How one Pink Floyd album signalled the beginning of the end for the band
Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here was a seminal masterpiece, one that still stands up with any record from any era to this day. That said, despite being one of the greatest records of all time, Floyd’s ninth record signalled that the end of the road wasn’t far ahead.
Despite the undisputed greatness of the album, the recording of the material was a turbulent time for the Pink Floyd and one which resulted in a work of art of the absolute highest quality. However, the immense pressure that had been placed on their shoulders following the mainstream success of The Dark Side of The Moon, a project that had seen them go from cult icons to global superstars, the expectations that it carried was felt tremendously.
“It was a very difficult period I have to say,” reflected guitarist and creative force David Gilmour. “All your childhood dreams had been sort of realised and we had the biggest selling records in the world and all the things you got into it for.”
“The girls and the money and the fame and all that stuff it was all… everything had sort of come our way and you had to reassess what you were in it for thereafter, and it was a pretty confusing and sort of empty time for a while,” Gilmour noted on the dark period in which Wish You Were Here was born.
Engineer Brian Humphries backed up Gilmour’s claim when he spoke in 2014 about how the band were fatigued following the end of The Dark Side of the Moon cycle that had left Pink Floyd with more fame than they ever dreamt of or ever wanted.
“There were days when we didn’t do anything. I don’t think they knew what they wanted to do. We had a dartboard and an air rifle and we’d play these word games, sit around, get drunk, go home and return the next day. That’s all we were doing until suddenly everything started falling into place,” Humphries revealed about these now-iconic sessions.
One of the most bizarre incidents that occurred during the aforementioned recording sessions was the unannounced arrival of Syd Barrett during one of their sessions for the record. Legend has it that Barrett, the founding member and former leader of Pink Floyd, arrived into the studio at the very same time that the band were working on the track ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ which was about their fallen founder. Barrett had left the music industry for good by this point, choosing instead to live out of a London hotel as his health spiralled. Having cut out contact with his former bandmates, his arrival at the recording studio left them rippled with shock.
Pink Floyd were initially bewildered by his arrival, assuming he must be a member of the crew and it took a while before Gilmour eventually identified him as their former bandmate given how tremendously different—and shocking—his appearance had changed. Waters, it is said, immediately broke down in tears after seeing what Barrett had become. That June afternoon also happened to be Gilmour’s wedding day, so Barrett wandered into the guitarist’s reception at EMI but then left without telling anyone, disappearing in a similarly strange fashion as he’d arrived.
It wasn’t just personal troubles they were struggling with but also professional ones, which is dealt with on ‘Have A Cigar’. It’s a song that saw Roger Waters let out his frustrations about the music industry which was weighing heavy on his mind at this time and he sought to speak his mind on the topic, the best way he knew how — through music.
The track contains the infamous line,‘Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?’ which was a playful dig at people who couldn’t quite grasp they were a band. “We did have people who would say to us: “Which one’s Pink”’ and stuff like that,” Gilmour recalled. “There were an awful lot of people who thought Pink Floyd was the name of the lead singer, and that was Pink himself and the band. That’s how it all came about. It was quite genuine.”
Thankfully, Floyd managed to get through this period with the battle-scars and bruises to show for it, despite it being hell at times to create — Wish You Were Here stands up with the best work that they created. It also provides a fascinating outlook into their mindset in this extraordinary period where they were thrown into the limelight from relative obscurity however, the demands from the industry had taken the fun out of it for the group who never quite enjoyed the creative aspect the same again.