Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is less of a song and more a letter set to music; an exploration of the dislocation and isolation that was permeating every aspect of Roger Water’s life at the time it was written.
The track comes from the 1975 LP of the same name, an album that was crafted at a point when the band were sapped of their creative energy, having spent the last couple of years on a relentless and exhausting tour of Dark Side Of The Moon. But, as you can hear in the isolated recording of David Gilmour’s vocals below, it’s clear that with ‘Wish You Were Here’, Pink Floyd had plenty left to say.
The song perfectly captures the feelings of detachment that the band were experiencing at that time while also commenting on the way people cope with the pressures of the world by withdrawing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Roger Waters has said in the past that ‘Wish You Were Here’ was inspired by Syd Barret’s experience with schizophrenia, but it was surely also informed by the simmering tensions within the band itself.
This isolated recording provides a rare opportunity to listen to the subtlety of Gilmour’s vocal take and the concision of Water’s lyrics. The original track is full of the technological wizardry that Pink Floyd became so famous (and eventually derided) for. In the original album version, the track emerges from the crackle of a car stereo – Gilmour’s own, in fact – before gradually blending with layers of over-dubbed guitars, plucking the listener from the passenger seat and dropping them into the full-bodied warmth of the studio.
The song is the definition of a slow burner. As it progresses, sonic layers build incrementally before the whole thing fades back into the fuzz of radio static, where we find ourselves exactly where we started; in the passenger seat of a car burning long the motorway. But, when you’re left with vocals and nothing else, it’s evident how much of the track’s mesmeric power comes from the simmering emotion contained in Gilmour’s performance. He begins with the faintest smattering of sentiment. Indeed, there’s such a lack of feeling in those opening lines that the song risks becoming monotonous.
However, by the second verse and the line: “Did they get you to trade/Your heroes for ghosts?/Hot ashes for trees?/Hot air for a cool breeze?” it is almost as if the scales have fallen from Gilmour’s eyes and he is moving towards a startling realisation. It’s a testament to Water’s talent for capturing his own experiences and making them universal. But, without Gilmour’s commitment to his performance, the track may easily have sunk beneath the layers of country-infused guitar that otherwise dominate the original recording.
Take a listen to the isolated vocal track from ‘Wish You Were Here’ below.