This album is a little like Queen’s A Day at the Races in comparison to A Night at the Opera, often considered the poorer cousin of the previous album’s greatness, but this is as wrong for Pink Floyd as it is for Queen. A Dark Side of the Moon was always going to be a hard act to follow, but for a band that followed up A Saucerful of Secrets with Ummagumma, that was never going to be their main concern.
This album is predominantly a showcase for Gilmour’s guitar, with a throwback to their longer ensemble instrumental pieces such as Echoes from Meddle, with the multipart Shine On You Crazy Diamond, dedicated to Syd Barrett, who famously visited the studio completely unnoticed and unrecognisable at the time of its recording.
But it does also contain one of Water’s best songs, Wish You Were Here. One of those great pop songs that sounds like a love song, sung by buskers or mistakenly chosen by lovers for romantic dedications, but actually reveals something much darker going on – see also The Police Every Breath You Take. In fact it is a love song, but a cynical world-weary Roger Waters one.
Waters triumphs also on the other conventional length ‘songs’ on the album: Have A Cigar and Welcome To The Machine, both of which express his frustrations and the cynicism of the record industry. The themes of alienation and dehumanisation are a recurring motif for Waters throughout his career, with and without Pink Floyd.
It’s interesting that they got Roy Harper to guest vocal on Have A Cigar; as far as I’m aware its the only time they’ve had someone outside the band sing vocals (unless you count Clare Torry on The Great Gig In The Sky and Stephen Hawking on Keep Talking). Harper was a hugely influential figure on the British progressive music scene in the late 60s, and still is for many musicians today (Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom in particular credit his influence). When I first listened to WYWH as a teen, I was also listening to lots of Led Zeppelin, and along with their song Hats Off To (Roy) Harper on their third album, he appeared to me as a mysterious musical prophet popping up in the background of all my musical heroes.
My vinyl copy is a first pressing release, still with the original postcard inside. I’ve had it since I was 16, and probably bought it, along with most of my records at the time, at Andy’s Records in Norwich. I miss Andy’s Records. Let’s keep our record shops alive.
Best Bits: Lyrics to Wish You Were Here, get me every time: “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl year after year.”
Genre: Prog Rock
Like This, Try This: Go and see Roy Harper touring the UK this year, for the last time