Watch Documentaries on the Making of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd had to find its way again after found­ing singer Syd Bar­rett had a men­tal break­down and left the band in 1968. The new group became intro­spec­tive, explor­ing a range of effects and sound­scapes that increas­ing­ly trend­ed toward (or invent­ed) New Age music. For exam­ple the open­ing instru­men­tal, “Shine On You Crazy Dia­mond (Part 1)” from 1975’s Wish You Were Here sounds for all the world like Van­ge­lis. At this point in their career, the band seemed like it would be per­fect­ly at home scor­ing sci-fi films, which—given the gold­en age of far out space-glam futur­ism that was the 1970s—I con­sid­er a won­der­ful thing. What this also means how­ev­er, is that Wish You Were Here is an album short on songs, fea­tur­ing only five prop­er­ly list­ed, though the first and last tracks are over ten minute long rock operettas.

Musi­cal­ly, it’s a tremen­dous­ly accom­plished piece of work, lush and expan­sive but curi­ous­ly restrained. The cen­ter­piece, “Have a Cig­ar”— sure­ly a pre­cur­sor of bit­ter show­biz rant dis­guised as dou­ble con­cept album, The Wall—is in fact sung by a ringer, Roy Harp­er. (The only oth­er time the band fea­tured a guest vocal­ist was on the soar­ing, word­less “Great Gig in the Sky” from the pre­vi­ous album, Dark Side of the Moon.) Though the col­lab­o­ra­tion was a fluke—Harper sim­ply hap­pened to be record­ing in the next stu­dio over—his pres­ence seems essen­tial in hind­sight. The band were big fans of Harper’s, an eccen­tric folk singer who has released 22 albums to date. It’s easy to see why. He’s like a psy­che­del­ic British Neil Young, an artist whom, I would argue, some­times has a lot in com­mon with Pink Floyd, such as a will­ing­ness to release albums almost ful­ly com­posed of extend­ed jams.

Wish You Were Here was writ­ten around the song “Shine on You Crazy Dia­mond,” an extend­ed jam bro­ken into two extend­ed sequences that book­end the album. The song is about their trag­i­cal­ly befud­dled for­mer singer, and the album has some of the sad­dest lyrics in the band’s oeu­vre, which I sup­pose says quite a lot (I attend­ed many an ado­les­cent par­ty where someone—yes, some­times that some­one was me—picked up the acoustic gui­tar and led a maudlin sin­ga­long of the title track.) Fans of the band will need no fur­ther per­suad­ing to watch the above doc­u­men­tary about the mak­ing of Wish You Were Here, but if my tout­ing does­n’t sway you, con­sid­er it then a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to see some of the most tal­ent­ed musi­cians of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry at work, shin­ing even into their very Eng­lish old­er years (though rarely in the same room), with a dig­ni­ty and ded­i­ca­tion that is dif­fi­cult to find in mod­ern pop music. I say this with full aware­ness of how cranky it may sound, but so be it. They don’t make bands like this any­more.

Peo­ple do still occa­sion­al­ly make records like Pink Floyd’s, espe­cial­ly like 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon—which more or less per­fect­ed the sound of space rock—but no one has ever made one so per­fect­ly real­ized. And yet if asked to choose between that album and Wish You Were Here, I could not do it. They are far too dif­fer­ent in their approach­es. In the Mak­ing of Dark Side of the Moon doc­u­men­tary above, Roger Waters char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly says that Dark Side was made at a time when the band “still had a com­mon goal—that is to become rich and famous.” And for all its acid satire of wealth and fame and its often mor­bid themes, it’s the sound of a band full of youth­ful self-con­fi­dence and ambi­tion, where the follow-up’s orches­tral pieces speak of deep­er and sad­der realms.

The songs on Dark Side of the Moon were part­ly fin­ished live as the band debuted exper­i­men­tal ver­sions of the songs in a 1972 tour, and the album’s suc­cess the fol­low­ing year saw the band real­ize their dreams. Pink Floyd became a sta­di­um act overnight. One can imag­ine the toll the Dark Side of the Moon tour­ing took on the band, who—despite their renown for stage spectacles—have always seemed like very retir­ing indi­vid­u­als, except for the fre­quent­ly grandiose Waters.

Waters has tak­en a lot of flack for his part in the long­stand­ing ani­mos­i­ty between him­self and co-leader, gui­tarist David Gilmour, but see­ing him mas­ter­mind Dark Side of the Moon—through ret­ro­spec­tive inter­views mainly—reminds us of what an enor­mous tal­ent he had. Speak­ing of retir­ing per­son­al­i­ties, Waters, for a time the band’s pri­ma­ry lyri­cist, penned the unfor­get­table line, “hang­ing on in qui­et des­per­a­tion is the Eng­lish way” from “Time”—a line cribbed from Thore­au but that could have been writ­ten by Eve­lyn Waugh or Som­er­set Maugh­am, says gui­tarist Nigel Williamson. It’s a “descrip­tion of the Eng­lish char­ac­ter,” says Williamson, that “permeate[s] the whole record, and indeed the whole of Pink Floyd’s career.”

H/T and thanks goes to @BrainPicker for send­ing the top film our way.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Syd Bar­rett: Under Review, a Full Doc­u­men­tary About Pink Floyd’s Bril­liant and Trou­bled Founder

Dark Side of the Rain­bow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wiz­ard of Oz in One of the Ear­li­est Mash-Ups

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live in the Ruins of Pom­peii (1972)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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