My Newfound Respect for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here is a bitter and abrasive piece that may not fit squarely into Pink Floyd’s discography, but must still be recognized as an incredible project from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Pink Floyd is one of my favorite groups of all-time. Their evolution from underground, prog-rock four piece to worldwide rock phenomena is nothing short of incredible, and their prolific writing over a nearly 50 year career means that their is no shortage of great music for fans of all eras.

Perhaps most importantly, Floyd has at least three albums, namely The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and Animals, which are on the short list for greatest rock album of all time. The band’s run in the 1970’s, when each of these three where released, is simply breathtaking and it’s a run that will likely never be matched.

All that being said, there is one Pink Floyd album which, though often considered a part of their top tier and despite falling squarely in the center of their 70’s run, has never seemed to impress me as much as other works. 

1975’s Wish You Were Here is a follow up to the break out success of Dark Side just two years prior. The ninth studio album from Floyd, it was the first time the band had taken much more than a year between releases, thanks to a much busier touring schedule. The record is entirely different from the rest of their catalog and was an especially radical departure from the fuller, more psychedelic sound on which they’d cut their teeth. It had always struck me as an enjoyable, albeit lacking, album from a band with much better works to offer, and as such, it was one of the last LP’s to be added to my now completed Pink Floyd vinyl collection.

Finally having the physical copy in my hand, however, I began to gain a new appreciation for the record. The artwork, while every bit as iconic as any other Pink Floyd album, is also entirely different. While other Floyd covers are psychedelic and thematic, Wish You Were Here is, first of all, encased in a large, whit box, which means that the cover photo doesn’t even take up the full space of the record. It’s also a real photo, not a drawing or other design, which also leaves the album feeling distinctly less magical than other releases. On each surface is a simple image, encased in a white box, and depicting only one point of focus.

This grounded simplicity is apparent in the music as well. Where the majority of the group’s catalog utilizes massive instrument pallets and explosive swells of sound, Wish You Were Here’s instrumentation is far more simple. Most tracks, especially the bookending epic, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” feature a looping melody with a single featuring instrument or vocal on lead.

It was this change that first lead to my distaste for the project. I’d fallen in love with the warmth and lusciousness of the band’s sound. Albums like Dark Side and even later releases like The Division Bell felt like I was swimming in a gorgeous, psychedelic soundscape, each wave of sound more powerful than the last and each low point only a pitstop before another build. Wish You Were Here simply doesn’t give you that. Instead, the album is cold. It’s distant. It has a much stronger jazz influence and it’s smoothness often feels alienating. But it’s this simplicity and focus that makes it such an important album.

Wish You Were Here is a contemplation, as with any Floyd album. But where Dark Side contemplates life and The Wall contemplates relationships, topics at least some room for warmth, Wish You Were Here sets its sights on fame, particularly through the lens of of their previous front man, Syd Barrett, a man who’d been all but destroyed by fame.

It’s within this context that we understand the choice of cold focus over indulgent fullness, of abrasive synths over expansive organs, and of clean acoustic guitars over Gilmour’s iconic, sprawling electric. The album is distant and uncaring because fame is too. Of course, it remains enjoyable, as is fame, but Floyd has perfectly captured the sense of biting callousness that so often accompanies success.

In the end, the album should be viewed not as the second release during Floyd’s 1970’s run at the very top, nor as a follow up to one of the greatest albums of all time in The Dark Side of the Moon, but as both a representation of the bleak realities of success and a skewering of the very idea of fame. Wish You Were Here is a bitter and abrasive piece that may not fit squarely into Pink Floyd’s discography, but must still be recognized as an incredible project from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

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Five Songs That Changed My Life

I Bowed On My KneesThe Gaither Vocal Band

     This was the first song that I can truly remember loving. I was very young and the only kid my age that I knew who listened to large amounts of Southern gospel music. Nevertheless, I fell in love with this song, and much of that enjoyment still remains today. The powerful tenor lines from David Phelps drive the track along and the excellent instrumental gives the track an epic feel that that is hardly matched, even by the majority of rock epics.

   Today, I remain a big fan of the Gaithers and of David Phelps, but especially of this song. I was able to see them live in Saint Louis when I was still very young, and I remember enjoying the concert quite a bit, even if my friends at school weren’t as impressed as I thought they should be. I’ve had plenty of “favorite songs” over the years, but this was the first one to hold that distinction, and for that, it will always hold a special place in my musical history.

Broadripple is BurningMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s

   I was first shown this song by a close friend and I was hooked from my first listen. The vocal talents and lyricism of the band’s lead singer, Richard Edwards, absolutely blew me away. Through quirky one-liners and thoughtful storytelling, Edwards crafts a tale about change, about regret, and about growing up, which was exactly the kind of thing I was ready to hear around my sophomore year of high school when I first heard this song.

   Since first hearing it, I’ve become a massive fan of Margot, and later, Richard’s music. I was lucky enough to see him live in Iowa about two years ago, and I’ve heard all of the many versions of this song which I know of. Last year, I was finally able to find the original vinyl print of the single online for a hefty price, and it’s still the prized possession of my record collection. I also stopped, just before leaving town for my sophomore year of college, to tattoo a few of the lyrics on my bicep. This is and always will be one of my favorite songs of all time.

