Pink Floyd guitar genius David Gilmour has composed some of the most epic, soaring solos in rock history. Look — or listen — no further than his essay in vintage Gibson Les Paul Gold Top glory on “Comfortably Numb,” arguably the greatest recorded guitar solo of the ’80s for its compositional breadth, emotional arc and tonal grace.
But there’s more to Gilmour’s playing than shimmer and beauty. He’s also one of the six-string’s finest space cadets — a player who can get interstellar at the flick of a pick-up setting and the stomp of a pedal. Here’s a rundown of some of the British rock legend’s strangest sonic adventures.
• “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”: That’s Roger Waters screaming on this 1968 cut from the double-disc Ummagumma, but it’s Gilmour making his six-string bark in chopping power chords and then wail as he over-bends strings and tugs the whammy bar. In concert, and captured in the film Live in Pompeii, this tune was an even wilder excursion, with Gilmour often vocalizing in a kind of schizophrenic scat along with his instrument.
• “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”: Atom Heart Mother is a curiosity among Pink Floyd albums, with the group searching for footing as it prepares to make the creative transition that would lead to the masterpieces Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Featuring the voice of roadie Alan Styles ruminating over his breakfast, along with the sounds of dripping water and frying eggs, the 1970 track is also an experimental landmark for Gilmour, who plays steel guitar through a Leslie speaker for the first movement, “Rise and Shine,” and creates a modal jam with himself for part two, “Sunny Side Up,” playing two acoustic guitars and his steel.
• “A Spanish Piece”: At just a minute long, Gilmour’s drunken rant accompanied by his faux flamenco guitar on this 1969 track from More is a study in the comically absurd — yet strangely beautiful on its own terms.
• “Echoes”: This cut from Pink Floyd’s 1971 opus Meddle features some of Gilmour’s canniest use of effects. The shrieking bird calls are the result of feedback created by plugging into a wah-wah pedal in reverse order, and the beautiful sonics that give the cut its title were created by using multiple tape recorders, both printing and playing tracks at the same time, much like Fripp & Eno’s early work in the so-called “Frippertronics” heard on the albums Evening Star and No Pussyfooting.
• “The Great Gig In The Sky”: The most interesting aspect of this track from Pink Floyd’s 1973 absolute classic Dark Side of the Moon isn’t Gilmour’s playing, but Clare Torry’s acrobatic vocals, which bring a spiritual and transcendent element of the mix. Gilmour, however, played a large role in guiding her performance, and pushing the English studio singer to think like an instrument. In truth, the arcing current of her voice has a more than passing resemblance to some of Gilmour’s most melodic and ambitious solos, like that in “Comfortably Numb” and various sections of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from Wish You Were Here.
• “Breathe”: This entry from Dark Side illustrates how far a skilled player can push a blues foundation, with Gilmour performing layers of carefully textured lap steep and pumping his six string through a Univibe to shimmering effect.
• “Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts VI—IX”: Gilmour’s genius for combining guitar sounds shines on the second half of this suite from 1975’s Wish You Were Here. Swapping between power chords, single-note leads and washes of open minor tuned lap steel, as well as changing time signatures, he creates a textural tour de force along with keyboardist Richard Wright.
• “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”: For Animals, it made sense to imitate the sounds of beasts, and on this track from the 1977 album Gilmour uses an overdubbed talk box to mimic the grunting and squealing of pigs as he rocks out on a second guitar.
• “Short and Sweet”: Gilmour’s first solo album, 1978’s David Gilmour, is full of neglected treasures like this tune, which uses a D chord as a pedal point for its chord progression, and Gilmour plays through a flanger in dropped D tuning. Hearing the song churn over its solid base, it seems like a preview of “Run Like Hell” from 1979’s The Wall.
• “Castellorizon”: Although this mostly instrumental number is from Gilmour’s latest solo album On An Island, the version on Live In Gdansk is truly definitive, with its overture of Greek folk music, faux gull sounds and more culminating in one of Gilmour’s most elegant and expressive post-Floyd solos — lengthy, emotional, daring… ferociously expressive.