The Essential Pink Floyd – Part One

Our exploration of the vinyl catalogues of the most important artists in the history of music continues with a band that, we feel, everyone should own at least one record by – the legendarily innovative Pink Floyd

pink floyd

One of the most inventive and groundbreaking bands in the history of popular music, Pink Floyd’s output has frequently sought to challenge established musical norms and explore high-concept, grand themes. When viewed as a whole, the collective work of David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason and, of course, the prodigious Syd Barrett, established a benchmark for just what an album could be.

It goes without saying that the best way to experience the Floyd is through soaking up their albums in their entirety, enjoying some of the most immaculately crafted track sequencing of all time. And what a feast of richness their back catalogue contains: whether it’s dismantling the social architecture of the country in The Wall, the Orwellian capitalist critique of Animals, reflections on the pressures of an increasingly greedy music industry on Wish You Were Here and, of course, their captivating early work with creative lynchpin Syd Barrett. His unfortunate psychological breakdown would later be artistically processed on the 1975 opus The Dark Side Of The Moon – a contender for the greatest record ever made.
Yes, Pink Floyd (much like last issue’s featured artist, David Bowie) have gone through some quite significant changes. Understandably, there are many who favour particular eras over others: the psychedelic, often-chaotic whimsy and wit of the Barrett era has its devotees, as does the, slightly more ‘conventional’, David Gilmour directed late-80s period.
But for our money, their real creative peak was during the 1970s to mid 80s, under the auspices of the multi-skilled Roger Waters who, while also serving as the bassist, creatively captained the band through the most fascinating and critically revered period, coming up with most of the lyrical and musical themes at the heart of their most celebrated records.

The vinyl cut

We’re going to be exploring 40 vinyl records listed in order of quality (ie, which you should prioritise purchasing). While some of the initial 10 to 15 entries are curios and seldom-heard single releases – and sometimes not the band’s best work – they are often worth a punt for collecting. We’re just scratching the surface here – there are probably hundreds of variants of many of the early singles, here represented by the finest example of Barrett’s songcraft: Arnold Layne.

We also have the most recent versions that you’re most likely to discover in your local HMV and the rarest versions with pricing for both, though bear in mind that the pricing of the rare versions will change depending on their condition.

40: The Dogs of War [1988]

1988 single The Dogs Of War is a repetitive, somewhat teenage whinge about warmongering governmental oppression which, after Roger Waters’ vastly more sophisticated treatise on the same subject in The Final Cut, feels unnecessary. It’s a bit of a painful listen, with an overtly dramatic, heavy arrangement weighed down by some of the most boring synth sounds ever recorded. Consistently voted the worst Floyd record, it’s for collectors only.
Latest 1988: CBS 651615 7 £5
Rarest 1988: CBS (Australian sealed mint) £40

39: One Slip [1988]

This more conventional-sounding Momentary Lapse Of Reason single was co-written by one-time Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera (though he doesn’t appear on this single or the album). It’s a pretty weak single next to the classic Floyd canon, but it’s an interesting attempt at dragging the now Gilmour-helmed band into a more chart-friendly zone. The B-side has the more interesting Terminal Frost from the same album and a live version of previous single The Dogs Of War.
Latest 1988: EMI EMG 52 £10
Rarest 1988: EMI (European release with poster) 14 2026356 £170

38: Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London [1968]

This seldom-heard audiovisual document of the swinging London scene’s 1967 peak features not just early Floyd, but interview snippets with Julie Christie, Mick Jagger and a variety of other key figures from the pop culture of the time. The true Pink Floyd sustenance here is a riveting, if over-long, version of Interstellar Overdrive and the rarer Mason-penned Nick’s Boogie.
Latest 1990: For Miles Records SEE 258 £15
Rarest 1968: Instant (first press mint) INLP 002 £300

37: On The Turning Away [1987]

This highlight from the disappointing A Momentary Lapse Of Reason became a live staple and was a single in December 1987. However, a soaring vocal performance from David Gilmour can’t rescue the track from a now somewhat dated production, yet the gospel choirs add an interesting sonic experience. Initially ignored by many, the song has grown in stature due to the frequency of live performances over the years.
Latest 1987: EMI EM 34 £5
Rarest 1987: EMI (misprint error, choral music on A side) EM 34 £100

36: Nile Song [1969]

