Classic Albums: Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

Posted: February 16, 2010 in Classic Albums
Tags: , , , , ,

I love a good practical joke, especially when it’s harmless, serendipitous and I’m not the victim. One afternoon during my sophomore year at Westfield State College I was lounging on the sofa in an apartment I shared with a friend of mine. It being a warm day in early spring, my roommate was sitting on the picnic table just outside the front door. All the windows were open and Pink Floyd’s relatively new album, “Wish You Were Here” was cranked up to 11 on the stereo in his bedroom so that the entire quadrant could here it easily (regardless of whether they wanted to). He hadn’t heard this album before. I had. David Gilmour was cranking out those tasteful, meaty guitar licks at the end of “Have A Cigar” with the rest of the band giving it loads behind him when suddenly the sound of the entire band sucked up into itself, imploding from full, rich stadium volume to the small, thin tone of a tiny transistor radio. Of course, I knew this passage was coming. My roommate didn’t. He suddenly burst through the front door, leapt over the couch and ran into his bedroom to see how badly my album had damaged his stereo. And we had a good laugh, eventually.

Ah, the joys of hearing a well produced album for the first time. No one could produce albums like the Floyd did in the 70s. 30 years later no one has.

“Wish You Were Here” was the follow up to 1973’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”, the album that brought Pink Floyd from cult status to the mainstream echelon in one big leap of sonic cinema. Like that album, it was full of cutting-edge instrumental sounds interspersed with incidental recordings of tape machines, party chat, desert wind and tiny radios, all of which worked together as the soundtrack for a film that existed only in your head. Unlike that album, there were fewer than half as many songs despite the fact that it was a few minutes longer.

I remember the first time I heard Parts I through V of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. It was on WAAF, back in the days when you could get away with playing a 13 1/2 minute track on FM radio without losing your audience. Good thing too, because my initial reaction was “Where’s the beef?” (Something we used to say in those days, which meant something like: this form has no substance.) The majority of the track is an improbably long, slow, minimalist build to what is essentially a three-minute song. Parts VI through IX, which contain the final verse, close the album and complete the song to clock in at a total 26 minutes, fading out nearly as gradually as it faded in. You should be aware that this was in the days before iPods, Face Book and gaming consoles. We had a bit more of an attention span and a lot more time on our hands. So we listened to it again and again and again, and it grew on us with each revolution around the turntable.

The beef, as it were, was the sins of the music BUSINESS and it’s effect on one poor crazy diamond in particular: Syd Barrett. Or something like that, I think. The title track seemed to bridge the gap between where the band was, successful but having to deal with the industry characters depicted in “Welcome To The Machine” and “Have a Cigar”, and Diamond Syd, the tortured artist who was lost to them. Like any great Shakespearean tragedy, those three tracks form the dramatic/musical peak at the centre of the album. Plus they balance it out with the more radio-friendly, intelligent rock that we expected after “Dark Side Of The Moon”.

Is it a self-indulgent album? Surely. Were Pink Floyd starting to come apart at the seams? Probably. Is it any good? Yes. It may not be as flashy as it’s predecessor, but if you let yourself go along with it, it’s a compelling auditory experience you just can’t get anywhere else. And that Gilmour lad sure can play guitar.

  1. lorrie says:

    I am genuinely happy to see others writing to a greater extent about this artist. Too many good artists just don’t know how to endure.

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