Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and Money. I loved all four songs and have for many years but for some reason I never went further into Floyd’s back catalogue or even the group themselves. I had never listened to an album, never bothered to delve into their history. I had heard the name, Syd Barrett, but knew nothing else of their story.
If you search for Pink Floyd on YouTube you’ll find their songs, albums, documentaries and hundreds of reaction videos. A new generation of music lovers are discovering their music and having their minds blown by what they hear. Thanks to them I have decided to begin my own journey – a Pink Floyd pilgrimage, you could say – to find out more.
What drew me towards Pink Floyd was the countless comments I had seen from other Floyd enthusiasts, the same messages and appreciation for the group. They insisted that nothing else sounds like Pink Floyd, that listening to an album in its entirety was essential, that their music could help you drift into an alternate plain and that you must, simply MUST, have headphones on when you do listen to the Floyd. It sounded cathartic and I wanted to try for myself as a form of meditation, something I’ve never been good at. I did see plenty of comments suggesting listening to Floyd while high is the way to go, well, I won’t be doing that, dear reader, you will be relieved to hear though I am sure it’s an interesting experience.
My Pink Floyd pilgrimage began earlier this year by reading two books – Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd and Martin Popoff’s Pink Floyd: Album by Album. This gave me an insight into the group’s often turbulent history as well as their extensive discography. I have also watched a few documentaries on YouTube so gained a further insight into their work. There is, however, one thing left for me to do.
Each month I will be listening to a Pink Floyd album in full and writing a reaction on this blog. I will listen multiple times – all the way through – and with headphones on. I will NOT be pausing during a David Gilmour solo and I’ll see if I can figure out which one is Pink! I will begin with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and conclude with The Endless River (2014). In all, there are 15 studio albums to get through. By November 2020 I will have been through the early days of the band with Syd Barrett as the leader, the middle years where a close-knit quartet gradually fell apart as Roger Waters seized control, and the later years when a more democratic David Gilmour led the group in its twilight years.
One final thing, dear reader. As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I am a novice, a mere apprentice and know very little so what I offer here are just my opinions of their music as I take it on board. I will attempt, and likely fail, to rank the albums in order of preference and try – big emphasis on try – to select the best song from each record even though I know they are to be treated as one long piece of music. If you have insights of your own to help me, or just want to share your own love and appreciation of these music legends then please throw a comment my way.
Time to grab the headphones and go on a journey…
Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #9: Wish You Were Here (1975)
Moving into 1975 we join the latest phase of Pink Floyd’s journey. This year represents, for some Floyd fans, the end of an era and the harmony of the preceding years is about to dissipate.
How do you follow up an album like The Dark Side of the Moon? For Pink Floyd, the answer was: with great difficulty. Their eighth album had been one of the biggest selling in history and completely transformed the lives of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. While their now vast wealth enabled them to enjoy many luxuries, stardom itself was not something that agreed well with the band. Starting with Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd had preferred their audiences to focus on the lights or effects behind the band. It was about the music and not about the band members. They embraced anonymity. Post-Barrett, Pink Floyd maintained this taciturn approach on stage and in interviews. Their early audiences were on board, appreciating the music and taking in the show going on behind the four individuals on stage. David Gilmour once commented in an interview that audiences were quiet between songs and the group had a good relationship with their fans, an unwritten understanding about how the shows would go. The Dark Side of the Moon changed all of that. The album brought bigger shows, bigger venues, bigger audiences, different audiences to what the Floyd had been used to. Rather than silent reverence, audiences were now loud and partial to shouting out for certain songs. Having hit the big time, the Floyd were also front and centre, with record companies flocking around the band and competing for their attention and with it the chance to make even more money. Pink Floyd had always been wary of record companies, going back to the early days with Syd Barrett, but they did change their US representatives from Capitol Records to Columbia Records with the success of their latest album, staying with Harvest Records for European representation. With such an acclaimed album behind them, Pink Floyd spent the remainder of 1973 touring in support of their eighth album.
