As you know, Pink Floyd is arguably the greatest band in music history. Their catalog of albums dates from 1967 to 2014. I have written two very well received and incredibly accurate articles about PF, the first ranked their 26 best songs while the second was a much more lighthearted and humorous piece. However, the time has come to rank their greatest studio albums. I didn’t include live albums on this, as that ranking will inevitably come at some point in the future. So here is a ranking of all 15 albums, from “worst” (there really is no bad Pink Floyd album, let’s be honest here) to “best” (they’re really all the best albums), along with a few song suggestions from each album.
Released in 1969, this album was a soundtrack to the film of the same name. It was the band’s first album without founding member, Syd Barrett, who had suffered from extreme psychosis due to a herculean intake of drugs. The album isn’t anything to write home about, but it contained a few good songs such as The Nile Song.
Released in 1969, it could technically be considered a half-live album, as the first part of it is, well, live. However, I keep it in the category of studio albums because the entire disc isn’t live. This album, while garnering lukewarm reviews, didn’t age well according to surviving band members. Nick Mason went so far as to call it a “failed experiment.” One really really REALLY freaky song is (deep breath)... Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict.
13. The Endless River
Released in 2014, this album is almost exclusively instrumental. This is the last official Pink Floyd studio album. It was released six years after the death of keyboardist Rick Wright and contains recordings mostly left over from The Division Bell sessions. It’s good, as far as instrumentals go. My favorite song is Talkin’ Hawkin, which uses the voice of Stephen Hawking, recorded from a speech he had given. He was a big Pink Floyd fan.
12. A Momentary Lapse of Reason
MLoR was released in 1987 and was the first album under the new leadership of Dave Gilmour. Roger Waters, the man responsible for almost all of the lyrics in the band’s history, had left the band and publicly called Pink Floyd “a spent force creatively.” Gilmour returned to the studio with Nick Mason and Rick Wright, who for legal reasons couldn’t be a full member of the band just yet, and created an album that for all intents and purposes sounded like a Pink Floyd album. It was, in actuality, more like the earliest Floyd albums and not entirely reliant on a lyrical thread typically found on a concept album. In other words, it was just a good collection of songs. The album was wildly popular and spawned a monstrous tour. For my money, the key song is Learning to Fly, the first single. There are other really good tunes, but I’m partial to this one.
11. Atom Heart Mother
1970's Atom Heart Mother signified which direction the band would take over the next 13 or so years. The title track is actually a six-piece suite which occupies the whole of side one. Of all the songs on the album, my favorite would be the Roger Waters penned and sung “If.”
10. The Division Bell
1994's The Division Bell was long considered to be the final Pink Floyd studio album. Had it been, it would have been a respectable end to their catalog. Released seven years after A Momentary Lapse of Reason, this album felt like closure. There are some really great tracks on this, but my favorite would have to be High Hopes, the album’s closing track. FWIW, Roger Waters absolutely hated this album.
9. Obscured by Clouds
Obscured by Clouds, sandwiched in between Meddle and Dark Side, often gets overlooked. This is another soundtrack album, this time for the film La Valee. It’s amazing what can come out when a band writes and records in speed mode for release, and doesn’t overthink anything. Obscured is a hidden gem, and I think Free Four is the best song on the album (among a lot of good songs).
8. A Saucerful of Secrets
This album represents the end of the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd. Released in 1968, this is the band’s second studio album. It’s got a lot of really strong, 60's-based psychedelia on it. It’s too bad that Barret descended into madness, as it would have been interesting to see what direction the band may have taken. My favorite song happens to be the last song that Syd Barrett did with the Floyd, Jugband Blues.
