Classic Rock Review

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Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here (1975)


Well, as you are probably aware, Dark Side Of The Moon was a complete and total success. It was definitely the guys’ best work to date, critics loved it, and although it was a #1 for only a couple of weeks, it managed to stay on the charts for 7 hundred-something weeks. So did all of these things make Roger at all happy or content? Heck no. Indeed, the group’s newfound success, especially in comparison to the struggles which they had had in the American market just two or three years previous, gave him more to whine about then when he had written the previous masterpiece’s lyrics. And, surprise surprise, we the listeners get to hear all about it.

Basically, his new set of complaints could be sorted into three categories, and each gets at least one song. The first, which is more or less a continuation of the themes of Dark Side, is that the world is a depressing pile of crap with everybody paralyzed by fear and as such missing out on life. Or something. Along those lines, we get the simplistic but pretty title track, which has held up rather well despite incessant overplay. It’s not the best ballad of its kind that Roger ever wrote, but it’s lovely, and the lyrics pull off “banal yet profound” very well. Plus, I dig the samples at the beginning.

Complaint number two is basically, “the music industry is made up of a bunch of greedy bastards who only care about money, know nothing about what is quality art, and who will try to steal your soul if you let them.” For this uplifting observation, we get two more radio classics in Welcome to the Machine (which, incidentally, was the first Pink Floyd song I ever heard), and Have a Cigar. The first does all it can to convince the listener via the atmosphere that to enter the music industry (or “the machine”) is to resign yourself to nothing but doom and despair. Of course it’s depressing, and maybe a bit overblown, but I do enjoy having my spirit crushed from time to time.

Plus, it’s got some of the coolest sounding synths of the decade. Now, the second, sung by famous studio musician Roy Harper, is based around actual experiences that Roger and Co. had with top studio execs after the success of DSOTM. Although it was their 8th studio album, Dark Side was the first that many high-ranking music people had heard of them, and as such they would treat the guys with the same “let’s sucker them out of their money” approach that they would with a regular overnight one hit wonder group.

As you might imagine, Roger was a bit insulted by this, and it was only made worse when one top level official, knowing nothing of the group but trying to pretend he was all buddy-buddy with them, asked them, “which one’s Pink?” And so, to deal with his frustrations, Roger took it out on them by slamming music executives in general into the ground with his lyrics. The song is a bit rudimentary, as it’s essentially just an okayish blues-based jam (the mid-section of Echoes did this sort of thing better), but I still like it.

The third and final gripe was that none of the Johnny-come-latelys that were suddenly claiming to be “big fans” knew a single thing about the group’s history, and consequently knew nothing about the man who had started it all, Mr. Syd Barrett. And so, Waters decided to write a tribute to him, which we know as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (get it? SoYcD? SYD?). And it’s absolutely fantastic. In all, it takes up about 25 minutes of time, but it’s broken up so the three other songs are in between the first and second half of it. Now, truth be told, I get a little tired with the second half.

The first instrumental passages of this half, both from Rick’s synth noodlings and Dave’s passionate guitar lines, are fantastic, and the actual song portion is great, but I find the weird synth-based jamming at the end rather tedious. The first half of the piece, though, is awesome beyond belief. The gradual synth, organ, and keyboard build up, along with the familiar heavenly guitar tone progress the tune to a point where it is the gloomiest, most soul crushing piece of music you have ever heard (the bluesy passage is absolutely killer at hitting my heart), and that’s just part I.

II gives us the now famous four ringing guitar notes, or “Syd’s Theme,” and it’s just perfect in its simplicity. III is a mellow guitar/synth noodle, IV is the actual “song” part (with lyrics making all sorts of references Piper and to Barrett’s own life), and V is driven by a saxophone part as passionate as the best moments on Dark Side before fading into WTTM. The first half of this piece, all 13-odd minutes of it, is pure heaven to my ears, and one of my favorite stretches in all of rock music.

All in all, this is quite a splendid album, and worthy of its reputation in many, many ways. Aside from the little quibbles I’ve already mentioned, the only gripe I have about it is that, in many ways, this is the first album where the band is no longer trying to push the boundaries, if you will, and keep progressing. Roger has said many times in the past few years that he always felt that the band, as a whole, reached its zenith with Dark Side, and that after that it was all down hill.

On the other hand, it’s not a huge step down, and the band had reached such a high point that even if they were to get worse and worse with each passing album, they would still be better than the best output of most groups. Plus, I should mention another major positive in this album’s favor: this is probably Rick Wright’s peak with the band. While he has no solo writing credits (only sharing credit on a couple of tracks), his keyboards are ALL OVER this album, taking on many different styles, and while this album may belong to Roger and Dave in songwriting, this album belongs to Rick in arrangements. I consider this one of the best demonstrations of 70’s keyboarding in my entire collection, and that says something.

Oh, one last thing. I have seen several possible synchronicities for this album on the internet, but the two most intriguing possibilities, in my mind, are with the classic It’s a Wonderful Life and with the director’s cut of Blade Runner (this one sounds fishy, though, given that WYWH came out long before the movie). Might be worth checking out, might not.

January 2, 2014 Posted by | Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here | | Leave a comment