When Pink Floyd recorded their seminal album, Wish You Were Here, everything seemed perfect after the success of The Dark Side Of The Moon. The album had catapulted them into international superstardom and their rise to worldwide domination seemed within grasp.
For most bands, this would have been everything they’d ever have dreamed of achieving. However, for Pink Floyd, they felt the pressure heaped on their shoulders as a result of their previous triumph. Mortality was on their mind when they went into the studio to record the follow-up, Wish You Were Here, and the deterioration of their former bandmate Syd Barrett rested heavily on their collective consciousness.
“We were all having to assess what we were in this business for – whether we were artists or businessmen,” David Gilmour explained about their mindset in the documentary The Story of Wish You Were Here.
He continued: “Having achieved the sort of success and money out of it all, it could fulfil anyone’s wildest teenage dreams, why we would still continue to want to do it? Roger has said he thinks we may have been finished at that point, and he may have been right.”
It had been multiple years since Barrett had departed the band after his mental health had hugely declined, and he was constantly on their minds throughout the recording process. While it’s well documented how their song ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is Pink Floyd’s ode to Syd, interestingly, it’s the album’s title track that more intensely triggers Gilmour and makes him think of his late friend.
One chance meeting with Syd during the album’s recording process would inadvertently play a crucial role in shaping the theme of ‘Wish You Were Here’. Coincidentally, when they recorded their eulogy of Barrett, their former singer arrived out of nowhere, after years of estrangement from the group and looked a shadow of his former self.
Roger Waters reportedly broke down in tears after catching eyes on what Barrett had become. Even though he was physically in their presence, mentally, his mind was absent, a theme which they explored throughout the record. In contrast to ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, which Waters wrote by himself, Gilmour co-wrote ‘Wish You Were Here’ alongside his bandmate, allowing Barrett to influence the lyrics that flew from his soul to his pen. To this day, performing the latter live is still a harrowing experience.
Gilmour mused, “Although ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is specifically about Syd and ‘Wish You Were Here’ has a broader remit, I can’t sing it without thinking about Syd.”
Pink Floyd’s two figureheads rarely wrote together in tandem, but ‘Wish You Were Here’ broke their golden rule as their shared mourning over the decaying of Syd fuelled their creative process.
Despite their success, Pink Floyd felt dejected, and the tensions between the band combined with their anguish on behalf of Barrett were both dismal situations. However, somehow while drowning in a sea of bleakness, they managed to use their wounds to power, ‘Wish You Were Here’.