Posts Tagged ‘David Gilmour’

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd (1975)

That Pink Floyd was able to soldier on after Syd Barrett’s breakdown and subsequent departure surprised many people who had followed the band in its formative years, including its management agency, which cast its lot with Barrett in 1968.

Five years later, Pink Floyd released “The Dark Side of the Moon,” which managed to stay on the charts for the remainder of the LP era.

Barrett, though, continued to influence the band during the interim, with many of its lyrical themes drawing on those established by Syd’s tenuous grasp on reality. Roger Waters’ lyrics for “The Dark Side of the Moon,” in fact, represent a song cycle about the various facets of life that can prompt the onset of insanity: “Time,” “Money,” “Us and Them” and the like. Not to mention the rampant paranoia roiling through the VCS3 synthesizers and sound effects of “On the Run.”

On the heels of the album’s success, Pink Floyd signed a mammoth contract with Columbia Records and, as such, the pressure was on to keep momentum going with the followup. Having scrapped a project called “Household Objects” – literally, songs played on stuff like hand mixers, wine glasses and rubber bands stretched between two tables – the band embarked on a series of compositions based on the brief show-business career of one Roger “Syd” Barrett.

When it emerged in September 1975, “Wish You Were Here” probably exceeded the expectations of many fans and most critics, arriving as a more cohesive, melodic work than its landmark predecessor. While the allusions to Barrett are thinly veiled, the songs stand on their own as musical statements without the necessary back story; indeed, listeners completely unaware of Syd’s travails are able to enjoy the album just the same.

At the heart of “Wish You Were Here” and taking up a majority of the album’s playing time is “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” the nine-part suite that both opens and closes proceedings. The opening is based on a sustained G minor synthesizer chord with a series of subtle embellishments, including a bit of wine-glass sound from “Household Objects.” Eventually, David Gilmour comes in with his signature Bb-F-G-E progression, then the rest of the band joins in, Gilmour playing an understated but tremendously effective lead until Waters delivers his lead vocal:

Remember when you were young, 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 on the cross fire 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!

You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon
Shine on you crazy diamond
Treatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on 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!

Although the band hadn’t begun the song with Barrett in mind, the lyrics read like a biography: his descent from one of England’s brightest young musical stars to a drug-addled mess, complete with references to his best work (Pink Floyd’s debut album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” and his own solo debut, “The Madcap Laughs”).

“Shine On” extends through further musical themes, employing saxophonist Dick Parry to great effect, before segueing into the sounds of mechanical equipment that introduce the second track, “Welcome to the Machine.” Waters’ lyrics combine Barrett’s predicament with disdain for the purely economic motifs of the music industry:

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been
You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and scouting for boys
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn’t like school, and you know you’re nobody’s fool,
So welcome to the machine

If “Welcome to the Machine” seems to bite the hand that fed Pink Floyd, the next track’s theme is so vitriolic that an outsider ended up singing the version that appeared on the album.

The final track of “Led Zeppelin III” is a bizarre stab at the blues titled “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.” Few of the fans who propelled the album to the top of the charts in 1970 probably understood the reference, as musician Roy Harper hardly was a household name at the time. Yet his freeform style of performing had won a couple of fans in Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who decided to immortalize him.

Harper had made the acquaintance of the members of Pink Floyd through their mutual management and record label. The band and the singer happened to be at Abbey Road at the same time in 1975, recording their respective latest albums.

In his book “Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey,” the late Nicholas Schaffner wrote that “when it came time to record ‘Have a Cigar,’ Roger’s admittedly limited voice was in shreds from his struggles with the ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ lead vocal.” After Gilmour declined, the band drafted Harper, “whose hippie credentials (and subterranean sales figures) had never been overly compromised by the rock machine.”

