“Wish You Were Here” is the title track on Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here. David Gilmour and Roger Waters collaborated to write the music, and Gilmour sang the lead vocal.
In 2011, the song was ranked No. 324 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
In the original album version, the song segues from “Have a Cigar” as if a radio had been tuned away from one station, through several others (including a radio play and one playing the opening of the finale movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony), and finally to a new station where “Wish You Were Here” is beginning. The radio was recorded from Gilmour’s car radio. He performed the intro on a twelve-string guitar, processed to sound like it was playing through an AM radio, and then overdubbed a fuller-sounding acoustic guitar solo. This passage was mixed to sound as though a guitarist were listening to the radio and playing along. As the acoustic part becomes more complex, the ‘radio broadcast’ fades away and Gilmour’s voice enters, becoming joined by the full band.
The intro riff is repeated several times before Gilmour plays further solos with scat singing accompaniment. A third verse follows, featuring an increasingly expressive vocal from Gilmour and audible backing vocals. At the end of the recorded song, the final solo crossfades with wind sound effects, and finally segues into the second section of the multi-part suite “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.
Lyrically, the song is often considered to be a direct tribute to Syd Barrett. However, in the documentary The Story of Wish You Were Here, Gilmour and Waters separately describe the original concept that differs from this interpretation. Waters, who mainly wrote the lyrics complementing Gilmour’s initial riff idea and subsequent joint composition, describes the lyrics as being directed at himself, as his lyrics often are. Being present in one’s own life and freeing one’s self in order to truly experience life is the main topic of this song. Gilmour, on the other hand, recognizes that he does not ever perform the song without remembering Syd Barrett. Waters later adds that the song is nevertheless open to interpretation.
Both David Gilmour and Roger Waters have praised the song as one of Pink Floyd’s finest. Roger Waters has noted that the collaboration between himself and David Gilmour on the song was “…really good. All bits of it are really, really good. I’m very happy about it.” David Gilmour has playfully called Wish You Were Here “a very simple country song” and stated that “because of its resonance and the emotional weight it carries, it is one of our best songs.”
“Wish You Were Here” made its stage debut on the band’s 1977 tour, which featured a performance of the entire album at every show. It was not played live by the band for nearly ten years after this, yet became a concert staple after its reappearance in 1987, and was performed at nearly all subsequent Pink Floyd concerts. In the original 1977 concert performances, Gilmour would play his Fender Stratocaster instead of acoustic guitar, while Snowy White played a twelve-string Ovation acoustic guitar. At these shows, Nick Mason tuned an actual transistor radio on stage to a local radio station, seguing into the pre-recorded part from the album to start the song and Richard Wright would perform an extended piano coda as the wind effects played. A live version is included on Pulse. When Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gilmour and Wright (Mason was in the audience) performed the song with the assistance of their presenter Billy Corgan on rhythm guitar.
Gilmour has made the song a part of most of his tours and included a live version on his Live in Gdansk album.
On 13 December 2014, David Gilmour was a guest performer at a concert by the Bombay Bicycle Club at Earls Court Arena, their concert is the final event ever to take place there before its demolition. Band member Jamie MacColl introduced Gilmour, saying; “This man gave me my first guitar and was one of the first people to play this venue and by my count has played here more than 27 times.” Gilmour then played with the band on their song “Rinse Me Down” before a performance of “Wish You Were Here”.
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