Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

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"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
Genre Space rock,[1] avant-garde[2]
Length 5:27 (A Saucerful of Secrets version)
9:27 (Ummagumma live version)
Label EMI Columbia (UK)
Tower (US)
Writer(s) Roger Waters
Producer(s) Norman Smith
Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd track listing

"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] It also appears on the 2001 compilation album Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd.[5] It 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[edit]

According to an interview with Gilmour on 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 Gilmour's guitar is played through an amplifier that makes it blend in with Richard Wright's keyboards and organs, and Barrett's guitar effects first sound like groaning, then seagulls.

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 admitted to "borrowing" 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",[7] and Li Shangyin, whose poetry contained the lines, "watch little by little the night turns around", "countless the twigs which tremble in dawn" and "one inch of love is one inch of ashes." Mason later stated in a 2015 interview that "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" is his favorite Pink Floyd song.


Alternative and live versions[edit]

  • Pink Floyd performed the song from 1967 to 1973. A performance on 9 September 1967 featured Barrett and Waters switching guitars.[8] The last ever performance with Waters took place on 13 October 1973 at the Stadthalle, Vienna.[citation needed] Waters performed the song during 1984–1985, 1999–2008, and in 2016.
  • On both the live Ummagumma disc and Live at Pompeii, the song was significantly extended with a wide range of dynamics, including a white noise middle section.[9][10]
  • A version of the song, containing a saxophone solo, appeared on Waters' In the Flesh – Live DVD, as well as Disc 1 of the 2002 album of the same name.
Waters performing the track on his The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour

The song has been a staple in Waters' solo tours. Beginning with the 1984–1985 tours, "Set the Controls" was presented in a radically rearranged rendition - 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 on a handful of occasions during the Radio K.A.O.S tour of 1987. The song was included in the setlist for Waters' 2006–2008 tour,[11] and previously his In the Flesh tour, featuring stills from the promotional videos of "Arnold Layne" and "The Scarecrow" projected on large screens. 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.

The song was also included on Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972).

Cover versions[edit]


  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. ^ Palacios, Julian (2010). "Summer Tempests". Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe (Rev. ed.). London: Plexus. p. 271. ISBN 0-85965-431-1. 
  9. ^ Manning, Toby (2006). "The Albums". The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd (1st ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 160. ISBN 1-84353-575-0. 
  10. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun - Pink Floyd : Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Sweeting, Adam (20 May 2008). "Roger Waters: set the controls for the heart of the Floyd". Telegraph. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  12. ^ "Nemesis (9) - Xcelsior". Discogs. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "The melancholy greatness of "All My Friends"". Slate. 12 July 2007. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 

External links[edit]