Top 40 Rock Artists Before 40 - #1 - Pink Floyd

Was there ever any doubt that the best band that ever lived would be #1 on this list? Okay, yeah, you may have had some doubt since I left off huge names like The Beatles, Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, etc…, BUT I have a feeling that a lot of people got a lot of knowledge about some great lesser known artists, and that has always been a mission of mine.

It’s not that I left off big names because they were big. I just don’t see the point in pretending that I think those bands make better music than any of the bands on this list. In my opinion, they just don’t. They do make GREAT music, but I would say that it’s not as much of my favorite rock music as what's on this list.

My lifelong musical experience says that the British powerhouse Pink Floyd is absolutely, unanimously, undoubtedly the greatest band that ever walked the earth, and I would like to think that every band on my list would have absolutely no qualms with me putting them at #1.

Not only were they light years ahead of their time with their music, but they have since inspired countless musicians to continue the great progress towards making true art out of rock music.

Pink Floyd’s catalog is quite vast and varied as well. If you haven’t heard some of their lesser known albums and film soundtracks, I highly recommend checking out Obscured By Clouds and the soundtrack from the film More.

There are endless reasons to have The Pink Floyd Sound (as was their original name) as #1. So, let’s dig into my logic. 

For those of you who are just joining this list at this point, let me give a quick summary below:

  • In my almost 40 years on this planet, I have had the great pleasure of listening to a lot of music that doesn't make it to the airwaves, and a lot of these bands are some of my absolute favorites.
  • You WILL see some Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame bands on the list too, but for the most part, you are likely going to disagree with this list almost entirely.
  • I am sharing this ranking so that you get some insight into some great bands you may have never heard before AND for a little bit of a personal challenge to myself to rank these bands.

With that said, let's get to #1 on my Top 40 List Before 40:


#1 - Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd’s biography of the band is as intriguing as the music itself, and whether you focus on Syd Barrett’s LSD brain damage that sent him into an insane asylum, the Roger Waters and David Gilmore co-writing super tandem that eventually tore the band apart, or even the lawsuit for the band’s naming rights, you will get insights into what it really means to be a wildly successful, generation-defining rock band. 

If you want to know a very detailed history of the band, go here.

My favorite story that relates to the band is the making of The Wall album and how Waters turned his whole life into a double-album that became a feature film.

The album was actually inspired by an event that occurred in Montreal in 1977 for the In The Flesh tour in which the band was promoting their latest album Animals.

The crowd, by reports, was pretty unruly at points (eventually trying to keep the band from leaving the stage at the end), and at one point, Waters had been irritated enough to spit in the face of one of the audience members.

Waters spent time reflecting on this incident and realized he had been alienated from the fans as Pink Floyd’s stardom kept rising.

So, in songs like, “In the Flesh?” and “In the Flesh” (two different songs on the same album referencing the tour) Waters uses a character to speak directly to the fans. Using “Pink” the character of the album to essentially berate the fans, but with the subplot being a hallucination where Pink is imagining himself as a Fascist dictator with a fervent following. He even tells the fans that if he had his way he’d have all of them shot. 

Of course, the subtext of this is that Waters actually felt bad about his actions, and the idea was him trying to find a way to use a metaphor to explain his inexplicable actions.

Now, that’s only a slight subplot of The Wall, as it is really a autobiography of Waters life causing him to lose himself through drugs, fame, money and women. Each bad relationship, tyrannical school master or poor life choice he makes creates another “brick” in the metaphorical wall he builds around himself to completely isolate himself from being hurt.

That’s just side one of the album. The second side brings up the reasons why he needs to tear down the wall, become vulnerable and exposed and then become a regular person again.

It’s quite literally the most interpersonal, intimate and most artistic rock album that has ever been written, and even if you are just a fan of “Another Brick in the Wall” (the song), you will know that the longevity and intensity of this album is utterly timeless.

But this is by no means Pink Floyd’s only good album.

Dark Side of the Moon is considered by many fans to be the best with singles like “Money” and “Time” being universal classics, and I do mean “universal” as I bet there are aliens on distant planets who have received radio waves that pumped Pink Floyd into extra-galactic radios. 

Okay, maybe that’s far-fetched, but it’s a cool thought. Imagine Pink Floyd inspiring alien lifeforms to create rock bands….hey, who knows?

Pink Floyd is absolutely one of the most influential bands that ever lived as well. Hundreds of bands have written songs inspired by Pink Floyd, done cover versions of their music, and even learned to play their music while coming up as artists to learn how to increase their talents.

If you just thought Pink Floyd was a band with a few good songs, then I would respond in abject horror, but after I calmed down (or awoke from my fainting), I would try to explain in a calm manner that you are missing out on the greatest music the world has ever heard, and I would recommend you start their discography from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn which is their first major album and the only album that has Barrett as the lead singer and guitar player.

I can say that Waters is absolutely a great bassist, guitar player and songwriter, but without Gilmore’s sultry voice and mind melting guitar solos, Pink Floyd may have never achieved the critical and commercial success that they did.

Syd Barrett was the original leader of the band, but after Barrett’s meltdown there was essentially an opening for the new leader of the band. Waters took the reigns for the most part as Gilmore was a more recently added member of the band (hired to replace Barrett).

Of course, after it became obvious that Gilmore had a better vocal range and an insane ability to play guitar, there was lasting tension between the two that ended in 1985 when Waters left the band and sued the remaining members to stop them from using the band’s name without Waters (he ultimately lost, and he admits it was uncouth of him to take it to that level).

Needless to say, the Gilmore-led version of Pink Floyd wasn’t my favorite era, but they did make some spectacular music anyway. It’s hard to deny Gilmore’s talent. He is my personal favorite guitar player of all time, and if I could do anything on the planet as well as Gilmore plays guitar, I would be a master at that thing the likes the world had never seen before.

That’s not to say that Gilmore didn’t have a long-standing relationship with Barrett as they had known each other for years, and even jammed together during their University days.

In my humble opinion, I think the feud between Gilmore and Waters really grew out of their separate friendships with Barrett, and both wanted to honor him in different ways through his band. This caused rift after rift as one or the other would try to wrestle the music in one direction or another.

At times, the band even seemed to be making two separate kinds of music. Waters’ hard nosed gritty rock, and Gilmore’s more popular rock ballads.

To me, that was actually the genius of the band even if it was only done as a compromise to fill the albums with songs. I have always loved it when bands can play different styles without it sounding pretentious or without following a fad of new music.

That was the beauty of Pink Floyd though. They never made music for anyone else’s reasons. They knew what they wanted to play, and they played it very well.

And to this day, there has never been a band that has done it better.

Similar Artists That I Recommend That Didn't Make The Top 40:

Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

See the full Top 40 list here