. There are hundreds of songs, we go through lots of different styles of music, three different leaders and at least three different singers, and dozens of guests. But everything’s linked by this collective psyche. When you’re playing a Floyd song, there’s a certain underground feel – it’s difficult to define, but it’s about texture, about atmosphere, about the use of space. It’s rarely about the technical stuff.
I suppose there are several distinct stages in Pink Floyd’s songwriting history. Obviously, there’s the Syd era, which was before I joined. Then the second stage occurred in the years after he left, when we were all scrabbling around, trying to fill that Syd-shaped hole in the band and not knowing entirely what we were doing. We initially tried to write the quirky, well-structured pop songs that Syd wrote, but we couldn’t. Then, quite by accident, we developed what we were good at – those spacey, atmospheric instrumentals. And then there’s a third stage, where we started to turn those instrumentals into properly structured songs, and that hit a peak with Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals. Then the stuff after Roger left is yet another stage.
On my first solo tour in 1985, I didn’t want to do any Pink Floyd songs. I think I grudgingly did a version of “Money”, but the whole issue of playing old material was a bit sore. Nowadays, when I tour, both as a solo act and as one third of Pink Floyd, I’m happy to play Pink Floyd songs from every era of the band’s history. There’s an emphasis on my side of the songs – or mine and Rick’s – and I feel uncomfortable doing things that are too heavily associated with Roger. It’s not a political thing, there’s no bad feeling about that, it’s just that they’re his songs to do. So I’d feel uncomfortable doing “Money” nowadays, same with things like “Another Brick In The Wall”, even though they’re all great, great songs.
I’ve always played a few of Syd’s numbers. When I did Robert (Wyatt)’s Meltdown we played “Terrapin”, which was from a solo album that I produced for Syd; a month before Syd died we did “Arnold Layne” at the Albert Hall with Bowie; we played “Dark Globe” after Syd died; and we still play “Astronomy Domine”. I’ve revisited “Fat Old Sun” from Atom Heart Mother and a few other early things. Each one always sounds really fresh. But I’m proud of everything there, really.
In the early days of a band you tend to write songs together. You spend all your time together, you jam in rehearsal studios, and you tend to write collectively. Then, you spend more time apart, and your songs tend to be based on ideas that were written individually. With us, sometimes the ideas would be mine, occasionally they’d be Rick’s, but invariably they’d be Roger’s. The main writer would bring the idea, which would be largely worked out beforehand, and it would then go through a process of being filtered through the influence of the rest of the band.
Rick’s input started to fizzle out throughout the 1970s. In fact, by The Wall, even I wasn’t writing much. “Comfortably Numb” and “Run Like Hell” were two of the few tracks where I came up with the initial idea there – I think the producer Bob Ezrin played them to Roger and convinced him to get stuck in with it. I don’t think it was Roger being a dictator, it was more that we were happy to let him get on with it. And that was how w wrote for years – it was only with The Division Bell that we started to rectify that and write like we did in the old days, collectively, jamming in the studio.
We were never the most proficient musicians. When the band started, Pink Floyd were unique in that they weren’t great blues players. IN fact, we never did become that musically accomplished! And that pushes you to try other things – instead of copying Muddy Waters or whatever, you start to explore the sounds in your own head. You start to explore textures, hypnotic basslines, guitar effects, that kind of thing. That’s always been a part of our collective psyche. You have a sound in your head and you try to replicate it. I’m always looking for new sounds. And it’s true that I never used my guitar as a “riff machine”, it was always a mechanism for creating textures and atmosphere. That’s why, no matter how many records we sold, Pink Floyd were always an “underground band”. It was the way we approached music.
From Meddle (October 1971)
Beginning with faint submarine bleeps, and evolving into a 23-minute space-prog epic, “Echoes” sees the birth of conceptualist Floyd.
John Leckie, engineer, Meddle and Wish You Were Here:
I love the interplay with the guitars and keyboards. It’s a keyboard track, really, with classic Floyd chord progressions. The record has started off earlier in the year, with the Floyd putting down ideas, each of which was called “Nothing”. We went up to “Nothing No. 20”. And then they came in three months later, and put them together as one piece. They played it right through, the funky breakdown excepted, because they’d been playing it live. I went to see them at Twickenham Tech – they were still playing college gigs, and there wasn’t anyone there. They did “Echoes” then. They probably played it the same every night. Although it sounds improvised, they weren’t really improvisers like Soft Machine – they weren’t jazz musicians. I don’t think they aspired to be. It was tightly rehearsed and structured.
I remember good vibes in the studio. They were all together and contributing like a normal band. We spent a lot of time experimenting with the technology we had. We would get two tape recorders, six feet apart, with a 10-second delay, which built into those wailing voices at the end, like creatures from the deep. We pushed the toys we had to the limit. They were trying to experiment, and make sounds no one had heard before.
