. . .
One of the more underreported things in 1970s Pink Floyd history is the obvious existence of what I call the “Pink Floyd Vocal Transmogrifier,” a handy device that transforms the vocals of anybody who uses it into the lead singer of Pink Floyd.
This is why, to the casual listener, it’s nearly impossible to tell if it was Roger Waters or David Gilmour or even Richard Wright singing on any given Pink Floyd song. And so in 1975, unsatisfied with the lead vocals that both Gilmour and Waters tried to lay on top “Have a Cigar,” they turned to Roy Harper, who was also recording in Abbey Road at the time, and asked him to have a crack at it.
Harper was an English folksinger who was beloved by English rock stars — Led Zeppelin even wrote a song called “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” (which of course doesn’t mention him in any of the lyrics, being one of their country blues pastiches) — but pretty much no one else. And, if you check him out on YouTube, he sounds fuck-all like either Waters or Gilmour, more like a British James Taylor than anything else.
But, of course, they just ran him through the Pink Floyd Vocal Transmogrifier, and except for those who read the liner notes, nobody was even the wiser. For all anybody knew, it was Waters or Gilmour singing the incredibly cynical lyrics about the music industry, with a slimy executive addressing a band already deep into the machine.
Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar
You’re gonna go far
You’re gonna fly high, you’re never gonna die
You’re gonna make it if you try
They’re gonna love you
Well I’ve always had a deep respect
And I mean that most sincerely
The band is just fantastic
That is really what I think
Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?
With the exception of “there is no dark side of the moon” and “We don’t need no education,” “oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” is probably the biggest meme that emerged from Pink Floyd’s career: utterly vicious, absolutely hilarious, and according to Gilmour, totally true.
Meanwhile, knowing that the Pink Floyd Vocal Transmogrifier is going to keep him somewhat anonymous, Harper sings the fuck out of “Have a Cigar,” biting off every single word and investing the character he’s inhabiting with a buttload of arrogance and cynicism, especially on the chorus.
And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it riding the gravy train
This is all held together with what I can only call a hard prog funk, miles away from the lush “Shine On You Crazy Diamond“, the precision of “Welcome to the Machine” or the sincerity of the title track. And of course, Roger Waters and Nick Mason are locked in tight: the former with a rattling, restless bassline and the latter hiding in plain sight on the verses while driving the choruses.
In the meantime, Harper is having so much fun delving deep into evil, letting his voice break hither and yon, yet never once breaking character.
We’re just knocked out
We heard about the sell-out
You gotta get an album out
You owe it to the people
We’re so happy we can hardly count
Everybody else is just green
Have you seen the chart?
It’s a hell of a start
It could be made into a monster
If we all pull together as a team
In the end, Gilmour weighs in with a funky, chittering solo, clawing and chewing and biting his away over the rhythm section and through Wright’s ever more insistent synthesizer wipes, until, at the end Wright eventually wipes the whole song into an A.M. radio, from whence will soon issue the title track of the album.
“Have a Cigar”
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