Living To Music – Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’




YEAR: 1975

This Sunday (August 5th) at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. If it’s not possible to make the allotted time, hopefully you can join in at your convenience at some point during the following week. See update here:

To mark the start of the third year of Living To Music, this is the first time an artist has been selected for the second session. I felt it right that the distinction goes to Pink Floyd given that their 1973 classic, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, which featured back in September 2010, garnered more comments than any other previous selection:

‘Wish You Were Here’ was released 2 and a half years on from the mega-successful ‘Dark Side’. Interestingly, despite its illustrious predecessor being one of the biggest selling LP’s of all-time, spending a staggering 292 weeks on the UK chart during the ’70s, it never reached the top spot. ‘Wish You Were Here’, following 1970’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ was the Floyd’s 2nd #1 here.

It explores the theme of absence, it’s most famous track, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, an ode to their former front man and early driving force, Syd Barrett, for whom the term ‘acid casualty’ could well have been coined. Barrett, increasingly out of control and on a serious downward spiral towards serious mental illness, was replaced by Dave Gilmour in 1968. To add even greater poignancy to this track, on June 5th 1975, with the band at London’s Abbey Road studios mixing it down, an overweight man with shaven head and eyebrows, who nobody recognised, entered the control room. It was a huge shock when the penny dropped as this turned out to be Barrett, whom none of the band had seen for a number of years – it was the last time any of them would see him again, Barrett died in 2006, aged 60.

A further theme is their scathing comment on the record industry, via the songs ‘Have A Cigar’ and ‘Welcome To The Machine’. This cynicism is reflected by the Storm Thorgerson designed album sleeve. When you removed the outer plastic bag it came in, the front cover was revealed, showing a photograph of 2 businessmen shaking hands, one of them on fire. This refers to the term ‘getting burnt’, when somebody is stitched up in a deal. I remember the sleeve designer Brian Cannon, who then lived with me in London and was working on the artwork for the Ruthless Rap Assassins, who I managed, being fascinated by this image, which was displayed on one of the walls in the EMI building on Manchester Square (the Assassins being signed to EMI). This image would inform much of his subsequent work, beginning with the record he set on fire on the sleeve of ‘Less Mellow’, and, most famously, with the 2 people (Brian himself and ‘Guilty Pleasures’ DJ Sean Rowley, as it happens) about to pass in the street on the cover of the Oasis album ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’.

Earlier this year BBC4 screened their excellent documentary, ‘Pink Floyd: The Story Of ‘Wish You Were Here’’:

Your own thoughts are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session, it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

Wish You Were Here Wikipedia:

Living To Music Facebook Events Page:

Original Living To Music Post (including guidelines):

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11 Responses to Living To Music – Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’

  1. minibreakfast August 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Great stuff Greg; since I saw the documentary I’ve been meaning to give WYWH a whirl. Now I have the perfect excuse!

  2. Marion Stoner August 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Great idea, will be there and will share your post. Strangely, at the same time I saw your post this very piece began playing on my computer as it just happened to be next on my favourites list. Living to music, WYWH. I have been living with it since it first came out and that’s a lot of living.

  3. Paul Wright August 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    As I went home through the deluge and storms tonight I thought delicate sound of thunder might have been more appropriate!

    I had never owned this album and this was the first time I have listened to it properly from beginning to end.

    Wish you were here and shine on you crazy diamond were very familiar to me so it was really interesting to hear them in the context of the complete album.

    I found the whole experience very emotional and very human, at times transcending words. There is also something about their composition that hits my physical being: goosebumps, tingles, head rushes, body rushes and tears whilst listening completely sober.

    So much meaning and relevance in this album for the world today, I’ll update when I can sit down at a PC and do it properly!

  4. cezza August 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    I grew up as a young child to this album playing constantly on my dads brand spanking new hifi, he was a real music buff. On reflection a few hours after listening to this album (relunctantly) I realised how kind of unsettling it must of been for me as a little girl to be exposed to such music.

    I wasnt really too happy about listening to the album and it tends to bring up alot of memories of childhood, but I gritted my teeth and got on with it. Dont get me wrong I love the album I just find it incredibly sad. To me it speaks of loss, and during the listening I could of wept for the loss of a family, the loss of innocence. Its an album that almost is my dad himself, is myself and my brothers as children.