This hard-rocking, More-era track was released as a single in France, Japan and New Zealand and features only Gilmour, Waters and Mason. Being conspicuous on the parent album, The Nile Song was an attempt to move away from the band’s Barrett-era psychedelia. The riff-heavy sonic onslaught would be the heaviest thing the band recorded until sessions for The Wall; B-side Ibiza Bar also finds Gilmour and Waters cranking up the volume.
Latest 1969: Harvest 2C006-04506M £30-50
Rarest 1969: Columbia DNZ (New Zealand pressing) 10663 £270

35: A Nice Pair [1973]

A grouping of the band’s first two LPs assembled in 1973 following the surge in interest garnered by The Dark Side Of The Moon. A Nice Pair is indeed a good value-for-money package; however, true devotees will certainly already own these two pivotal studio albums. There are some key differences between the US and UK editions, with the US edition bizarrely replacing the studio cut of Astronomy Domine with the live version from Ummagumma.
Latest 1983: Capitol Records SABB-11257 £20
Rarest 1973: Capitol Records (mint, sealed) £150

34: Works [1983]

Released in 1983 by former American label Capitol, this compilation was designed to compete with studio album The Final Cut and features tracks from across the history of the band until that point, of particular note is Ummagumma outtake Embryo which had been a live favourite for years, as well as alternate stereo mixes of Brain Damage and Eclipse to reel in the completists. Aside from those points of note, it’s a largely forgettable, clearly hastily assembled compilation.
Latest 1983: Capitol Records ST-12276 £5
Rarest 1988: Toshiba-EMI (Japanese white-label promo) EMS-81600 £100

33: Zabriskie Point [1970]

Recorded in winter 1969, following the release of Ummagumma, this project was originally intended to be (as with More and Obscured By Clouds) a complete soundtrack to the controversial, countercultural Michelangelo Antonioni film of the same name. The band completed eight tracks for the movie, but in the end, only three were actually used, the director preferring tracks from the edgier side of pop.
Latest 2013: WaterTower Music – WTM39474 £20
Rarest 1970: MGM (first pressing) CS-8120 £350

32: Take it Back [1994]

The first single from 1994’s The Division Bell is dominated by David Gilmour’s distinctive guitar sound and a vocal style that recalls his approach on earlier, better, material. Although the latterly released High Hopes stands as …Bell’s finest single, the B-side here is intriguing: a live version of Astronomy Domine, the storming Syd Barrett track stemming back to the pre-Gilmour days which features some impressive guitar work, though Barrett is sadly no longer present.
Latest 1994: EMI EM 309 £15
Rarest 1994: Columbia (Brazilian 12″ blue disc) 51.6282 £170

31: A Collection of Great Dance Songs [1981]

This hilariously named compilation actually features some of the least danceable tunes in the Pink Floyd ouvre, with the exception of the funk-tastic Another Brick In The Wall (Part II) and a re-recorded version of rock-disco friendly Money. Released in 1981, this is an odd compilation: it’s got two epic 10-minute-plus tracks, Sheep and Shine On You Crazy Diamond taking up most of it.
Latest 1981: Harvest SHVL 822 £15
Rarest 1982: Columbia (American mint sealed) £100-£150

30: Learning To Fly [1987]

A drastic departure from the established sounds of the band, the first single from A Momentary Lapse Of Reason clearly attempts to establish a new direction. Inspired by Gilmour’s burgeoning interest in flying, the floaty Learning To Fly has a more poetic lyrical approach which adds to the sense of change and stands in stark contrast to the politically charged cynicism of Waters. It’s a song that divides the fanbase.
Latest 1987: EMI EM 26 £10
Rarest 1987: CBS/Sony (Japanese picture sleeve) 07SP 1060 £100

29: Tour ’75 [1975]

It might appear to be a bootleg upon first glance but it was actually an officially sanctioned release, put together in the US to generate interest in pre- Dark Side… material. It also aimed to entice new fans who’d seen the band on their 1975 tour to purchase more of the back catalogue. Weirdly enough, it features only two live tracks, Astronomy Domine and Careful With That Axe, Eugene (the same live versions from Ummagumma). The rest are, surprisingly, studio tracks.
Latest 1975: Capitol Records SPRO 8116/7 £80
Rarest 1975: Capitol Records (mint condition) £300

28: Point Me to the Sky [1968]

Many collectors consider this little-heard early Waters and Gilmour co-write the Holy Grail of long-lost singles. A single that failed to chart in the UK, it remains a valuable piece of Floyd history. B-side Careful With That Axe, Eugene would fare better, becoming a signature tune of the band. The single was intended to be a standalone, but following its chart failure, the band lost interest in releasing singles in the UK.
Latest 1968: Columbia: DB8511 £50-£80
Rarest 1968: Columbia (Egypt ‘Pink Floid’ Missprint) DB 8511 £1,000

