Thursday, April 10, 2014
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here - 1975
Everyone with a passing interest in classic rock has a favorite Pink Floyd album.
The majority of people say "Dark Side Of The Moon," because that's the one that everybody bought (and I do mean everybody - it's sold over 50 million copies, so I'm sure there's a remote tribe in the deepest deserts of Russia who jam out to it regularly).
A lot of people will say "The Wall," because "The Wall" was also a huge success, and I think a lot of people key into that anti-establishment thrust that's the center of that massive double album. But for me, my money's always been on "Wish You Were Here," the band's ninth album, and certainly their spaciest.
"Wish You Were Here" is also easily the one with the fewest number of songs, having only five tracks. Now, keep in mind, none of those five tracks is under five minutes in length, and two of them are each over twelve minutes in length, and those two mega tracks are really the two halves of one song that sprawls over nine parts, the gloriously epic tribute to former band member Syd Barrett "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."
So, Syd Barrett had been a member of Pink Floyd for a while, but eventually his mental health with into a state of decline, and he needed to leave the band. There's been a lot of speculation about what was actually up with Syd Barrett - certainly the constant LSD use didn't help any, but people have theorized it might have been schizophrenia or bipolar syndrome, although after his death in 2006, Barret's sister said he never suffered from any form of mental illness. I suspect we'll never really know. Maybe it's better that way.
It's almost nine minutes in to the album before you hear Roger Waters sing a single word, the sprawling instrumental opening gloriously swirling around during the first few parts of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)" and those words are "Remember when you were young / you shone like the sun..." It's clear the band missed the person who used to be their friend, but they also missed who they used to be when he was around. The two major themes of "Wish You Were Here" are absence and frustration. Absence, in how the band was less unified now than it had been in some time, and frustration, in how the music industry was chipping away at them. It's easy to see "Welcome To The Machine" as a statement on how much they hated what the business was doing to them, and "Have A Cigar" cuts right to the bone with its talk of "riding the gravy train."
To me, though, the title track has always been my favorite Pink Floyd song. "Wish You Were Here" is both nostalgia and wistful without being defeatist. It has a certain world-weariness to it, but there's also a strong sense of resolve in Gilmour's vocals, a sense that he's going to keep on walking, that the way out is through. "We're just two lost souls / swimming in a fishbowl / year after year / Running over the same old ground / What have we found? / The same old fears / Wish you were here..."
It doesn't get any better than that.