Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

"Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
Song by Pink Floyd
from the album A Saucerful of Secrets
Published Magdalene Music
Released 29 June 1968 (UK)
27 July 1968 (US)
Recorded 7–8 August, October 1967, January 1968
Abbey Road Studios, London
Length 5:27 (A Saucerful of Secrets version)
9:27 (Ummagumma live version)
Label EMI Columbia (UK)
Tower (US)
Songwriter(s) Roger Waters
Producer(s) Norman Smith

"Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" is a song by the English rock band Pink Floyd. It appeared on their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).[3] It was written by Roger Waters[3] and features a drum part by Nick Mason played with timpani mallets. The track was planned for release as a single, with "Scream Thy Last Scream", on 8 September, before it was vetoed by the band's record company, EMI.[4] The song was regularly performed between 1967 and 1973[3] and can be heard on the live disc of the 1969 album Ummagumma[3] and seen in the 1972 movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.[3] The song is one of two songs from A Saucerful of Secrets that appears on the 2001 compilation album Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd[5] (the other being "Jugband Blues") and is the only song recorded by Pink Floyd to feature material from all five band members, as there are several different guitar parts recorded by both David Gilmour and Syd Barrett.

Lyrics and music

According to an interview with Gilmour in the 2006 documentary Which One's Pink?, the studio version of the song contained minor guitar work both from Gilmour and Barrett, making "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" the only Pink Floyd song that features all five band members, though some listeners may not fully discern the guitar tracks as they largely blend in with Richard Wright's keyboards and organs.

The song's recording commenced in August 1967, with overdubs recorded in October of that year and in January 1968. In an article reprinted in the Bruno McDonald book Pink Floyd – Through the Eyes of ..., Waters borrowed the lyrics from a book of Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty (which was later identified as the book Poems of the late T'ang, translated by A.C. Graham).[6]

Among the borrowed lines from Chinese poetry (as translated by Graham) were those written by Li He, whose poem "Don't Go Out of the Door" contains the line "Witness the man who raved at the wall as he wrote his questions to Heaven" (公看呵壁書問天);[7] Li Shangyin, whose poetry contained the lines "watch little by little the night turns around" (暫見夜闌干), "countless the twigs which tremble in dawn" (撼曉幾多枝) and "one inch of love is one inch of ashes" (一寸相思一寸灰); and Du Mu, whose poetry contained the line "Lotuses lean on each other in yearning" (多少綠荷相倚恨).


In a negative review for A Saucerful of Secrets, Jim Miller of Rolling Stone described "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", along with "Let There Be More Light", as "boring melodically, harmonically, and lyrically."[8] Miller further described the production work as "not as glittery as the first album's, and the instrumental work is shoddy and routine.[8] Miller also described the track as too long.[8]


Alternative and live versions

Pink Floyd performed the song from 1967 to 1973. A performance on 9 September 1967 featured Barrett and Waters switching guitars.[9] The last performance of the song by Pink Floyd took place on 13 October 1973 at the Stadthalle, Vienna, during the Dark Side of the Moon tour.[citation needed] . Live versions of the song appear on 1969's Ummagumma and 1972's Live at Pompeii. During these performances, the song was significantly extended with a range of dynamics, including a white noise middle section.[10][11]

Waters performing the track on his The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour

The song has been a staple of Waters' solo tours. Beginning with the 1984–1985 tours, "Set the Controls…" was presented in radically rearranged form, with female backing vocals, saxophone solos and a guitar solo (and even a shakuhachi solo in 1985). A truncated version (just the three verses) of the song, featuring a simple acoustic guitar part, was performed at a handful of the Radio K.A.O.S shows in 1987. The song was included in the setlist for his 1999–2002 In the Flesh tour, with stills from the promotional videos of "Arnold Layne" and "The Scarecrow" projected on large screens. This version – featuring a psychedelic guitar solo by Snowy White, and a sax solo – appears on Waters' 2000 In the Flesh – Live DVD and live album. In June 2002, Waters' former Pink Floyd bandmate Nick Mason performed as guest drummer on the track for two nights at London's Wembley Arena, the first indication of a reconciliation following the acrimonious split of the mid-1980s. It was also performed at Waters' 2006–2008 tour.[12]

In 2016, Waters included the song in his concerts at the Zocalo Square and Foro Sol in Mexico, and the Desert Trip festival in the United States, but it was dropped from the setlist of his 2017 Us + Them Tour.

The song was played by Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets between 2018 and 2019.[13] For an April 18, 2019 show in New York City, Waters performed lead vocals and gong.[14] "I really like playing 'Set the Controls'…'" Mason noted, "which is an unusual drum part, played with mallets rather than sticks."[15]

Cover versions


  1. ^ "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun Review". Stewart Mason. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  2. ^ Gulla, Bob (2009). "David Gilmour". Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 92. ISBN 0-313-35806-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e Mabbett, Andy (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of Pink Floyd. London: Omnibus. ISBN 0-7119-4301-X.
  4. ^ Palacios, Julian (1998). "'Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears' (July 1967–January 1968)". Lost in the Woods: Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd. London: Boxtree. p. 180. ISBN 0-7522-2328-3.
  5. ^ "Echoes: the album credits". Pink Floyd. Archived from the original on 2 June 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  6. ^ Allusions to Classical Chinese poetry in Pink Floyd
  7. ^ Palacios, Julian (2010). Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark globe. London: Plexus. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-85965-431-9. Waters borrows a succinct line from 9th-century poet Li He's 'Don't Go Out of the Door', which appeared in the original poem as: 'Witness the man who raved at the wall as he wrote his questions to Heaven.'
  8. ^ a b c Miller, Jim (26 October 1968). "A Saucerful of Secrets". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  9. ^ Palacios, Julian (2010). "Summer Tempests". Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe (Rev. ed.). London: Plexus. p. 271. ISBN 0-85965-431-1.
  10. ^ Manning, Toby (2006). "The Albums". The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd (1st ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 160. ISBN 1-84353-575-0.
  11. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun - Pink Floyd : Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  12. ^ Sweeting, Adam (20 May 2008). "Roger Waters: set the controls for the heart of the Floyd". Telegraph. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Yates, Henry (July 2018). "Set the controls for 60s Floyd". Classic Rock. No. 250. p. 14.
  16. ^ "Red Temple Spirits: If Tomorrow I Were Leavin' for Lhasa, I wouldn't Stay a Minute More > Overview". Allmusic. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  17. ^ "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Bass - Bassomatic | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Nemesis (9) - Xcelsior". Discogs. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  19. ^ "Nightstick - Blotter". Discogs. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  20. ^ "Psychic TV - Trip Reset". Discogs. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  21. ^ "OSI - Office Of Strategic Influence". Discogs. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  22. ^ "Ø - Oleva". Discogs. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  23. ^ "Revelations of the Black Flame - 1349 | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  24. ^ "AyseDeniz Gokcin - Pink Floyd Classical Concept". Discogs. Retrieved 23 July 2017.

External links