At The Gates
Pink Floyd Albums Ranked Worst to Best
by Benjamin Ray
Now that the book has been closed on Pink Floyd, it’s as good a time as any to journey back to their legendary catalog and shine a (diamond) light on the best and worst. From their beginning days as part of the psychedelic scene through their space-rock explorations to their concept albums to their latter days as veteran cosmic rockers, to coin a Moody Blues phrase, the Floyd has a worldwide following that will still discuss the merits of certain albums over others. A lifelong fan myself and one whose musical tastes were very much shaped by Wish You Were Here, I thought it necessary to take another look at the band’s discography, starting with the worst and moving forward. Enjoy!
15. Atom Heart Mother (1970)
It was a toss-up between this and the next entry on the list for worst Pink Floyd album, but this one wins simply because the vast majority of it is annoying and unnecessary. A “song” about some dude making breakfast, a couple of pleasantly bleating acoustic numbers, a decent psych-pop number in “Summer ‘68,” and the dead-end of the title track – an exercise in padding an album side – make this the disc you're least likely to willingly listen to. Granted, the fact that the rhythm section of “Atom Heart Mother” was recorded in one take is interesting, and there are some rewards to be found for the patient listener.
14. The Final Cut (1983)
A Roger Waters solo album, with a couple appearances from guitarist David Gilmour, and a difficult, joyless listen. Gone are the atmospherics and pretty much anything that make this “Pink Floyd,” and in its place a dark, vicious, unhappy meditation on war and what it's good for (hint: absolutely nothing). “The Fletcher Memorial Home” is the prime example of this approach; over a minimalist musical background, Waters spits out the names of world leaders (Reagan, Thatcher, Begin), insults them as being fame-hungry warmongers, then suggests locking them in a retirement home and killing them all with gas, a la the Holocaust. Doesn't that sound like a fun little song? To their credit, the lyrics tackle themes not often discussed in popular music, not just about the ravages of war but the psychological toll it takes on soldiers and their families.
13. More (1969)
Sort of a pastiche between Floyd's early psychedelic ramblings and some folk-rock influences, this soundtrack really doesn't have a lot to offer. Floyd's music was cinematic by nature from 1968 through 1975, but without the visuals, this isn't really that interesting.
12. Ummagumma (1969)
The live album portion of this double album set is fine, offering versions of four long songs from the band's early days. The studio album is less successful; each band member gets a few solo songs (which they choose to split into parts) and then they all come together on the truly mind-numbing “Several Species Of Small Furry Animals...”. As with any Floyd album, there are interesting ideas scattered around the songs, but most of it is meandering and somewhat pointless. It would take a while between when Syd Barrett left the band before they had a true direction again.
11. Obscured By Clouds (1972)
Along the same lines as More, a forgotten soundtrack album sandwiched between the twin peaks of Meddle and Dark Side. There are a few decent cuts here, such as the Waters-penned “Free Four” and the short instrumental “When You're In,” but this mostly sets the stage for the classic run that would follow rather than serving as a successful album in its own right.
10. The Endless River (2014)
Floyd's final album was assembled from leftover snippets of The Division Bell and sounds like it, but Gilmour and company worked hard to assemble them into logical pieces and separate them into suites. Whether these songs were studio jams, rehearsals for other songs or potential news ones remains unknown and unimportant to enjoying the final product, which is pretty much all instrumental and full of Gilmour solos, atmospheric keyboards, and a music nod to all phases of the band's past. The closing song “Louder Than Words” is as good as anything on Bell, summing up the band's ethos in lyrics that also works as a relationship treatise. Fans are the only ones who would appreciate this, and it has its rewards for the faithful.
9. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
Although praised by critics as one of the great albums of 1967, Piper has not aged well at all. Syd Barrett was a unique figure in rock and, as such, this album sounds nothing like what would follow when he left the band, but it sounds perfectly in place with the psychedelic Summer of Love. The band's flair for the cinematic and dramatic is already evident on long freakouts like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine,” but much of the album is given to twee whimsy like “Bike” or experimental fare like “Pow R. Toc H.” It's interesting, at least, and necessary to understanding this band's origin story, but it's not a classic. “Lucifer Sam” remains a great lost album cut, though.
8. A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968)
Barrett had already pretty much left the band, so the haunting “Jugband Blues” is his only addition to the band's sophomore disc. Thankfully, this album forgoes most of his tendencies in favor of slower, moodier fare like the title cut and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” which is where the whole “Pink Floyd sound” really begins. Barrett's influence remains on the songwriting, even if he himself isn't really around for most of it, but the songs are slightly better than Piper and still very different than much of the music from 1968.
7. The Division Bell (1994)
The final proper Pink Floyd album of original material and the second without Roger Waters is a melancholy look at relationships of all types (self, friends, band, significant other), and Gilmour hammers these themes over and over in songs like the deliberate “What Do You Want From Me,” the epic “High Hopes” and “Keep Talking,” and finally “Marooned” is a fine instrumental that recalls the days of yore. However, much of the rest repeats the themes to lesser results, and with the outside songwriting help and the overall lack of spark, this one just drags on too long. It's better than critics say it is, but not by much.
