Stories Behind Classic Songs, Part 3

Syd Barrett visited Pink Floyd while they were recording Shine On You Crazy Diamond

One could argue that the best aspect about Pink Floyd’s glory mid-70s era has always been their balance between the complex and the accessible; between the prog-rock approach to albums and the pop sensibility that lay at the heart of the songs inside those albums. They would take you to dreamlands with their instrumental landscapes, keep you studying forever with their attention to sonic detail and flawless production, but ultimately it all led to something – nothing felt like showing off just for the sake of show off (like so many other prog bands are guilty of). They would always resonate with the listener, through both words and music.

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And Shine On You Crazy Diamond definitely incorporates those aspects. But you already knew that; I’m not gonna surprise anybody in calling it one of the band’s most representative songs. What has always fascinated me about it though, is that its universal character was born out of feelings that were particularly personal – basically, the band’s purpose with the song was to pay homage to Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s original founder, song-writer, singer, lead guitar player and general artistic leader. The band’s first singles as well as their debut LP, the classic Piper at the Gates of Dawn, were pretty much Syd’s brainchild and will forever be remembered for their absolutely unique mix of childlike playfulness and nightmarish psychedelic soundscapes. Syd also contributed bits to the band’s second album, before being kicked out of the band for erratic on-and-off stage behavior supposedly caused by LSD abuse and undiagnosed mental illness.

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This is literally the shortest version of the story I could come up with, but many more things have been written about the life and career of Syd Barrett, without a doubt one of the most fascinating figures in popular music. What I want to draw attention to with this article is one particular event that occurred in 1975. Floyd were coming into the studio to work on the aforementioned Crazy Diamond song and received an unexpected visit: an overweight, bald and eyebrow-less man was waiting for them in the Abbey Road recording room. None of the members recognized him at first so the shock was twice as big when the realization that he was none other than Syd himself hit them. Waters was moved to tears even. The once charismatic front-man whom the band hadn’t seen in years (Gilmour, Wright and Waters all contributed to Syd’s 1970 solo albums) decided to pay them a visit in the exact time frame that the band was working on the biggest and most direct tribute to him. How’s that for a coincidence? Syd was asked by the members of his opinion on Shine On You Crazy Diamond and was apparently not a fan at all. And then he left the studio, just like that, never to meet with any of the Pink Floyd members ever again.

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Of course the band completed Wish You Were Here, immediately to attain the classic album status, but never throughout their career forgot about Syd and his legacy. However painful it must’ve been for them, which is the reason Waters stated for not attempting to visit Barrett in the following decades, they always kept the crazy diamond shining, whether through words, music, live tribute or film. Plus, have you ever wondered why Pink, The Wall’s protagonist, shaves off his eyebrows at one point in the 1982 movie? Now you know.

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What do you mean you don’t like the song?

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Categories: Stories Behind Classic Songs

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16 replies

  1. Great post Ovidio. on one of the essentials of rock music. This song is directly imputed into my soul – Saying I love this is a massive understatement – the weight of true friendship – How you never stop carrying that weight even when insanity deals a cruel hand – Just beautiful.

    Cheers to you,

    Wayne

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sorry about misspelling your name dude, – great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post, Ovidiu. I’m not the biggest Pink Floyd fan, but I do like this song a whole lot. One of those beautiful tracks that just never fails to move me. A weighty song with a very interesting ‘behind the scenes’ moments.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Good post! 🙂

    Syd Barrett’s downward career trajectory was a musical tragedy for someone with such clear talent but it I fear he was too much a child of the 60’s and had he stayed with Floyd they never would have progressed and grown into the band they did, with their own sound and unique style – they would have been stuck doing the same psychedelic noodlings of the first album, similar to how Syd’s solo work turned out.

    “Crazy Diamond” however is a wonderful heartfelt tribute to an old friend and it is with some irony that had Syd not gone off the rails like he did we would never had his this sublime and achingly emotional timeless classic to enjoy.

    Life eh? ;-).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Ovidiu. So great to read about so many great songs and artists who have blown our worlds and hearts apart and then brought the pieces back together. Happy Valentine’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If not for Sid there would not have been a Pink Floyd; likewise as “fate” entered so did the ability for Floyd to advance to even higher levels of Floydian bliss. It was a karmic sacrifice by Sid to ignite ground-breaking art, then burn out. Dormant mental illness awoken by LSD takes its toll, just ask Peter Green.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You said, “but ultimately it all led to something – nothing felt like showing off just for the sake of show off (like so many other prog bands are guilty of). They would always resonate with the listener, through both words and music.” Good point.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Personal opinion, liked everything up to Echoes but from then on I got a bit impatient with their commercial turn …

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I did wonder about the eyebrows and this was sad to read! But good as well- in fact – I am glad to have found your blog this week – I have not read about pink Floyd in some time – and glad we have more resources for mental Illness – but not nearly enough – good post

    Liked by 1 person

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