Having achieved everything a band could hope for, Pink Floyd entered a difficult period in their history. Gilmour has stated that Roger Waters felt they had reached the end. What else was there for the Floyd to prove? They did decide to continue, however, preferring not to think about no longer being in the band anymore. In 1974, the group began work on new material and came up with the early makings of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Raving and Drooling and You Gotta Be Crazy. They then began touring the UK and France, debuting the three new tracks and working on them in live shows, making tweaks and improvements as they went along. In November 1974 Pink Floyd played two shows at Empire Pool, Wembley, to thousands of fans and in the audience for both shows was NME journalist, Nick Kent. He wrote a famous review of the Floyd where he criticised the group’s latest songs, their delivery of The Dark Side of the Moon, and reflected that the group had become lazy, looked tired, creatively spent and generally uninspired. It was a review the Floyd could recall in interviews decades later and it is even said that this was the catalyst for them to return to the studio to work on Wish You Were Here. Nick Kent had clearly touched some nerves and a good thing too.
Entering the studio in January 1975, Pink Floyd were uninspired just as Nick Kent had observed. Weeks went by with not much happening. Band members came and went as producer, Brian Humphries (who worked with the Floyd on More), sat and waited for something to happen. It was a painful process for the band and for Nick Mason, who was in the midst of a difficult divorce, it was hard to focus on music. The group had three new songs but were not sure what to do with them. One day Roger Waters hit upon the idea of dropping Raving and Drooling and You Gotta Be Crazy, retaining Shine On You Crazy Diamond which was shaping up to be a long piece. Waters and David Gilmour famously argued over the material for the new album with Gilmour believing all three tracks needed to be on the record. Richard Wright and Nick Mason sided with Waters and Gilmour had to reluctantly concede defeat. Roger Waters had the idea of splitting Shine On You Crazy Diamond into two pieces and placing one half at the start of the album and the second half at the end. In between would be placed new material. Waters came up with the theme of absence to encompass the album and this turned out to be multi-faceted. Shine On You Crazy Diamond was about Syd Barrett so on the one hand Waters wanted absence to refer to Barrett but on the other he was thinking of the members of Pink Floyd and how all of them, to different degrees, were absent from one another and had gradually become so in the wake of the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. As well as absence, the album would also explore the group’s aversion to the record industry that had damaged all members, but most of all Barrett. With a concept now in place, the Floyd pushed on with their ninth album but the camaraderie of previous records was deteriorating and cracks in the unity of the members were starting to emerge, reflected in this album, and the wounds would not heal going forward.
Wish You Were Here was released in September 1975. After the enormous success of The Dark Side of the Moon, could Pink Floyd repeat the same acclaim or would they revert back to earlier albums that resonated with smaller audiences?
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)
The opening track on the album and Side One is Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V). The entire song is in nine parts and clocks in at around 25 minutes. As already noted above, Roger Waters made the decision to split the song in two to bookend the Wish You Were Here album. For the purposes of this blog I will divide the Parts up just as I did with the Atom Heart Mother Suite.
The opening part was written by Richard Wright, David Gilmour and Roger Waters and takes up almost the first 4 minutes of the piece. Part I begins with a slow fade in with musical accompaniment from synthesiser, hammond organ and a wine glass harp. A significant amount of this would have been Richard Wright while the wine glass harp sound was lifted from an abandoned Floyd project where they attempted to record an album with, not instruments, but household objects. Very strange. The opening to Shine On You Crazy Diamond is beautiful, ambient, but sombre as well. It’s a moment of reflection and sounds vastly different to the songs from The Dark Side of the Moon. After this initial opening, Richard Wright comes in with some individual segments from a Minimoog which builds the atmosphere and sound up greatly. Around 2 minutes into the piece David Gilmour joins in with a guitar solo akin to something out of the blues, restrained yet poignant. This continues for more than a minute or so, setting the scene and building up to something but we do not yet know. Around 3½ minutes in, all music starts to recede and this leads us into Part II.
Part II was written by David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Richard Wright and lasts for around 2½ minutes. Following on from the opening part’s fade out, Part II of Shine On You Crazy Diamond begins with a haunting four note guitar piece from David Gilmour. It was these notes that were the catalyst for the entire piece when the Floyd were struggling for ideas. Roger Waters heard the notes and they are said to have reminded him of Syd Barrett, almost as if Barrett’s ghost was haunting the studio where the band were trying to find a way forward. Gilmour’s four notes were recorded in a separate studio to the rest of the band to enhance the sound and it really does hit home when you first hear it. We have a repetition of this guitar before Nick Mason suddenly joins in on drums with Roger Waters also there on the bass. Gilmour then changes up the guitar work, moving into a different solo but the four notes that opened Part 2 continue to reverberate throughout this song, Syd Barrett manifest once more in Pink Floyd’s music. When the piece reaches the 6 minutes mark, Gilmour’s guitar changes again and becomes more powerful, continuing only briefly until around the 6½ minutes mark before the track segues into Part III.
