“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.
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.