How do you follow a masterpiece? Such was the dilemma for Pink Floyd when it came time for the band to regroup and record a new album under the shadow of 1973 classic, Dark Side of the Moon.
"It was a very difficult period I have to say. All your childhood dreams had been sort of realized, and we had the biggest selling records in the world and all the things you got into it for," guitarist David Gilmour revealed to In the Studio. "The girls and the money and the fame and all that stuff it was all ... everything had sort of come our way, and you had to reassess what you were in it for thereafter, and it was a pretty confusing and sort of empty time for a while."
“There were days when we didn't do anything. I don't think they knew what they wanted to do," engineer Brian Humphries explained to Sound on Sound about the recording sessions at England's famed Abbey Road studios. "We had a dartboard and an air rifle and we'd play these word games, sit around, get drunk, go home and return the next day. That’s all we were doing until suddenly everything started falling into place.”
When the music did start to come together, what emerged was a lush, symphonic ode to the treachery of the music industry. The album also turned into a lament for the band's founding member, Syd Barrett, who'd suffered a mental breakdown under the influence of a tremendous amount of LSD.
It was on June 5, 1975, towards the end mix down for song "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" when the band's manager arranged for Barrett to stop by the studio. Any hopes that seeing their old friend and former bandmate would perk the guys up were immediately dashed upon Barrett's arrival. He'd gained a substantial amount of weight, and had shaved his head and eyebrows.
"Two or three people cried," is how the group's famous cover artist, Storm Thorgerson, remembered the moment in book Crazy Diamond. "He sat round and talked for a bit, but he wasn't really there."
"I'm very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have f**king started without him because he was writing all the material," recalled Roger Waters in Crazy Diamond. "It couldn't have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn't have gone on with him. 'Shine On' is not really about Syd—he's just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it's the only way they can cope with how f**king sad it is, modern life, to withdraw completely. I found that terribly sad."
Released on September 12, 1975, Wish You Were Here was an immediate hit in America, soaring straight to #1 on the Billboard 200 two weeks later on October 3, 1985. It held the top spot for two weeks before being dethroned by John Denver's Windsong on October 17, 1975.