Ranked: Every Pink Floyd Album from Worst to Best

With a new special edition of The Wall out today, we reassess the only band that could get a twenty-minute instrumental on the radio.

by Aaron Sokolof

Today sees the completion of a massive set of Pink Floyd rereleases, including giant box-set versions of the band's major albums. (Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia entry about these rereleases alone sprawls for pages.) If you're trying to figure out where to go from Dark Side of the Moon, we've conveniently ranked the band's entire discography for you from worst to best.

14. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

The songwriting is lackluster, but it's the glossy, synthetic 1980s production that places Momentary Lapse firmly at the bottom of the list. Recorded ten years earlier or later, "On the Turning Away" might have been a nice acoustic social-conscience song, but here it sounds like the theme from Chariots of Fire. Dave Gilmour co-wrote the best track, "One Slip," with Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, which suggests he didn't have much in the tank at the time.

Listen: "One Slip"

 

13. Obscured by Clouds (1972)

Imagine a band that sounds just like Pink Floyd, but not as good. That band would have probably produced a bunch of albums that sounded like Obscured by Clouds; it contains the main sonic elements of other Floyd records (ethereal organs, dark synths, pastoral acoustic guitars, and melodic guitar solos), but the songwriting and performance aren't at the same level. The exception is "Free Four," in which Roger Waters' over-the-top morbid lyrics are lightened by an upbeat rhythm, some romping guitar work, and more humor than usual.

Listen: "Free Four"

 

12. The Final Cut (1983)

If you find The Wall to be a bit too cheerful and life-affirming, then The Final Cut is for you. This suite of Roger Waters songs, lamenting war and the scarred societies that result, has impressive lyrics and a nice unity of theme. But the music falls short of Pink Floyd's other efforts, both on account of the band's anemic performance and Waters' own fragmentary songwriting. The album is subtitled "A Requiem for the Postwar Dream," and indeed, it has the atmosphere of a funeral — maybe mostly for the band itself, which was all but broken up at this point. Fans of The Wall looking to branch out will probably get more enjoyment from Waters' 1992 solo effort Amused to Death.

Listen: "The Final Cut"

 

11. Soundtrack from the Film More (1969)

This album's been ignored by classic rock radio and "best of" collections, so it feels surprisingly fresh. "Cirrus Minor," with a minimal arrangement of guitar and organ, sets a brooding, introspective mood at the album's opening. "Green is the Colour" is one of the prettiest songs Pink Floyd ever wrote. And "The Nile Song" is an aggressive rocker, closer in spirit to Led Zeppelin than to most other Pink Floyd songs. Unfortunately, the second half of More, consisting mostly of forgettable instrumentals, fails to sustain the energy.

Listen: "Cirrus Minor"

 

10. A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

This strange and disjointed album finds Pink Floyd in transition. The lone composition from Syd Barrett, "Jugband Blues," is a disconcerting portrait of schizophrenia; "Corporal Clegg" sounds like the evil twin of "Yellow Submarine." The rest of the album is dominated by spacey, largely instrumental tracks, which aren't as immediate as those on later albums like Meddle. (Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii features more interesting versions of these songs.)

Listen: "Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun"

 

9. The Division Bell (1994)

Often lumped together with A Momentary Lapse of Reason as an inconsequential post-Roger Waters effort, The Division Bell has much more to recommend it, and it stands on its own nicely as Pink Floyd's final statement. The sound is the band's warmest since Wish You Were Here, and the guitar solo at the end of "High Hopes" is one of Gilmour's best.

 

 

Listen: "High Hopes" 

 

8. Ummagumma (1969)

The first half of this double album features live takes of Floyd's earliest work, played with more energy and power than was evident in their studio recordings; you can hear echoes of this material in the work of more recent psychedelic bands like Flaming Lips and MGMT. A particular highlight is the hypnotic "Careful With That Axe, Eugene." The new songs on the second half of the album are "experimental," to say the least, and range from interesting to unlistenable. But buried under the directionless instrumentals is the evocative acoustic piece "Grantchester Meadows."