From The Dark Side Of The Moon (March 1973); released as a US single in June 1973. Highest US chart position: 13
A sarcastic glorification of greed and complacency among the jet set, with an impossible-to-dance-to 7/4 tempo. Ker-ching, swoosh, whirr, click…
Andy Fairweather-Low, Amen Corner and Roger Waters’ touring band.
In 1967, Amen Corner toured with Jimi Hendrix, Floyd, The Move and The Nice. I remember listening to the Floyd for so many nights and thinking, “I don’t get this: where’s the backbeat?” And the first Floyd song I got to play bass on in ’84 was “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”, which immediately took me back to ’67 and the Albert Hall. They created a new musical genre.
I’ve been playing with Roger for a long time, touring from ’84 through to last year. And that length of time says it all. Roger and I became very close. The more I’ve played with him, the more I’ve realized how many truly great songs he’s written. When I started playing “Money” on the Dark Side… tour, I thought, “What a riff. How the hell do you come up with something like that?” And the time signature is 7/4, then they sing over it! Another thing Roger did incredibly well was putting extraneous noises into the music – they become completely part of the foundation of the song. There’s a filter in Roger’s brain that tells him if something is going to work or not.
28. GREEN IS THE COLOUR
From More (July 1969)
From the band’s first film soundtrack, this tranquil love song on acoustic guitar is a fine example of their 1969/70 pastoral period.
Wayne Coyne, Flaming Lips:
Back in the mid-‘80s, as the Flaming Lips endlessly toured around America, we were constantly approached by hardcore, psychedelic freaks bearing gifts. They would almost always offer acid, mushrooms or pot and some would bring records. Let it be said the Pink Floyd bootleg record collector, back then anyway, had a very rich pile of stuff to enjoy…
My favourite version of “Green Is The Colour” is from a double-disc bootleg that has a photo of a severed hand on the back cover. David Gilmour’s voice cracks, perfectly on some of the delicate, higher notes and, though the group speeds up a little bit as the song rolls on, the overall effect is a gentle, death-on-the-beach-at-sunset kind of groove. It’s is strange for a Pink Floyd song… I can think of no other Floyd track I like that conjures up that effect. It is a beautiful, simple summer “trip-out-with-a-girl” song and it’s also a colourful, abstract, existential mantra that could probably be interpreted many different ways.
From Atom Heart Mother (October 1970)
A Waters tune from the “song” side of the album, its references to “the moon” and insanity seem oddly prescient somehow…
Ron Geesin, orchestrator “Atom Heart Mother (Suite)”:
“If” reveals something of what Roger Waters really was inside. At the time, I was very close to Roger. But then I fell out with him. I’d just had enough. The fella was paranoid and I’d had one bit of nonsense too many.
“If” is a kind of therapy. Roger could not face closeness, yet he needed it. Everybody needs friends, male and female, but he couldn’t cope with it. His way of dealing with it was by either attacking people of hiding. Basically, “If” is Roger Waters saying I’d like to make an album, but haven’t got enough material. When Roger and I were close, playing golf together and socialising, he was always on about leaving the group. I told him the best thing to do was get up and do it, but he didn’t.
When I came to do “Atom Heart Mother”, we were all young nutters in different ways, blasting out into the new world. Their original backing piece, called “Epic”, had chord sequences. So I put all the melodies on there. They’re all mine.
[On the fact that Geesin is not credited on the album sleeve]… They couldn’t not face somebody having done so much on something of theirs. They couldn’t allow that for their image. And when I say “they”, I’m talking about four individuals, plus henchmen, and the giant commercial machine that is the Pink Floyd Industry. It’s a powerful operation. It can be manipulative, and it is.
From The Dark Side Of The Moon
After a deafening barrage of alarm clocks comes a cynical indictment of the English middle classes’ miserable lives. Rise and shine!
Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers:
The Dark Side Of The Moon was my favourite record. It came out when I was eight, and my dad [David Hood, Muscle Shoals bassist] had it. He had all the Pink Floyd records. Dark Side… was like hearing the most exotic thing in the world. For an eight-year-old in Alabama, it was like something from another planet. It made a huge impression on me. I remember saving up my allowance money so I could buy my own copy. “Time” was a really big deal when I was a kid. My stereo was down on my uncle’s farm and I’d go stay with him on weekends. Out on the farm, I could play it as loud as I wanted to. So when I went to bed at night, that was my “go-to-bed” record. From eight through to 12 or 13, that was the record for me.
I liked how dream-like it was and especially liked the hypnotic quality of it. It was a very melodic record. I followed Pink Floyd through my teens, right up until punk rock started happening at junior high school. Listen to any of the Drive-By Truckers songs I play lead guitar on and Dave Gilmour is one of the bigger influences on my playing. I look forward to playing Dark Side… for my own daughter when she’s old enough. I think she’ll like the weirdness of it.