“Have a Cigar,” one of the harder-rocking songs in the Pink Floyd catalogue, savages the music-business type who cares only about making money off the artists, and by extension, what young Syd Barrett faced:

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?
And did we tell you the name of the game, boy
we call it riding the gravy train

The “which one’s Pink?” line is derived from an actual question asked of the band, and, of course, gained further notoriety when “Pink” appeared as the central character Waters’ “The Wall.”

The segue between “Have a Cigar” and the album’s title track confused many listeners who first heard it on the radio, myself included. The production, indeed, consigns the end of the former song to a tinny, mono sound before an unseen hand turns a transistor dial to a couple of stations, a short burst of classical music pouring forth before it settles on a guitar riff.

Shortly after, the sonic clarity is fully restored for the memorable chord structure and acoustic lead of “Wish You Were Here,” the subject of which turns sharply from criticism of the music industry to a heartfelt plea. The song is a Waters poem set to music by Gilmour, and it works as either a love song or a message to Barrett:

So, so you think you can tell, Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found? The same old fears
Wish you were here

The song’s fadeout is overtaken by the resumption of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” with Richard Wright’s synthesizer flourishes dominating a darkly toned section before Water delivers the final verse:

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!

One line of that wasn’t quite true. The band members knew exactly where Barrett was, if for just a short period. On June 5, 1975, Gilmour and his girlfriend, Philadelphia-born Virginia “Ginger” Hasenbein, were planning to get married the day before the band left for an American tour, and the band was working on wrapping up “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” As Schaffner wrote:

With the voices of Roger and Dave summoning the spirit of Syd Barrett from the studio monitors, who should lurch in but an obese man with shaven head and eyebrows, wearing a white trench coat and white shoes and clutching a white plastic bag. Gilmour was the first to notice him sniffing around the Floyd’s equipment; but, preoccupied with other matters, he figured that the odd-looking character was some EMI (recording studio) minion.

“He came into the studio,” recalls Rick Wright, “and no one recognized this person. I remember going in, and Roger was already in the studio working. I came in and sat next to Roger. After 10 minutes, Roger said to me, ‘Do you know who that guy is?’ I said, ‘I have no idea. I assumed it was a friend of yours.’ He said, ‘Think. THINK.’ And I kept looking at him. And suddenly I realized it was Syd!” Roger Waters, by his own account, was “in fucking tears” upon divining the identity of “this great, fat, bald, mad person.”

As his ex-colleagues applied themselves to the onerous task of of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” replaying it over and over, Syd fell silent, giving no sign of understanding he was the hero of this stirring tribute. Finally, when they asked for the track to be played yet another time, he interrupted: “Why bother? You’ve heard it once already.”

Barrett subsequently joined the others at the EMI canteen for the Gilmours’ wedding reception. After unnerving unsuspecting guests – some of which took him for a Hare Krishna fanatic – with his maniacal laughter and penetrating stares, Syd vanished into the night without saying goodbye.

The following day, the Floyd left for America without him. None of them has ever seen him since.

That held true up to Roger Keith Barrett’s death on July 7, 2006.

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“The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd (1973)

A bunch of random noises. A heartbeat. Disembodied voices. A scream.

So starts the album that stayed on the charts for 741 consecutive weeks, back when that actually meant something. No half-decent record collection of the era was complete without Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” usually on its second or third copy.

Since its release, that’s the album the typical audiophile plays to demonstrate the fidelity of his sound system. So back in the days of vinyl, you had to pick up a pristine version every once in a while. Thus its longevity among the top-sellers.

Then came the compact disc, and the sales kind of plunged. But thanks to constant reissues, including the “Immersion Edition,” the album still racks up enough sales to help earn Pink Floyd’s surviving members plenty of … well, “Money.”

“The Dark Side of the Moon” came together as the band was working with director Adrian Maben on the film “Pink Floyd at Pompeii,” which contains scenes of members working on the eventual album. Accused at the time of relying too much on machines to make music, bass player Roger Waters contends in the movie:

It’s like saying, “Give a man a Les Paul and he becomes Eric Clapton.” But it’s not true. And give a man an amplifier and a synthesizer, and he doesn’t become us.

