Total Guitar, September 1996
Pink Floyd - Shine On!
one of the greatest tracks of the '70's rock era
By Mark Cunningham
Released by EMI's Harvest label on September 15, 1975, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here was the album which more than any other carved the template from
which David Gilmour's multi-faceted and highly celebrated guitar style, as we know it today, was born. Gilmour's personal Floyd favorite, it delivered the band's aural message in its most accessible
form and its variations between the soft, articulate rock of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Welcome to the Machine's futuristic synth collages and the Dylanish title track demonstrated the beginnings of
a fine tradition which influenced even the band's most recent studio album, The Division Bell. Lyrically, Roger Waters had seldom been so moving; especially as he charts in Shine On...the downfall of
Gilmour's acid casualty predecessor, Syd Barrett. But in spite of its brilliance, it was an album for which the band had to overcome seemingly impassable obstacles.
The Birth of the Song
By the middle of 1973, Pink Floyd had mostly achieved all of their artistic and commercial aims with the release of what is generally regarded as their 'magnum opus', The Dark Side Of The Moon, the conceptual parent album which gave rise to such classics as Time, Money and Brain Damage. It was the album which finally propelled Pink Floyd from cult status to worldwide stars.
Following that mighty best-seller posed a real problem for the band. Behind the scenes, EMI was pressing the Floyd for a new album to capitalize on their newly-found international acclaim. After heavy touring, the band returned to Abbey Road studios to see just what their creative melting pot would conceive. At first, between October and December, 1973, they sought to do something different by making recordings with non-musical instruments. Working with engineer Alan Parsons, their proposed album, Household Objects, was to feature the sounds of aerosol sprays, wine bottles and rubber bands in the context of musical arrangements.
But after only three tracks were attempted with great frustration, over the course of 26 days, plans to complete the project were abandoned.
Had digital sampling arrived a decade earlier, there is every chance that Household Objects would have seen the light of day.
As it was, EMI was left to stem the tidal wave of interest that winter by repackaging their first two albums, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and A
Saucerful Of Secrets as the double set, A Nice Pair. Now desperate to come up with new material for their July/August 1974 French tour, and subsequent November/December tour of the UK, the Floyd
congregated in a rehearsal studio in London's King's Cross in the early summer of that year with but a shoestring of ideas. Two songs - Raving And Drooling and You Gotta Be Crazy - were formed from
bassist Roger Waters' increasingly paranoid lyrics and were to be included into the live set alongside the whole of the Dark Side album and Echoes, the long, anthemic track from 1971's Meddle album.
Eventually radically reworked as Sheep and Dogs, this new material would not officially surface on record until Animals in January 1977.
Four Note Inspiration
Towards the end of the King's Cross rehearsals, a stroke of sheer magic on the part of David Gilmour, gave the flagging creative process a much needed spark and helped to produce one of the band's greatest works: Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
And it was all down to four notes: Bb, F, G and E. As David Gilmour explains:
"The Wish You Were Here album and Shine On You Crazy Diamond are sublime moments for me. Shine On came out of the little guitar arpeggio figure which fell out of my guitar in rehearsal, as can happen from time to time. When something does that you sort of repeat it over and over again to see why it's attractive to you and where you should take it. That set Roger off and he loved it. I think that hearing that slightly mournful guitar motif got him thinking about Syd. It certainly got the ball rolling."
"The best of our moments were when the best of Roger and his lyric writing ideas and driving force came together with some of my more melodic, emotional moments that sort of fall out of my guitar once in a while. At the time we began work on Wish You Were Here, the album, I felt that the lyrics had begun to take precedence over the musical content, and that we should work on improving the music. And I think that by taking note of that, we achieved a wonderful balance on Wish You Were Here, where the music had become more focused and Roger had developed even further as a lyricist. It was our most group-like work until The Division Bell."
Wish You Were Here was the last Pink Floyd album to be wholly recorded at Abbey Road studios, and the first to use 24 tracks. The sessions in Studio Three ran in fits and starts from January 6 to July 19, 1975, and were booked into the band's busy diary either side and in between two North American tours.
But even before the band had recorded the first note, a high quality bootleg of the Shine On, recorded live the previous November at Stoke's Trentham Gardens, had already hit the streets and was selling in huge quantities as part of the album, Pink Floyd's Winter Tour '74, much to the anger of the band who had clearly not finished working on the arrangement.
Gilmour had, in fact, worked on perfecting his guitar melodies over the course of those winter dates before the Abbey Road sessions. Exhausted from excessive touring and the strain of competing with their own success, the band were clearly fighting against the odds at the start of recording, as Roger Waters explained upon the album's release: "It got very laborious and tortured. I felt that the only way I could retain interest in the project was to try to make the album relate to what was going on there, and the fact that no one was really looking each other in the eye. I suggested that we make a bridge between the first and second halves of Shine One and bridge them with stuff that has some kind of relevance to the state we were all in at the time. Which is how Welcome To The Machine, Have A Cigar and Wish You Were Here came in."
Gilmour adds: "We did the basic track of Shine On from the beginning where the first guitar solo starts, right through the sax break and on to the reprise that appears towards the end of the album. That was in all 20 minutes long and at one time it was going to be one whole side of the album. But as we worked on it and extended it and extracted things, we came to the decision that we would work on new stuff to slot in the middle of what effectively became two parts (13:33 and 12:21 mins respectively)."