    Can we have something a bit more chirpy next time please?

  5. BrianE August 6, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    I had never heard the album throughout in one listening. The continuity from ‘Dark Side’ is apparent in the opening atmospheric organ notes and reverb guitar with tons of bent notes. The heaviy sound effects of ‘Dark Side’ carry on through at the start of ‘Machine’. This track is also in the same cynical style as ‘Money’ and it was good to hear the bands identity. A bit like meeting a cynical, moody old friend I hadn’t seen since I was about 18.

    Back to the opeming: Classic Floyd and for me this is one of Floyds best moments and is breathtaking! The atmosphere, as always very strong was a little sad on this for reasons mentioned in Greg’s intro (and it’s uncanny to think who dropped in to the recording session).

    I heard more influences from jazz (in the chords here and there) and blues (in guitar riffs etc) than I have heard before in Floyd. Also a bit of funk/groove near the end. The last track I don’t think I have heard before. Found it really interesting rhythmically as it was pretty ambiguous in it’s timing to start and then evolved into a strong rhythm.

    I got a lot from this listening, more than I expected which is a great bonus so nice one Greg and looking forward to the next one!

  6. Nadia August 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    I have found it a real challenge to comment on this. I have been determined not to submit to the huge weight of prejudice that I have against this genre and although I was floored by it at the first attempt, I stood up to myself though and listened again and then again. I am very far away from being touched by it in any way. If I squint my eyes I can see that it is clever. It is clear that it is highly technical. It is just so distant that i can’t feel it. So distant from the world as I see it. The music seems to come from another place. Is this what people mean when they say the Floyd are godlike? They seem to be playing music from on high …..do i have to be high to really hear it?

    I feel I’ve let you down and left the comment you would have expected. I hope you can forgive me. I will try to do better next time.

  7. phillipa sillitoe August 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    When i said i didn’t remember this album folk looked at me in amazement. I mean how could i have lived without hearing it? No doubt everybody was playing it ‘back then’.. So i decided to give it a go to see why it was, despite knowing the album title, i didn’t remember it. I found out. It depressed me and i dropped off at some point….but i always was a ‘chart’ girl and not interested in ‘concept albums’…so probably my opinion doesn’t count for much:-))x keep em comin Greg…

  8. gina August 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    One of my best ever albums because it has so many memories for me of my childhood. Lying in my sister’s room listening to it all the way through, while she would write out the lyrics. I was too young to really understand what Shine On was all about except to let it sonically wash over me. My own copy back then was a weird cassette version published by EMI Greece (unlike my sister who was the one with the turntable). The cover on mine was not the burning man, but the handshake and the running order was Side One: 1. Have A Cigar, 2. Wish you Were Here, 3. Shine On parts 6-9 and Side Two: Shine On parts 1-5, 2. Welcome To The Machine. Sacrilege, but I still have it. Anyway all is well again as I also have my own vinyl copy now and I got Storm Thorgeson to sign it. I had always thought the diver on the inside lyrics sheet was dead. Apparently not – just absent. Not a happy one this but great choice for private listening. Shine On and Wish You Were Here still blow me away.

  9. Paul Wright August 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Reading through other folks responses to this album I certainly shared that it can invoke such melancholy. I did manage to chuckle too though, recalling Venetta Fields account of Pink Floyd music being full of ooooo’s and ahhhhh’s.

    Like Brian I picked up on some continuity from Dark Side Of The Moon and the cynical styles of have a cigar and welcome to the machine. As well as the cynicism there are messages about absence and not fulfilling potential. I found the album incredibly thought provoking, what happened to Syd was very tragic and ironic.

    The amazing soundscape that Rick Wright creates in the opening sequence is powerful, majestic and yet gentle at the same time. The synth and effects have a shining, twinkling quality to them. The initial guitar part is enveloped within. Using the acoustic hall to record the second guitar sequence worked perfectly to provide a continued big sound, it has a chiming feel too and seems to say wake up. So much emotion pouring out of Gilmour’s guitar conveying sadness, frustration and anger, it really speaks. The song contains poignant imagery reflecting on Syd and the band willing him to come back ‘Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!’

    Welcome to the machine has beautiful acoustic guitar overlaid with superb sound effects and synth work. At one point it sounds something similar to more modern electronic music. I think the track is about the system and how it essentially chews people up and spits them out when they are no-longer of any use.