Listen: "Careful with that Axe, Eugene"

 

Commentarium (32 Comments)

Feb 27 12 - 1:36am
remarkablyadept

Switch Atom Heart Mother with Obscured by Clouds and I'd have little problem with this list. Putting Atom Heart Mother up so high smacks of hipper-than-thou obscurism. dshol

Feb 27 12 - 9:37am
donjohnson

I agree about Atom Heart Mother's ridiculously high ranking. I think Meddle is better for a start. Rest of the list is quite good though. I think i'd have Meddle 3rd, AHM 4th and Animals 5th

Feb 27 12 - 2:11am
Dorothy

Someone here doesn't like Roger Waters

Feb 27 12 - 3:14am
nope

Could not disagree more about your interpretation of The Wall. I think its placement is fair -- there are a lot of problematic, weak tracks on the album. But the narrator is just unrelentingly trashed. He's characterized as paranoid, abusive, oblivious, self-loathing, and ultimately a murderous fascist. If that's self-aggrandizing to you, I'd hate to see your self-deprecating.

Feb 27 12 - 9:57am
tmp

That extreme self-loathing can be a kind of self-regard. Someone said "He who despises himself loves himself as the despiser."

Feb 27 12 - 7:25am
GeeBee

Declaring "Have a cigar"* to be "funky" shows what a load of crap this list must be. To put "Division Bell", "Momentary Lapse" and "Final Cut" so far down among the mishmash of soundtracks and flops is just nonsense. Certainly that last one is as cheerful as the guy who greets you at the crematorium, but it's still something to be savored on a rainy night alone, and the other two contain some of Gilmour's finest guitar work.
*Trivia question: Who sings on "Have a cigar" and why the fuck isn't he more famous?

Feb 27 12 - 9:34am
donjohnson

Roy Harper

Feb 27 12 - 9:35am
Hampton

It's Roy Harper, and in the UK he was hugely famous

Feb 27 12 - 10:00am
Batty

you don't think that wurlitzer sounds adequately funky?

Feb 27 12 - 10:03pm
LadyB

The same Roy Harper of Led Zeppelin's "Hats off to..."

Feb 28 12 - 1:19am
GeeBee

Great to know at least a few people have heard of Roy. Saw him in concert twice in my student days. I just don't understand why he was never big in the US.

Feb 27 12 - 9:33am
C

Hey everyone! When it comes to judging music, no one can can agree!

Get over it.

Feb 27 12 - 11:54am
xdl

Pink Floyd is one of those bands that "reinvented" themselves so many times that putting together a list like this is almost counterintuitive. Realistically, the only thing some of these albums have in common is the name on the cover, and that's about it.

Feb 27 12 - 1:14pm
allen

You could have gotten away with the joke if you'd tried to put More or The Division Bell at #3, but Atom Heart Mother is a dead giveaway. The question is, was that put in by the original author, or switched in later by the editor in protest of the low rankings of The Wall and The Final Cut?

Feb 27 12 - 4:56pm
Sven

You gotta give Syd his due, and I'd also rate 'More' higher. 'Animals' also ranked too high.

1. Dark Side of the Moon
2. Piper at the Gates of Dawn
3. Meddle
4. Atom Heart Mother

Feb 27 12 - 10:05pm
Lee (RISD)

"This is probably the most perverse album ever to sell eleven million copies" -- the author means only so far, right?

Feb 28 12 - 12:36pm
CLOSE ENOUGH

Amazingly Nerve (which scrambles lists just to piss off it's readers) got One and Two right. ( Do you guys just pull the names from a hat?) I would have put 'Piper' at Three.

Feb 28 12 - 10:47pm
229Mick

This is what you get when someone who knows nothing about music, classifies Floyd albums. Comparing 'division bell' to Wish You Were Here?!?!?! Really?!?! Then I realized that 'nerve' is supposed to be a self important bucket of spew, and it made more sense.

Feb 29 12 - 2:34am
TSK

Arnold Layne, had a strange hobby...collecting clothes, moonshine washing lines
they suit him fine...

