Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here,” off Wish You Were Here (1975)
1973’s Dark Side Of The Moon made Pink Floyd rich. When they came off the tour, they were emotionally and physically exhausted, but they went into the studio in 1975 to record their next album anyways. It wasn’t going well. Here’s David Gilmour:
It was a very difficult period I have to say. All your childhood dreams had been sort of realized 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.
Eventually, Roger Waters started coming up with a new concept — they’d take this song called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” split it in half, and make a sandwich of it with three other songs: “Welcome To The Machine,” “Have a Cigar,” and “Wish You Were Here.”
Much is made of Wish You Were Here as being a tribute to former bandmate Syd Barrett (there’s a sad, sad story of how Barrett showed up at the studio during mixing and nobody recognized him), but it’s also an album about the music business, made just over the hump of Floyd’s success.
I’ve probably heard “Wish You Were Here” hundreds of times over the years on FM radio and never given it a second thought. (“Oh, a sad song about missing someone.”) But now, when I listen to it (“the ears that are listening…”), it sounds less like a man missing a friend or a lover, and more about a man who’s gained the whole world, but is missing something in himself.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts
Hot ashes for trees
Hot air for a cool breeze
Cold comfort for change
Did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
It really sounds to me like a song about success — something that is utterly useless when it comes to making art, because no matter what happens, you’re back in the studio, with “the same old fears.”
How I wish
How I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here
A beautiful, beautiful song. Sneak out into your garage some night and sit in your car and listen to it really loud. Then go hug somebody.