It would have been the late Syd Barrett’s birthday today, and thus it seems a fine time to look at the career of Pink Floyd. Ever since John Lydon took a Floyd t-shirt and scrawled “I hate” on it, it’s been fashionable to hate on the band, denouncing them as pretentious prog-rock behemoths with a liking for long-winded concepts and overlong guitar solos (even if Lydon himself later retreated from his views.) Haters gonna hate, but we’re having none of it — we’re not even remotely ashamed to admit to being big Floyd fans, and as such, we’re going into bat for them here, with a selection of ten songs — both with and without Barrett — that we reckon embody everything there is to like about the band.
“See Emily Play” (1967)
Before we get started, though, we should confess that we’ve never really been fans of Barrett-era Floyd. Nearly half a century later, the affected whimsy of Piper at the Gates of Dawn-era songs like “Scarecrow,” “Bike,” and (shudder) “The Gnome” is pretty difficult to stomach, while Roger Waters’ sole composition on the band’s first album — “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” — didn’t exactly hint at great things to come. The brief period where Barrett’s songwriting flourished, however, certainly had its charms, and arguably reached its peak before the first album was even recorded. Specifically, Barrett’s output peaked with Pink Floyd’s second single, a character sketch of a Pan-like figure trying and ultimately failing to fit into a world that doesn’t understand her. It doesn’t take a genius to draw a parallel between the character and her creator, but the greatness of “See Emily Play” is that everyone can find something to relate to in its endearingly awkward protagonist (who was apparently based on a girl that Barrett saw in the woods one day).