25. FAT OLD SUN
From Atom Heart Mother
A dreamy, woozy Gilmour tune that cheekily nicks a Jim Morrison line (“summer Sunday and a year”) from “Love Street”.
Geoff Hoon, Parliamentary Secretary to The Treasury:
“Fat Old Sun” captures for me that early period – it’s about Cambridge, about Grantchester, it’s very laid back, quite folky and pastoral and it’s got that fantastic guitar solo that builds up towards the end. I first saw them in Leicester in 1972. The first half of the show was one continuous piece of music, which was Dark Side…They were fantastic, but when they made that leap into the stadium circuit, some of the excitement went out of it a bit. You have to remember that they were a really obscure band in those early days – if you were a fan you spent a lot of time explaining who they were to other people!
24. CHAPTER 24
From The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (August 1967)
A whimsical reading if the I Ching, in which “action brings good fortune” and reality dissolves into beatific harmonic clusters.
John “Hoppy” Hopkins, co-founder UFO Club and The International Times:
“Chapter 24” is spiritual with a cyclical narrative and great melody: Syd at his ecstatic best. And it’s the only inspired musical rendition of the core of I Ching. It moves my heart. I remember going through Piper… number by number and trying to work out which vector each tune lay on between being serious and being out of your mind on acid. There were so many different dimensions.
In the early days, when we were starting up the UFO club, I’d see them weekly. I was able to watch it all build. When we started at the London Free School before UFO [September 1966], I saw the Floyd play and there was just a handful of people watching. But it build very fast and kept building. The Floyd were the core of that whole movement, like a strange attractor for people. There was something about their improvisation that hovered on the boundary, not between sound and noise, but between melody and no melody.
23. BRAIN DAMAGE
From Dark Side Of The Moon
A paranoiac’s view of care in the community, as the album inexorably approaches its “we’re-all-quite-mad-you-know” conclusion.
I first heard Dark Side… when we used to have a babysitter come around. She used to play it and it absolutely terrified me: all those lyrics in “Brain Damage”, like “The lunatic is on the grass” and “Got to keep the loonies on the path.” When I heard that coming up through the floorboards it scared me to death. The weird thing about the record was that, until I bought it, I’d never heard the whole album. What had happened was that she’d bought it and someone had sat on the lid of her parents’ radiogram while it was on there and it had snapped off the outer edge of the record. So she couldn’t play the first tracks on either side. It wasn’t until I bought it what I heard stuff like “Speak To Me” and “Breathe”.
But everything about that record seemed very profound. In the intervening years, I came to realise that wasn’t the case. In fact, it was a bit sixth form in its lyrics, which I think even Roger Waters admitted. But it was also the fact you bought the album and you got two posters with it. The pyramid one was mainly blue, but then there were pink dots floating around, which I thought were actually Pink Floyd. It all seemed very meaningful.
22. HIGH HOPES
From The Division Bell (March 1994); released as a single October 1994. Highest UK chart position: 26
Acclaimed track from Gilmour-helmed “new” Floyd, shunning Waters’ nihilism…
Bob Ezrin, producer, The Wall, The Division Bell:
Roger’s leaving didn’t mean they were all suddenly going to fold up their tents and go home. Being a member of this band was how they defined themselves. But it took The Division Bell to get the new order established.
There was less tension and stress than in The Wall. We went away for Christmas. And when we came back, Dave played us “High Hopes”. It wasn’t something we’d been working on. And there’s nothing complacent about it. It was absolutely feverish. It came to him in a burst, in two days. It was cathartic.
It’s the best track on the record. It is all David. It knitted together the album. It’s a monochrome, high-contrast musical painting, surrounded by a few little colourful elements, that form a wrapper around it. But the essence of the song is very stark. It’s peculiarly English. And when the Floyd are being English, they are at their best. Sometimes they are almost Dickensian. So is this.
21. ONE OF THESE DAYS
Hypnotic, bass-driven LP opener. An instrumental, save the distorted warning: “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces!”
Jeff Dexter, UFO DJ and promoter:
A real acid freakout. It’s got a thundering bass intro. And it’s got that wonderful sweeping slide of Dave’s. That was the song the Floyd did for the Roland Petit Ballet [Paris, 1973]. Being involved with that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being an old ballet dancer myself, to go to France with Floyd and see it being performed was just fantastic. I was at the front of the stage with a camera, filming it all.
I used to put Pink Floyd on at the Roundhouse a lot in the early days. And on June 2, 1967, my wedding day, they played for us. I always loved “Money”, too. In fact, it was me who convinced them to put “Money” out as a single. They had no faith it because it had such strange timing. But when I got the first version of it, I played it at the Roundhouse, then called Steve [O’Rourke, Floyd’s manager from 1968-2003] and told him to get over there. Whenever I played it, people went ape-shit. It was the best idiotic dancing I’d ever seen. I said, “That is a big hit.” Steve wasn’t sure, but I told him: “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be the Floyd’s calling card for the rest of their lives.”