Part III was written by Richard Wright, David Gilmour and Roger Waters and continues for just over 2 minutes. As David Gilmour’s powerful solo closing out Part II begins to fade, Part III begins with Richard Wright back on the Minimoog. Wright plays out a sumptuous solo for a minute or so. It has a similar ambience to Part I but is very different in structure. We can only sit back and be drawn along by Wright’s impeccable playing. Gilmour’s guitar is audible in the background but only as a faint accompaniment. When we reach 7½ minutes, Wright’s Minimoog retreats into the background and a new guitar solo from Gilmour takes over, supported by Roger Waters’ bass and Nick Mason’s drums. It has the same urgency as the latter section of Part II and is a stark contrast to the first segment of Part III under Wright’s guidance. This guitar laden section continues for another minute or so, seemingly building as it goes. When the 8½ minutes mark is reached the music seems to pause very briefly and this leads us directly into Part IV.
Part IV was written by David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Roger Waters and lasts for around 2½ minutes. Part IV contains the lyrics to the song with Roger Waters on lead vocals, supported by a quartet of backing vocalists in the form of David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams. Gilmour’s guitar, Waters’ bass and Mason’s drums support the vocals here but this section is primarily about Waters’ voice. After the first two verses and related choruses, the music briefly takes over with Gilmour offering a brief solo but we are soon back with Waters as he leads us into the third verse. All the lyrics feel like they are delivered quite quickly, perhaps symbolic of the urgency and need to convey the message within the song to Barrett himself, his spirit swirling around in the intricate music that has built up to this moment. When the piece reaches the 11 minutes mark, Waters rounds off his lyrics before the sound of a saxophone leads us into Part V.
Part V of the piece was written by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright and lasts for just under 2½ minutes. With Waters’ vocals coming to an end, Part V opens with a saxophone from Dick Parry, who makes a welcome return after his recordings on Money and Us and Them from The Dark Side of the Moon. Gilmour’s four notes from Part 2 can also be heard though sound different to earlier in the piece. This continues for around a minute before Parry’s sax solo takes charge. A synthesiser can be heard in the background as well. This continues for a further minute before both the synthesiser and saxophone fade into the background. In their place we can hear a hum as if coming from a machine and then mechanical sounds as if an engine is spluttering. This brings an end to the first half of Shine On You Crazy Diamond and takes us into the second track on the album.
Lyrically, Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a tribute to Syd Barrett with many observers noting that the opening letters to the words “Shine”, “Crazy” and “Diamond” give you “SYD”. While David Gilmour and Richard Wright played a big part in the musical composition here, the lyrics are all from Roger Waters. He unburdens his soul here, telling Syd Barrett exactly what he and the rest of Pink Floyd think of him. He opens by remembering Barrett when he was younger and seemed to have a bright aura around him. In the present, or certainly the last time Waters maybe saw him at this stage, he describes how Barrett’s eyes are like “blackholes in the sky”, a reference to the change in Barrett following heavy drug use with LSD. Waters tells us in the third verse that Barrett “reached for the secret too soon”, a possible reference to LSD enthusiasts who believed they could unlock the mysteries of the world through use of the drug. Waters also states that Barrett “cried for the moon”, linking to The Dark Side of the Moon i.e. a metaphor for mental illness that, sadly, appeared to make Barrett very ill. In the choruses to the song, Waters and Gilmour sing “Shine on you crazy diamond” together, before Waters first describes what has happened to Barrett then reeling off a list of items in his honour and beseeching him to continue to shine. In the second chorus, for instance, Waters tells Barrett that “you wore out your welcome with random precision”, attesting to Pink Floyd’s need to have Syd Barrett leave the band for the mutual benefit of all parties. This sounds like a strong rebuke but then Waters describes Barrett at times as a “legend”, a “martyr”, a “painter” and a “piper”. Calling him a legend is high praise indeed, a martyr could be his sacrifice in laying the foundations for what the Floyd became, the painter harks back to Barrett’s studies in art college and the piper reflects the group’s opening album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Roger Waters is speaking to the “crazy diamond”, to Syd Barrett, and telling him that he was lost to Pink Floyd but they still love, admire and miss him greatly and that such a genius as he should continue to shine and not be diminished by the drug addiction and mental illness that cost him so dearly. The music that builds up in the opening three parts and concludes proceedings in Part V is absolutely delightful, carrying a poignant feeling throughout and tugging mercilessly at the heart strings. It’s a truly beautiful tribute to Syd Barrett and a testament to how much his loss was felt by the group. It’s likely that the success of The Dark Side of the Moon hammered home Barrett’s absence even further, for Pink Floyd had become mega stars without him and perhaps they felt like he deserved the same recognition as what they had now attained.