    Have a cigar has a bluesy feel to it and also sounds quite sinister. The bass guitar is great on this and I love the organ interplay with it. The track is a cynical take on the music industry; the false promises, accolades and general lack of understanding or interest in artists ‘By the way which ones Pink?!’. I liked gravy train percussion. I think it is essentially saying that the music industry had become part of the profit driven machine/system.

    Wish you were here is an incredible track and right up there with my all-time favourites. It invokes feelings and emotions for missing loved ones, it also says a lot about despair at the state of the system. We are wrecking the environment, false idols/celebrities, people sitting in their comfort zone accepting things for how they are rather than striving for change, people cocooned or trapped within the system and modern technology.

    The second section of shine on you crazy diamond is quite uncanny with the lyrics nobody knows where you are, how near or how far considering he turned up at the studio as they were finishing the track off. I think it also refers to his mental state which I think was probably everywhere. The track has quite a funky feel to it. It ends with a similar sound scape as the album began, superb piano part and feels more sad than the intro.
    The final lyric come on you miner for truth and delusion I think refers to what Syd was trying to achieve through using LSD.

    He was part of the 20th Century pioneering movement for mind expansion though there is evidence that religious groups existed for thousands of years that used ergot (the fungus from which lysergic acid is recovered from). To me it is so ironic that the stuff that at least partly led to his decline is such an important and powerful tool. LSD has and continues to be used explore the treatment of mental disorders and addictions, with clear evidence of success. I recently read about the use of Ketamine which is also able to ‘reset’ people suffering from certain mental disorders. LSD has also been used widely to offer insights and alternative perceptions some of which have changed the world; many artists and even scientists such as Kary Mullis who invented PCR which revolutionised modern biology and forensic science. It’s the old adage that anything done to excess is going to have negative consequences.

    Recently I found it really interesting listening to John Lennon describing how he took that much acid that he had completely destroyed his ego and took a couple of years to put himself back together again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IaPtrmGCHA.

    I think the topics of the system, absence and failing to meet potential is very relevant today, as Rodger Waters mentioned in the documentary you take your own meaning from it, he taking the walk on part in the war rather than the lead role in a cage.

    Currently I think there is a big problem with absence of morality, with corruption, fraud and money laundering happening on a global scale. Financial institutions trading in 100’s of trillions, far greater than anything the earth combined produces in normal commerce. It’s absolute madness (absence of common sense) and plays a huge part in bankrupting countries. A rich minority continue to get richer while everything collapses around them. Manipulating and exploiting the prices of pretty much anything regardless of the consequences (including food). We are at a tipping point though where people are waking up to this and are starting to demand change. A consumer economy has become a consumer society, when people are selling body parts to get the latest must have device things really are getting out of hand. I think there’s an absence of respect for one another, future generations and the planet in general. Whether global warming is happening or not it is clear that we are trashing the plant, dead zones in the oceans, mass extinctions. There’s an absence of humanity, people are saturated with modern technology, what has taken society thousands of years to develop is quickly being eroded. We are becoming avatars at the end of a computer glued to our various feeds. This technology should complement and enhance but never replace real human interaction. There is also a distinct absence of connection with the divine or infinite in western culture, yes we have science however much of it is abstract for many people with no meaning. I read some work from Stanislav Grof recently that I found interesting:

    It is not all doom and gloom, many great things are happening all the time, we can do more though. Mankind has a tool box at our disposal that has such incredible power to do good. It is down to us to ensure that we reach our potential.

    Really thought provoking listening session, great choice Greg.
    All The Best

  10. lec August 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Loved it.
    Yes it’s melancholic, yes it’s conceptual, the guitars are amazing!!
    I love the not quite tuned in to the radio concept of the vocals.
    I had heard this album (vaguely) whilst growing up and didn’t remember much besides harmonies and then when I was busking in Spain, some German buskers taught me WYWH and I realised, I had never listened to the lyrics.
    Fantastic listening, thank you. xxx
    And well done all of you who really didn’t want to listen to it….but gave it another go anyway xx


  1. Greg Wilson- Living To Music « How Do You Listen To Music? - August 3, 2012

    […] next record in Greg Wilson’s ‘Living To Music’ series is Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. If you are not familiar with Greg’s series here are the […]

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