Pink Floyd’s 30 best songs

David Gilmour, Nick Mason and famous fans pick the greatest Floyd tracks

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT7bbgsyzKc

David Gilmour: 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 Kings 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.

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The song fell out of a four-note 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 at around that time, where me and Roger tended to write separately and bring the ideas into 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 the 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.

Interviews: Nick Hasted, Rob Hughes, John Lewis, Paul Moody and Jaan Uhelszki

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