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“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a nine-part Pink Floyd composition written by David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Rick Wright. It appeared on Pink Floyd’s 1975 concept album Wish You Were Here.
The song was conceived and written as a tribute and remembrance to their former band member Syd Barrett; the title of the song itself can also be seen as a reference to Barrett (Shine On You Crazy Diamond). The work was first performed on their 1974 French tour and recorded for their 1975 concept album Wish You Were Here. It was intended to be a side-long composition (like “Atom Heart Mother” and “Echoes”) but was ultimately split into two sections and used to bookend the album, with new material composed that was more relevant to the album and to the situation in which the band found themselves.
Bassist Roger Waters commented, as the sessions were underway, that “at times the group was there only physically. Our bodies were there, but our minds and feelings somewhere else.” Eventually an idea was raised to split the epic in two, Parts I–V and Parts VI–IX.
According to guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason on the Wish You Were Here episode of In the Studio with Redbeard, Pink Floyd recorded a satisfactory take of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, but because of a new mixing console which was installed at Abbey Road Studios, it needed to be re-recorded because excessive ‘bleed’ from other instruments could be heard on the drum tracks.
On part 3, a piano part seems to have been added “live” to the final mix, making it absent from multitrack masters. That part was re-recorded at British Grove Studios by pianist Richard Wright during the multi-channel mix used for the album Immersion Edition and the SACD release.
We originally did the backing track over the course of several days, but we came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t good enough. So we did it again in one day flat and got it a lot better. Unfortunately nobody understood the desk properly and when we played it back we found that someone had switched the echo returns from monitors to tracks one and two. That affected the tom-toms and guitars and keyboards which were playing along at the time. There was no way of saving it, so we just had to do it yet again.
— David Gilmour, An Interview with David Gilmour by Gary Cooper
With the invention of 16-track and 2-inch tape there was the belief for quite a while that there would be something wrong with editing tape that big. Consequently whenever we played these pieces, they had to be played from beginning to end. Particularly for Roger [Waters] and myself being the rhythm section, which would be laid down first, this was [chuckling] a fairly tough business because the whole thing had to be sort of right.
One day during recording, Barrett (now heavyset, with a completely shaved head and eyebrows) wandered into the studio (although Mason has since stated that he is not entirely certain whether “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was the particular work being recorded when Barrett was there). Because of his drastically changed appearance, the band did not recognize him for some time. When they eventually determined the withdrawn man in the corner was Barrett, Roger Waters allegedly became so distressed about his appearance he was reduced to tears. Someone asked to play the suite again for Barrett and he said a second playback was not needed when they had just heard it. When asked what he thought of the song, Barrett said it sounded a “bit old”. He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour’s wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which took place later that day. Gilmour confirmed this story, although he could not recall which composition they were working on when Barrett showed up.
Roger was there, and he was sitting at the desk, and I came in and I saw this guy sitting behind him – huge, bald, fat guy. I thought, “He looks a bit… strange…” Anyway, so I sat down with Roger at the desk and we worked for about ten minutes, and this guy kept on getting up and brushing his teeth and then sitting – doing really weird things, but keeping quiet. And I said to Roger, “Who is he?” and Roger said “I don’t know.” and I said “Well, I assumed he was a friend of yours,” and he said “No, I don’t know who he is.” Anyway, it took me a long time, and then suddenly I realised it was Syd, after maybe 45 minutes. He came in as we were doing the vocals for “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, which was basically about Syd. He just, for some incredible reason picked the very day that we were doing a song which was about him. And we hadn’t seen him, I don’t think, for two years before. That’s what’s so incredibly… weird about this guy. And a bit disturbing, as well, I mean, particularly when you see a guy, that you don’t, you couldn’t recognize him. And then, for him to pick the very day we want to start putting vocals on, which is a song about him. Very strange.
As neither the original 1975 vinyl release nor the CD re-release actually delineate the various parts precisely, the make-up of the parts below is based on a comparison of the recorded timings with the identifications in the published sheet music. Without benefit of the publication, it is easy to mistake Parts I and II as Part I, Part III as Part II, and so on, with the extensive postlude of Part V (at 11:10) as the beginning of the fifth section.
Part I (Wright, Waters, Gilmour; from 0:00 to 3:54) begins with the fade-in of a dense G-minor synthesizer pad created with an EMS VCS 3, ARP Solina, a Hammond organ and the sounds of a wine glass harp (recycled from an earlier project known as Household Objects). This is followed by Wright’s Minimoog passages followed by a lengthy, bluesy guitar solo played by Gilmour on a Fender Stratocaster (neck pickup) using a heavily compressed sound and reverb. The harmony changes to D minor at 2:29, then to C minor, and back to G minor. This is repeated, and the part ends with the synth pad fading into the background. During this section some very faint conversation in the studio can be heard in the left channel.
Part II (Gilmour, Waters, Wright; from 3:54 to 6:27) begins with a four-note theme (B♭, F, G, E) (known informally as “Syd’s theme”) repeated throughout much of the entire section. This theme leads the harmony to C major (in comparison to the use of C minor in Part I). Mason starts his drumming and Waters his bass playing after the fourth playing of the four-note theme, which is the point where the riffs get into a fixed tempo, in 6/8 time. The chord leads back to G minor (as from Part I), followed by E♭ major and D major back to a coda from G minor. This part includes another solo by Gilmour.
