Ranking the Albums of Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd are without a doubt one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They were also trailblazers in the worlds of prog rock and psychedelic rock, and every artist in that genre that has followed has been influenced by them, at least a little bit. They’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the UK Music Hall of Fame, and they’re one of the best selling artists of all time with over 250 million records sold across the globe. Over the course of their run, Pink Floyd created fifteen brilliant albums. Here are all of them, ranked from worst to best.
One of Pink Floyd’s worst reviewed albums is actually the soundtrack for an English language French movie about heroin addicts who go to Ibiza. According to Roger Waters, the movie’s director Barbet Schroeder “didn’t want a soundtrack to go with the movie…He wanted the soundtrack to relate exactly to what was happening in the movie, rather than a film score backing the visuals.” So, they pretty much had free reign with it. Incidentally, the tracks on this album do pair very well with the psychedelic visuals of the obscure movie they were produced for, but they don’t make for a particularly great album on their own.
14. The Division Bell
The Division Bell was the last album that Pink Floyd would release for twenty years before their final foray, The Endless River. In fact, unused material from the recording sessions for The Division Bell would end up on the track listing for The Endless River. This album did well commercially, but it’s not particularly great. A lot of the best Pink Floyd stuff is the kind of puzzling material that keeps you guessing what it’s actually about, but this is too far past the mark. Even Roger Waters himself admits that. He said of this album, “Just rubbish…nonsense from beginning to end.” Sadly, he’s not wrong. Those seven words are a pretty accurate review of this album.
13. A Momentary Lapse of Reason
A Momentary Lapse of Reason may have outsold its predecessor The Final Cut and gone on to be certified quadruple platinum, but it’s a pretty lackluster album. It’s not a concept album – it’s just a handful of songs written by lead guitarist David Gilmour that have been bunched together and sold as a collection. That might sound like a pretty standard album, but that’s not what Pink Floyd are about. They do concept albums and bend your mind with stuff you never expected. A Momentary Lapse of Reason is what it says on the tin – it’s Floyd phoning it in and doing the kind of stuff that everyone else below them was doing and, well, having a momentary lapse of reason. What we love about Floyd is that they’re not traditional. They’re not like all the other bands. But sadly, this album sees them erring on the side of being traditional and like all the other bands. It’s not good.
12. The Endless River
As both a nostalgic throwback to the glory days of Pink Floyd and a posthumous tribute to keyboardist Rick Wright, the band’s final studio album The Endless River succeeds. It’s mostly instrumental, which makes for easy and passive listening, with a lot of rambling ambience and morbid tones that usually serve as background to more focused Floyd tracks. It’s not their finest album by far, but it was great back in 2014 to get to hear all of this unreleased Floyd material from over the years. It was an emotional send-off for the band, too, since it had been definitively announced by David Gilmour to be their big finale.
11. A Saucerful of Secrets
Pink Floyd’s sophomore album A Saucerful of Secrets was marred by second album syndrome and the erratic behavior of Syd Barrett. The band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, had been full of his revolutionary psychedelic compositions, but as he grew away from taking the band seriously, they had to bring in David Gilmour to essentially replace him (although it wasn’t quite as black and white as that). Still, the iconic Floyd sound is there, with atmospheric, eerie tones that feel surreal or otherworldly and transport you into some other dimension if you close your eyes when you’re listening to it. It just isn’t as great as some of their other work, sadly, due to all that ugly behind the scenes drama.
This album, which takes its title from a Cambridge slang term for sex, is not a favorite among the band themselves. They’ve often spoken out against it. But frankly, the way that their fourth studio album is constructed is very interesting and unique. It’s a double album, essentially with two parts. The first disc is full of live recordings, which are exciting for their energy and raw, unadulterated quality, and the second disc is made up of solo compositions by each member of the band, which are inevitably hit and miss, but still quite interesting. So, if nothing else, Ummagumma does get points for being fresh.
9. Obscured by Clouds
The album Obscured by Clouds was recorded when sessions had already begun for The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s defining album, so this one was more or less brushed under the rug and forgotten about when Dark Side was released just a few months later. But there’s a lot to love here. This album has all the musical signs that pointed to Dark Side. Too few albums make use of their closing tracks as a way of signing off. They just end abruptly with yet another track. But Obscured by Clouds ends with “Absolutely Curtains,” a subtle instrumental piece that acts as a wonderful way to end the album. It eases you out slowly. It’s beautiful.