And nobody’s ever written that up before, because they were so out of it at the time!
20. SEE SAW
From A Saucerful of Secrets (June 1968)
Keyboards man Rick Wright shuffles to the forefront with a glorious piece of soft-focus psych.
I think Rick Wright’s contribution is underestimated. He created a landscape on organ, an atmosphere around which things could happen. In the early days, the two star guitarists are the ones who are the most spectacular, obviously, but Rick is so modest. “See Saw” is such a beautiful tune. If you listen to that, then listen to stuff I’ve done ever since, you can hear the modest but crucial role keyboards have.
The Floyd are such gentlemen. I was upset at the split between the bass player [Waters] and the guitarist [Gilmour], because I owe them both so much as friends. It’s like when you know a couple who get divorced and you like both of them. I think David’s a giant. To the extent that David has asserted himself, I think that saved the Pink Floyd.
When Syd left, David recomposed the band. Had he not done that, they would just be another cult band from the ‘60s. But David took a moment out of that fleeting adolescent ethic, held onto it and made it into something the group could grow up with.
19. HAVE A CIGAR
From Wish You Were Here (September 1975)
Cricketing chum Roy Harper sings this waspish satire of an unctuous record company big-cheese (“Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?”)
Bob Harris, DJ and presenter:
I was there back at Middle Earth and UFO in 1967 – and I’ve been a friend and observer ever since then. “Have A Cigar” is certainly the one song that jumps out. Partly it’s the presence of Roy Harper on lead vocals – one of the great mavericks of British music. His voice gives Floyd a real edge. The grinding, syncopated opening guitar riff establishes a really funky groove, and the lyrics are cynical but very funny. Even though they had moved away from making singles, “Have A Cigar” proved that they could still write strong pop songs less than five minutes long. There’s no long solos or anything that detracts from the strength of the melody and the chord changes. A superb piece of music.
18. COMFORTABLY NUMB
From The Wall (November 1979); released as a single in June 1980.
Waters and Gilmour alternate verses of traumatic/nostalgic scenes, increasing and relaxing the tension, until Gilmour’s guitar busts forth.
Jake Shears, Scissor Sisters:
After a while, a band becomes more unashamed about doing certain things, and that’s when I find them most interesting. I think Syd Barrett was really “cool”; Dave Gilmour isn’t. And I prefer bands when they stop caring about being cool.
When I was in ninth grade, there was a kid I had a crush on who played me Floyd for the first time – I grew up on an island, and we would lie out on the harbour with a boombox and listen to this song. A few years ago, I was asked to sing “Comfortably Numb” with David Gilmour at Radio City for two shows. I was emotionally fragile and weeping – a mess – but over the moon because I can sing the hell out of that song: I’ve been singing it for half of my life. But the day before the gig they decided not to have any guests. They canned me. Bastards! It was one of the worst things you could do to anybody!
17. APPLES AND ORANGES
Released as a single, November 1967
Syd’s guitar teeters on a feedback tightrope as a happy-go-lucky girl ambles round the shops. Non-charting follow-up to “See Emily Play”.
Richard Lloyd, Television:
When I was a teenager one of my best friends had a great record collection. That’s where I first heard Hendrix, Floyd, Traffic and the Grateful Dead. I remember how wonderfully nutty some of the lyrics were, and how wacky the music was. Syd Barrett was a huge hero to us; he was clearly nuts but wrote these amazing songs with completely weird ideas. Who else would write a song about apples and oranges and actually be talking about the fruit? Or a song called “Bike” which was really about a bike? Like a child’s view of the world couple with psychedelic music and crazy guitars and sound effects. The sheer pleasure in a song like “Apples and Oranges” still causes me wonder. I followed Pink Floyd for the first two albums, but lost interest after they lost Syd. Still, those first singles and songs continue to play regularly in the jukebox of my mind.
16. GOODBYE BLUE SKY
From The Wall
Among The Wall’s gentler moments, but nevertheless, alongside Gilmour’s gently-plucked guitars and sweet “oohs”, Waters still finds room for “falling bombs” and “frightened ones”.
Gerald Scarfe, illustrator/animator, The Wall album, stage show and movie:
Roger said he had this magnum opus he wanted to produce. He came to my house and played me the raw tapes, watching like a hawk. There was an awkward silence. Roger said, “I feel like I’ve pulled down my trousers and shat in front of you.” At that point The Wall didn’t mean a lot to me. But when Roger talked to me about what was behind it, we had in common being affected by the Second World War. Roger’s father had been killed in it, and I’d had a miserable time. “Did you see the frightened ones, did you hear the falling bombs/The planes are all long gone but the pain lingers on” – those are lines in “Goodbye Blue Sky” I can very much identify with. I was four when the war started. I was born into a world of ultimate chaos. I have very strong memories of air raid shelters and having to wear these ghastly gas masks. As an asthmatic, I couldn’t breathe. I used all of that in the animation for “Goodbye Blue Sky” in the film – the frightened troglodytes have gas masks for heads, and are grouching underground. The song, and the animation, has a sadness that resonates with my real past very strongly. And with Roger’s.
