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Wish You Were Here
Released: September 15, 1975
Peak: 12 US, 11 UK, 14 CN, 14 AU
Sales (in millions): 6.0 US, 0.6 UK, 21.3 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: classic rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 44:11
4.494 out of 5.00 (average of 29 ratings)
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
Pink Floyd had been around since the mid-‘60s, finally scoring their commercial breakthrough with 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon. In the wake of Dark Side’s monstrous success, the band were left drained and stressed by the pressure to match it. Singer/songwriter and bassist Roger Waters described the early attempts to record a follow-up as “torturous.” WK Both he and drummer Nick Mason were suffering through marriages which eventually ended in divorce. Singer/guitarist David Gilmour quarreled with Waters over the band’s musical direction and was frustrated with the “general malaise and sense of apathy.” WK
However, in the midst of “these volatile relationships, Waters found his grand theme for Wish You Were Here: the music business itself, and its tendency to crush the dreams of those who pursue fame, fortune and a chance at creative self-expression.” GW It gave him leeway to explore his frustration with the band’s disintegrating camaraderie and the drug-induced mental breakdown of Syd Barrett, one of the band’s founders and its original frontman. Barrett had cracked under the pressure of stardom and Waters painted him as “a messianic martyr to the soulless mechanisms of the music biz.” GW The cover art, which featured two businessmen – one on fire – shaking hands, reflected the idea of people hiding their real feelings out of fear of getting burned. WK
Wish “takes everything the band learned in the studio on Dark Side…to the next level.” IGN “The long, winding soundscapes are constantly enthralling” AMG and make the album “warmer than its predecessor.” AMG The album “is big and ambitious, even bombastic, [but] dodges being pretentious – the Barrett tributes are honest and heartfelt, beneath all the grand gestures and stereophonic trickery.” AZ The album may even be more more impressive musically than Dark Side as it showcases “the group’s interplay and…Gilmour’s solos in particular.” AMG He gets “lots of space for his most lyrical guitar playing ever” AZ and he “shoot[s] rays of light and glimpses of hope throughout the album.” GW The band once again made effective use of synthesizers and studio effects to create a production that was “sparkling, convoluted, [and] designed to sound deeply oh-wow under the influence – and pretty great sober too.” AZ Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright have both declared Wish You Were Here their favorite Pink Floyd album. WK
Shine On You Crazy Diamond kicks things off with more than eight minutes of instrumentation before the listener gets any lyrics. It ranks among Gilmour’s “greatest guitar work.” GW Gilmour stumbled across the phrase, but with Water’s positive encouragement, the song was fleshed into the album’s centerpiece. When its two halves are taken together as a whole, the mostly-instrumental twenty-minute piece is similar to the band’s earlier work “Echoes.” The opening four-note guitar phrase reminded Waters of Barrett, so the song became one of “two, long touching [songs] about the band’s vanished friend.” AZ He is fondly recalled via phrases like “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun” and “You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.” Waters said the song wasn’t really about Syd, but that he was “a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope.” WK
The “ominous” GW Welcome to the Machine “begins with the opening of a door – described by Waters as a symbol of musical discovery and progress betrayed by a music industry more interested in greed and success. The song ends with sounds from a party, epitomising ‘the lack of contact and real feelings between people’.” WK
Both that song and the “unctuously disquieting” GW Have a Cigar “rank among Waters’ darkest compositions.” GW Like “Machine,” it lambasts the music business and works with “Shine On” to offer “an apt summary of the rise and fall of Barrett.” WK It also humorously asks “By the way, which one is Pink?,” a question frequently asked of the band. Thanks to Waters’ limited vocal range and the stress he’d already caused his voice recording “Shine On,” Gilmour was asked to sing the song. When he declined, friend Roy Harper was tapped – a move Waters later regretted as he believed he should have sung it himself. WK
On Wish You Were Here, Waters not only reflects on Barrett, but his own nature as both an idealist and domineering personality. WK Waters “seems keenly aware of the dangers of falling over the edge.” GW “The opening bars of ‘Wish You Were Here’ were recorded from Gilmour’s car radio, with somebody turning the dial (the classical music heard is the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony).” WK
The album didn’t initially receive uniformly positive critical praise, but was an immediate commercial success. It went straight to the top of the UK charts with advance orders of 250,000. In the U.S., the album’s 900,000 in advance orders were the largest ever for a Columbia release. WK
Legend has it that Barrett made a surprise visit to the studio during the recording of the album. While the band were completing a final mix of “Shine On,” an overweight man with his head and eyebrows shaved entered the room. Initially the band didn’t recognize him. Mason recalled in Inside Out (2005) that Barrett’s conversation was “desultory and not entirely sensible.” WK Storm Thorgerson echoed Mason, saying, Barrett “He sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.’” WK Barrett showed up again at Gilmour’s wedding reception, left without saying goodbye, and wasn’t seen again by any of the band.
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First posted 3/22/2008; last updated 9/1/2021.