Wish You Were Here
Released: September 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 39
Certified 4x Platinum: 8/9/89
Without Pink Floyd we would not have the European sci-fi multitudes (Hawkwind, Can, Amon Duul II and all their little friends) to kick around. They were the first to explore the upper reaches of the chemical heavens, and their commercial and artistic superiority, if ever it was in doubt, was brutally confirmed by Dark Side of the Moon. That 1973 album has now sold over 6,000,000 units worldwide -- 3,000,000 in the U.S. alone. Advance orders for their followup (two years in the making) topped 900,000, one of the largest advance figures in Columbia's history.
Talk has it that the waiting period was prolonged by the band's own paranoia. To release anything would commit them to a competition with their own past that they could not hope to win.
If so, their fears have been realized.
By their own admission, Pink Floyd will never bring home any blue ribbons for their instrumental abilities. Their mastery of their tools peaks at competence. The illusion of complexity that caused their drooling legions to make wild claims of high-art accomplishment was actually nothing more that the skillful manipulation of elements so simple -- the basic three chords everyone else uses -- that any collection of bar hacks could grind out a note-for-note reproduction without difficulty.
The cardinal offender is David Gilmour, by most counts the most technically efficient. No championship guitarist, he nonetheless had enough intelligent ideas to maintain the group's ultraimportant link to the bedrock demands of their mass audience. He oversteps his bounds in several places on Wish You Were Here, however, indulging in protracted solos that present him as just another competent guitarist who thinks with his fingers instead of his head.
Gilmour plays a nice acoustic duet (with himself tracked through a radio) as an intro to the title tune, which has vaguely pleasant echoes of Loudon Wainwright in its stark approach. It's the most successful song on the album until the full band makes its grandly faceless entrance, at which point the number immediately nosedives to ho-hum level. After all the time they've devoted to molding their shortcomings into something uniquely workable as a band, Pink Floyd should know better than to turn around and imitate the transparent, traditional rock-band methadology to which they supposedly present an alternative.
Crucial to the process of learning to live with their limitations was the full integration of the studio as an instrument, an option they exercised far more effectively than most of the competition. But here, where they're bent on playing it straight so much of the way, the effects become accentuated to a point where it all sounds overlaid. This doesn't complement the music, if fights it, and the effects sound gimmicky. The overall sound loses the occasionally breathtaking dimensions that made DSOTM such a grabber for people who'd never considered Pink Floyd anything more than random space noise.
"Shine on You Crazy Diamond" is initially credible because it purports to confront the subject of Syd Barrett, the long and probably forever lost guiding light of the original Floyd. But the potential of the idea goes unrealized; they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the goddamn thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Water's brother-in-law getting a parking ticket. This lackadaisical demeanor forces, among other things, a reevaluation of their relationship to all the space cadet orchestras they unconsciously sired. The one thing those bands have going for them, in their cacophonously inept way, is a sincere passion for their "art." And passion is everything of which Pink Floyd is devoid.
Wish You Were Here is about the machinery of a music industry that made and helped break Syd Barrett. (They even farm out a vocal to Roy Harper, an obscure but respected British singer/songwriter for whom the machinery has never quite worked, to add that authentic measure of defeated cynicism.) Their treatment, though, is so solemn that you have to ask what the point is. If your use of the machinery isn't alive enough to transcend its solemn hum -- then you're automatically trapped. In offering not so much as a hint of liberation, that's where this album leaves Pink Floyd.
- Ben Edmonds, Rolling Stone, 11-6-75.
After more than two years without a record, the prototype space-rock band returns with their first Columbia effort. The electronics and overall spacey feel that has won them so many fans is still present, but the album is in many ways the group's most commercial effort. Several shorter cuts punctuate a nine part potpourri, with one of them, "Wish You Were Here," carrying the same infectious quality that "Money" did. Typically good guitar work from the group, as well as the usual easy going synthesizer and keyboard work and occasional hypnotic background vocals. The nine-segment cut can be easily broken up for airplay, but the shorter cuts seem to be designed for that function and work well in that capacity. Possibly the best effort from the band since Atom Heart Mother. Best cuts: "Welcome To The Machine," Part Two of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," "Have A Cigar," "Wish You Were Here."
- Billboard, 1975.
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Released by any other band at that time Wish You Were Here would have been greeted as a major triumph; as it was the album settled into the shadow of Dark Side of the Moon and was written off as an anticlimax. Wish You Were Here follows the formula laid down in Dark Side yet fails to find as strong a theme. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is a fully worked-out memorial to the obviously much missed acid-head Syd Barrett. Floyd, it seems, needed Crazy Syd as inspiration one way or another.