The synthesizer – specifically, the EMS VCS 3 – indeed is the dominant instrument on “The Dark Side of the Moon,” helping to build a sonic structure that sounds contemporary nearly 40 years after the fact. The oscillating “On the Run,” which also integrates the sounds of footsteps and airport-like announcements, remains a particular favorite among listeners who strap on a pair of good headphones.

“On the run” is a Waters euphemism for insanity, a phrase he used in composing “Free Four,” a deceptively jaunty song about death that appears on “Obscured By Clouds” (1972). Insanity turns out to be a recurring theme on “The Dark Side of the Moon”: how the foibles of everyday life eventually drive you out of your mind.

Thus, many of the album’s songs sport short titles alluding to simple concepts: “Breathe,” “Time,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” the final track, which lent its name to the project in its formative stages.

The final line of “Eclipse” – “But the sun is eclipsed by the moon” – inspired the eventual title, which turned out to be the same as a 1972 LP by British blues band Medicine Head. If you never heard of that, you’re not alone.

The two individual tracks with longer titles are among the best on “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Midway through the LP’s second side is “Any Colour You Like,” which elaborates on the “Breathe” backing track to create a heavily processed soundscape: Richard Wright’s keyboard is fed through a VCS 3, and David Gilmour overdubs two guitar parts through a Uni-Vibe pedal effect.

The album reaches its pinnacle with “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which segues out of “Time/Breathe [Reprise]” as a quiet, melodic piano piece by Wright. About a minute in, singer Clare Torry, 22 years old at the time, starts wailing, as directed by the band and session engineer Alan Parsons. Torry’s vocal explorations are among the most spine-chilling in rock history, culminating with a high-pitched screech at the song’s climax – the choice of that word is deliberate – before a relatively relaxed denouement.

Anyone who listens to the radio is familiar with most of the rest of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” but it should be pointed out that Gilmour’s slide-driven solo on “Time” is one of the best from a consistently inventive guitarist.

Regarding the album’s unparalleled chart success, the band members never have been so sure about the reason. As noted in the late Nicholas Schaffner’s book “Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey,” they’ve been quoted as saying:

  • “No idea at all. After we’d made it, actually sitting down listening to it for the first time in the studio, I thought, ‘This is going to be big. This is an excellent album.’ Why it goes on and on selling, I don’t know. It touched a nerve at the time. It seemed like everyone was waiting on this album, for someone to make it.” – Richard Wright (1943-2008)
  • “It hit a chord, obviously. It still doesn’t sound dated; it still sounds good when I listen to it. But I can’t really say why it should achieve that longevity over some of the other great records which have been out.” – David Gilmour
  • “I don’t think there is a clear reason for it. It’s almost certainly a number of different things, which comprise the record itself and what’s contained on it. Plus being the right record at the right time, and generating its own momentum, because people start to think, oh, that’s the one that’s been there awhile.” – Nick Mason, drummer
  • “There’s all this stuff in it about how this is your life and it’s all happening now, and as each moment passes – that’s it. It talking about the illusion of working towards ends which might turn out to be fool’s gold. The philosophy that’s embodied in it has got a little meaning for a lot of human beings. It deals with the Big Picture.” – Roger Waters

Schaffner seemed to like the explanation by British journalist Chris Charlesworth, who put forth: “It’s a great record to fuck to. Millions of people across the globe have fucked to ‘The Dark Side of the Moon.'”

Hmmm … sounds like as plausible an explanation as any for 14 straight years on the charts.

“Animals” by Pink Floyd (1977)

The odd album out in Pink Floyd’s superstardom run of the ’70s usually is “Animals.”

It doesn’t hold the enduring appeal of its two immediate predecessors, “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here,” nor did it offer a multimedia extravaganza along the lines of “The Wall.” But many fans who delve beyond the FM hits cite “Animals” as one of their favorite Floyd recordings.

