After the overwhelming success of Pink Floyd’s innovative and groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon in 1972, its popularity and acclaim seems to often eclipse the group’s follow-up album Wish You Were Here released two years later. A quite difficult process to attain in the studio, the album was eventually completed and much of the theme pays its respect and expresses longing for former original band member Syd Barrett, who left the group in 1968 after a mental breakdown.
The album opens with a five-part piece entitled “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” The first part of the piece includes gentle yet haunting atmospheric soundscapes alongside David Gilmour’s melodic guitar riffs that open with those four powerful notes. The highpoint of the song, along with the rest of the album, is the personal lyrics addressing Barrett, all written by bassist Roger Waters. Whether it is something bittersweet and nostalgic like “Remember when you were young/ you shone like the sun. Shine on you crazy diamond…. Now there’s a look in your eyes/Like black holes in the sky,” or on “Wish You Were Here,” something as sweet and simple as merely singing “How I wish you were here,” the band’s collective voice is made clear.
The message takes a slightly different turn in the tracks “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar.” Rather than continuing the theme of dwelling and remembrance, these songs give cohesive clues to the listener to help piece together what happened to Barrett and even the rest of the band members.
“Welcome to the Machine” has an eerie, sci-fi dystopian feel to it, complete with synthesizers and creepy vocals, as it describes the seductive nature of becoming part of the music industry. The song seems like it would be more appropriate in a dark rock opera but it fits in well with the cinematic nature of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
“Have a Cigar” mimics the sleaziness and greed of the music industry that may have continued to lure the band into the “machine” with promises of fortune (“We call it riding the Gravy Train”), depicting a major turning point in the life of the band as a whole.
The album concludes with the four final parts of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” It plays as a strong reprise and eventually reverts to the haunting sounds of the opening and slowly fades away as if scoring the end of a film as it fades to black.
The overall album is a strong example of poignant storytelling and expressing genuine feeling through music. Even the cover art has a heartbreaking element as it depicts a man shaking hands with a man on fire, as if saying goodbye to a man withering away.
The multi-layered tracking and expansive variety of instruments help to orchestrate the proper dreamlike tone as if travelling through the subconscious. All Pink Floyd songs demand headphone inquiry.
Wish You Were Here is a remarkable achievement for Pink Floyd that many consider to be the best in their discography.
“Wish You Were” is the most simplistic of the songs. It opens with simple guitar, simple riffs, and simple lyrics and yet, it is the most powerful song out of the entire album because of its honesty. It also contains brilliant sing-a-long lyrics throughout: “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl – year after year…”
Roy Harper’s guest lead vocals on “Have a Cigar” help contribute to the storytelling aspect of the song by having an unfamiliar voice talking to the band as if he is the sleazy representative of the music industry. Harper seems to have fun with the vocals as he plays devil’s advocate trying to lure Barrett and the others. Waters did not approve of his doing the lead vocal part. He still admits regret, incredibly, over the decision but it obviously worked out very well.
Pink Floyd went on to create the political concept album Animals (1977) and the immensely successful rock opera The Wall (1980).
They released three more albums that each had their merits, but did not come near the success or acclaim of the albums released in the seventies. There have been several re-releases and remastered editions of their works. The band disbanded in 1995 with much dissension, especially between David Gilmour and Roger Waters, and surprisingly reunited ten years later for a one-time performance at Live 8.
A year later, Syd Barrett, never the same from his departure from the band due to excessive acid usage back in 1967, passed away at the age of 60.
Pink Floyd has sold over 250 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
Reviewer: Sarah Truesdale
IRC: Lilen Pautasso
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