From The Dark Side Of The Moon
Dark Side…’s curtain-raiser begins languidly (another pastoral Floyd album?), but its lyrics (“Run rabbit, run”) are wickedly booby-trapped.
Guy Garvey, Elbow:
My sisters loved The Dark Side Of The Moon, so it was always playing somewhere in the house. At 17 or 18, I had an acid experience and it made me listen to the album in a completely different way. I think Pink Floyd’s ethos for Dark Side… was very different too. It was industrial, experimental rock and represented a machine-made freedom. They were utilising everything at their disposal, experimenting within themselves. It was a classic example of using the studio as an instrument. “Breathe” is as simple as dimples in the way it’s sung, but they use an interesting vocal tracking style. The lyrics are delivered ad hoc, then tracked to lend them weight. It was something Pete Waterman later picked up, but that was to protect a bad singer. Pink Floyd put that song down as they felt it, then bolstered it to give it real weight. It was something else altogether.
14. IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
From The Wall
An aural collage from an American hotel room (TV, passing traffic, ominous bass noises) drifts off into dreamy English folk music.
Jim James, My Morning Jacket:
I love a lot of Pink Floyd. To me their music is classic and will transcend all time. As long as there are people on the earth they will be listening to Pink Floyd. But the cut I listen to the most would be “Is There Anybody Out There?”, which is a short instrumental. Starting at about 1:15 is one of the most beautiful little classical guitar pieces I have heard. I listen to it on repeat. They say no one knows who really played it. I mean, I’m sure someone does, but in The Wall movie it’s in one of my favourite scenes. After Pink has smashed his hotel room to pieces, he builds this beautiful sculpture on the floor out of all the remnants of the smashed goods. It’s quite a beautifully heartbreaking scene!
13. ATOM HEART MOTHER (SUITE)
From Atom Heart Mother
A six-part suite, conceived (with co-composer Ron Geesin) for rock group and choir, initially known as “The Amazing Pudding”.
Iain Banks, author:
I have a weakness for bands with semi-symphonic ambitions. We all – by golly, quite rightly – recoil in horror from the excesses of the triple-sleeve concept album so beloved of certain progressive bands of the ‘70s. But even allowing for the fact that in some ways the three-minute balls-out head-thumping thrash is what pop/rock is most truly about, it’s good to hear talented musicians giving their imaginations room to play in. Floyd taking a side of an LP to launch into a widescreen abstract soundscape of madly chuntering choirs and sonic weirdness was an almost predictable step after the serial indulgences of Ummagumma, but it could still all have gone horribly, embarrassingly wrong. It didn’t. This is one of their finest pieces. The Floyd always had the tunes to match their ambition, and that makes all the difference.
12. CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE
B-side of the single, “Point Me At The Sky” (December 1968). Did not chart.
Sprawling psych improve, and a crowd favourite – a great live version appears on Ummagumma.
Genesis P. Orridge, Psychic TV/Throbbing Gristle:
By 1969, I was living in the HoHo Funhouse, a semi-commune full of freaks in an old fruit warehouse in Hull. Pink Floyd were touring Ummagumma and the university asked us to do the light show. Everyone was stoned and tripping, but I vividly remember “Careful With That Axe Eugene”, which nobody had heart yet and seemed to go on for three hours. We had these glass slides with liquid in, and an epidiascope, onto which we put live maggots. So you had this psychedelic light show, with six-foot long maggots crawling across. Floyd played their first set, then came back on wearing overalls from a building site and carrying wood, a saw, some hammers and some nails. And they started building a very ramshackle table, sat on the wooden boxes they’d just made and had a tea break. Pre-industrial rock!
11. LUCIFER SAM
From The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Originally entitled “Percy The Rat Catcher”, this feline yarn (“be a hip cat, be a ship’s cat”) was inspired by Syd’s moggy.
Jim Reid, The Jesus And Mary Chain
I almost feel that I should apologise for choosing a Syd/Floyd song because although it took a while, I eventually realised what a great band they were with or without Syd. I remember as a teenager sitting in my bedroom trying to play the guitar riffs for “Lucifer Sam” and make out the lyrics. The version I used to play, if you were being kind, could be described as punk/avant-garde, or more truthfully complete shite, but I enjoyed hacking away at it anyway. I never understood why Floyd didn’t release it as a single, it seemed like a sure hit to me.
When the Mary Chain appeared on The Tube in 1985, Dave Gilmour was there playing with Pete Townshend’s band. In between the rehearsals, William [Reid, JAMC] was onstage doing a really bad job of painting his lovely old vintage Gretsch guitar. Gilmour came over to watch. He had a look on his face as though someone was taking a shit on The Bible. A couple of years ago, at an awards ceremony, he came up to me and mentioned this. Christ, I was astonished he could even remember it! I thought fuck, what have we done to the poor guy? He must have been traumatised to remember that, 20 years later. I wanted to shake his hand and give him a big hug, but I just smiled meekly and disappeared into the shadows.