A major factor hampering the album’s popular appeal is its structure. Two short acoustic pieces, “Pigs on the Wing” parts 1 and 2, sandwich a trio of 10-plus-minute works, a format that never has guaranteed much in the way of airplay.

Two of the longer compositions started life on the road, so to speak. Pink Floyd played a couple of previously unreleased songs, “You Gotta Be Crazy” and “Raving and Drooling,” during the tour supporting “Wish You Were Here,” and when time came to record a new album, the band restructured the compositions a bit and retitled them to fit in with the “Animals” motif.

The former song became “Dogs,” which clocks in at more than 17 minutes and is the only “Animals” tune to be co-written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour; Waters is sole composer on the other tracks.

“Dogs” opens with a leisurely instrumental passage, with Gilmour’s acoustic guitar and Richard Wright’s organ setting an ironic pace for the lyrics to come. The song evolves as Waters’ diatribe against a person obsessed with material gain, to the point where cashes in any semblance of integrity: “You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
so that when they turn their backs on you, you’ll get the chance to put the knife in.”

Of course, the table eventually turns, with the song’s subject getting his comeuppance in the dramatic conclusion, with Gilmour’s stinging vocals repeated for effect:

Who was born in a house full of pain?
Who was trained not to spit in the fan?
Who was told what to do by the man?
Who was broken by trained personnel?
Who was fitted with collar and chain?
Who was given a pat on the back?
Who was breaking away from the pack?
Who was only a stranger at home?
Who was ground down in the end?
Who was found dead on the phone?
Who was dragged down by the stone?

“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” follows, Waters’ not-so-subtle attacks on a trio of characters, including the late Mary Whitehouse, who’s referenced by name. Ms. Whitehouse apparently rubbed the Pink Floyd bass player the wrong way with her crusades against her view of immorality in popular music.

“Sheep,” the erstwhile “Raving and Drooling,” begins with Wright’s suitably pastoral keyboard run before the other instruments start setting a more sinister tone. The lyrics come in with a hard-rock instrumental bang, with Waters aiming this time at those who merely follow and fail to question leadership. A spooky middle part features his parody of the Twenty-Third psalm, through the sonic artificiality of a Vocoder.

While such nihilistic themes run rampant through latter-day Pink Floyd albums, what sets “Animals” apart is its instrumental approach. As the late Nicholas Schaffner wrote in the band’s bio “A Saucerful of Secrets,” “Musically, Pink Floyd have never – before or since, in any incarnation – rocked out so uncompromisingly, or with more conviction.”

All that adds up to a generally overlooked gem in the discography of one of rock’s most popular acts.

“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd (1967)

The decline and fall of Roger “Syd” Barrett (1946-2006) stands as one of rock’s great tragedies.

Some stories have vaguely similar plot lines. Roger Kynard “Roky” Erickson and the late Alexander “Skip” Spence, both contemporaries of Barrett, also suffered drug-induced breakdowns that stunted their musical careers. But neither of the bands they were members of at the time – the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Moby Grape, respectively – could hold a candle to the long-term success of the group Syd was instrumental in creating.

In fact, two albums in Barrett’s collection, by Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson (1900-74) and Floyd “Dipper Boy” Council (1911-76), prompted Syd to call his band the Pink Floyd Sound.

By the time Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and the late Richard Wright recorded their debut single, the tale of the cross-dressing “Arnold Layne,” in February 1967, the “Sound” had been eliminated and the group was at the vanguard of London’s psychedelic scene.

Just a year later, Syd had effectively been booted from his own band, leaving as his Pink Floyd legacy three singles and a solitary album.

“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” named for a chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s early 20th-century children’s book “The Wind and the Willows,” bears almost no resemblance to the darkly themed, technologically advanced albums that made Pink Floyd a household name in the ’70s. The debut instead reflects Syd’ relatively whimsical worldview, or beyond-this-world view; songs titled “Astronomy Domine” and “Insterstellar Overdrive” gave birth to the sub genre space rock, which still has it’s practitioners.