27: Not Now John [1983]

The Final Cut’s only single release, the driving, rocky Not Now John – ironically – is the only track on the Roger Waters-dominated album to feature David Gilmour on lead vocals (though Waters sings the refrains). Lyrically, it concerned Waters’ disgust at Thatcherism, the Falklands War and the post-war power struggles. The controversial lyrics ‘fuck all that’ were amended to ‘stuff all that’, while the B-side has a slightly different version of album cut The Hero’s Return.
Latest 1983: Harvest HAR 52244 £5
Rarest 1983: CBS Sony (Japanese promo) XDSP 93036 £500-£800

26: When The Tigers Broke Free [1982]

A post-Wall standalone single (though it later appeared in the movie version), When The Tigers Broke Free prefigures the autobiographical The Final Cut with Waters lyrically evoking the death of his father Eric Fletcher in the Battle Of Anzio during World War II. The orchestral backing adds to the emotional weight of this marvellous, oft-forgotten, funereal track. The song was rejected from the The Wall for being, legend has it, too ‘personal’.
Latest 1982: Harvest HAR 5222 £10
Rarest 1982: CBS (mint New Zealand pressing) BA 222 968002 £250

25: High Hopes [1994]

A fan favourite, this Gilmour song closed 1994’s The Division Bell, with lyrics that inspired the album’s title (and 2014’s The Endless River). The song reflects nostalgically on Gilmour’s early days, leaving his ‘greener, brighter, sweeter’ hometown behind and the journey to becoming an adult. It can also be read as being reflective of the journey of Pink Floyd as a band, though Gilmour has remained aloof on the subject. It’s certainly the best thing on The Division Bell.
Latest 1994: EMI United 7243 8 81772 7 £25
Rarest 1987: EMI (limited French pressing) 881839-7 £200

24: Us and Them/Time [1974]

These pivotal standouts from The Dark Side Of The Moon received a US single release in 1974. The glorious Time features a sound collage of antique clocks before launching into a Gilmour-sung verse, while the serene, pretty Us And Them features some alluring saxophone and one of the most graceful melodies Pink Floyd ever recorded. Though it wasn’t released as a single in the UK, it’s still findable easily online.
Latest 1974: Harvest 3832 £10
Rarest 1974: Harvest (Promo EP featuring Breathe/Money) 6746 £50

23: Comfortably Numb [1980]

The Wall’s standout moment and a song that would become one of the band’s signature songs, Comfortably Numb was released as a US single in 1980: well after the release of The Wall. Featuring Gilmour’s finest solo and a simply gorgeous arrangement, Comfortably Numb is a work of genius and is among the band’s finest compositions. The song would be the final one performed by the reformed band at 2005’s Live 8.
Latest 2011: EMI 5099902703473 £20
Rarest 1980: CBS (Japanese first press) 07SP491 £190

Unreleased – The acetate debate

Recorded by the young Barrett, Waters and co (then called The Tea Set), an unofficially distributed acetate allegedly sold on eBay for a frankly astonishing $25,000 (£20,022). This controversial studio acetate features rhythm-and-blues standard King Bee backed by an early Syd Barrett composition, Lucy Leave and indeed, if real, would certainly fetch a fair price. However, many in the Floyd collecting community doubt its existence, with many suspecting the buyer to have been sold a cheap fake. The jury is out… though, however, we must stress that it’s better to get the perspective of collectors and experts before buying any acetates – so put away that 20 grand!

22: Echoes – The Best of Pink Floyd [2001]

This 2001 compilation was another big smash and served as many young music fans’ introduction to the Floyd canon. It’s a selective retrospective, omitting material from four of their transitional albums and heavily focusing on the classic records, the Gilmour era and an assortment of Barrett-era tracks. This compilation naturally segues from one track to another but it does feel like a very airbrushed, edited version of history.
Latest 2001: EMI 536 1111 £50
Rarest 2001: EMI (mint condition) 536 1111 £200

21: Pulse [1995]

Capturing the Gilmour-era band live during the 1994 tour in support of The Division Bell, Pulse is an interesting live album, containing a complete live version of The Dark Side of the Moon. However, because of the live show’s reliance on ostentatious visuals, the music was required to be slavishly sequenced to correspond, therefore some of these live arrangements sound a little bit less exciting and dynamic than their studio counterparts. The four-disc vinyl version is quite a tricky find.
Latest 1995: EMI EMD 1078 (4x vinyl boxset) £200
Rarest 1995: EMI EMD 1078 (in mint condition) £850

To find out what the Top 20 Pink Floyd records are click here.