One of Pink Floyd’s most influential works was the conceptual album “Wish You Were,” which was partly a tribute to the band’s former lead vocalist and founding member Syd Barrett. In a very interesting coincidence, the day the band started recording this album was also Barret’s birthday.
“Wish You Were Here” was recorded for a period of six months at London’s Abbey Road Studios, with the band going on two US tours in between. It was the band’s ninth album, said to be the second one to revolve on a single conceptual theme written by Roger Waters, another co-founder who took up lyricist and conceptual leader roles after Barrett’s departure. Guest singers were brought in by the band to lend their vocals, such as Roy Harper (“Have a Cigar”) and The Blackberries (background vocals for “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”).
Waters had described the early recording sessions for the album as “very laborious and tortured.” He reportedly felt as if all of the members were only together physically “but our minds and feelings were somewhere else,” what with their individual issues and the collective feeling of exhaustion and difficulty coming up with new material after the release of the 1973 album, “The Dark Side of the Moon”. However, the band eventually got back on track, with “absence” becoming the central theme of “Wish You Were Here.”
“Wish You Were Here” is widely known to be a tribute to Barrett. The nine-part track “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” in particular, alludes to the musician’s mental decline, which actually caused his departure from the band years earlier. Part of this song, as well as in the second track “Welcome to the Machine” found on the album’s side one (the first being “Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Parts I-V”; parts VI-XI were in the other side) and “Have a Cigar” on the other, was said to address the music industry and fame. Meanwhile, the title track “Wish You Were Here,” refers both to Barrett’s condition and Water’s character.
One interesting anecdote about an incident during the recording for “Wish You Were Here” was an announced visit by Barrett in June. Coincidentally, he showed up on the day when the band was reportedly completing the final mix for “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Member Richard Wright recalled seeing a “huge, bald, fat guy” who he thought looked “a bit strange” and “kept on getting up and brushing his teeth and then sitting – doing really weird things but keeping quiet.” After about 45 minutes, he finally came to the realization that the man was Barrett, who they haven’t seen in a long while. Wright described the entire incident as “very strange.” The other members weren’t able to recognize him as well, with Waters reportedly shedding tears seeing Barrett’s condition. The former Pink Floyd member was said to have talked to the rest while there although member Nick Mason said that their conversation was “desultory and not entirely sensible.” In the end, Barrett reportedly left without a word of goodbye, and was never seen by members of the band until his death in 2006.
“Wish You Were Here” was released in September 12 and 13 that same year in the UK and US, respectively. It went straight to the top spot in music charts in UK and in the US Billboard chart, although it was initially met with mixed reviews. Wright and co-member David Gilmour, however, named “Wish You Were Here” their favorite among all Pink Floyd albums. The years after its release saw the album gaining a respectable status in the industry, with critics generously heaping praises for it and Rolling Stone magazine including it in their The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
All information in this article were sourced from This Day in Music History, Inside the Rock Era, and the Wikipedia pages of Wish You Were Here, and Shine on You Crazy Diamond, where you may also read more about the subject.
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