The album is less than 45 minutes long with the bulk being taken up by the opening track "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." In the band's conception, it's a song in five parts even though it's all in one track. It's quite beautiful, operatic rock, equivalent to a classical musician's sonata or movement. It's a testament to why people hail Pink Floyd as more than a run-of-the-mill rock band.
A great deal of the music of the 1970s falls prey to its own pretentiousness. To our generation, it comes off as camp because while being utterly sincere, it fails to sound like anything more than musicians gratifying themselves. I haven't listened to The Wall in some time, but this would be my appraisal of The Wall right now. I don't think that's the case with Wish You Were Here.
If I could go back in time, I would have done some tribute to the death of my father involving the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." I wouldn't have had the cojones to have done it at the funeral because I wouldn't have wanted any judgment from family members. But something. Somehow. I don't know. Perhaps with friends. If anyone was a crazy diamond, it was my father. Perhaps I could have planned the musical eulogy around themes. I could have played Billy Joe Shaver's "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Going to Be a Diamond Some Day)." I hope all the struggles in my father's life was God squeezing my father into a diamond. According to my grandparents, my father was saved near the end of his life. My grandfather and my father didn't get along well while my father was alive but it seemed my grandfather was proud of my father's change of heart. This being my maternal grandfather, mind, and step-grandfather at that. Regardless of all the talk about my father being saved, I didn't notice much of a change in the man in his last days. Perhaps this is unfair. I'm not supposed to judge and only God knows a person's heart, no?
"Welcome to the Machine" sounds cool. There's a 12-string guitar on the track and an electric organ with space noises, akin to something like the wild auto-tune we've heard so much over the past 10 years. I've always intuitively interpreted this song as being about conformism. You too? What else could the machine be? The lyrics seem pretty cut-and-dry about this. "You didn't like school / And you know you're nobody's fool / So welcome to the machine."
You've got this nice walking up and down some scale or other in "Have a Cigar." Just read on Wikipedia this song was supposed to have been sung by guitarist David Gilmour, but he disagreed with the sentiment in Roger Waters' lyrics, thinking they were too cynical about the music industry. In this song about selling out, Roy Harper does the vocals even though these were Waters' lyrics. Waters said he didn't end up liking Harper's rendering of his lyrics because it sounded too cynical. Oh well. That's what we've got. All this back and forth aside, I can understand. It's not a great song. This song leads off the B-side, incidentally.
Oh goodness, and next comes the lovely title track, "Wish You Were Here." I have fond memories of us all sitting around in the Jam Shack playing this song. We'd play it and then play it again and again and again. This is a song you can fall into while playing or listening to it. Incidentally, hearing this and feeling sentimental, this would be a song I wished I had played to eulogize my father. And my mother.