Welcome to the Machine
The second and final track on Side One is Welcome to the Machine which was written by Roger Waters. David Gilmour takes the lead vocal here and his perspective is that of a record executive introducing a budding musician to the music industry. This isn’t a pleasant song though of an aspiring young person fulfilling their dreams, they are being introduced to the “machine” that is the music world, one that lures the unsuspecting in with fantastical promises, chews them up and spits what’s left back out. In the first verse the record executive asks the musician where they have been but then proceeds to answer their own question. They lay out the backstory of the musician as the one who found school disagreeable, picked up a guitar in defiance of their mother and they do not suffer fools gladly. For those reasons, they are welcomed to the machine. In the second verse the record executive asks the musician about their dreams and once again answers the question instead of them; they don’t need to speak because this executive already knows and tells them their own mind; they are but puppets to the executive’s mastery. He reels off a list of riches to be found as a star, eating well, fancy cars and being able to play their guitar exceptionally well. Someone young and innocent is being lured into this dark world, much to the delight of the executive. Roger Waters paints a frightening image of the record industry as one out to use its stars then toss them away. Their clever facade is of wanting to help the musicians achieve their dreams but behind the mask they care nothing for the cash cows they milk vigorously on the eventual way to the slaughterhouse.
Welcome to the Machine makes use primarily of an acoustic guitar with synthesiser effects from an EMS VCS 3. This opens the song with machine-like sounds, a computer of sorts buzzing before a fierce building up of something akin to a turbine or engine. Both Waters and Richard Wright worked on the VCS 3 with Waters also providing bass, while Wright throws in hammond organ and further synthesiser work. Nick Mason is also there on the cymbals and kettle drums. After a steady build up we hear Gilmour’s acoustic guitar before he sings the opening verse with double tracked vocals. Gilmour’s voice sounds distant, eerie, and blends with the mechanical music. You can picture the record executive selling the dream and the life to their latest protege but the tone is sinister and we are in no doubt their intentions are not good. After the first verse different sounds enter the fray. They have a futuristic feel to them, machines that emit a long drawn out zapping sound, further emphasise the cogs and wheels nature of the music industry. We have a few cycles of this before Gilmour returns with the second and final verse of the song. When Gilmour sings “Welcome to the machine” for the final time, the music takes over and we hear that zapping sound once again, the intensity of the music building and building for the next couple of minutes or so. Into the final minute the music ceases and goes into what sounds like an elevator. We hear the elevator go up, it stops, and when the doors open the occupants – presumably the record executive and musician – emerge in a room full of people – a party perhaps – which is loud, confusing and even disorientating. It brings an end to this opening Side of the album and a 7+ minutes song from Pink Floyd. It’s a savage indictment of Waters’ experience of the music industry but perhaps more so the belief that Syd Barrett was lured in and ultimately destroyed by it. Pink Floyd had been a success with The Dark Side of the Moon but here they hit back and state their eyes and ears are open, they see through the masquerade of the record executives and they hate the truth behind the lies. Brave and powerful stuff from Waters.
