Even if you have never given much attention to psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd, it’s likely you’ve heard the name before. The band has enjoyed popularity and acclaim for over five decades, both enjoying success and recognition within popular music culture, and through its own developed cult-like fan following. If you’ve never listened before and would like to start, here is a quick guide to the top Pink Floyd albums.
1. The Wall (1979)
The Wall, the band’s longest album, focuses lyrically on a protagonist who, due to childhood trauma, has an emotional wall between him and the world. The album deals with some of the darkest forms of depression, attacking the subject with courage and expertise. Musically, the album mimics the subject matter; with euphoric highs and crestfallen lows, the musical energy coincides with the album’s themes of depression and emotional disconnection. Even though the album was released at one of the band’s highest points of popularity, it does not shy away from periods of intense musical experimentation.
2. Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
By sales standards, Dark Side of the Moon is the bands most successful album. Worn on the chests of countless fans and hanging on the walls of thousands of college dorms, the signature prism album cover representing an individual’s mental break from society is displayed proudly by fanatics everywhere. The album contains several epic instrumental solos including a four minute vocal improvisation by guest artist Clare Torry; the album’s solos, however, are much shorter and concise than previously produced records. This is attributed mainly to the absence of Syd Barret in the musical composition. Lyrically, the album deals with greed, time, and like most Pink Floyd albums, insanity. The lyrics were composed solely by the band’s bassist Roger Waters, largely inspired by the mental illness that took Barret from the band.
3. Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
As the band’s first officially released album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn has a very unusual style for a Pink Floyd album. The songs have a faster tempo, and almost a Beatles-like timbre and tone. This album was written when the band still had Syd Barret supplying vocals, who was later hospitalized for mental illness (which was facilitated by psychedelic drugs.) Barret gave a large contribution to the music and vocals, so some of them are a bit out there. The album has several periods of long psychedelic musical and lyrical experimentation, and has an all-around taboo yet interesting aura.
4. Wish You Were Here (1975)
Wish You Were Here focuses lyrically on two things: the void left in the band from the absence of Syd Barret and the corporate greed that surrounds the music industry. The band’s emotional struggle due to the loss of a friend is highly relatable, jerking tears from the eyes of lonely souls across generations. Musically, the album contains several long instrumental solo’s that strongly characterized Pink Floyd’s sound in their early years. Shorter than most, the album fades in, hits hard with a strong message, and fades out, sending a tremendous tribute to the band’s former singer.
5. Animals (1977)
Pink Floyd has never been shy of political ideology as the subject of their music. Evident most brazenly in Animals, the album plays off of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, describing the different classes of society in the form of different farm animals (Pigs, sheep, and dogs). Animals critiques capitalism, characterizing the ruling class by intense greed and selfishness, and eventually portraying an overthrow of the oppressive dogs by the sheep’s uprising. Because the album has such a strong political focus, the music appears to have come second in the order of importance. This album brings nothing unique into the style of Pink Floyd, and can be characterize as a mix between The Wall and Wish You Were Here. Although no boundaries were pushed musically, the lyrical message is intriguing enough to give the album a chance.
6. Atom Heart Mother (1970)
If you like music largely devoid of lyrics, following unconventional patterns, and during certain parts just random noises and shouting, Atom Heart Mother is for you. The band itself stated that the album lacks direction and was produced during a rough patch in Pink Floyd’s history, but despite the criticism the album still has a unique, crazed charm. The primarily instrumental songs contain the normal Pink Floyd instrumentation in addition to a brass section and a choir (and strong use of a reverse effect.) As crazy as the lyrical content is within Piper at The Gates of Dawn, the music is equally unconventional for this album. Unless you’re a seasoned Pink Floyd fan, you may want to just avoid this one for a while.