7. The Final Cut
Dismissed by many as the first real Roger Waters solo album, 1983's The Final Cut is a scathing purge, akin to scream therapy or expelling some acidity from your stomach. This is the last album with the majority of the Floyd lineup. Rick Wright was gone by this time, having been fired (essentially) by Roger Waters. Neither David Gilmour nor Nick Mason contributed much to this album, as it was driven almost exclusively by Waters. At the time of release, it was considered a flop, however, time has treated this album well. It is more highly regarded now. Among many songs, I’d say my favorites are The Gunner’s Dream, the title song The Final Cut, and When the Tigers Broke Free, which was included in the 2004 re-release.
6. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The debut album of the original lineup, 1967's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn showed off Syd Barrett in all his glory. His songs were ahead of their time. It’s a shame that aside from some very fractured and disjointed solo albums, the world was never able to hear more of Syd Barrett in his lucidity. This is a double-edged sword, however. If Barrett had not been relieved of his position of lead singer/guitarist, we may not have the incredible catalog of albums that Pink Floyd released in the aftermath. While songs like Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive are the most famous cuts from this album, my personal favorite is Lucifer Sam, which just shreds.
If Atom Heart Mother scratched at the surface of what was to come from the Floyd, 1971's Meddle really gave the listener a preview of the direction of the band. The album only has six songs, but three of them stand out above the rest. The album opens with the only song which credits Nick Mason with lead vocals, the thundering One of these Days. The second song of note is Fearless, an airy piece with ends with the chant from the Liverpool FC. Finally, the album concludes with the incredible Echoes. This song directly connects to what the Floyd would be known for in the 1970s and beyond.
Oh, this is an angry one. 1977's Animals was released at the time when Punk Rock was gaining traction. However, it’s not a direct result of trying to keep up with a popular genre. The album’s aggression stems from the band having been in the business for years and becoming tired and angry at the grind of the business. The album opens and closes with the acoustic Pigs on the Wing (parts one and two), but the other three songs are very long and very angry. Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep are a trio of vitriol. Reviewers were taken aback at how relentless and angry the album is. I would agree, but I’d also add how necessary it is. Social commentary is needed in music. Always.
3. The Wall
You know this album. You’ve heard this album. You have probably watched the movie based on this album. This is Roger Waters’s baby. This is his life. This is the only thing he specifically asked for the rights to when all the Pink Floyd lawsuit dust settled in the late 1980s. The album is about a rock star named Pink (Roger?), who lost his father in World War II (like Roger?), who then became a musician (again, Roger?) who suddenly became disillusioned with the industry and the world in general and constructed a metaphorical wall around himself (like, guess who?). It’s an amazing piece of work, best suited to the listener who is over the age of 40. The album is much more relatable in your older years. With this album and the following two, I’m not going to list off tracks I like or that you should listen to. If you’ve read this far, odds are you have at least a cursory understanding and appreciation of Pink Floyd and have more than likely heard songs from these releases before. The Wall is a phenomenal album.
2. Wish You Were Here
1975's Wish You Were Here is a harrowing work of emptiness and cold, clinical music that works to perfection. The album is best described as the sonic description of the absence of friends. Inspired by the figurative loss of Syd Barrett, this album comes on the heels of the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. The success of Dark Side left the band a bit empty. They didn’t know what to do. Pink Floyd had become a success, but what now? Between 1967-1973 the band had released an album per year, including two in 1969. However, this was the first time they were “stuck” not knowing where to go. It took two years after Dark Side to create and record this album. Wish You Were Here is an incredible, timeless, utterly brilliant album and would be number one on the list if not for...
1. The Dark Side of the Moon
This album is the greatest Pink Floyd album of all time. It combines incredible music with phenomenal, timeless lyrics. Thematically, the album touches on paranoia, greed, violence, death, insanity, and the quickness of the passage of time. This is the greatest achievement of what I consider the greatest band in history. There is not a wasted note or lyric on the entire album, though people may disagree and say that the song Money is overrated (I’d argue overplayed). The Dark Side of the Moon spent 741 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 200 list - from 1973 to 1988. That feat will never, ever be duplicated. Listen to it. Listen to it now. Listen to it again this weekend. Listen to it when you’re high and wearing headphones. Listen to it. It is perfection.