Album Review: Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (Experience Edition)

When I reviewed Pink Floyd‘s The Dark Side of the Moon: Experience Edition, I began by explaining that I wouldn’t bother reviewing the original album, the first disc of the 2CD set. My point was that plenty has been said about one of the best-selling albums in the history of popular music. I quickly moved on to discuss the contents of the second disc.

To some extent, that’s my modus operandi for reviewing Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition. Many critics argue that WYWH is actually the superior album of the two, and there’s a strong case to be made. Wish You Were Here may well hold together better musically. But The Dark Side of the Moon caused more of a seismic shift in pop music than did Wish You Were Here. Hell, they’re both among the best music of the 1970s. Both are exemplars of whatever you’d care to label the music: space rock, progressive rock, album rock, FM rock, art rock, or just plain rock. Or (as I’d argue) all of those.

Wish You Were Here has gotten the reissue treatment before, but never quite like this. In addition to the top-notch remastering of what was a flawlessly recorded, engineered and produced record to begin with, the Experience Edition is similar to its DSOTM counterpart in this important way: the goodies on the second disc are absolutely remarkable. That second disc is filled with previously-unreleased material, all of it of great musical-historical import.

Following the approach they used for the music that would become The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd road-tested several long-form pieces of music for quite some time before entering the studio. After taking a break from touring after a long string of dates, Pink Floyd wrapped up their tour in November 1973. Up to that point, their shows had included The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, with a bit of Meddle (“Echoes”), some Obscured by Clouds tracks, and a couple of songs they had been doing since the tail-end of the 1960s.

But when they played their first show of 1974 – a June date in Colmar, France – the band premiered some new music. While the second half of their show was mainly Dark Side, they opened with a new track called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and followed it up with something they called “Raving and Drooling.” Both were embryonic works. Tapers only captured one other show that summer, but when the band returned for a proper tour in November 1974, they had added yet another new work, this one called “You Gotta Be Crazy.” Subsequent shows – as can be heard on a number of bootleg recordings – found them refining bits and pieces of three long works.

Pink Floyd did three dates at The Empire Pool, Wembley, London in November 1974; at these shows they performed all three of the new tunes. And all three have now gotten official release on Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition.

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” – even in its earliest state – has the trademark four-note David Gilmour riff (sometimes known as “Syd’s Theme.”) Here it’s played much faster, and the song overall doesn’t have all of the subtle chord changes subsequently developed for the studio version (recorded the first half of 1975 at Abbey Road).

Well-informed Pink Floyd fans will know that “Raving and Drooling” was later reworked and retitled “Dogs,” while “You Gotta Be Crazy” was retooled into “Sheep.” Both formed the centerpiece of Pink Floyd’s Animals, released in 1977. But the November 1974 Wembley versions show us what the songs sounded like shortly after they were first composed.

“You Gotta Be Crazy” is radically different from “Sheep.” Gilmour spits out Roger Waters‘ lyrics as quickly as he can; it’s likely that at some point Waters realized that he had over-written the song; the stripped-down lyrics of the Animals version is far superior. But it’s fascinating to hear these Animals songs in this context: when the band did its “In the Flesh” tour to promote Animals, they added Snowy White as a second guitarist. What you’ll here on these cuts is the four-piece Floyd bending the songs into shape using only themselves.

A quick aside: Those wishing for an Animals: Experience Edition should stop waiting; it won’t happen. The tracks on WYWH:EE pretty much exhaust the well of that material, and David Gilmour has never made a secret of his dislike of the Animals songs. Despite his stellar contributions, he has always felt those tunes to be Roger Waters’ domain, and pointedly included no Animals music in either of the Waters-less Pink Floyd tours (1987 and 1994).

The remaining three tracks on the second disc are studio cuts, each with its own historical significance. “Wine Glasses” is an artifact from an aborted experiment. After the success of The Dark Side of the Moon, the band came up with the idea of recording an entire album without using musical instruments. These sessions have long been the stuff of legend among hardcore Floyd fans, and as little in the way of studio outtakes has ever found its way into circulation without the band’s approval, the Household Objects sessions have remained unheard. But after all that, the brief snippet “Wine Glasses” sounds remarkably like a brief chunk of “Shine On you Crazy Diamond.” As some other reviewer said many years ago, Pink Floyd is a band who never threw away a good idea.

An alternate take of “Have a Cigar” is closer in sound to how fans would have heard it onstage: Gilmour and Waters take a dual harmony lead vocal. The official version’s guest singer Roy Harper is not present. There are other subtle differences in instrumentation. Hearing Waters sing his parts is a reminder that the choice of Harper was a wise one.

Another legendary Pink Floyd anecdote revolves around the time famed French violinist Stéphane Grappelli happened by the studio where Pink Floyd were recording. Fans have long known that he recorded a violin part for “Wish You Were Here,” and on this new set we finally get to hear it. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s very good, and quite different from the version we’ve all come to know.

For anyone who likes Pink Floyd’s 70s output, and especially for those who actually like the music on Animals, Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition is an essential purchase.

Note: There’s also a pricey 5-disc “Immersion Box Set” for fans with 5.1 systems and so forth; it includes some tasty visual goodies as well, but as far as music, what’s on the Experience Edition is what you get there as well.

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