Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here/Animals

With Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd faced the unenviable task of following-up the massively-successful The Dark Side of the Moon. The band were at a creative dead end. They had achieved all the success they had ever wanted, but the question became "now what?" They settled on two themes- the long-since departed Syd Barrett, and the music business. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a nine-part song written by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright. It's about Syd Barrett. It was originally intended to take up an entire side like Echoes [Meddle] and Atom Heart Mother [Atom Heart Mother], but the band opted to split the song after the fifth part and insert three songs - Welcome to the Machine, Have a Cigar, and Wish You Were Here. Welcome to the Machine centers on a young musician who is signed to a record deal by a record executive, who had been "provided with toys" and "scouting for boys" for the record company. Once signed, the musician is told by the record company what to sing [it's all right we told you what to dream...], so "welcome to the machine" [the "Machine" being the music business]. Have a Cigar picks up the sleazy record company theme with the question Oh by the way, which one's Pink? The cluelesss record company executive then tells the band they're "fantastic," they've got to get another album out because they owe it to their fans and the record execs are having a hard time counting all their money. Things are going very well [everybody else is just green, have you seen the chart, it's a helluva start, it could be made into a monster if we all pull together as a team...]. Roy Harper does the vocals on Have a Cigar. He was in an adjoining Abbey Road studio recording his HQ album while Pink Floyd were doing Wish You Were Here. Roger Waters was having a hard time getting the vocals right, so the rest of the band suggested Roy Harper sing it. The song Wish You Were Here is another tribute to Syd Barrett. In my opinion it's one of the finest songs Pink Floyd ever did. It is the perfect combination of David Gilmour's music with Roger Waters' lyrics. The album closes with the remainder of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It closes the album on what David Gilmour called a "funeral march."

I can summarize Animals as Orwell's Animal Farm set to music. Roger Waters breaks the human race in his Orwellian world into three kinds of people - Dogs, Sheep and Pigs. Dogs traces it's roots back to 1974, when it performed in concert with songs that became the album Wish You Were Here as You Gotta Be Crazy. That reference appears in the very first line of the song - You’ve gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need./You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you’re on the street,/you gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed./And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,/You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking. Dogs are depicted as the sort of people who will stab one in the back to get what they want. Dogs are cutthroats, opportunistic, but to survive in the capitalist Britain of the 1970s are "told what to do by the man" [who in this case are the Pigs], and are beaten into conformity of British society, "broken by trained personnel" and finally "dragged down by the stone." Pigs are at the top of the economic heap, those who think they're so morally superior they can tell the Dogs and the Sheep what they can and can't do. In Pigs [Three Different Ones] Roger refers to Mary Whitehouse, a British morals crusader [also immortalized in Deep Purple's Mary Long] as a "fucked-up old hag." There is another kind of "Pig" who is the greedy capitalist lording over the proletariat who are the mindless Sheep who do what they are told. Sheep began as Raving and Drooling, another song that traces its origins to the pre-Wish You Were Here days. The Sheep are "harmlessly passing the time in the grassland, clueless animals that have no idea about the "sudden unease in the air." But things aren't what they seem. The clue lies in a parody of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want He makes me down to lie Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by. With bright knives He releaseth my soul. He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places. He converteth me to lamb cutlets, For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger. When cometh the day we lowly ones, Through quiet reflection, and great dedication Master the art of Karate, Lo, we shall rise up, And then we'll make the bugger's eyes water.

The Sheep rise up and slaughter the Dogs [Have you heard the news? The Dogs are dead...]

I have always considered both Wish You Were Here and Animals as being two sides of the same coin. The songs came from the same period, and to there ears they sound very similar. Not only do they sound like they were recorded at the same time and place, there's a bitterness to all the lyrics that suggest to me that once Roger Waters got on a roll, he couldn't stop. Here's how I've got things sequenced: Pigs on the Wing Part I/Have a Cigar/Wish You Were Here/Welcome to the Machine/Sheep/Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-VII (from the Echoes "Best of" CD)/Dogs/Pigs [Three Different Ones]/Pigs on the Wing Part II.

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JP said...

Tony, two of my favorite albums and quite a bit of info I didn't know. Thanks for this post!

JP said...

PS: I built a playlist with the albums combined as you've described. Love it.

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