Know Your Tempos: Pink Floyd
Posted on March 6, 2022
I’ve been perusing Pink Floyd’s discography as part of a more ambitious post for next week when I realized that I could kill two birds with one stone and whip up a “Know Your Tempos” post. Here’s my boilerplate explanation, shamelessly stolen from Todd Bishop:
If you ever see some sheet music that says “♩ = 215” and you don’t have a metronome on you, all you need to do is sing a song that you know was recorded at 215. Voilà. You’ll have a pretty good idea of how fast you’re supposed to play. It won’t be as accurate as using a click, but it’s a good trick to have… if you get a decent mental collection of these things, you’ll have a good reference for a variety of tempos. Or tempi. Whatever.
Unfortunately, this post didn’t go according to plan at all.
Part of it’s my fault. For me, Pink Floyd has four sections to its history. The glory days were undoubtedly from Meddle to Animals — I don’t much care for anything before Meddle, I don’t much care for anything after Animals, and I really don’t care for anything after The Final Cut when Waters left the band.
So as big of a Pink Floyd fan as I am, I’m actually not too familiar with the entire catalog. And there was another problem: the timekeeping on the early albums is very, very rough.
There’s a humorous rule of thumb that says every classic rock song ends five clicks faster than it starts. But I’m not talking about a subtle push and pull of a few BPM here; the band had a tendency of lurching up or down by as many as eight, nine, or ten clicks on the metronome within a span of a few measures, usually in response to changes in dynamics and instrumentation (i.e. slowing down for quiet, sparse sections, and speeding up for loud, dense passages).
I don’t have a problem with tempo changes as long as they are deliberate, and it’s pretty clear that these were not on purpose. Sometimes I could hear significant tempo flubs in one single measure during ensemble hits or transitions.
So I wasted a lot of time this week trying to get accurate tempo markings for the older albums. Most of those songs got several tempo markings, which defeats the whole point of this exercise. You want to sing a familiar riff or a groove in your head, not be intricately familiar with every movement in a song.
Things improved for the band in the 70s, so I decided for this post that I would focus on the “glory days” as well as a smattering of some of the famous tunes from outside of this range. You can check out my half–assed CSV file at the bottom. Maybe I’ll find the energy to mark down every song in the catalog, but today is not the day.
Here’re the highlights:
- 37 — “The Thin Ice (Drum Entrance)” [Dotted Quarter]
- 45 — “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (Main 12/8 Riffs) [Dotted Quarter]
- 50 — “In The Flesh?” [Dotted Quarter]
- 56 — “Hey You” 60 — “Have A Cigar”
- 62 — “The Great Gig In the Sky” (Drum Entrance)
- 63 — “Comfortably Numb”
- 65 — “Brain Damage”
- 69 — “Mother”
- 72 — “Us and Them”
- 75 — “High Hopes”
- 83 — “Learning to Fly”
- 86 — “The Dogs of War”
- 88 — “One of My Turns” (Drum Entrance)
- 96 — “Empty Spaces”
- 100 — “Another Brick In the Wall (Part 1)”
- 104 — “Another Brick In the Wall (Part 2)”
- 108 — “Goodbye Blue Sky”
- 112 — “Dogs” (Main Riff)
- 118 — “Run Like Hell”
- 120 — “Money” (7/4 Riff)
- 122 — “See Emily Play”
- 130 — “Sheep”
- 132 — “Arnold Layne”
- 135 — “Echoes” (Building Shuffle)
- 135 — “Money” (4/4 Guitar Solo)
- 140 — “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (Ending)
- 165 — “On the Run”
For tempo trivia, the mean is 83.9, the median is 72, and the mode (by far and away) is 65; the second–place mode is 60. Most Pink Floyds are downtempo, so there’s not great diversity in this regard. Some of Pink Floyd’s most famous songs are all at 65 BPM, e.g. “Breathe (In the Air)”, “Time”, “Brain Damage”, “Pigs On the Wing”, and “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”. Meanwhile, “Speak to Me”, “Have A Cigar”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Is There Anybody Out There?” are at 60.
So for the hardcore Pink Floyd fans out there, this strategy doesn’t work well across a good chunk of the catalog. But at least with these tunes I listed, you can add a little bit to your mental collection for quick tempo reference.