Part III (Waters, Gilmour, Wright; from 6:27 to 8:42) begins with a Minimoog solo by Wright accompanied by a less complex variation of Mason’s drums from Part II. This part includes Gilmour’s third guitar solo, in the G natural minor scale, and ends with a fade into Part IV. When performed on the Animals tour, Gilmour added distortion to the guitar for this solo. This solo is often dropped in live performances while the rest of part III is still played—notably on Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse.
Part IV (Gilmour, Wright, Waters; from 8:42 to 11:10) Waters sings his lyrics, with Gilmour, Wright and female backing vocalists Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams on harmonies.
Part V (Waters, Gilmour, Wright; from 11:10 to 13:32) Part IV is followed by two guitars repeating an arpeggio variation on the main theme for about a minute with the theme of Part II. A baritone saxophone overlays the sounds, played by Dick Parry. The saxophone changes from a baritone to a tenor saxophone, as a time signature switch from 6/8 to 12/8 creates the feeling that the tempo doubles up. The sax solo is accompanied by a Solina string synthesizer keyboard sound. A machine-like hum fades in with musique concrète and segues into “Welcome to the Machine”.
Part VI (Wright, Waters, Gilmour; from 0:00 to 4:59) begins with a howling wind from the preceding song “Wish You Were Here”. As the wind fades away, Gilmour comes in on the bass guitar. Waters adds another bass with a continuing riff pattern. Then Wright comes in playing an Solina String Ensemble Synthesizer and after a few measures, several rhythm guitar parts (Gilmour played the power chord rhythm part using his black Fender Stratocaster before switching to lap steel guitar for the solo in live performances from 1974–77. Snowy White did the rhythm guitar parts on this track on the band’s 1977 “In the Flesh” tour) and drums come in, as well as a Minimoog synthesizer to play the opening solo. At the two-minute mark, Wright’s Minimoog and Gilmour’s lap steel guitar play notes in unison before Gilmour does a lap steel guitar solo (the lap steel had open G tuning with the high E string tuned to E) with some counterpointing from Wright’s synthesizers. It lasts for about three minutes (four when played on the band’s “In the Flesh” tour) and Gilmour played each section an octave higher than the previous one. The highest note he hit on the lap steel/slide solo was a B♭6, followed by a reprise of the guitar solo from Part IV (which was played by White live on Pink Floyd’s 1977 tour so Gilmour could switch back to his Fender Stratocaster). The song then switches time signatures to 6/8 (found in Parts II–V), giving the appearance of a slower tempo and reintroducing the vocals.
Part VII (Waters, Gilmour, Wright; from 4:59 to 6:09) contains the vocals, in a similar vein to Part IV though half the length, before segueing into Part VIII. Waters again sings the lead vocals with Gilmour, Wright, Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams providing backing vocals.
Part VIII (Gilmour, Wright, Waters; from 6:09 to 9:07) brings in Waters to play a second electric guitar for a high-noted sound riff while Gilmour plays the arpeggio riff that bridges Parts VII and VIII. A solid progression of funk in 4/4 plays for about two minutes before very slowly fading out as a single sustained keyboard note fades in around the nine-minute mark. Throughout this section, Wright’s keyboards dominate, with the use of a Minimoog synthesizer, and a Hohner Clavinet. Originally the section clocked in at 8 minutes before it was edited down to three minutes on the final version (the unedited Part 8 without the electric piano and Minimoog overdubs surfaced on a bootleg called The Extraction Tapes). When performed on the “In the Flesh” tour in 1977, the section would be extended to between 5 and 10 minutes as it would feature guitar solos from Gilmour (which would vary from funky power chords to a proper solo as the Animals tour progressed) and Snowy White. In addition to their guitar solos, there was also occasional trading of leads from Gilmour and White instead of the keyboard sounds as heard on record.
Part IX (Wright, from 9:07 to 12:28) is played in 4/4 time. Gilmour described Part IX in an interview[which?] as “a slow 4/4 funeral march… the parting musical eulogy to Syd”. Again, Wright’s keyboards dominate, with little guitar input from Gilmour. Mason’s drums play for much of this part, and the keyboards play for the final minute before fading out. On the fade-out, a short keyboard part of the melody of “See Emily Play” (at 12:12), one of Barrett’s signature Pink Floyd songs, can be heard. Part IX, and the album, ends in G major, a Picardy third. When performed early on the Animals tour, the part begins with the piano (as heard on record) then the synth solo is played (as on record) by Dick Parry with some slide guitar accompaniment by Snowy White would then change to half synthesizer/half harmony lead guitar solo for the remainder of European leg and first US leg. For the final US leg, after the piano began it was a bluesy guitar solo from Gilmour then harmony guitars from Gilmour and White (Gilmour playing the highest parts) and then ending like on record. This was the final solo writing credit Wright would receive in Pink Floyd during his lifetime, as well as his last writing credit of any kind until The Division Bell in 1994.
Roger Waters – bass guitar, lead vocals, additional electric guitar on Part VIII, glass harp
David Gilmour – electric guitars, backing vocals, lap steel guitar, additional bass guitar on Part VI, EMS Synthi AKS, glass harp
Richard Wright – Hammond organ, ARP String Ensemble, Minimoog, quadruple-tracked EMS VCS 3, clavinet and electric piano on Part VIII, Steinway piano on Parts III and IX, glass harp, backing vocals, Bösendorfer piano on the multi-channel re-release (recorded in 2008).
Nick Mason – percussion
Dick Parry – baritone and tenor saxophones
Carlena Williams – backing vocals
Venetta Fields – backing vocals