Wish You Were Here is the ninth studio album by English rock band Pink Floyd. It was first released on 12 September 1975 in the United Kingdom by Harvest Records and a day later in the United States by Columbia Records. Inspired by the material the group composed while performing in Europe, the album was recorded in numerous sessions at Abbey Road Studios in London. Two of its songs criticise the music business, another expresses alienation, and the multi-part composition “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a tribute to Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, who had left seven years earlier due to mental health problems. As with their previous album The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), the band used studio effects and synthesizers, and brought in guest singers: Roy Harper, who provided the lead vocals on “Have a Cigar”, and Venetta Fields, who added backing vocals to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.
Wish You Were Here topped record charts in the United Kingdom and the United States, and Harvest Records’ parent company EMI was unable to print enough copies to meet demand. Although it initially received mixed reviews from critics, the album went on to receive critical acclaim, appearing on Rolling Stone‘s lists of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and the “50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time”. Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour have both cited Wish You Were Here as their favorite Pink Floyd album.
During 1974, Pink Floyd sketched out three new compositions, “Raving and Drooling”, “You Gotta Be Crazy” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. These songs were performed during a series of concerts in France and England, the band’s first tour since 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. As Pink Floyd had never employed a publicist and kept themselves distant from the press, their relationship with the media began to sour. Following the publication by NME of a negative critique of the band’s new material, written by Nick Kent (a devotee of Syd Barrett) and Pete Erskine, the band returned to the studio in the first week of 1975.
Wish You Were Here is Floyd’s second album with a conceptual theme written entirely by Roger Waters. It reflects his feeling that the camaraderie that had served the band was, by then, largely absent. The album begins with a long instrumental preamble and segues into the lyrics for “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to Syd Barrett, whose mental breakdown had forced him to leave the group seven years earlier. Barrett is fondly recalled with lines such as “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun” and “You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon”.
Wish You Were Here is also a critique of the music business. “Shine On” crosses seamlessly into “Welcome to the Machine”, a song that begins with an opening door (described by Waters as a symbol of musical discovery and progress betrayed by a music industry more interested in greed and success) and ends with a party, the latter epitomising “the lack of contact and real feelings between people”. Similarly, “Have a Cigar” scorns record industry “fat-cats” with the lyrics repeating a stream of cliches heard by rising new-comers in the industry, and including the question “by the way, which one’s Pink?” asked of the band on at least one occasion. The lyrics of the next song, “Wish You Were Here”, relate both to Barrett’s condition, and to the dichotomy of Waters’ character, with greed and ambition battling with compassion and idealism. The album closes with a reprise of “Shine On” and further instrumental excursions.
“I had some criticisms of Dark Side of the Moon…” noted David Gilmour. “One or two of the vehicles carrying the ideas were not as strong as the ideas that they carried. I thought we should try and work harder on marrying the idea and the vehicle that carried it so that they both had an equal magic… It’s something I was personally pushing when we made Wish You Were Here.”
The album was released on 12 September 1975 in the UK, and on the following day in the US. In Britain, with 250,000 advance sales, it went straight to number one, and demand was such that EMI informed retailers that only 50 percent of their orders would be fulfilled. With 900,000 advance orders (the largest for any Columbia release) it reached number one on the US Billboard chart in its second week. Wish You Were Here was Pink Floyd’s fastest-selling album ever.
On release, the album received mixed reviews. Ben Edmunds wrote in Rolling Stone:
Shine on You Crazy Diamond is initially credible because it purports to confront the subject of Syd Barrett, the long and probably forever lost guiding light of the original Floyd. But the potential of the idea goes unrealised; they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the goddamn thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Waters’s brother-in-law getting a parking ticket. This lackadaisical demeanor forces, among other things, a reevaluation of their relationship to all the space cadet orchestras they unconsciously sired. The one thing those bands have going for them, in their cacophonously inept way, is a sincere passion for their “art.” And passion is everything of which Pink Floyd is devoid.
Melody Maker‘s reviewer wrote: “From whichever direction one approaches Wish You Were Here, it still sounds unconvincing in its ponderous sincerity and displays a critical lack of imagination in all departments.” However, Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice: “The music is not only simple and attractive, with the synthesizer used mostly for texture and the guitar breaks for comment, but it actually achieves some of the symphonic dignity (and cross-referencing) that The Dark Side of the Moon simulated so ponderously.” He later wrote: “My favorite Pink Floyd album has always been Wish You Were Here, and you know why? It has soul, that’s why – it’s Roger Waters’s lament for Syd, not my idea of a tragic hero but as long as he’s Roger’s that doesn’t matter.”
According to Acclaimed Music, Wish You Were Here is the 185th most ranked record on critics’ all-time lists. In 2012, it was voted 211th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2015, it was chosen as the fourth greatest progressive rock album by Rolling Stone. In 1998 Q readers voted Wish You Were Here the 34th greatest album of all time. In 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 43 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2007, one of Germany’s largest public radio stations, WDR 2, asked its listeners to vote for the 200 best albums of all time. Wish You Were Here was voted number one. In 2004 Wish You Were Here was ranked number 36 on Pitchfork Media’s list of the Top 100 albums of the 1970s. IGN rated Wish You Were Here as the 8th greatest classic rock album. and Ultimate Classic Rock placed Wish You Were Here second best in their list of “Worst to Best Pink Floyd Albums,”
Despite the problems during production, the album remained Wright’s favourite: “It’s an album I can listen to for pleasure, and there aren’t many Floyd albums that I can.” Gilmour shares this view: “I for one would have to say that it is my favorite album, the Wish You Were Here album. The end result of all that, whatever it was, definitely has left me an album I can live with very very happily. I like it very much.”
Pink Floyd and their manager Steve O’Rourke had been dissatisfied with the efforts of EMI’s US label Capitol Records, and Wish You Were Here was Pink Floyd’s first album with Columbia Records, an affiliate of CBS. The band remained with EMI’s Harvest Records in Europe. As a result of the label switch, the band gained ownership of their recordings, so that, from Wish You Were Here onward, every one of their albums has been copyrighted to either “Pink Floyd Music Limited” or (after Waters’ departure) “Pink Floyd (1987) Ltd.” instead of the corresponding record label.
The album was certified Silver and Gold (60,000 and 100,000 sales respectively) in the UK on 1 August 1975, and Gold in the US on 17 September 1975. It was certified six times platinum on 16 May 1997, and by 2004 has sold an estimated 13 million copies worldwide. “Have a Cigar” was chosen by Columbia as their first single, with “Welcome to the Machine” on the B-side in the US.