Album: Wish You Were Here
. . .
I don’t really remember why — or exactly when — I chose to purchase Wish You Were Here as my first Pink Floyd album, though I’m guessing it was during the second half of 1978 or early 1979, and possibly at the behest of one prog-loving friends, at whose house I first heard it. I can only report its effect on me.
Which is this: not only is Wish You Were Here my favorite Pink Floyd album, my favorite Prog album and one of my favorite albums of the 1970s; it’s practically a desert island disc, to boot. And it pretty much was from the very start, despite the fact I was getting into it at exactly the same time I was getting into the Who, the Rolling Stones and punk rock.
And much of that is attributed to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which was slightly too long to be an album side on its own, so they bookended Wish You Were Here with it, opening with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)” — Roman numerals adding extra heft, I guess — and closing with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX).”
This was a fucking stroke of genius. While “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is powerful to have stood as a single song — and indeed, that’s how I’m writing about it — in terms of Wish You Were Here as an album, breaking it up into the beginning and ending of the record united it both musically and thematically in a way that was both moving and powerful. It also didn’t hurt than the meat of the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” sandwich were three of the greatest songs they ever wrote — “Welcome to The Machine,” “Have a Cigar” and fucking “Wish You Were Here” — and perhaps waiting a whole album side to get to them might have somehow diluted their combined impact.
I guess we’ll never know, though in these days, I’m guessing that someone somewhere has resequenced Wish You Were Here on a playlist so that it leads off with the full “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which I guess would go a little something like this.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” fades in from eternity, with Richard Wright’s keyboards making like an Eno ambient record, tingling and glistening but not really going anywhere at first, until David Gilmour’s guitar comes in, not so much set for “stun,” but rather “bluesy squiggle.” Pink Floyd originally got their name from a pair of blues guitar players — Pink Anderson & Floyd Council — and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is kind of a cosmic blues requiem for the guy who came up with their name, Syd Barrett.
Which is why the haunting, chiming, four-note lick that Gilmour uses to move “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” forward has become known as “Syd’s Theme.” After establishing Syd’s Theme, Gilmour — as Roger Waters and Nick Mason come in to establish a slow, stately beat — then knocks off a beautiful, space-filled guitar solo that starts on the ground, rockets to the stratosphere and ends back on the ground. You know, like Syd.
Not quite ready to start the singing yet, Wright takes a quick little synth solo, answered again by Gilmour, whose guitar is almost reflecting on the weird luck that he replaced his childhood friend in the band his friend started and is now he’s one of the biggest rock stars in the world.
We all know what kind of effect becoming one of the biggest rock stars in the world had on Roger Waters, and he was just beginning to process it when he sang to Syd:
Remember when you were young
(Ha, ha, ha)
You shone like the sun
Shine on, you crazy diamond
Now there’s a look in your eyes
Like black holes in the sky
Shine on, you crazy diamond
You were caught in the crossfire
Of childhood and stardom
Blown on the steel breeze
Come on, you target for faraway laughter
Come on, you stranger
You legend, you martyr, and shine
With backing vocalists Carletta Williams and Vanetta Fields ooohing and ahhhing behind him and Gilmour and Wright joining in as well on every single time Waters sang the title, not to mention Gilmour playing the verse again as a guitar solo, it’s well and truly affecting — a great use of their anthemic tendencies — which is why they get away with only II parts of this IX part song actually having vocals.
You reached for the secret too soon
You cried for the Moon
Shine on, you crazy diamond
Threatened by shadows at night
And exposed in the light
Shine on, (Shine on)
(You crazy diamond) you crazy diamond
Well, you wore out your welcome
With random precision
Rode on the steel breeze
Come on, you raver
You seer of visions
Come on, you painter
You piper, you prisoner, and shine
Oh hai, Dick Parry. I guess that because his sax was perceived as part of the success of The Dark Side of the Moon, they figured that they would bring him back for a couple more minutes of noodling, underneath which the rhythm section break into a shuffle in order to give it some kind of excitement, but even they give up and stop for a second, and it all starts fading into the distance underneath what will eventually turn into an industrial — call it “machine-like” — pulse.
“Welcome to the Machine”
“Have a Cigar”
“Wish You Were Here”
Fading in from the wind with rolling static-filled bassline, intermittent guitar and (of course) a slow beat, Richard Wright takes a long, circularly synth solo until such time Mason & Waters pick the tempo back up to a shuffle and Gilmour plays an even longer lap steel solo — evoking the banshees that took over Syd’s brain — getting louder and louder with every measure. At this point, I’ve lost count of exactly how amazing guitar solos he’s done on this song. All of them, I guess.
After Gilmour spins his guitar from the the solo back towards the recognizable “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” riff, Waters has one last verse to sing to his buddy, Syd.
Nobody knows where you are
How near or how far
Shine on you crazy diamond
Pile on many more layers
And I’ll be joining you there
Shine on you crazy diamond
And we’ll bask in the shadow of yesterday’s triumph
And sail on the steel breeze
Come on you boy child, you winner and loser
Come on you miner for truth and delusion, and shine!
The story goes — and I guess it’s not even completely apocryphal — that Syd himself wandered into the studio during the recording of the vocals for “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” Or at least this album. While the wikipedia entry on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” even features a picture of Syd purported to be taken the day he visited the studio, but given that they weren’t recording at Joe’s studio, but motherfucking Abbey Road Studios and given that the story has always been that they didn’t recognize him at first, it just makes me wonder what kind of security they had in the first place.
I mean it’s not like me and Tim being able to wander on during the Miss Alans recording at Tracy Chisholm’s for fuck’s sake.
With Gilmour tossing on an arpeggiated guitar link while the rest of the band gathers themselves, it’s time for a few minutes of Pink Floyd funk. Which might sound like an insult, but I think that the ability of the Waters / Mason rhythm section lock in so well together is why I love Pink Floyd more than any other prog rock band. Meanwhile, Richard Wright doing triple duty on electric piano, clavinet and synth wails, while Gilmour alternates chime and chickenscratch guitar until it fades out underneath the synth wash that announces we’re in the home stretch.
The final section of “Shine On You Crazy” diamond is basically a piano and synth fueled death march, an elegy for Syd, and a way to try and assuage all of the icky emotion that they’ve been dealing with for the entire record. And quite naturally, it’s beautiful and sad, and finally fades slowly away into the long night of the soul, watching Emily play for all of eternity.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page
Ray C says
Also my fav Floyd album. Like you, for me this is where they really start to… well, shine. But I don’t really think of them as a prog act. Maybe some hints of it in the days between Barrett and this record. But I never heard much in common with real prog acts like King Crimson, ELP, or Gentle Giant.