Have a Cigar
The third track on the album and the opener to Side Two is Have a Cigar, which was written by Roger Waters. The song is in a similar vein to Welcome to the Machine but doesn’t have the same sinister angle as that track. Instead, Have a Cigar is more of a satirical look at record executives. The lyrics are from the perspective of one such executive, the type that Pink Floyd repeatedly had to contend with following the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. In the first verse the executive invites Pink Floyd into (an office maybe?) and offers them a cigar of the title. He tells the group they are going to be a huge success going forward, this will never end and that audiences will love them. The verse ends with a wonderful piece of irony and one of the most famous lyrics from the Floyd catalogue. The executive tells the group how amazing they are but then says, “Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” This dialogue was based on a real conversation the Floyd had and is testament to how the music industry were focused only on the success and money, their attention on the group so minimal they assumed one of them was a guy named Pink! In the chorus the executive tells the group that what they are experiencing is called “riding the gravy train”. In the second verse, the executive is clearly commenting on the success of The Dark Side of the Moon, telling Pink Floyd that their record company are bowled over and excited by what they have achieved i.e. they’re happy with the money they’re making as a result. It doesn’t stop there though. They insist that the Floyd need to get to work on a new album asap and that in the meantime their current record is doing brilliantly, but it could be better if everyone pulls their socks up and works together. Following a repetition of the chorus the song plays out with a musical segment.
Compared to the previous two tracks, Have a Cigar gets going very quickly. David Gilmour comes in with a guitar intro to start us off before Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason enter proceedings on bass, piano and drums respectively. Wright also does some terrific synthesiser work on the track before we get to the lyrics. Have a Cigar is sung by Roy Harper, who was recording his own music at Abbey Road Studios, while the Floyd soldiered on with Wish You Were Here. The story goes that Harper was in the studio watching Pink Floyd and they were struggling with the vocals for Have a Cigar. Roger Waters attempted some takes but his voice was struggling after the intense recording of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. David Gilmour attempted the vocals but was not comfortable delivering them. Something needed to change and with Richard Wright and Nick Mason not forthcoming, Harper stepped forward and belted out the track. Gilmour felt Harper’s vocals were perfect but to this day Waters regrets not persevering with Have a Cigar himself. Personally, Harper does a terrific job here, a different angle and it makes it more genuine coming from a record executive with the voice not being one of the Floyd. After the first verse and chorus, we get a brief musical interlude before Harper comes back in to polish off the song with the second verse and a repeat of the chorus. The last two minutes or so switches to another delightful solo from Gilmour with the rest of the group supporting him. With around 20 seconds to go a swooshing noise appears as the music goes into a radio and we hear the guitar in the distance. The radio effect segues into the next track with a change of channel taking us from Have a Cigar into Wish You Were Here. As with many elements of this album, the back story here is fantastic with the assertive Roy Harper coming in to help the Floyd with a difficult track. Despite Waters’ reservations, I do think Harper complements Pink Floyd really well here. Have a Cigar is more a mockery of the record industry, amusing almost, and doesn’t have that same unease that comes through with the unnerving Welcome to the Machine. The “which one’s Pink?” line is brilliant and the perfect representation of how Pink Floyd were treated as money makers by the record companies and their music was merely secondary to the prospect of dollar signs. As with Welcome to the Machine, you have to admire the bravery of the group and Roger Waters in particular. The Dark Side of the Moon had changed their lives forever yet here is Waters essentially sticking two fingers up at the music establishment, one built on greed and corruption rather than a love of art. A stunning track.
Wish You Were Here
The fourth track on the album is Wish You Were Here, which was written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour. A rare collaboration between Waters and Gilmour, Wish You Were Here is not only the title track to the album but is the all encompassing moment, the generalisation of the theme of absence. The song has been interpreted as a nod to Syd Barrett once more, particularly by Gilmour, but Waters has attributed it more to his own feelings at this time. The absence of Syd Barrett was felt strongly but the tight knit Pink Floyd that pre-dated The Dark Side of the Moon were now gone and in their place were four band members irrevocably damaged by their fame and success. The sessions for the latest album were tough and Waters’ lyrics capture a general atmosphere of cold and unfeeling emotions. The first verse asks a series of questions throwing in absolutes that could be designated as good and bad. “Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?” creates a pleasant image in the former case but something unpleasant in the latter example. A present individual could tell the difference but Waters is addressing himself and the rest of Pink Floyd. Are they truly here? Can they feel what they once did or has that now gone along with Syd and the brotherhood they all once had? The second verse builds on the comparisons with “heroes” being swapped for “ghosts” and the most powerful line, “Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage.” In an interview about this album, Waters explained the lines here as his own desire to be engaged with life, to not be in a cage but to be fighting on the front lines of existence. In the chorus that closes out the lyrics, Gilmour uses the refrain of “wish you were here” and we have stunning imagery of “two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year.” The separation Waters now felt from his bandmates, and they from him and each other is beautifully summed up here. The four men that walked into Abbey Road Studios to record the Wish You Were Here album were physically and emotionally drained and lost, like those two fish in the bowl, they no longer knew where they were or what direction they were heading. The song, Wish You Were Here, captures this quandary and the void that had now formed between Pink Floyd.