6. The Wall (1979)
This album chronicles a self-obsessed drug-addled rock star who hits his wife, is cool with Nazi symbolism and racial slurs, and has serious emotional and psychological issues. But people love it, mainly because of that one disco song about education and the overplayed “Comfortably Numb” (fun fact: the final solo is actually six solos that Gilmour played, then cut and pasted pieces of to achieve the final one heard on the album). The themes of isolation and angst are universal and resonant, though, and the best songs here cut to the heart of the walls we erect around others in our lives. “Hey You” and “Run Like Hell” are true classics, “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 1” and “Goodbye Blue Sky” are moodier but no less gripping and “Young Lust” is as fine a straight-ahead rocker as the band ever delivered. Cut out the horseshit (about half the album) and you're left with a fine piece of work.
5. A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)
Free of the overbearing Waters, the remaining trio reformed in 1987 to release this disc. Some pounced on it as nostalgia and others felt that a Floyd without Waters was pointless, but they were both wrong. This contains some strong songs that retain the band's spirit but do away with the whole notion of a concept, focusing instead on songwriting and playing. Gilmour's extended solo in “Sorrow” is one of his best, “On The Turning Away” and “Learning To Fly” are efficient Floyd singles for a new generation, “One Slip” is a fine album track and the maligned “The Dogs Of War” is a metallic trudge with pointed lyrics (it was better live). Gilmour was the chief architect here, but it rings true enough to be Pink Floyd. Hell, if The Final Cut gets the band name, this one definitely does, too.
4. Meddle (1971)
In which Pink Floyd finally found its focus post-Barrett, stopped putzing around with psychedelic freakouts, and turned out its first truly great record. Meddle is strong throughout and “One Of These Days” is the band's first true classic song, built around a throbbing, pulsating bass riff, keyboard slashes and, eventually, a wallop of slide guitar from Gilmour. “Fearless” and “A Pillow Of Winds” are softer Floyd that still have more confidence than anything from the previous three discs and “San Tropez” is a moment of sun-drenched lightness that is necessary to clean the palate for “Echoes.” A 23-minute tour de force, the track assuredly moves through a number of alternately bracing, beautiful, dramatic sections of music that touch on rock, funk, and psychedelic pop. If the overlong whooshing section in the middle is a huge drag, it's redeemed by the slow introduction of the drums and the almost cathartic guitar that bleeds out of the speakers moving back to the final verse.
3. Animals (1977)
Lyrically bleak, Animals remains a fantastic piece of work, as enraged as any punk album from the same year at the greedy businessmen (“Dogs”), fat-cat coward politicians (“Pigs”), and mindless drones who either don't know or don't care about how badly they are being screwed (“Sheep”). The long songs and elements of Orwell's Animal Farm push this into prog-rock territory, but this is hardly like the Floyd of before. The passages are deliberate, driving and bracing, from the bile cooked up by “Pigs” to the multipart acoustic guitar strums, keyboard layers and electric interludes of “Dogs,” which Waters would bring back to great effect on his In The Flesh tour in 2004. “Sheep” is a triumph, the epic climax to the movie laid out in the first two songs in which the people rise up, break free from their shackles, and march toward freedom. The music complements this perfectly, strident and hopeful, closing with a succession of clarion guitar chords before fading into a pasture of animal noises.
2. Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Obviously this one is up high on the list, as it is beloved, brilliant, and a smashing musical and commercial success. Everything in the band's past had been building toward this moment, and with a simple concept, the best producer and engineer that the band could find, and a set of strong songs, the pieces were all there to create a masterpiece. Anyone who complains about this album usually has to look for a reason – maybe how “On the Run” goes on a little too long, or “Any Colour You Like” isn't the best denouement for the superb “Us And Them” – but these are the sort of nitpicky arguments that hardcore fans get into on Internet threads while other people have sex. To be honest, the second side of the album is far superior to the first side, but it's still a wonderful album throughout.
1. Wish You Were Here (1975)
No contest, the band's finest hour. A touch of humanity that was missing from Dark Side gives this the emotional weight it needs to bring home the music, which is, note for note, one of the best rock albums of all time. Taken as one long 25-minute piece, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” accomplishes so much that listing its virtues seems like hagiography at this point; suffice it to say the incredible opening minutes are the band's finest musical moments, and the ease and confidence with which the band moves through the jazz-inspired sections shows how much they have grown since the Syd Barrett days, a fact they free acknowledge in the song's lyrics, which pay tribute to him.
“Welcome To The Machine” is another stunner, with a somewhat oblique look at the music industry and keyboards that surge and pulsate over the strummed acoustic guitar. “Have A Cigar” is more straightforward, a midtempo piece savaging the rock industry (and Floyd's handlers in particular, with the line “Oh by the way, which one's Pink?” achieving fame) and sung with appropriate acerbic zest by Roy Harper, who was in the studio at the time. The title track, of course, is a simple, devastatingly heartfelt plea to an old friend to whom these men owed everything, and for a while it seemed like they would trade all the fame just to have their mate back.