Overlooked album track with a naggingly insistent Gilmour riff, a lazing-on-the-lawn feel and a crowd of overdubbed Liverpool FC fans.
Storm Thorgerson, Floyd sleeve artist and schoolfriend:
Of course I love “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, the key to Floyd’s past. But this is overlooked, haunting and melodic, and very beautifully sung by Dave. I suppose it’s about being confident, believing in yourself – going forward without fear. There’s what feels like a backward-chord sequence, strange and incredibly telling, and a very simple but interesting guitar chord-riff. But I don’t really think about any of that. Songs grab you by the throat or the bollocks. “Fearless” isn’t complex, but simply beautiful. It’s more or less faultless. And it’s a key song on a seminal, underrated album.
9. JUGBAND BLUES
From A Saucerful Of Secrets
Syd says goodbye in extraordinary style, singing along to an oompah band, but his stuttering lyrics hint at an all-too-real psychosis…
Mick Rock, photographer:
There was certainly no conflict in Syd when I first met him in December ’66, when he played at the Cambridge Arts College Christmas Party. He was this incredible figure, bouncing up and down, while the other members of the Floyd were anonymous.
I did take one acid trip with Syd and a fun affair it was too. He wasn’t any problem on LSD. He was quite relaxed, smiling a lot. I remember us playing Coltrane and Stones records and looking at Robert Crumb comics. In 1971, I did the final interview he ever did, for Rolling Stone. He described himself as having “a very irregular head” and said, “I’m full of dust and guitars.” The lyrics that kick off “Jugband Blues” – “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here/And I’m much obliged to you for making it clear/That I’m not here” – seem to be making some kind of statement about his situation. And it’s not like any other song in the world. It’s always haunted me. Maybe it’s a great description, not just verbally but sonically, of a schizophrenic state and a kind of psychic disintegration. It seems to sum Syd up for me more than any other song in existence.
8. ASTRONOMY DOMINE
From The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Swapping his kaleidoscope for a telescope, Syd contemplates the universe with awe…
Peter Jenner, Floyd manager, ’66-’68:
I was at the studio when they were making the first LP. Syd suddenly said, “Let’s have you read a bit through a megaphone.” And I was game for that, so they used it on the song. Syd had me read bits from a book of his, from which he was getting all his info about astronomy. Syd wasn’t particularly into astronomy, it’s more a case of us all being hippies and groovy and “wow! Man”. In that context, it worked. Syd’s music was that of a very English eccentric.
7. SET THE CONTROLS FOR THE HEART OF THE SUN
From A Saucerful Of Secrets (June 1968)
Wonderfully atmospheric Floyd cosmic-rock prototype, written by Waters, full of spooked whispers, eerie keyboards, spine-tingling glockenspiels and pummelled tom-toms.
It’s a good example of something that we got our teeth into, which is that not everything had to be flat out all the time. We could be a bit more subtle and laid back. I can see now more clearly where the influences came from, so far as the drums are concerned. Do you remember a film called Jazz On A Summer’s Day? There was a sequence in that where Chico Hamilton played with mallets. I always had this in the back of my mind, long before Pink Floyd were even thought of, as something that was fantastically cool. Ginger [Baker] also played mallets with Cream on “We’re Going Wrong”. It’s that whole thing about being able to repress, instead of the endless, wild banging away that characterises so much rock music. And I think that this is also a wonderful, held-back drum part.
We recorded this around the time that Syd left. Before it all went wrong, ha ha! I’m not entirely sure if Syd was at this recording session or not – it was one of the Abbey Road dates where Syd was around for some but not others. But he would have dropped quite easily into proceedings were he there.
I think you can see this as us not so much looking for a new direction rather than just developing something that was already kicked off – songs like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine”. We started getting into the business of extending everything, particularly anything we played live. It soon became unthinkable that we’d go on stage and begin and end a song within six or seven minutes.
Actually I think there was quite a lot of structure to these songs, even if it doesn’t sound like it! When we were doing Saucer – even tracks like “Interstellar Overdrive” – there was a move to put some structure into it, there’s actually quite a disciplined structure of sorts. And certainly, “A Saucerful Of Secrets” was highly structured in the way that it worked. Having said that, we went on to release stuff like “Echoes” and a number of pieces that could be unspeakably open-ended and witter on for as long as anyone had the patience!