Wish You Were Here was one of only four tracks I knew by Pink Floyd prior to starting this challenge. As with Money on The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here takes on a new purpose and meaning when listened to in the context of the album as a whole. Have a Cigar ended with that music going into a radio. As we begin Wish You Were Here the radio station changes channels. First we hear two individuals having an in-depth discussion, then we move to a brief segment of Tchaicovsky’s Fourth Symphony before the radio changes for the last time and we hear David Gilmour’s faint guitar. After a few seconds, another guitar comes in, louder and more pronounced, while the guitar on the radio is distant (absent?). The idea here was that someone was sitting in their room with a guitar listening to the radio and when they hear the guitar they begin playing along. The introduction to Wish You Were Here is one of Floyd’s best known and, like Shine On You Crazy Diamond, this song started with guitar work from David Gilmour. He began playing this introduction in the studio, Roger Waters’ ears pricked up and the two of them collaborated to flesh out the music. Waters then penned the lyrics to what became one of his and Gilmour’s proudest accomplishments, one of the last occasions when they would work really well together. After a repetition or two of the guitar intro, the song gathers pace and urgency and Gilmour begins to sing the opening two verses back to back, his voice once again stunning but different again to what we have heard before. Compare this to Welcome to the Machine and it’s hard to believe it’s the same singer. Gilmour delivers Roger Waters’ emotive lyrics before we have a brief musical interlude with the end of the second verse. It’s at this point that we get the chorus with Gilmour’s final refrain of “wish you were here” being the slowest and sounding almost fatigued, perhaps reflecting the group’s own state of mind at this time. After the final lyrics have been sung the song plays out the final two minutes with more music. It’s heavily driven throughout by Gilmour’s guitar but towards the end he throws in some delightful scat vocals that blend smoothly with the rest of the melody. Approaching the final minute of the song, the music begins to dissipate and in its place comes a swirling breeze, very powerful, that engulfs this gem of a song and leads us into the final track on the album. What more can one say about Wish You Were Here as a song? Well, one can sign off by observing that from such desperation and absence can spring something truly this beautiful.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)
The fifth and final track on the album is Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX). This is the second half of the track which opened the album on Side One. The conclusion to Wish You Were Here leads into these four parts which will be considered separately.
Part VI was written by Richard Wright, David Gilmour and Roger Waters and lasts just over 4½ minutes. This sixth part to Shine On You Crazy Diamond continues the swirling breeze that closed out Wish You Were Here and this lasts for the opening 20 seconds or so. David Gilmour then comes in playing the bass guitar with Roger Waters following, also on bass guitar. This music continues for a time before Richard Wright makes his appearance with a synthesiser and it this point we have Gilmour switching over to a rhythm guitar. This goes on until around the 2 minutes mark when Wright switches to a Minimoog synthesiser and Gilmour continues on rhythm guitar with the two complementing one another with the melody. Waters’ is still audible in the background on bass guitar. After 30 seconds or so the music begins to build in intensity, the combination of rhythm guitar, bass guitar and synthesiser still prevalent but there is more urgency now. Gilmour’s guitar work here sounds almost frantic, chaotic even, continuing the foundations laid by the heavy breeze at the outset. When Part VI reaches the 4½ minutes mark, the tempo changes completely and we transition into Part VII.
Part VI was written by David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Roger Waters and lasts almost 1½ minutes. The changing tempo in Part VI marks a switch to Part VII with the music seeming slower and less urgent now with Gilmour’s guitar prominent. We are reminded of the opening parts to Shine On You Crazy Diamond and at this stage Roger Waters returns on vocals. This time we have just two verses that Waters sings alone while Gilmour sings with him for the refrain of the title. As with Part IV Roger Waters has the harmonies provided by backing vocalists – David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams. When Waters sings “shine” for the final time, the piece switches immediately to Part VIII.
