Pink Floyd are the kind of band that render their fans somewhat unable to explain just why they’re so widely adored. Of course, we can delve into their studio content, the likes of which has rarely been repeated in the rock realm. But there’s an intangible quality to the music that Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason created with one another. Whether through their conceptual albums or their masterful live shows, the group always championed mystery.
It means that, over the years, the group have rarely offered their assertions on their artwork. While bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Beatles — perhaps the only two bands to rival Pink Floyd in terms of broader impact — have always been quick to pick out the highs and lows of their musical outputs, Floyd have, in general, refrained from doing so. There is only one occasion where the band’s lead vocalist, David Gilmour, has shared his favourite songs from the group. Below, we’re exploring those songs in a little more detail.
David Gilmour’s favourite Pink Floyd songs may be a little hard to gauge. The singer’s relationship with the tempestuous band, which saw him struggle with creative tensions and in-fighting with the other pillar of the band Roger Waters, has often left a slightly bitter taste in his mouth. Especially considering his prominent solo career, it must become tiresome when consistently answering fan-centric questions about Floyd. But that is what happens when you’re part of one of the most influential bands of all time.
In 2006, Billboard spoke to Gilmour and amidst a heaving interview where pretty much every aspect of his career thus far was discussed, Gilmour did answer the question on everybody’s lips, what were his favourite Pink Floyd songs? While the singer did pick some Floyd classics out as the best, he also admitted that “there’s lots.” Picking two from the Wish You Were Here album, he selected, “‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ are standout tracks.” Selecting two of the band’s most well-known songs, he completed quite possibly the triumvirate of Floyd’ numbers when he picked arguably the band’s most famous song from The Wall, ‘Comfortably Numb’, a song which Gilmour holds a special affection for.
Gilmour may not have described all of the songs as his personal favourites, but he did eventually give the game away when he said: “‘High Hopes’ from The Division Bell is one of my favourite all-time Pink Floyd tracks,” tacking on a few more for good measure, “‘The Great Gig in the Sky,’ ‘Echoes,’” he eventually conceded defeat and admitted, “there’s lots of them.”
Below, we’re digging into the stories behind each of David Gilmour’s favourite Pink Floyd songs.
Stories behind David Gilmour’s favourite Pink Floyd songs:
‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’
It seems fitting that some of Gilmour’s favourite songs are centred on the man he replaced — Syd Barrett. The band were forced into replacing the ludicrously creative Barrett with the technically gifted Gilmour after the former’s drug addictions began to spiral and leave him with LSD-induced psychosis. It left the leading man of the band unable to contribute artistically and rendered him non-existent when performing live. The decision was made to remove Barrett formally during the band’s early years, but it hung over their entire career.
When the group were recording Wish You Were Here, it is said that Barrett arrived at their studio one day, miraculously appearing during the recording of this song. The day that Barrett arrived at Floyd’s studio on that June evening, he was a completely different entity to the one they had last seen a few years previously. The musician had become bloated and, even though he was physically there in the studio, mentally, he was not.
The group was initially bewildered by his arrival, assuming he must be a member of the crew, and it took a while before Gilmour eventually identified him as their former bandmate. Waters, it is said, immediately broke down in tears after seeing what Barrett had become. The song has since become a moment of pure emotional artistry, capturing the group in flux and demonstrating their remarkable ability to express it.
‘Wish You Were Here’
Another song inspired by Syd Barrett’s terrible bout of schizophrenia, Roger Waters used this track to explore the feeling of alienation. Based on a poem Waters had written inspired by Barrett, the track talks of how the mercurial frontman’s ‘friends’ would dose his coffee with LSD, helping him on his way to oblivion.
It wasn’t only Barrett’s detachment that reigned within the song. Despite it being one of the few songs that Gilmour and Waters amicably collaborated on, the song encapsulates the lack of connection the band were feeling with each other and their music. It was chosen as the title track of Wish You Were Here for this reason. While Roger Waters was the man behind the gorgeous lyrics, Gilmour read, understood and delivered them with aplomb.
Though you may wish to witness Gilmour play the song live, he will never be able to give you the full studio performance. It’s one key difference between Gilmour and other guitar greats. But where he may lack in performance, he makes up for in precision and talent.
There isn’t much about ‘Comfortably Numb‘, the song founded on an argument between Waters and Gilmour, that Floyd fans won’t know. It’s quite simply their Magnus Opus.
