Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20: Pink Floyd, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)

Artist: Pink Floyd
Song: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)"
Album: Wish You Were Here
Year: 1975


Writing a "tribute" song to a fallen friend or fellow performer is nothing new to the world of music, and from Elton John's "Candle In The Wind" to Joe Strummer's "Long Shadow," this type of song nearly always excels in terms of beauty in every aspect.  Due to the nature of the song, the compositions are often a bit slower and quieter, and in nearly every case, the lyrics and singing are clearly more powerful due to the heartfelt words.  However, in the long line of "tribute" songs and records, there is one that stands far above the rest.  By the time 1975 rolled around, Pink Floyd had already been through a rather significant line-up change, and was still riding high off of the success of their legendary 1973 album, Dark Side Of The Moon.  Yet even with the iconic status which that album holds, one can make the case that the follow-up, 1975's Wish You Were Here, was, in fact, musically superior and perhaps even a better overall record.  On Wish You Were Here, the compositions are far more complex and lengthy, and far more dependent on the raw talent of the band as opposed to heavy synthesizer and sound effects as are found on their previous release.  With each of the five songs on the album having their own distinct personality, the album very much shows Pink Floyd at their creative height, as they are album to fuse the five sounds together into a single, stunning musical unit.  Without question, the most impressive song on the album comes in the form of the two songs that bookend the record, and they remain today the most beautiful and fitting musical tribute in history: "Shine On Your Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-IX)."

Though Pink Floyd made their name over the years for their unparalleled ability to create stunning sonic soundscapes, they rarely topped the massive walls of music that are found on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."  The combined parts clock in at over twenty-six minutes of music, and the variety of music instruments and sounds that the band implements is nearly unparalleled anywhere else in music history.  From the sparse, slow opening, punctuated by the pulsing sounds of the EMS-VCS3 oscillator, to the wild, winding guitar progressions, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is a true musical masterpiece, and one that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated.  The deep, morose sounds of the Moog organs of Richard Wright perfectly captures the sad tone of the song, and the bluesy guitar solos from David Gilmour remain perhaps the finest work of his entire career.  As he did his entire career, Nick Mason is truly a drummer like no other, as he is able to create sounds that are light and airy, yet powerful, punctuated by crashing cymbals which often sound like cloud-bursts.  The final core element of the sound on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is the bass and vocals of Roger Waters, and he takes the idea of the tribute a step further, as when the song fades out at the end, one can clearly hear him playing the refrain from the Barrett composition "See Emily Run."  Mixing in everything from saxophones to the sound of a finger on the rim of a wineglass, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is far more organic in sound than the bands' previous effort, and it is largely due to this fact that one can make the case that the complete twenty-six minute movement is the finest moment of the bands' career.

If there was ever a band that was buried in myths and legends, there is no group that had more than Pink Floyd.  On this point, the entire idea of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" may be one of the most unbelievably heartbreaking tales in music history.  The lyrics themselves were written in tribute to the bands' first singer, the iconic Syd Barrett.  Having gone slightly mad due to heavy usage of psychedelic drugs, he was released from the band in 1968 and one can hear a massive difference in their sound without Barrett.  By the time the band was set to record the album that would become Wish You Were Here, nobody had seen Barrett in years, and the entire lyric of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is was penned by Waters as a tribute to his lost friend.  Filled with clear references to Barrett's drug use like, "...now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky..." as well as absolutely gorgeous lines like,  "..come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!" few songs in history are so raw and soul-bearing as one finds here.  Yet it is the factual event that occurred during the final days or recording that makes "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" an truly unbelievable story.  The tale tells that on June 5, 1975, the band was mixing the song when an overweight man with a shaved head entered the recording studio.  It took the band members many minutes before they realized that the man was, in fact, their old friend and bandmate Barrett, as he looked in such horrible health that some of them were reduced to tears.  After having a bit of conversation with the band that most agree was disjointed, as Barrett was clearly mentally unstable, Barrett quietly left the studio unnoticed and none of the band members saw him again to his death in 2006.

Creating a twenty-six minute composition is in itself an achievement that few musicians are capable of doing, and keeping the interest of the listener throughout such a time period is an even more daunting task.  Yet by mixing in a wide range of sounds, and the manner in which each "section" of the song flows into the next, Pink Floyd's 1975 opus, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)" achieves this goal with unparalleled success.  At every turn of the song, the pain the band members feel for the late Syd Barrett is clear, and one can make the case that it is this deep personal connection that enabled the band to create such beauty throughout the composition.  At its core, the song presents Pink Floyd's trademark "sonic landscape" approach, as the lyrics seem to float across the music, with various aspects of the music pushing the lyrics into different "musical spaces."  In truth, the band was rarely as focused as they are on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," and their ability to move as a single unit, as opposed to four musicians playing on the same song, is not as cohesive or stunning anywhere else in their recorded catalog.  From the deep, dark organs to the crying guitars to the absolutely breathtaking percussion, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" perfectly captures everything that makes Pink Floyd such a highly respected band, and each of the musicians performs in a  truly inspired manner throughout the entire song-cycle.  Though it is often pushed into the shadow of Dark Side Of The Moon, upon closer inspection, there is little question or argument that Pink Floyd's 1975 musical tribute, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)" is not only their finest moment, but a song that remains completely unrivaled throughout the entire course of music history.

No comments: