By Joseph Christ
After years of anticipation, Pink Floyd has finally opened up their archives to the public. On September 27th, 2011, the band launched their “Why Pink Floyd?” campaign. This entails a planned re-release of all 14 of their original studio albums remastered from the original analog tapes by long time engineer for the band, James Guthrie. The albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall are to be made available in various special editions, featuring a plethora of previously unreleased audio and video material.
The 2-disc Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition, released on November 8th, 2011, seems the most exciting of the titles released thus far. The first disc contains the original mix of Pink Floyd's 1975 album that we all know and love, remastered in 2011 by James Guthrie. Critics appear to unanimously agree that this remaster is the best-sounding to date. Yet, I must say I tend to favor the original 1983 CBS issue, which, to me, sounds less compressed and much more dynamic. The 2011 remaster, however, does appear to have a bit more color and detail.
Wish You Were Here originally released September 12th, 1975.
What caught my attention more than anything was the inclusion of three bonus tracks on the second disc that were recorded on November 15th, 1974 at the Empire Pool in Wembley, London. These tracks include early work-in-progress versions of the songs “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-6),” “Sheep” and “Dogs.” The latter two were originally titled “Raving and Drooling” and “You Gotta Be Crazy,” and were later released on the Animals album.
Animals originally released January 23rd, 1977.
This early version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is very similar to the final track that ended up on the actual Wish You Were Here album. The only real significant differences are that there are no female vocals to accompany David Gilmour and Richard Wright's vocals on the chorus of the song. When listening to the track, they seem to get by without the soulful harmonies of Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams, but it is apparent that something crucial is indeed missing. The other major difference is the notable absence of the saxophone solo, to be made famous later by friend of the band, Dick Perry. In retrospect, I find the find this early version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to be a fascinating insight into how the band rehearsed and developed new material in a live setting while on tour.
Pink Floyd in 1974.
The remainder of the live tracks, “Raving and Drooling” and “You Gotta Be Crazy,” were written and conceived during the tours of 1974 and 1975, but were in fact saved for the Animals album, later released in 1977. The discovery of these tracks in the archives is one of the most profound discoveries to date in the Pink Floyd camp, as these are the only live recordings that exist from this period of the band's career. Upon listening to these two tracks, it is immediately apparent that these are definitely “in-progress” pieces of work. They are vastly different from the songs that appeared on the final album.
“Raving and Drooling” is mostly an instrumental piece with lyrics that, in comparison to “Sheep,” leave a bit to be desired. In my opinion, this track is the one of the weaker unreleased tracks. One thing that is nice about it, though, is the prominence of Richard Wright's keyboard work, something that seems to fall by the wayside oftentimes in Pink Floyd recordings.
Richard Wright on keyboard in the 1970s.
“You Gotta Be Crazy” is relatively faithful to the version of “Dogs” that appeared on the final album. The lyrics are very similar, in a sense. The melody and structure of the song are also similar as well. The lyrics come off a bit faster and with a bit more contempt, which David Gilmour seems to deliver with more venom than on the final studio version. My favorite thing about this work-in-progress is the inclusion of the line, “Gotta keep everyone buying this shit,” which, to me, signifies the beginning of lyricist Roger Waters' disenchantment with being in a rock and roll band, and the beginning of his best era of songwriting.
Roger Waters in the 1970s: the look of pure inspiration.
The other tracks on the disc of bonus material are outtakes from the “Wish You Were Here” recording sessions in 1975. Included is a rough version of “Have a Cigar,” featuring Roger Waters handling lead vocals instead of Roy Harper, and an alternate guitar solo by David Gilmour. After my initial listen, I immediately thought to myself, “Why didn't they keep this for the final album?” I simply love this alternate take. I think it’s safe to say that I strongly prefer this version to Roy Harper's, which appears on the final album. Call it blasphemy if you will, but to me it just sounds much more like Pink Floyd.
Other gems on this disc are the “Wine Glasses” track from the infamous “Household Objects” sessions and an alternate version of the title track “Wish You Were Here,” featuring Stephane Grappelli on violin. The abandoned “Household Objects” track is mostly forgettable to anyone but the most ardent Pink Floyd fan. However, the alternate version of “Wish You Were Here” is a gem. Thought to be lost for over 35 years, the tape was found by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. It features a violin coda by Django Reinhardt's violinist, Stephane Grappelli, and it adds a lovely touch to the song, which made me think yet again, “Why didn't they keep this for the final album?” For whatever reason they chose not to include it, the original album is still a masterpiece, and finally having these alternate and live tracks after all these years should be enough of a blessing to satisfy even the most hungry Pink Floyd fan. Even if you already have the original Wish You Were Here album, I recommend purchasing this release just for the bonus tracks.