Part VIII was written by David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Roger Waters and continues for just over 3 minutes. This part opens with Roger Waters and David Gilmour both playing guitars and this goes on for nearly a minute. Reaching the 7 minutes mark Richard Wright returns on both synthesiser and keyboards and his contribution begins to dominate proceedings. As we pass the 8 minutes mark it feels like the guitars begin to fade with Wright now centre stage to guide us through to the closing segment of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Upon reaching 9 minutes all the music starts to fade with the sound of Nick Mason’s drums suddenly appearing to send us through to Part IX, the closing segment to this suite.
Part IX was written by Richard Wright and lasts for around 3 minutes. This final piece is primarily taken up by Richard Wright with a combination of keyboard and synthesiser work. Nick Mason also joins in here with his drums being particularly prominent for a time. David Gilmour once described this final part as funereal and it does have that feeling about it as you go through. Wright and Mason continue for more than 2 minutes but when the suite reaches the 11½ minutes point, both the drums and the keyboard subside leaving Wright alone with the synthesiser to play out the concluding minute or so of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. As the synthesiser continues there is what sounds like a church organ in the background, further creating that essence of grieving for someone now lost. As the track begins to finalise after 12 minutes there is a very brief moment of keyboard work with Wright playing a tiny segment of the melody from See Emily Play, Pink Floyd’s first UK Top 10 hit that was written by Syd Barrett. With that final nod to Barrett, the music gradually fades out and with it we reach the end of the Wish You Were Here album.
Lyrically, Part VI of Shine On You Crazy Diamond is in a similar vein to Part IV. It’s a tribute to Syd Barrett, the love and admiration Pink Floyd have for him. In the opening verse Roger Waters tells Syd that no one is aware of where he is now, having been so close to them all at one point and led the band in its infancy. In the second verse, Waters tells Syd to wrap up warm and he’ll join him soon. This could be in reference to death and that we are cold when we die so Waters wants his friend to stay warm until he too joins him. Alternatively, another interpretation I read which has more credence is that Waters is referring back to Brain Damage when he confirmed “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”. We established the dark side of the moon refers to insanity and perhaps here Waters is saying his mind will also be lost one day and that Syd needs to keep warm as it’s cold on the dark side of the moon. Part VI continues the refrain of telling Syd to shine on. In the chorus Waters seems to refer to when he and Syd are reunited and that they’ll “bask in the shadow of yesterday’s triumph”, presumably the success of Pink Floyd in general. The lyrics close with Waters once again beseeching Barrett to shine and referring to him with such terms as “boy child” and “miner for truth and delusion”, going back to Syd’s use of LSD that damaged him irreparably.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond is 25 or so minutes of sumptuous music and lyrically it is a beautiful tribute to Syd Barrett. Pink Floyd had struggled with the loss of their talisman but somehow found their way to far greater success than they had enjoyed back in 1967 with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon. This song is Pink Floyd’s sincerity and love towards Barrett, the acknowledgement that he was their leader and inspiration and that they would have dearly wanted him to find his way back to the man they knew before his heavy use of LSD. The poignancy behind the song was magnified during recording sessions for the album. On 5 June 1975 an overweight man with a shaved head and shaved eyebrows wandered into the studio, behaving peculiarly and brushing his teeth intermittently. The man was there for nearly an hour before members of Pink Floyd began questioning who he was. There are conflicting narratives about this incident but someone suddenly told everyone that the man was Syd Barrett, returned 7 years after leaving Pink Floyd. The sight of their lost friend, almost unrecognisable from the handsome, slender leader of the Floyd in 1967 was said to have reduced both Roger Waters and David Gilmour to tears. The story goes that the group were working on Shine On You Crazy Diamond when Barrett visited the studio, which is an amazing coincidence. Barrett was asked what he thought of the music after it was played back to him and he simply responded that it sounded “a bit old.” Barrett left the studio that day, never to be seen by the members of Pink Floyd again. I’m not sure how far into this track they were with the recording but the unexpected reunion with Syd Barrett must have made working on the song further very difficult. Somehow the Floyd did complete it and it is the perfect ode to their lost friend.
