The Brit List: Five Underrated Pink Floyd Songs

Pink Floyd

Is it appropriate to wish Roger Waters a happy birthday? He never seemed like the type to enjoy those kind of well-meant, banal good wishes. Maybe if we all agree to wish him a not-unpleasant week in general, with specific reference to today, and against an reluctant backdrop of all the evil in the world, that would suit him better.

In any case, let’s have a Floydathon to celebrate (amongst ourselves. Maybe he won’t notice).

It’s probably prudent to point out that Pink Floyd songs are, by and large, entirely rated at a level commensurate with their worth. The good ones are praised to the skies, some of the less good ones get a largely forgiving pat on the back, and the outright stinkers tend to be glossed over in favor of another three or four goes on ‘Comfortably Numb’ or that one about a wall.

Nevertheless, there are songs in the Floyd songbook that deserve a longer moment in the spotlight, the songs that no one would ever have called out for when the band reformed for Live 8, but songs which continue to tickle and delight after nearly half a decade of use.

“Chapter 24″

John Lennon read the I Ching and came up with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a portentious cry for cosmic understanding from a billowing hilltop. Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s leader and songwriter in 1966-7, followed suit, and came up with this, inspired from key phrases from different translations of that book’s 24th chapter. It’s philosophical in nature, but also mischievous and hard to define, like a musical crossword puzzle in a wobbly maze. Some people find it to be a dirge, but let’s face it, you could level that charge at most Pink Floyd songs, if you’re in that kind of a mood. Just turn on your mind, relax and float downstream… then make a sharp turn inwards.

“Vegetable Man”

Not so much underrated by Syd Barrett fans, as underrated by the band themselves, as it has never been officially released. This is thought to be because the song dates from a time when Syd’s mental health was declining. You can hear it in the magically literal lyrics that describe what he was wearing when he wrote the song, and wondering where his brain might have gone. It’s clearly a bit too close to the bone for anyone who was involved at the time. There again, plenty of Barrett fans have covered the song, including the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Soft Boys. There’s even a project afoot to collect 1,000 covers and release them on CD. Which will be 1,000 more versions of the song than Pink Floyd ever put out.

“A Pillow Of Winds”

A song from the valley years, between the peaks of their full psychedelic pomp and the oncoming, all-conquering “Dark Side of the Moon.” This is taken from the band’s sixth album “Meddle” in 1971. And you can hear the influence of both eras at work here: the Syd-ish whimsy and lightness, and the Roger Waters solemnity and dark gravity. It’s pretty, but eerie too.

“Wots… Uh The Deal”

While we’re in a mellow mood, here’s a song from 1972 which overflows with the kind of wholesome melodic lemon-sweetness that you’d normally hear coming off a Wings or Crosby, Stills and Nash album. It’s startling to consider the band were only a year away from making their grand statement “Dark Side Of the Mood” when they recorded this, a far more conventional pop song than anything to come (although the title is clearly there to ward off Osmonds fans).

“Nobody Home”

And if this list seems a little light on Roger Waters songs, well, maybe that’s because his is the stuff that tends to get rated appropriately. However, this little gem, hidden among the apocalyptic scorn of “The Wall,” deserves a pat on the back. Anyone familiar with the song “Shipbuilding” by Robert Wyatt (or indeed “8 Line Poem” by David Bowie) will recognise some of the resignation in that stridently declining piano, and the seamless inclusion of a brass band AND a string section for such a non-bombastic song is wonderful too.

Clearly this list is not long enough, and I’ve deliberately left your favorites off to hurt your feelings. Tell me off (marking your comments “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU FORGOT [your favourite song]” here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2. He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage. Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
View all posts by Fraser McAlpine.