Concept Album: Wish You Were Here

This may be wordy, but I like my Pink Floyd… :o)

When it comes to naming epic musicians and bands of the 1960s and 1970s, it seems as though Pink Floyd always comes to mind. They were this amazing force that captured the minds of fans all over the world and still continue to do so through their legendary albums.

Brief History:

The music began in London in 1964 (with the name Sigma 6) and within two years and various musicians later, became The Pink Floyd Sound. With the recording of their first album, they officially became Pink Floyd. The guiding strength behind the band was Syd Barret, a blues and folk guitarist and lyricist. After only a few years as a band, Syd was forced to leave due to major mental problems produced by his excessive use of LSD. (PF Online) David Gilmour came to take his place and on continued their success with chart-topping albums Ummagumma, Dark Side of the Moon, and Animals. One of the best-known rock operas ever was The Wall which featured such greatness as “Comfortably Numb,” “Run Like Hell,” “Hey You,” and “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).” Roger Waters, bass player and also main lyricist from the mid-1970s on, quit (not on a good note) in 1985 leaving Gilmour to front the band. Their last studio album was released in 1994 and they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The most recent performance of the original members was in 2005 in London for the Live 8 concert series – the first time all four members (David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Rick Wright) were on stage together in 24 years.

A few of their masterpieces could be discussed as concept albums, but I chose to highlight Wish You Were Here. I have listened to this somewhat short album probably a five-hundred-thousand times, but thought I would really try to get into the minds of the writers/composers. The track listing to WYWH is “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5),” “Welcome to the Machine,” “Have a Cigar,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 6-9).” (Here are the links to the first and second parts of the SOYCD 6-9.)

The album was released in 1975 which was a few years after the departure of Syd Barret, their main lyricist and guitarist. He had fallen into a dark pit of massive LSD use — this is NOT a drug to be abusing! It was later revealed that schizophrenia was also a key part of his mental collapse. Syd was always found to be spacing out and unable to concentrate (whether it was in the studio or at a live performance), among other oddities such as detuning his guitar while supposed to be playing. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (the introductory track and continuation as the last track) is definitely a tribute to him – “Remember when you were young, You shone like the sun” reflects on his unique talent as a musician and song writer. It also features references to his crazy antics and probably paranoia with “You cried for the moon” and “Threatened by shadows at night.” It is a long, mellow, beautiful song sung with much feeling and sorrow (written by longtime friend Roger Waters). The synthesizer reminds me of a smooth and soft horn section, which is often highlighted in funerals and other types of tributes.

The second track “Welcome to the Machine” is said to be a song of hate toward the music industry and also to the industrialism of society as a whole. It “speaks” in the voice of the music industry, seeming pompous and belittling – “Welcome my son, Welcome to the machine….You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time….What did you dream? It’s alright, we told you what to dream….” I like how the song features mechanical-sounding effects, making you envision some sort of dark, scary machine coming toward you. The effect on Waters’ voice is eerie too…perfect for transforming his views of the music industry into sort of an audio let-your-imagination-take-over realm.

“Have a Cigar” is the third track and also expresses the band’s negativity toward the record industry. The song begins with about ten seconds of people laughing and talking. (I guess this is considered to be the end of “Welcome to the Machine” because it is not heard on the version of “Cigar”that i posted. Maybe just on the album…) When I hear this, I can visualize Pink Floyd walking through across a large room, a glamorous party, and then entering into a large office area with leather lounge chairs. A well-dressed record executive lights up a Cuban cigar…and then the song begins. It is sung from the perspective of the big-shot record executive trying to get the band to sign a contract or produce more albums, etc. He tries to coax them by saying that they will be superstars – “The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think…Oh by the way, which one is Pink?…We heard about the sellout, you’ve got to get an album out, you owe it to the people…” I personally love this song. There is a sense of cockiness that shines through the sung lyrics which I find amusing. The beat is somewhat irregular in a way that makes you just want to get in the groove. The spine-chilling synthesizer compliments the bass nicely….kind of reminds me of eerie church organs. Through the numerous songs directed (negatively) toward the record industry, it makes you wonder about the pressures that go on behind the scenes of your favorite albums. Were they forced? Were they limited on their creativity?

The title track to the album, “Wish You Were Here” is probably one of Pink Floyd’s best known songs. It is a mellow tune which I believe is definitely a tribute to Syd and expresses pain from his leaving (after he left the band, he seemed to have lost touch with everyone). It features Gilmour on acoustic guitar and singing beautiful lyrics. There are assorted metaphors displayed in the song that are in reference to Syd’s changing life and the distraught his craziness had brought upon others – “…So you think you can tell, Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain. Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?” After thinking about it, I believe that “…Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” refers to his place in the music industry and then what became of him. He was revolutionary and did not follow the paths of others, walking into the music industry with simply his music to “fight” with. He then ended up “in a cage” when he aided in destroying himself, committing the rest of his life to solitude and distance.

I indeed believe that Wish You Were Here is a tribute to the tragedies that Pink Floyd experienced as a band. They endured the hardships of the record industry tugging at their creativity and pressuring them for chart-toppers and albums just for profit. They also went through extremely tough times with the mental “passing” of one of their beloved members Syd Barret. Their music is very emotional and always well thought out, leaving them legends of their own kind: rock legends, gods if you will. :o)

~Rachel.

(wikipedia was very helpful and all of the information is cited!!)

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~ by rachellubanowski on May 14, 2008.

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