So much has been made about Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon over the years, that sometimes it’s easy to neglect the other great albums in the group’s catalog, including Dark Side’s uncharacteristic follow-up, Wish You Were Here. Which isn’t to say the album hasn’t its share of fans, because it most certainly does; in fact, both keyboardist Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour have been quoted as saying Wish You Were Here is their favorite Pink Floyd album. In 2011, EMI went full bore with an expanded Immersion box set that included the remastered album, unreleased live tracks, and quad and surround sound mixes. Eagle Rock Entertainment has upped the ante with The Story Of Wish You Were Here, a documentary on the making of the album, on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Now that it is all peace and love in Pink Floyd’s camp with regards to relationships among the surviving members, this fully authorized story of the album was made with the band’s total involvement and approval. That unity is reaffirmed as the disc opens with a glimpse of the fabled 2005 reunion at Live 8, highlighted by a performance of “Wish You Were Here.” From there, we jump into the four notes that sparked “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” Roger Waters’ homage to Syd Barrett, which leads to a short review of the band’s origins. Soon enough, it comes around and we learn that Floyd felt enormous pressure to follow up the enormous success of Dark Side.
Gilmour, Waters, drummer Nick Mason, even the late Rick Wright, pipe in about the period after The Dark Side Of The Moon, with an “element of frustration,” and a few bad gigs before gathering at Abbey Road to record. Mason feels the band rushed too quickly into the studio to make Wish You Were Here, but things came together nonetheless, with the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” suite book-ending three other songs, against the wishes of David Gilmour. Conversation drifts back and forth on the impact of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and how it was recorded to the meltdown of Barrett. There were attempts to bring him back into the studio, but when he showed up unannounced, overweight and adrift, at Abbey Road during the Wish You Were Here sessions, it was clear he would never record again.
Waters reveals that “Have A Cigar” is a stab at the buying and selling that takes place in the record business. “They had a lot of power,” Mason says of the record companies back in the 70s, with Waters adding, “You’re their puppet.” As it turns out, it was decided that neither Gilmour nor Waters did the song justice vocally, so Roy Harper, who happened to in the next studio over, came in and gave it the unique spin we all hear on the radio today. Waters says he regrets the decision of not singing it himself, but Gilmore feels it’s the perfect version.
Other items of exploration include engineer Brian Humphries going through master tapes at Abbey Road Studios to demonstrate how some of the songs came together; the artwork for Wish You Were Here, as remembered by longtime Floyd artists Strom Thorgensen and Gerald Scarfe; backing vocals from Carlena Williams and Venetta Fields on ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond”; and the synthesizers on “Welcome To The Machine.” Even “burning man” Ronnie Rondell, who appears on the front cover of the album shaking hands with another man, shares his experience of ever so briefly posing for the iconic photo.
Gilmour talks about writing the main riff behind “Wish You Were Here” and Waters responds with a set of lyrics. Both men strum and sing their own versions, and agree that it as one of their finest collaborations. As for what the song is about…everyone seems to have their own interpretation, but Gilmour believes it is also about, in a broader sense, Syd Barrett. In the end, as we return to the Live 8 reunion, Waters surmises that the album is full of “grief and anger, but also love.” It seems to sum up The Story Of Wish You Were Here on a rather high and hopeful note.
~ Shawn Perry