This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #298: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.
Like a lot of bands/singers who had endured through the many decades, the story of “Pink Floyd” is a varied and interesting one. It is a story of big egos that nearly destroyed the band several times over, childhood friendships that lasted a lifetime, creative genius that resulted in a new genre of music (Progressive or “Prog” Rock) and a literary mindset that helped create some of the most memroable songs of all-time. Pink Floyd’s catalogue of hits include such classics as “Money”, “Time”, Comfortably Numb”, “Another Brick in the Wall”, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, “High Hopes”, “On The Turning Away”, “Wish You Were Here” and many others, too. Like many tales well told, the story of “Pink Floyd” begins in childhood, in Cambridge, England. The time: the early 1960s.
Roger Waters (guitar), Nick Mason (drums)and Richard Wright (Keyboard/guitar) were childhood friends who all attended school together. As teenage boys, they moved in and out of a number of garage-type bands, eventually meeting up with another boy named Syd Barrett. Barrett joined the three boys in a band called “Tea Set” and because he had an outgoing personality, Syd Barrett became the face of that band. After playing some local gigs and honing their skills, the boys decided to rename the band as the “Pink Floyd Sound”. The name arose from a combination of two Bluesmen named Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Eventually, the boys settled on the simpler name, “Pink Floyd” and started playing paying gigs around Cambridge.
There are moments of epiphany for everyone and, in the case of Pink Floyd, their moment came when they agreed to play three, 90-minute sets on the same day at one concert venue. They did not have enough material at their disposal to fulfill their time commitment but, the band realized that they could extend the length of the songs they knew by inserting jazz-like guitar and drum solos into each song. Some folks were confused by what they were doing but some found their approach fresh and original and soon, the band became known as a psychedelic band. In truth, they became one of the first bands to play a form of epic song stylings that became known as “Prog. Rock”.
Under Syd Barrett’s direction, the boys released their first album called “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and managed to score a couple of minor hits. As attention grew toward the band, Syd Barrett began to exhibit symptoms of mental illness and he became increasingly unstable and unpredictible. In order for the rest of the band to proceed with touring commitments, they hired a new band member whose job was to shadow Barrett on stage, singing his parts (if he lapsed into silence) and playing his instrument parts (should he become catatonic). That new member turned out to be David Gilmour. Not too long after Gilmour joined “Pink Floyd”, Barrett left the group. As cold and calculating as that may sound, it was actually a period of great emotion for the band; especially those members who had known Syd Barrett since childhood. For Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, it was their first experience watching someone they cared about suffer and wither away in front of their eyes. One of the ways creative people deal with grief is by becoming creative so, in Waters case, he dealt with Syd Barrett’s demise through song. The song he wrote to memorialize his friend was called, “Wish You Were Here”. When discussing the song, Waters has said that he wasn’t just talking about Barrett’s physical absence from the band but more, he was talking about watching his vibrant, personable, charming friend withdraw from reality and retreat within himself. Waters says that, by the end, the person he knew as Syd Barrett didn’t even exist, even though Barrett lived for many years afterwards.
“So…..so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell?
Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field
from a cold, steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?”
Barrett’s demise was transition #1 for the band. Roger Waters took over principle songwriting duties and the overall leadership of “Pink Floyd”. His period at the helm resulted in classic albums such as “Dark Side of the Moon”, “The Wall” and “Wish You Were Here”. It was during this middle phase of “Pink Floyd’s” existence that the band reached their greatest artistic and commercial heights. But, with great success often comes enormous pressure and, in this case, that pressure was internalized and ego-driven. Founding member Richard Wright left the band after feeling excluded from the creative decisions Waters was now making on his own. Not long after that, the remaining members became fed up to the point that Waters left the band and began a solo career. He did not leave on pleasant terms. There were court battles with Gilmour and Mason (who wished to continue writing and touring under the name “Pink Floyd”) over control of the existing song catalogue plus, the use of the band name, going forward. Eventually, the case was settled out of court and “Pink Floyd” continued on, under the guidance of David Gilmour and Nick Mason.
In phase three of the band’s career, they have released some successful albums such as, “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” and “The Division Bell”. From “The Division Bell” comes my personal favourite “Pink Floyd” song, “High Hopes”. This song is an autobiographical look at the whole history of the band. The song ends with the lines, “The endless river……forever and ever”, which is significant because it echoes the closing lines of the band’s very first hit single, “See Emily Play”……..”Float on a river, forever and ever”.
For all of the ego and in-fighting, there has always existed a foundation of warm affection beneath the gruff exterior of this band. A sense of pride and satisfaction resides within the hearts of David Gilmour and Nick Mason and Roger Waters, even if they have followed different paths as their journey has evolved. For proof, I give you “Wish You Were Here”; an ode to a lost friend and one of the only songs that Waters and Gilmour ever collaboarted on together. Sometimes, Love is enough to overcome division and bring people together.
PS: the video for “Wish You Were Here” is grand and glorious. Recorded live at Pompeii, Italy, the setting is gorgeous and when the crowd sings along with the opening lines, it is goosebump time, for sure. What a song! What a band! Enjoy. #RIPSydBarrett
The link to the video for “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Pink Floyd, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their website can be found here.