Mar 05 12 - 2:27pm
M.Morris

It's no surprise that Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in '96, along with Little Willie John and The Shirelles

Mar 08 12 - 4:57am
aurora

Animals at 4 ??? probably their worst album ever!!. And what is probably the best album obscured by clouds right at the bottom, perhaps this guy had more acid than sid !!

Apr 02 12 - 3:09pm
NYnick

Anybody who says the final cut is not a great album probably has never actually listened to it. Final cut should be in the top 5, they are bugging out with this list. Division bell #9 really?
Yeah somebody does not like roger waters to much

Jul 27 12 - 9:12am
colin

NYnick, you're spot on about the final cut. absolutely top 5.

Apr 06 12 - 4:55pm
Cpl Clegg

Obscured by Clouds is one of their best albums and should definitely be much higher than 13... The description made it sound like the list's author had listened to it maybe one time. Other than that, though, this list isn't terrible.

Apr 13 12 - 2:10pm
Orion Starseed

Live at Pompeii, is the best album second to Dark side then meddle after that I would say the 80s floyd then division bell.... The wall I have never nor will ever like. It is top ten blahhhh. Live at pompeii is the floyd that I know and love. It is space breaking down your ego and fears and showing you universal history on the comsic empire.

May 17 12 - 12:13pm
Chill

What a poor list. How can you put the wall so low? Comfortably numb, another brick, Thin ice, hey you, run like he'll and ao many others. Roger waters did a sell out tour last year just playing this one album. How many other albums could compete with that?

May 27 12 - 4:34pm
Bobby

My top 3
1 dark side/animals (best overall sound)
2 division bell (best songwriting)
3 wish you were here (best instrumentals)

May 31 12 - 10:52pm
Dan

While I don't think anyone would have an identical list, his was interesting. At least for the reasons he likes or doesn't like each. The one thing that gets funny is reading other people outraged he didn't rank the albums like they would have. I mean the nerve of someone not having the exact same taste as you!

Personally I like everything but the experimental studio disc of Ummagumma, Another Brick in the Wall II (a horrible song and played out) and Money and Mother.... mainly cause they are played out.

Really they all have their pros and cons (aside from WYWH, which is pretty near flawless) and it kinds of depends on which incarnations of Floyd you like. Most my life I liked the Meddle & after albums with '73-'79 as the highlight, though I always felt the Gilmore lead band was highly underrated. I only really started listening to the 60's stuff recently (34 now, about 15 when I first heard them).

This list was an interesting read.

Jun 16 12 - 5:18am
foxy

I think this is a fair list and that a bit of thought has been put into it. A lot of people seem somewhat offended about the low placement of Roger Waters dominated stuff, but it just isn't as good as the pre-1975 albums. The Wall is musically very much hit and miss and the lyrics horribly navel gazing, narcissistic,pretentious and vindictive. I don't understand how anyone can like Waters as a person.

Anyway, my top five:
1: Wish You Were Here
2: Dark Side of the Moon
3: Meddle
4: Atom Heart Mother
5: Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Jun 22 12 - 11:19am
Eon Blue

Overall this is a decent list, but I don't think you understand The Wall, which should not be ranked any lower than third.

Jul 13 12 - 4:11am
S

I will have to say I don't agree, but who in the world would agree with someone else's musical tastes? I see "A Saucerful of Secrets" to be much better than where it was placed, and I honestly didn't hate a single track on "the wall." and it might be that I haven't got into it quite yet, but meddle isn't neccisarrily my favorite album I've heard from them. I haven't heard every single one of these (which is why I'm looking this list up) but I will give my opinion on those I do know. 1. Wish You Were Here, 2.The Wall, 3. Dark Side, 4. The Final Cut 5. Saucerful of Secrets.

Jul 15 12 - 11:18pm
Jade

Personally, I think all PF albums should be rated equally. They're all different masterpieces in their own way. Nonetheless, I do somewhat favor The Wall a little more then the rest, but that will vary for each person depending on what lyrics and music strikes a chord in you the hardest.