The single ‘Comfortably Numb’ came when the relationship between Waters and Gilmour had become fractured to almost a point of no return. Their creative differences looked ready to split the band irrevocably in two. In Mark Blake’s 2008 book Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story Of Pink Floyd, Gilmour confessed that the track arrived as “the last embers of mine and Roger’s ability to work collaboratively together.”
Speaking with Absolute Radio back in 2011, Waters vividly recounted the fight that would provide us with a masterpiece of the highest calibre: “Dave and I, when we were in the South of France where we did most of the recording for The Wall, we had quite a serious disagreement about the recording of ‘Comfortably Numb’.” The band’s bassist went on to add: “It’s probably one story where his memory and my memory are almost exactly the same. It was that we had made a rhythm track, and I loved it, and he thought it wasn’t precise enough rhythmically, so re-cut the drum track and said, ‘that’s better ‘so I went ‘no it’s not, I hate that ‘.”
Co-producer Bob Ezrin also spoke to Mark Blake for the same book and discussed the song in more detail than Waters, adding that Gilmour’s take was more “stripped-down and harder” than Waters which he called “the grander technicolour, orchestral version”.
“That turned into a real arm-wrestle,” Ezrin recalled. “But at least this time, there were only two sides to the argument. Dave on one side; Roger and I on the other.” After much wrangling, “the deal was struck,” Blake writes that: “The body of the song would comprise the orchestral arrangement; the outro, including that final, incendiary guitar solo, would be taken from the Gilmour-favoured, harder version.”
The final track that Pink Floyd wrote about Barrett was from the post-Waters era of the group and saw Dave Gilmour lay his heart on the line about his former bandmate. ‘High Hopes’ featured on Floyd’s penultimate album, The Division Bell, in 1994.
The track sees Gilmour autobiographically reminisce upon the early days of the group and their humble Cambridgeshire beginnings. He poignantly sings: “The grass was greener, the light was brighter, when friends surrounded, the nights of wonder.” It sparks wonderful imagery of an innocent set of lads humbled by stardom and hoping for artistic immortality. Ironically, the song also works as a perfect definition of the band they had become as it was the first track written for the record but the final one to be finished.
Listen extra carefully to hear a clip of Gilmour’s son, Charlie, hanging up the telephone on the band’s manager Steve O’Rourke.
‘The Great Gig in the Sky’
For some, this song acts as the creative crystalline representation of carnal female desires, and for others, it’s just plain old Floydian guff, the kind which usually puts off younger listeners. However, dig a little deeper into the song’s creative past, and we find ourselves with a masterful moment in their career.
Perhaps the song’s most pertinent moment comes from outside the band via a soaring performance from Clare Torry, searing through the speakers with fire-breathing fierceness. Allegedly captured within only two takes, the band queried whether or not they should use the performance before bowing down to the urgency of the tune.
“It’s a great chord sequence,” Waters boasted. “‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ and the piano part on ‘Us and Them,’ in my view, are the best things that Rick did – they’re both really beautiful. And Alan [Parsons] suggested Clare Torry. I’ve no idea whose idea it was to have someone wailing on it. Clare came into the studio one day, and we said, ‘There’s no lyrics. It’s about dying – have a bit of a sing on that, girl’. I think she only did one take. And we all said, ‘Wow, that’s done. Here’s your sixty quid’.” It would leave a sour taste in Torry’s mouth as she eventually took the band to court over the paltry pay. Nevertheless, the song remains a classic.
The song can be seen as the first real step the group made towards their eventual domination of prog rock, and Gilmour’s solo on the track is perhaps the most crystalline vision of that future.
Gilmour combines aggression and fluidity to make a solo worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. Following the solo, Gilmour gets a bit tech-happy and creates an atmospheric tone that you’re unlikely to hear from any other band in the world. All in all, the song is a sincere reflection of the enigma that is Pink Floyd. It makes it even more unusual for Gilmour to shun the track in his solo sets.
However, it would seem that the song now holds too many painful memories for the guitarist to include it in his setlist. Following the tragic death of Richard Wright, Pink Floyd’s composer extraordinaire and the man usually charged with providing the keyboards for the track, in 2008, Gilmour has avoided the song because of its connection to him. He and Wright shared a connection that is rare, not just within a band famous for its turmoil but in life as a whole. “There’s something that’s specifically so individual about the way that Rick and I play in that that you can’t get someone to learn it and do it just like that. That’s not what music’s about”.