It’s weird that, around 1967-’68, we all still thought we wanted to be an R’n’B band. We all thought it terribly important to perm our hair and wear leather trousers. But it’s absolutely true what David and Roger say about our lack of musicianship being turned into a positive attribute. As we admired those fairly “authentic” R’n’B musicians like Eric Clapton and John Mayall, we couldn’t quite do that, so we ended up doing something else. And one positive product of that – one that we weren’t aware of at the time! – was the significance of having our own material. So many great artists like John Mayall and Aynsley Dunbar would release albums where virtually every song was a traditional blues song, arranged by them. I think our limitations meant that we ended up making music like “Set The Controls…”. I still think it sounds fantastic and I love playing it today.
6. WISH YOU WERE HERE
From Wish You Were Here (September 1975)
Waters’ bleak vision of incipient middle age and failing marriage would prove strangely popular with buskers…
Phil Manzanera, Roxy Music:
I saw Floyd in the early days, at the Albert Hall with Hendrix, Amen Corner and The Move. It was the most incredible package tour. I was 16 or 17 and it was incredibly exciting. Floyd, particularly the atmospheric and textural stuff, were a huge influence on my own guitar-playing with Roxy.
Like a lot of people, I’ve heard all the tracks, but had never tried playing them. So when David [Gilmour] asked e to go on tour with him, I had to create a guitar sound that was as close as possible to the originals. And of course, every backpacker from here to Timbuktu knows how to play “Wish You Were Here”, but not me! So I had to learn it from scratch, which was hilarious. It’s one of their most well-known numbers and I spent the whole tour learning how to play it properly.
That riff is like the other great riffs, like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. The minute you hear it, you know what it is. Halfway through the tour, I told David it was getting so embarrassing. So I went into his kitchen and said, “For fuck’s sake, show me exactly how you play it!” I think on the very last gig, which is the live version that’s coming out, I do finally get it right! When you’re playing those songs, you marvel at the simplicity of it all, yet it’s totally self-contained. It’s quite minimalist, so each part is distinctive.
5. ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL (PART 2)
From The Wall; released as a single Dec 1979. Highest UK chart position: 1
School brutality set to a midtempo disco beat. Their first hit single since 1967.
It was a big hit, it was getting a lot of airplay at the time, even on black stations. It’s a seriously funky track, it’s got a tight drum beat and a killer bassline. I remember we used to march around the playground singing the lyrics from this song. “We don’t need no education/We Don’t need no thought control… Hey teacher! Leave them kids alone!” Ha! When you’re a kid at school, of course you’re going to love a lyric like that! The idea that we’re all just bricks in the wall, just identikit packages that the system requires. That’s the shit. It’s real. And it’s true. It’s still true now.
4. ARNOLD LAYNE
Released as a single, March 1967. Highest UK chart position: 20
Not your standard debut single, or debut hit – Syd’s lyrics tell of the arrest and imprisonment of a ladies’ underwear fetishist…
Joy Boyd, co-UFO Club founder and producer “Arnold Layne”:
In the studio, Syd was a quiet leader. Roger was more vocal, but everyone deferred to Syd’s opinion. He sat at the back and kept quiet most of the time, but everyone listened when he spoke. The sessions were easy and fun: record one night, mix the next. I don’t recall any conflict. Roger had an ego, Syd did, too, but was more diffident and oblique. The early Floyd songs are pretty European and blue-note free. David Bowie has been quoted as saying that Syd taught him how to sing like an ordinary Englishman – no blues, no mockney accent. I think their un-Americanness is the key to Floyd’s strength over the years.
3. INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE
From Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Bacharach-David’s “My Little Red Book” meets the theme from Steptoe And Son in a psychotropic, stereo-panning, nine-minute freak-out…
Dave Brock, Hawkwind:
It’s very true that it’s the same tune as the theme to Steptoe And Son. I saw them play it once at UFO on Tottenham Court Road, when the light-show was giant blobs behind the screen, and they went off at great tangents. My collection of Floyd is all early days, nothing since Ummagumma. What they were doing then was lovely and free, those long tracks we loved listening to. Prior to all this, it was two- or three-minute tracks. The record companies freaked out, they thought our attention spans wouldn’t take any more. “Interstellar Overdrive” was avant-garde rock music. We were doing psychedelic freak-out stuff in a circus tent when they were rising stars. They were the kings of space-rock then, with those repetitious chords, elongated solos and electronics – going out there for long periods. You can make a parallel with modern jazz. They were making rock music abstract. Of course they had to give the odd nod to the music business – an “Arnold Layne”. But “Interstellar Overdrive” gave us absolute freedom.
2. SEE EMILY PLAY
Released as a single, June 1967. Highest UK chart position: 6
Irrepressible, childlike psych that namechecks the band’s own “Games For May” concert at the QE Hall…
There are so many of Syd’s songs that I love, but this is my favourite. I remember hearing it on the radio as a kid and being totally bowled over. It was a proper hit single, which is unbelievable when you look at the state of the charts now. Melodically it’s brilliant, and the arrangement is so compact and concise. It does so much in less than three minutes. Sonically, it’s amazing. The intro is fucking over-whelming, it still sounds fresh today. But then for me, all those great psychedelic records haven’t dated at all.
