Pink Floyd were at the vanguard of progressive rock, but their hugely influential recorded output has covered all the bases from psychedelia to, yes, even disco. Unapologetically experimental from the off, the band's recordings display a perfectionism and innovation unsurpassed in rock. Their attention to detail and musical invention make their recordings perfect food for hi-fi gourmands. And, they're as British as a cup of tea. This is why we've rounded up seven great Pink Floyd tracks, each of which will put your system through its paces.
- The best test tracks to trial your hi-fi system, from jazz to metal, from 60s classics to 90s highlights
Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts 1-5 (Wish You Were Here, 1975)
Written as a tribute to original frontman Syd Barrett, who was edged out of the band due to his drug use and declining mental health, this devastatingly beautiful opus to Barrett's spirit and creativity simply demands to be listened to through the best system you can manage. Originally intended to be one side of the album Wish You Were Here, in the way of many of their prog contemporaries (yes, we're looking at you, Yes), in the end the track was split in two to bookend the album instead.
The song's first five parts alone provide plenty to go on. There's so much to listen to, and your system should pick out the distinct yet beautifully orchestrated parts with enough transparency and negotiate its shifting time signatures with ease. Your kit will also need to deliver the track with gusto when necessary, keeping the bassline, Hammond organ and various analogue synth parts all separate yet cohesive in the mix, while David Gilmour's wistful, bluesy reverb-laiden guitar, the sax parts and – well, the kitchen sink – are thrown at it as the song builds toward its climactic vocal verses.
If your gear can deliver this track with enough detail and, crucially, excitement, it's an astonishing piece of work. Each and every time we sit down with this track, it still surprises and delights us at every turn. And if by the time you reach Part V's funky outro section, your breath hasn't been utterly knocked out of your body, it might be time to upgrade your system.
Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 (The Wall, 1979)
It would have been easy enough to score a hit in 1979 by just cynically exploiting the popularity of disco, but Floyd went several steps further and created an iconic tune that topped the charts worldwide by simply being awesome.
Yes, it has the choppy guitar, deep funk bassline and four-to-the-floor bass drum and hi-hat 'chicks' typical of disco tunes of the decade, but this is Pink Floyd we're talking about – and here Roger Waters created a protest song that resonated with everyone, if only because, well, school kind of sucks.
Waters' deep, deep down-tuned bassline, Gilmour's bluesy solo against the backdrop of sustained Hammond keys, and Waters' distinctive vocal delivery are just the beginning. Over-dubbed 12 times to make it seem like there were more kids in the choir, the London school kids' refrain of 'we don't need no education' (a grammatical abomination that suggested, actually, that they did), forms the chorus, and it should land with all the intent and attitude intact. The disco nature of the track means that, apart from anything else, your system should dance here, and handle those meaty lows as well as it does the rest of the sonic register. By the time we reach the insane bellowing of the bullying teacher ('If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!') and clamorous playground noises that close out the track, we feel we've been thoroughly schooled.
Money (Dark Side Of The Moon,1973)
We could just list all of Dark Side Of The Moon here, but we covered off Time in our 19 Best British Rock Songs To Test Your Hi-fi System, also part of British Hi-Fi Week. Money, though, is a bonafide banger – and a good test of timing for your system. Kicking off with a loop of ringing cash registers which was initially intended to keep the band in time, but was faded out in the actual recording, Money is such a fun track to listen to – and your hi-fi should track its 7/8 time bassline with precision, as other elements such as the drums have a semi-improvised feel that gives the tune its jazzy quality.
Listen carefully and through a good system you'll spot the band speeding up slightly, before the track shifts to 4/4 for David Gilmour's double-tracked 12-bar blues solo. But provided your system's timing is up to the challenge, the addictive, lolloping bassline will punch out smartly and keep all the elements sounding together. Particularly if you're in the "high-fidelity first-class travelling set", and can afford the best hi-fi kit!