Owing to the installation of a new Neve recording console in Studio Three at the start of the sessions, coupled with its initial operation by an inexperienced engineer, the recording of Shine On was beset by terminal problems, just as the band had agreed on the definitive arrangement.
"After working on the original backing for several days, we decided it wasn't up to scratch so we tried again and recorded it in one day with a marked improvement," says Gilmour. "But because everyone was unfamiliar with this new desk, particularly the engineer, the echo returns had been switched from the monitor channels to track one and two on tape by mistake. Suddenly we had reverb spill all over the toms, guitars and keyboards, but we didn't realize what was happening at first, thinking we would just get rid of the reverb in the mix. We didn't account for the fact that it was permanent. So we had to do it all again which was a bit of a bind, to say the least."
Given the lyrical subject matter of Shine On, namely Syd Barrett, it was ironic that the band should receive a mysterious, ghostly visit from their old leader during a mixing session for the track on June 5 - also the day that Gilmour married his first wife, Ginger. Gilmour maintains that it was he who first noticed Barrett's presence in the control room after it was assumed that he was simply a curious member of EMI's staff. "None of us had seen him for years and during that time, he'd put on weight and gone a bit bald. It was a huge shock to see Syd, particularly as we'd been sitting there listening to a playback of a song written about him."
Described in the song as 'a seer of visions', a 'winner and loser' and finally, a 'miner for truth and delusion', the unnerving 'crazy diamond' allegedly turned to keyboard man Rick Wright to ask if he could add a guitar part to the song, only to be diplomatically assured that Gilmour had already taken care of everything. He also questioned why the band had to repeatedly listen to the track they were mixing. "Why bother? he said. "You've heard it once already."
Later that day, the Gilmours held their wedding reception in the Abbey Road canteen, during which Barrett vanished as mysteriously as he'd arrived, never to be seen by the band again.
In 1975, Waters said: "I don't know why I started writing those lyrics about Syd. I think because that phrase of Dave's was an extremely mournful
kind of sound. When Syd turned up at the studio and we realized it was him, I was in fucking tears."
The other true classic from the album and one of the best-loved Floyd numbers of all-time, Wish You Were Here was a joint collaboration between Waters and Gilmour. This in itself was rare, but such instances normally guaranteed potent results, such as Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell from The Wall. The song began as a Waters poem. Gilmour comments: "Usually the music got written and the lyrics came afterwards. On Wish You Were Here, Roger wrote the song to the rhythm of the intro. We changed things until they started sounding nice."
Written 10 years later, Waters' famous line, 'We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl', might have been taken as a reference to legal battle with Gilmour after quitting the band in 1986.
Thanks to 250,000 advance sales, Wish You Were Here replaced Rod Stewart's Atlantic Crossing at the top of the UK album charts on October 4, 1975 and became Floyd's fastest-selling album. EMI fought to meet the demand and despite its plants working seven days a week during the September-November period, the company could only fulfill 50% of orders.
Even so, Wish You Were Here never reached the phenomenal popularity of Dark Side Of The Moon, and things were rapidly changing for the worse in the Floyd
camp. Their 1977 album Animals relied on tracks rejected from earlier sessions, and 1979's The Wall saw Gilmour and Waters working in isolation. For many, Wish You Were Here, and Shine On...in
particular, represents the band's true creative peak.
Design gurus Hipgnosis created the Wish You Were Here cover. The work of conceptualist Storm Thorgerson and graphic artist George Hardie, absence was the recurring theme of the design - as displayed by the mechanical handshake, burning salesman, splashless diver and even the lack of visual presence of a sleeve itself. "My job, as I see it, is to invent an image that relates to the music," said Thorgerson.
To the horror of the band's record company, but welcomed by the Floyd members, the vinyl album came shrink-wrapped in black plastic with only a sticker to say what the LP was. Original condition copies of the album, complete with the shrink wrap, are now worth a fortune.
SHINE ON: GUITARS & FX
David Gilmour's equipment around 1975 was a considerably more simple affair than his enormo-rig used on the 1994 Division Bell world tour. In charge of the guitars and backline at the time of Wish You Were Here was Phil Taylor, who joined the team during the 1971 rehearsals which spawned Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
Gilmour's choice of guitars for the album was Strats and Telecasters, played through a complement of Custom Hiwatt 100 amps, Martin acoustics, and the slide guitar used on the second half of Shine On was, in fact, a double-neck Fender pedal steel which Gilmour also used live for One Of These Days and The Great Gig In The Sky. Effects at the time were minimal and pre-dated the first FX board Peter Cornish made for Gilmour in 1976.
Instead of flavoring his guitars with studio techniques during the mix, Gilmour's guitar sound normally came straight from the amps, using a Binson Echoree for delays, a first-generation Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, an MXR phaser (as on Have A Cigar), a Uni-Vibe and a Cry Baby wah-wah.
Originally a Rickenbacker 4001S bass user, Roger Waters switched over to a Fender Precision in 1968 around the time of David Gilmour's arrival into the band. Prior to departing for a tour of Japan and Australia in July 1971, Waters purchased two new Precisions, one of which was used for the final sessions of Meddle and every album up to 1983's The Final Cut.
Since Waters' 1985 departure, the bass has remained with the band and was played by Guy Pratt on The Division Bell sessions. Interestingly, Waters often relinquished his bass-playing in the studio to the more talented Gilmour.