The former opens “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” with band manager Peter Jenner reciting the names of various planets and stars through a megaphone as the instrumentalists lurch into what remained as a Pink Floyd concert favorite long after Barrett’s departure. In fact, his replacement, David Gilmour, opted to open 1994 shows during Floyd’s final tour with “Astronomy Domine.”

“Piper” continues with Lucifer Sam, which features a minor-key riff reminiscent of the scores for the various secret-agent movies and TV shows that were popular at the time. Despite the rather menacing musical tone, the lyrics turn out to be about a Siamese cat.

“Matilda Mother” and “Flaming” both delve into Grahame’s type of fantasy world. The latter, which was released in the United States as a (flop) single, makes references to “sitting on a unicorn” and “traveling by telephone” among other fanciful pieces of imagery.

“Pow R. Toc H.” is basically an instrumental driven by Wright’s piano and organ, but differentiated by some of the strangest voice-generated noises to come out of the psychedelic era.

Waters’ sole songwriting contribution to “Piper” is the rapid-fire, somewhat atonal “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk,” which represents the opposite end of the spectrum from his later, better-known compositions such as “Money” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

“Interstellar Overdrive” is the song on which the early Pink Floyd built its original reputation, as a vehicle (no pun intended) for Barrett’s free-form, feedback-driven guitar. The album version features two takes of the song dubbed on top of each other, in a primitive but effective attempt to capture the ambiance of the stage show.

“The Gnome, “Chapter 24,” and “The Scarecrow” are comparatively sedate, with Barrett returning to a fairytale-like songwriting motif to create pastoral characters and settings.

By the time “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was released in the summer of ’67, Barrett was beginning to “give every indication of having been launched into a permanent LSD orbit,” the late Nicholas Schaffner wrote in his Pink Floyd biography, “A Saucerful of Secrets.”

Syd’s state of mind at the time seems to ring through loud and clear on “Bike,” the final track on “Piper.” More a series of fragments than a cohesive song, “Bike” concludes with a collage of clock, bell and duck sounds that Schaffner labeled “diabolical and demented.”

He also quoted early Pink Floyd producer Joe Boyd about his encounter with Barrett prior to a June 2, 1967, performance:

“I greeted them all (band members) as they came through, and the last one was Syd. And the great thing with Syd was that he had a twinkle in his eye … And he came by, and I said, ‘Hi, Syd!’ And he just kind of looked at me. I looked right in his eye and there was no twinkle, no glint. It was like somebody had pulled the blinds – you know, nobody home.”

Wright had this to say about Barrett’s deterioration: “Certainly acid had something to do with it. The point is, you don’t know whether the acid accelerated the process that was happening in his brain or was the cause of it.”

Pink Floyd, meanwhile, soldiered on and recorded four more Barrett-penned songs. “Apples and Oranges,” released as a follow-up to the British hit “See Emily Play,” failed to make the charts; “with each manically sped-up verse set to completely different music, (it was) hardly the recipe for a pop smash,” Schaffner wrote.

“Jugband Blues” made it onto Pink Floyd’s second LP, but it’s even more of a disjointed effort than “Apples.” Jenner has described “Jugband” as “possibly the ultimate self-diagnosis on a state of schizophrenia.”

“Vegetable Man” and “Scream Thy Last Scream” have yet to be released legitimately, and the chances of them doing so grow slimmer with each passing decade.

Onstage, Barrett was no better as 1967 progressed: “He might just play the same song for 40 minutes, and the same note all the way through it,” Jenner recalled.

Finally, the other members of the band asked Gilmour to join. Syd stayed on for a while, “until the day when the others decided not to bother to fetch Barrett for their performance,” Schaffner wrote.

“Syd never really understood that,” Jenner explained, “because he always thought of them as his band.”

For one inspired and inspiring album, they effectively were.