I like the fact that lyrically it’s a simple song. I read an article recently that explained that it was inspired by a girl called Emily Young who hung out with the Floyd. She was friends with Anjelica Huston, I think. There’s a purity about the song which reflects that.
It’s funny. At the time it came out I didn’t know what Syd looked like. I had no idea that he was this amazing, beautiful-looking character. Which is odd, because I used to watch Top Of The Pops religiously every week. I didn’t actually buy it until years later!
Syd has been an influence on all my music. I heard “Start!” on the radio the other day, and it reminded me that the guitar break was totally influenced by Syd. Even if it didn’t sound like him, in my mind I was trying to get that psychedelic feeling over. To me, that’s what Syd’s Floyd were about : creating a mood you can’t quite put your finger on…
1. SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND
From Wish You Were Here (1975)
Pink Floyd were world-famous, rich beyond their dreams, and under pressure. Waters revisited the theme of mental illness (which had been central to Dark Side…), but this time rooted it in the real-life disintegration of Syd Barrett. Unfolding over 13 carefully measured minutes, the song’s mood is one of equipoise before the onslaught – and while Waters rarely allowed sentimentality to creep into the Floyd, it’s clearly appropriate on “Shine On…”, and is judged perfectly.
It’s great that this is No 1, as it’s the purest Floyd song, the peak of that particular stage in our development. We wrote the song in a dingy rehearsal room near King’s Cross – I have no idea why we were in such a dark, cheap and horrible rehearsal space when we’d just released one of the biggest-selling LPs in history! Ha! Maybe it was tight-arsed management.
The song fell out of a four-not guitar figure that I came up with – that distinctive opening sequence. Roger really liked it. It had that haunting, serial quality, like something from a piece of modern classical music, or from a film soundtrack. The rest of the song was a joint effort, which was becoming rare around that time, where me and Roger tended to write separately and bring the ideas onto a rehearsal. But here the song seemed to emerge organically out of a jam. There’s the pedal bassline that links into the last part, lots of interesting chord changes, and Nick’s drumming, which switches between a kind of 12/8 shuffle to a swing beat and back. The ideas were all so good that we wanted room for them to breathe, which is why the complete version is about 26 minutes long, and needed to be split in two as it didn’t fit on one side of an LP.
Roger would always disappear for a few days to write lyrics and he came up with this tribute to Syd. They’re beautiful words and it’s a heartfelt tribute that speaks for us all. It had been four or five years since we’d last seen him, and I think it was all tied up with our feelings of regret and possibly guilt. It was a remarkable coincidence that, not long after we’d finished recording “Shine On…”, Syd wandered into the studio at Abbey Road.
Everyone’s memory of that event is a bit hazy. My memory is of a rather plump chap wandering around No 3 studio while we were mixing in the control booth. God knows how he managed to get past security – it was pretty tight then and I’d imagine that it’d be impossible nowadays! And it took us all a while to work out who it was – we were all a bit shaken as to how different he looked. We had a chat with him. When we played him some of the stuff we were working on he thought it was really good “but a bit long”. Ha!
For years after he left, Syd was the elephant in the room when it came to Pink Floyd. He was the glue that linked us all. He knew Roger, Rick and Nick from the first incarnation of the band, obviously, before I joined, but me and Syd were also close friends, dating back before the band. I liked to remember the Syd of my teens, this sweet, crazy, fun-loving friend that I went to France with and went busking with. And the terrible thing is that I couldn’t really equate that figure with the person that he turned into. The thing was, his mental problems always seemed to come up when the issue of the band surfaced. So it was his family’s preference that members of Pink Floyd didn’t visit him, as it might set off another relapse. So it’s astonishing to think that that time in Abbey Road was the last time I ever saw him.
Obviously, the news of his death was enormously sad. I’d known he was ill for a long time, but the reality was terribly sad, even if me and the rest of the band had been grieving for him for over 30 years. The thing was that the Syd I knew hadn’t been around for a long time. If I have one regret it’s that I’d not been more forceful with his family and gone to visit Syd in Cambridge. But it’s a difficult one to negotiate, isn’t it?
Syd’s death affected the way I now play “Shine On…”. It’s a tremendously adaptable piece of music. On the original it’s a pretty big production, with harmonies and backing singers. On my last tour, it became more mournful. I stripped away everything. After a few dates, it became more experimental. We developed a new way of playing the opening where Phil Manzanera, Guy Pratt and Dick Parry would play wine glasses – you know, rubbing a wet finger over the rims – that had been tuned to an open chord, replicating the organ part, and I’d play the guitar riff over the top. That was a throwback to the LP we were initially going to make instead of Wish You Were Here, in which the sounds were going to be made with household objects, an idea we ditched but which influenced some of what we did after that. It makes the track even more haunting and ethereal.