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(Credit: Pink Floyd)


The mistake in Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' that saved David Gilmour's career


Any artist will tell you there is a purity wrapped up in making mistakes. Whether it is the accidental spilling of paints, the glare on the lens that sends shivers down your spine or a simple note out of place, making a mistake can sometimes make a masterpiece, and sometimes, it can save an entire career. That is certainly the case for Pink Floyd, and their iconic track ‘Wish You Were Here‘, a song dedicated to their lost bandleader Syd Barrett.

Having just delivered arguably one of the most potent albums of all time with Dark Side of the Moon, the band shied away from the studio and, instead, went out on tour for three years. When they came back to the warm glow of the red light, Wish You Were Here had to be a showstopping event — luckily, it was. The titular song from the album is a sentimental journey that encourages the group to reflect on their path to success through a rare Roger Waters and David Gilmour collaboration.

The track opens up with a bone-chilling 12-string acoustic guitar. The kind of strumming that can make you feel both comforted and vulnerable in a single upstroke. It mirrored the demise of the band’s original lead singer Syd Barrett as he battled with addiction and mental health issues. The song deals with the inability of Barrett to really connect with his former self and the band he had left to find global stardom.

As Barrett struggled to cope with his issues, the group had gone from strength to strength. The song remains a last beacon of light metered out by the band in the hope of catching their friend’s drifting eyes.

The song is perhaps Gilmour’s best moment on the album too. There are so many moments on ‘Wish You Were Here’ that see Gilmour shine. Whether it’s the 12-string intro, the acoustic solo, the rhythm guitar or the pedal steel guitar that scythes through the song— Gilmour is the band’s ace in the hole on this track. Add to all this wonderful musicianship that Gilmour also took charge of singing the song, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. While Roger Waters was the man behind the gorgeous lyrics, owing to a poem he had written about Barrett, Gilmour read, understood and delivered them with aplomb.

Though you may wish to witness Gilmour play the song live, he will never be able to give you the full studio performance. It’s one key difference between Gilmour and other guitar greats. But where he may lack in performance, he makes up for with precision and talent. However, the track did contain a mistake picked up during recording.

While sadly, the tune wouldn’t spark Barrett into life as they had hoped, it did have one health benefit for the group. David Gilmour can be heard coughing in the 26th second of the song, a very quiet, almost unnoticeable, cough. It has been suggested that Gilmour was so angry with the mistake in recording that he vowed to quit smoking.

For that reason alone, we can thank Pink Floyd and ‘Wish You Were Here’ for doubtless improving Gilmour’s career longevity. And it was all because of one tiny cough.