Meddle is a great album. It’s the one that really established lead guitarist and latecomer David Gilmour as the true star of the band. The more psychedelic tracks on this album are timeless classics of the band, while their more experimental forays into folk music are, at the very least, intriguing, with some fascinating sounds. The 23 minute side two track “Echoes” is the standout here. It’s beautiful and poetic and entrancing. It’s like Floyd’s own “Across the Universe.” There are even rumors that it synchronizes with the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” segment in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also runs an approximate 23 minutes.
Concept albums are usually very hit and miss. It all depends on the concept. As a scathing indictment of the sociopolitical situation in Britain in the 1970s, when the band were at the height of their fame, the concept behind Animals is one that definitely works. And with more political and relevant stuff, Animals marked a major change in Pink Floyd’s sound – such a big change that it would eventually lead to keyboardist Richard Wright leaving the band. This album was a huge commercial success – it’s been certified quadruple platinum! Plus, Animals set the stage for the band’s next album, another concept album, The Wall, so it gets bonus points for leading us to that, too.
6. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
By Pink Floyd’s debut studio album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is already a hugely important document in the history of music. It is still, to this day, considered to be one of the most influential psychedelic rock and prog rock albums ever made, because the Floyd sound came out of the gate in such a defined and unique and iconic form that a couple of genres that were in their earliest days of existence suddenly had their trademark characteristics. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn established Pink Floyd as a musical force to be reckoned with. It’s since been overshadowed by the band’s better known albums, but their debut is still a fantastic piece of work.
5. The Final Cut
The Final Cut sure is a divisive album. It was the last Pink Floyd album to feature Roger Waters in its line-up and he wrote every single track in its listing, so most Floyd fans tend to reject this as being one of the band’s albums and see it rather as a Roger Waters solo album. But Roger Waters is one of the greatest musicians of all time and he was always one of the band’s biggest strengths, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And as an anti-war concept album that protested the Falklands War, this was a powerful and timely album.
4. Atom Heart Mother
What we eventually came to expect from Pink Floyd at their best during their run was long, extended, atmospheric tones with existential lyrics and surreal, psychedelic sounds – and Atom Heart Mother delivers on every single one of these fronts. It opens with the title track, which is essentially a drug hazed opera that goes on for almost half an hour, and closes with “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” which is about a quarter of an hour long and told in three parts. Plus, the tracks in the middle are each terrific in their own way. “If” has a tragic and haunting quality to it as an uncharacteristically soft Floyd track, “Summer ‘68” is a delightfully nostalgic piece, and “Fat Old Sun” is light and fun.
3. Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here is an album that Pink Floyd tribute bands continue to cover for entire concerts to this day. It’s one of the band’s defining albums. There was also tragedy behind the scenes. The story goes that a fat, hairless man showed up during the recording sessions with a plastic bag and everybody thought he was somebody else’s friend or an EMI employee, because none of them recognized him. As it turns out, it was Syd Barrett. When they realized it was him, “He sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.” It was this tragedy that tinged the whole album and made it so powerful and heartbreaking. The tracks on Wish You Were Here all pack a punch, like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and, well, the title track “Wish You Were Here.” It’s an album with passion and soul. It’s masterful.
2. The Dark Side of the Moon
It took Pink Floyd eight albums to finally break through the boundaries of the rock genre define themselves as gods of music, but with The Dark Side of the Moon, they finally did it. Even to the most passive of music fans who have never heard of Pink Floyd, the prism album cover of The Dark Side of the Moon is instantly recognizable. It’s a seminal album. It’s one of the greatest albums of all time. The themes in this album are so powerful and important and relatable. The album is about getting older as time goes by and struggling with mental health issues – it’s very personal and candid. It’s trippy and confusing and dark and yet it’s so rich and intense. In short, The Dark Side of the Moon is a stone cold, bona fide masterpiece.
1. The Wall
The Wall is, simply put, Pink Floyd’s best and most iconic album. It’s a concept album that tells the story of the life of Pink, a disillusioned rock star based on both Roger Waters and Floyd’s original front man. The poor guy has a tragic life. His dad dies in World War II and then his teachers treat him horribly at school and his mother overcompensates for the loss of her husband by being controlling with her son and then his marriage deteriorates and it leaves him feeling bitter and dejected as he gives up on life, effectively putting up a wall to hide himself away from society. Each of the tracks on the album advance the plot and there are some serious gems in there, like “Mother” and the short, bittersweet, tragic “Goodbye Cruel World” and, of course, the great “Comfortably Numb.” The three parts of “Another Brick in the Wall” collectively make up the standout masterpiece of the whole album.