"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). It was written by Roger Waters 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. The song was regularly performed between 1967 and 1973 and can be heard on the live disc of the 1969 album Ummagumma and seen in the 1972 movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. It also appears on the 2001 compilation album Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd. 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
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).
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", 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.
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." Miller further described the production work as "not as glittery as the first album's, and the instrumental work is shoddy and routine. Miller also described the track as too long.
- Roger Waters – vocals, bass guitar, gong
- Richard Wright – Farfisa organ, vibraphone, celesta
- Nick Mason – drums (played with timpani mallets)
- Syd Barrett – electric guitar
- David Gilmour – electric guitar
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. The last ever 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. . Live versions of the song appear on the 1969 Ummagumma album and the 1972 Live at Pompeii music film. During these live performances, the song was significantly extended with a wide range of dynamics, including a white noise middle section.
The song has been a staple in Waters' solo tours. Beginning with the 1984–1985 tours, "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" 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 his 1999–2002 In the Flesh tour, featuring stills from the promotional videos of "Arnold Layne" and "The Scarecrow" projected on large screens. This version featured a psychedelic guitar solo by Snowy White, as well as a sax solo, and this version appears on his 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.
In 2016, Waters performed the song again on his concerts at the Zocalo Square and Foro Sol in Mexico, as well as the Desert Trip festival in the United States, but it was dropped from the setlist of his 2017 Us + Them Tour.
- 1989: Red Temple Spirits covered the song on their album If Tomorrow I Were Leaving for Lhasa, I Wouldn't Stay a Minute More....
- 1990: The debut album by Bassomatic, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Bass, contained a likewise titled track, as written by Waters, Laurie Mayer and William Orbit.
- 1994: Finnish ambient techno band Nemesis included a version as the closing track of their debut album Xcelsior.
- 1994: On Erasure's single "Run to the Sun", a remix by Chris and Cosey was titled the "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun Mix".
- 1995: Sludge metal band Nightstick covered the song on their album Blotter.
- 1996: Experimental group Psychic TV recorded a cover of the song for their album Trip/Reset.
- 2003: A cover version was done by prog metal supergroup OSI, included on the bonus disc of their debut album OSI.
- 2003: Drone/sludge metal band 5ive recorded the track "The Hemophiliac Dream, Pt. 1" for an EP of the same name. It served as a tribute to "Set the Controls...": Its tonal progression was similar to its parent song, the lyric "Set the controls" appeared once early in the song, and a chant of "The heart of the sun" served as a quasi-chorus.
- 2007: German gothic rock band the House of Usher recorded a version as the title theme for the audiobook edition of Stephen Baxter's science fiction novel Titan.
- 2008: The Smashing Pumpkins played a 20-minute live version of the song on the final leg of their 2008 tour.
- 2008: Finnish experimental electronic artist Mika Vainio released a cover version titled "Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun" on his album Oleva.
- 2009: Black metal band 1349 recorded a cover version which appeared on their album Revelations of the Black Flame.
- 2009: Brazilian psychedelic rock band Violeta de Outono covered the song on their live video Seventh Brings Return: A Tribute to Syd Barrett, originally recorded in 2006.
- 2013: A piano version was performed by Ayşedeniz Gökçin on her self-released 2013 album Pink Floyd Classical Concepts.
- 2016: German atmospheric black metal band the Ruins of Beverast covered and extended the song to 11:48 for their EP Takitum Tootem!.
- Australian band the Titanics did two versions, one in their usual indie pop style, and a second using traditional Indian instruments for the television show John Safran's Music Jamboree.
- The LCD Soundsystem song "All My Friends" includes the lyric "we set controls for the heart of the sun".
- Sludge metal band Kylesa have performed a version of the song in their live set.
- A version of the song was done by Israeli doom/death band Salem.