Wish You Were Here is unquestionably a masterpiece. Structurally, it is very brave with only five tracks and two of those being one song split in two. Shine On You Crazy Diamond forms the perfect prologue and epilogue to the album, the group’s love for Syd Barrett and how much they miss him. The creative genius destroyed by the music industry while the rest of the Floyd survived but were physically and mentally scarred by the reality that they saw. Welcome to the Machine is brutal, a haunting look at the conveyor belt produced music stars at the mercy of the record executives. Have a Cigar is a classic advert for fame and success, covered in irony with the record executive focused more on money than the artists and their work. After this angry rebuke against the music industry, the Floyd tug at our heart strings with Wish You Were Here, a multi-layered and ambiguous song that one could draw their own meaning from. It is about Syd Barrett but it’s a lament for Pink Floyd themselves, for all they have lost of themselves, the pieces broken away never to return. Collectively, it is a tragedy. One would imagine success, fame, fortune and one of the biggest selling albums in history would equate to happiness and self-reassurance but Pink Floyd bravely open a window for us to look in at the other side of the music business, the contorted and monstrous face behind the enticing mask.
I honestly thought that after The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd could not go any higher in terms of quality. Many Floyd fans will disagree with me but I feel that Wish You Were Here is a superior album, not by much, but it is better. This is just my personal opinion but I feel that the backstory to this album is one of the reasons why it is their best so far. The Pink Floyd before The Dark Side of the Moon were very different to the one that emerged out of the tunnel of success and stardom that their eighth album brought them. The wealth the four members attained was not unwelcome but in becoming such big stars, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason all became lost somehow from themselves and from each other. That they were able to reconcile at all to create such a magnificent album is a great testament to them as musicians. The album is a sad one though, not just in the theme of absence, that of Syd Barrett and of themselves, but the music reflects a group completely lost and unsure of their future, disillusioned with success and, sadly, they would never return to the point they were before The Dark Side of the Moon in terms of cohesion and unity. For all of these reasons, Wish You Were Here is the definitive Pink Floyd album thus far. I am curious what will follow but I can’t imagine the same sadness and loss to be found here.
Wish You Were Here is a finely balanced album with both sides not having a bad track on there. It’s really hard to highlight the strongest track as Welcome to the Machine and Have a Cigar are very different to Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here. If pushed I would have to say it is a toss up between the opening half of Shine On You Crazy Diamond i.e. Parts I-V and Wish You Were Here. While Shine On You Crazy Diamond is the key piece on the entire album, enclosing the other three tracks, I must give the final nod to Wish You Were Here. It’s a song I have known for many years and loved, but I think this one out of all the tracks encompasses where Pink Floyd were at this point. On one level it is the absence of Syd Barrett and how much they miss their leader. From the other perspective it taps into the absence the members felt from one another and the tragic impact that the success of The Dark Side of the Moon inflicted on them. Pink Floyd would never be the same again and Wish You Were Here acknowledges this loss. Truly beautiful.
Pink Floyd had come through a long period of disillusionment after The Dark Side of the Moon to create an album that is today considered one of their finest. Upon release, Wish You Were Here received mixed reviews but time has been kinder and retrospectively the album is rightly acclaimed as one of the finest ever recorded. Despite what the critics thought, the album was a big success upon release, shifting millions of copies. It did not come close to the sales of The Dark Side of the Moon but few, if anyone, would surely have expected the Floyd to replicate what their eighth album did. The reality was that they had followed up that album with a record that sold well and proved their previous effort wasn’t just a fluke.
Wish You Were Here formed a painful transition for the group though. They had each been lost and uncertain after The Dark Side of the Moon and putting together their ninth album had been really difficult. The unity of their early work had crumbled and now tensions and disagreements had crept in. Roger Waters and David Gilmour arguing about the structure of their ninth album was just the beginning of deteriorating relationships within the band. For now, Pink Floyd had produced another successful album with a tour to follow. All too soon though, thoughts would have to turn to the future and to their next album, their tenth record, which will be our focus next month.
Pink Floyd Roll of Honour
1) Wish You Were Here (1975)
2) The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
3) Meddle (1971)
4) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
5) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
6) Atom Heart Mother (1970)
7) Obscured by Clouds (1972)
8) More (1969)
9) Ummagumma (1969)