How one unknown voice turned Pink Floyd song ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ into a classic
Pink Floyd song ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ is a bonafide classic that features on their stunning legendary 1973 masterpiece The Dark Side Of The Moon — but what makes the song so uniquely special is a strange vocal contribution from the unknown singer Claire Torry.
Torry, prolific session singer, had been recruited by Floyd for help on the track after the song had been through the mill in a host of different incarnations before they decided on the necessity of a female vocalist. It was first an organ instrumental piece accompanied by spoken-word samples from the Bible as well as snippets of speeches by Malcolm Muggeridge —a figure who was known for his conservative religious views.
After the track had then been switched to a piano, the band tried various different sound effects over the material—including a sample of NASA astronauts communicating on space missions—but none quite were up to scratch. Then, a couple of weeks before the album was due to be handed into Harvest Records, the band came up with the ingenious idea of having a female singer scream over the music.
As Pink Floyd began casting around for a singer, album engineer Alan Parsons suggested Clare Torry, an unknown 25-year-old session vocalist. He had previously worked with her and managed to schedule in a session with the singer to see if her voice could potentially work on the track.
The band members prompted her to think about death and horror and then go into the studio to improvise something over the music. She performed two complete takes, the second one was more emotional than her first attempt. David Gilmour then asked Torry for a third take, but halfway through she stopped, feeling she was getting repetitive and had already done the best she could.
The final album track was a blending from all three takes put together, the Floyd was taken aback by her performance but played it cool which meant Torry was under the opposite impression. Apparently, she only became aware that her vocals had made it on to the record when she spotted The Dark Side Of The Moon at her local record store when she spotted her name in the credits and purchased the record.
Torry once said on the collaboration: “I went in, put the headphones on, and started going ‘Ooh-aah, baby, baby – yeah, yeah, yeah.’ They said, ‘No, no – we don’t want that. If we wanted that we’d have got Doris Troy.’ They said, ‘try some longer notes’, so I started doing that a bit. All this time, I was getting more familiar with the backing track.”
Adding: “That was when I thought, ‘Maybe I should just pretend I’m an instrument.’ So I said, ‘Start the track again.’ Alan Parsons got a lovely sound on my voice: echoey, but not too echoey. When I closed my eyes – which I always did – it was just all-enveloping; a lovely vocal sound, which for a singer, is always inspirational.”
Unfortunately, things turned sour between Torry and Pink Floyd when in 2004 she sued the band for co-authorship rights to ‘Great Gig In The Sky’. In reality, her lawsuit claim was a fair one as she played a key role on one of the greatest records ever but was only played £30 for her role on the album. With a lot of attention around the case, the issue was eventually settled out of court with all pressings since listing the composition to both Richard Wright and Clare Torry.