The 31 greatest Pink Floyd songs ever written
As Pink Floyd release their monster new box set (focusing on their early years) we ask the stars of the rock world to tell us about their favourite Pink Floyd song
This month sees a flurry of activity around Pink Floyd as they release their monster new box set focusing upon their early years. To join in the Floydian celebrations, we decided to ask the stars of the rock world to tell us about their favourite Pink Floyd song (only ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons cheated and gave us a whole album instead!). Here we present the songs they (and we) picked and reveal the stories behind them.
Have You Got It Yet? – Unreleased, 1967
There’s no evidence that this song ever got as far as the recording studio, but it illustrates the gulf that had grown between Syd Barrett and the rest of the band by the end of 1967 while also demonstrating that whatever mental struggles Barrett was going through he still retained his impish sense of humour.
As Waters remembers it, Barrett showed up for a band rehearsal with a new song. Although some of his recent songs, such as Scream Thy Last Scream, had proved to be unreleasable, he was still the only hope the band had of scoring another hit – and without hit singles their future looked ominous.
Barrett ran through the chords and the rest of the band started playing along with him. Except that midway through he would change the chords and the song would grind to a halt. This happened repeatedly until the band gave up, defeated. Waters recalls: “He kept singing: ‘Have you got it yet?’ and I was singing: ‘No, no.’ Terrific!” HF
See Emily Play – UK single, 1967
It was May 1967, and after four months producing album sessions for The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Norman Smith was exasperated by Syd Barrett (“Like talking to a brick wall”) and concerned that the bandleader’s material offered nothing to scratch the singles chart. All it took to change his outlook was one perfect three-minute pop nugget. “When I heard See Emily Play,” Smith told Mark Blake, “I finally thought: ‘This is it. This is the one.’”
Sun-kissed, woozy and perfectly in step with the Summer Of Love, See Emily Play was originally titled Games For May, and written for the concert of the same name held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 12, 1967. Floyd’s management smelled a rare hit single, and although Barrett was vehemently opposed to pursuing the song (Smith: “It didn’t do a thing for Syd. In fact I don’t think he was happy about recording singles full-stop”), he reworked it, introducing references to his Cambridge childhood. “I know which woods Syd is talking about in See Emily Play,” Roger Waters noted in 2004. “We all used to go to these woods as kids. It’s a very specific area, one specific wood on the road to the Gog Magog Hills.”
Greater speculation surrounds the titular Emily, with possible subjects including the wayward aristocrat (now noted sculptress) Emily Young and Barrett’s flatmate Anna Murray. But Waters batted the question away: “Emily could be anyone. She’s just a hung-up chick, that’s all.”
In any case, Smith was glad to get his hands on a more straightforward tune, working with the band to create a version that was supremely melodic yet decorated with artsy touches such as Barrett scraping a ruler across his guitar strings. “I dressed it up and put one or two [effects] on,” the producer recalled in Guitar World. “They didn’t mind whatever I was doing to it. I don’t think Syd was too keen, but by that time I’d gotten used to that so I pressed on.”
By now Barrett was deep into the LSD habit that would soon swallow him, and visibly struggling. On a visit to the studio during the Emily sessions, David Gilmour found a “glassy-eyed” presence far removed from his childhood friend. “Syd didn’t seem to recognise me and he just stared back,” the guitarist told Tim Willis. “He was a different person from the one I’d last seen in October. I’d done plenty of acid and dope – often with Syd – and it was different from how he had become.”
True to Smith’s prediction, See Emily Play reached No.5 in the UK after its June 16 release, prompting an invitation onto Top Of The Pops and a rave review in NME (“It’s full of weird oscillations, reverberations, electronic vibrations, fuzzy ramblings and appealing harmonies”). Yet it is also pinpointed by band insiders as Barrett’s final flash of clarity before he fell into the void. “Emily was the last time that Syd was focused and together, in my view,” manager Peter Jenner said in 1996. HY
“I was into early Pink Floyd, so it’d have to be something from the Syd Barrett era. See Emily Play has such an incredible sound. That’s the one for me.”