The recording, again a many-layered construction of sound effects, synthesisers and real instruments, was made at Abbey Road. The sound is a degree more subtle than Dark Side while bass plums the low frequency capabilites of CD replay. Stereo depth is better used and certainly better reproduced from CD. The title track with transistor radio in the right channel accompanied by a "live" Dave Gilmour playing acoustic guitar in stereo is now dramatically realistic.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
A concept album paying tribute to Syd Barrett ("Shine on You Crazy Diamond") and lambasting the music industry ("Have a Cigar"). * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Wish You Were Here is just as good as Dark Side of the Moon and a touch more organic, highlighted by the extended piece "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." * * * * *
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
A stirring, eloquent tribute to former member Syd Barrett, this cohesive symphony of bluesy space-rock was Floyd's hit follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon and perhaps their most affecting album. Sure, it's fabled predecessor was on the charts for most of the Mesozoic era, but some say this consummate classic actually holds together better by virtue of nakedly emotional songwriting and crystalline instrumentals that form its jazzy, trippy moodscapes. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Pink Floyd sometimes confused musical virtuosity and melodrama with emotion. The restrained title track of Wish You Were Here, however, remains one of their most affecting songs -- and the closest the band ever came to country music. The instrumentation suggests Nashville: slide guitar, gentle honky-tonk piano, even some fiddle. And Roger Waters' lovely lyrics -- "We're just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl" -- would sound natural coming out of the mouth of, say, Willie Nelson. As is, sung by guitarist David Gilmour, they're heartbreaking.
Most of the rest of the album stays on that sorrowful human scale; all four of its songs are at least tangentially about Pink Floyd's founder, Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 due to mental illness, possibly exacerbated by too much LSD. More overtly, two of them ("Have a Cigar" and "Welcome to the Machine") are complaints about the commercialization of the music industry, always a bit hard to swallow from millionaire rock stars. But since Barrett actually didn't survive his encounter with show business, both songs have a haunted quality that suits their industrial throb.
On one of the last days of mixing the record, the band had a surprise visitor in the studio: a wild-eyed overweight gentleman in a trench coat, shorn of hair and eyebrows. It was Barrett himself. As he listened to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and the band members blinked back tears at what their "miner for truth and delusion" had become, he showed no signs of recognition that the song was about him and his departure from our world. * * * * *
- Gavin Edwards, Rolling Stone, 7/24/03.
The Floyd's follow-up to The Dark Side of the Moon was another essay on everyday lunacy, dominated by the liquid-rock suite "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," a poignant allusion to errant ex-member Syd Barrett. "Have a Cigar" is a searing blast at the music biz, with the classic line, "Which onee's Pink?"
Wish You Were Here was chosen as the 209th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Another marathon session of recording activity -- seven months -- at London's famous Abbey Road studios went into producing Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd's follow-up to the highly regarded Dark Side Of The Moon, which was also recorded at Abbey Road. The band came close to break-up during recording (both Waters and Mason were splitting from their wives at the time) but many critics, including Dave Gilmour, now see the album as one of Pink Floyd's best.
It opens with a clear homage to founding member -- and, at the time, institutionalized -- Syd Barrett on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IV)" which had to be re-recorded due to an inexperienced sound engineer. The album then takes the listener on a sort of aural space ship-ride, with heavy use of synthesizers and futuristic sound effects as well as more conventional instruments such as acoustic guitars and piano. Signs that the band's bassist and lyricist Roger Waters was becoming exasperated with the whole business of music -- and perhaps with his fellow band members too -- also take shape on the record; in "Have A Cigar" he has a record company executive saying "the band is just fantastic/that is really what I think/by the way, which one's Pink?"
Wish You Were Here scored a Number One in the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic, only the second time thus far that the band had topped the chart in their home market.
As of 2004, Wish You Were Here was the #33 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
Faced with the enormous task of following up Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd momentarily embraced their old experimental spirit and began to make Household Objects, an opus to be recorded entirely with, um, household objects. Touring refocused the group and also began to harden Roger Waters' hatred of the music business as Pink Floyd became a number-crunching, stadium-sized commodity.
Recording for Wish You Were Here began at Abbey Road in early 1975. Opening with the multitracked whirr of wineglass rims circled with moistened fingers (the only surviving element of Household Objects), "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is possibly the Floyd's greatest single moment, complete with David Gilmour's album-defining four-note guitar figure. Its nine parts bookend the record, a majestic 25-minute eulogy to departed leader, Syd Barrett. Barrett's unexpected arrival in the studio in June chimed with the thread of quiet desparation that haunted the album; no one recognized the fat, bald man who slipped into the control room.
"Have A Cigar" -- sung by group friend Roy Harper -- is one of the best hand-biting songs ever written, and the title track is as bittersweet as the group would ever be. Hipgnosis' artwork reflected the album's isolation and distance; it came shrinkwrapped in black cellophane, with only a sticker indicating the name.
Released in September 1975, to indifferent reviews, the album shot to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and turned the group into an even bigger number-crunching stadium-sized commodity.
- Daryl Easlea, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
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