The Great Gig In The Sky (Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973)
There's plenty to admire here from Richard Wright's pensive, beautiful piano and Nick Mason's fantastic, dynamic drumming, but mainly this is a great track with which to test your system's vocal abilites. Because it's impossible to talk about Great Gig In The Sky without applauding Clare Torry's vocal performance. Brought in at the last minute when the band decided the existing track was missing something, Torry was at first unsure of what the band were after – but then wailed out those incredible, wordless vocals on the second take, creating a truly iconic, emotive and powerful vocal part that will challenge your system's higher registers, as well as pushing the midrange as she acrobatically scales the sonic registers.
It's a rare quality indeed that a singer can convey such emotion, particularly without words – and especially when listening through a quality pair of headphones, you should feel seismically moved by what is undeniably one of the most stunning vocal performances ever committed to tape. At the time, Torry walked away with a £30 day-rate for her efforts (though she did later get her due).
Interstellar Overdrive (Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967)
The Floyd's 'space rock' instrumental will be a stern test of your system's organisation, particularly as the track migrates into improvised psychedelic mayhem that, through a lesser system, could sound muddled, and even aimless.
Kicking off with a brilliant descending guitar and bass riff, that should sound, despite the lo-fi nature of its recording, exciting – particularly when Mason's driving drum beat with its textured snare pattern comes in – and should be reproduced with sufficient urgency and fire.
It's not long though before the band start to play in a more freeform, improvisational way, with reverberating organ, off-kilter guitar plucks and unexpected arhythmical noises completely failing to follow any sort of recognisable arrangement. Each musician's contributions to this lengthy abstract jam, and every note of its deliberate dissonance, should at least sound clearly placed within the soundstage, and intriguing enough for you to want to stay with it, until the band come back together after several mind-melding minutes. Don't be alarmed if the sound seems to blow horribly from left to right speakers in places – it's all a part of the original stereo recording. All we can say in regard to that is that it was the 1960s – the next track on the album's about a gnome called Grimble Grumble, for heaven's sake.
Comfortably Numb (The Wall,1979)
Why settle for one guitar solo, when you can have two? The Roger Waters-penned song, supposedly inspired by his experience of the muscle relaxants he took to combat a bout of hepatitis, was the result of a butting of heads; the final recording is a kind of compromise between Waters' preference for its orchestral arrangement and David Gilmour's desire for a more stripped down, rock approach. And so you get both, providing, luckily for us, the chance to test the different approaches on our hi-fi kit. The strings should sound lush and open, with Gilmour's first solo providing more singing sustain with a cleaner sound, to fit better within the stirring orchestral arrangement. Each element should be clearly placed within the mix; the perfectly judged drum beat, Waters' emotive vocal delivery and every rise and fall in the swelling orchestral overdubs.
When Gilmour's second guitar solo comes in, he's punched the button marked 'rock', and his throatier, fuzzier tones provide a great contrast and more weight, as Mason punches out the cymbal crashes to carry the track to its conclusion. Heard through a system that's capable of rendering a broad tonal palette, this will give you goosebumps.
Wish You Were Here (Wish You Were Here, 1975)
Pink Floyd rarely sounded as 'raw' as they did on the title track of their 1975 album. David Gilmour takes vocal duties, and his throaty delivery compared to Waters gives a plaintive feel that sits perfectly with the multiple, stunning guitar parts. The track kicks off with a twelve-string guitar recorded to sound as though it's coming through a radio, before Gilmour 'joins in' with an acoustic guitar part that's mixed to sound as though he is playing along with the radio. When the full band comes in, bass, drums, Minimoog and pedal steel, it's both a beautifully coherent and texturally rich arrangement that is fun to pick apart, but even nicer to just sit back and feel.
Incidentally, when Gilmour, who was a heavy smoker at the time, heard the final track, he was disappointed with his voice and promptly quit the fags – but while we'd never encourage smoking, what would the track be without the tone and timbre that 40 a day gave to his emotive and warm vocal?