HoneybeeSteam Powered Giraffe

   I first came across this track through a video listing the “Top Ten Weird Bands,” or something similar. I heard only a snippet, but it featured fantastically tight harmony and a unique sound. Also, the band members were painted to look like steampunk robots. I was hooked. Steam Powered Giraffe is one of the most unique bands in music today. In addition to their unique, running concept, they feature extremely complex harmonies, for which I have a soft spot, and quirky lyrics

   At the time of my finding this song, I’d been dating my girlfriend, now of almost three years, for only about a month. This strange song was one of the first unique things we were able to enjoy together. We were able to see the group live about two hours North of our hometown and it was one of the strangest and most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever seen. I’ve loved this song and band for about three years now and they stand as a constant reminder to give all forms of art a chance, no matter how odd they may seem at first.

Fiddle and The DrumA Perfect Circle

   The first time I heard this song, I was in a strange place in my musical life. I had just started high school, where my teachers were desperately trying to direct my attention away from music and toward more traditional subjects. I was loaded down with math and engineering homework, which made it virtually impossible to find the creative inspiration needed to write music. I had told my dad that I thought I may be done writing music, that I felt like there was only so much that could be done with four chords, and I felt creatively limited by the entire form of music. A few days later, he showed me this.

   I was already familiar with Tool, and most of A Perfect Circle’s work, but there was something about this track. The harmonies were reminiscent of the gospel music I’d grown up on, but the tone was so much darker, and Maynard’s vocals told such a story. Above all, however, it was hearing someone totally unhindered by their medium, telling a story that could only be told musically, that reignited my faith in music at a time in my life when I needed that.

Round HereCounting Crows

   Of all the songs ever written, not one has changed my life the way this one has. The first time I heard this, I was young, somewhat interested in music, and riding home in a dark car late at night. My dad told me he thought I’d like the song and to listen. He was right. From this very first listen, I could hear the unbelievable lyricism and vocal performance of Adam Duritz, the vast instrumentals, and above all a story. I had never in my life heard a song with the ability to tell such an effective story. Every line, instrument, and vocal inflection said something, and it was this song that showed me the true power of an amazing song.

   Since this first listen, this song has never really made it’s way out of my regular rotation. Counting Crows is, without a doubt, my favorite band to date. About a year ago, I was lucky enough to see them live. My girlfriend and I sat in the second row and even got to meet them for a few minutes before the show. On a larger scale, the bulk of my life is dedicated to music, writing, performing, and reviewing. That is, without a doubt, because of the way I fell in love with this song, and that’s why this is the number one song that changed my life.

Five Easy Tips for Becoming a Better Music Listener

Virtually every genre of music is thriving in an exciting way today, and sitting out on this exciting era is simply not an option for true lovers of music.

5. Learn an Instrument

     To start off, learning an instrument has numerous benefits. It’s shown to help younger children in school, it can serve as a creative outlet and relieve stress, and let’s not forget, ladies love a guitarist! In addition to this, learning to play an instrument for yourself can infinitely increase your enjoyment of music that you’ve always loved.

   This can be done relatively cheap, and I would recommend guitar as a cheap guitar can run under $100. Understanding chord structures, basic music theory, and the skill that goes into playing an instrument opens a new window through which to view some of your favorite tunes.

4. Listen with Intention

   This is one of the most important and most ignored pieces when it comes to enjoying music thoroughly. If you start a movie and let it play in the background as you clean the house, do homework, etc., you couldn’t truly say that you’ve “seen” the movie. In the same way, music, at least good music, isn’t made to be wallpaper, but to be the focus of your time with it.

   If I could set up the perfect listening environment, I’d start with a comfortable room and a closed door. Add a nice pair of headphones or speakers, and even a paper to take notes, and you’ve got yourself a perfect environment to experience a great album. Of course, driving, jogging, cleaning, and other activities provide excellent time to revisit old favorites, but to intently listen, especially to a new record, the music needs to be the primary focus of your time.

3. Listen to Full Albums/Discographies

   This may seem obvious to a lot of people, but many music fans, particularly younger, still view an album as nothing more than a collection of songs independent of one another. This couldn’t be a worse understanding of an album’s purpose. A great record functions much like a great film, with each song acting as a scene. Each informs the next, either through direct storyline in the case of a concept album, or through tone and pacing in the case of a traditional album. Experiencing the piece as a whole allows you to place each song in context of the album and gives a fuller understanding of how each track is meant to function.

   Beyond this, albums are far better appreciated when viewed in the larger scope of a band’s entire discography. To take a group like The Beatles for example, their discography tells the story of a young boy band developing into an experimental, psychedelic powerhouse, and similar growth can be seen in several bands of the same era. Placing the album you’re hearing into the larger context of the group’s full catalog makes the listening experience vastly better.

2. Read the Lyrics

   It’s shocking how few avid music listeners actually do this, especially considering what an important factor it is, but to truly appreciate a great album, you simply have to read and know the lyrics. Lyricism is especially important in folk and rap music, but across all genre’s, it’s one of the most important aspects of a track. Every word is placed in a song for a reason, and a good listener understands the purpose of each line.

   Finding lyrics is very easy. Nearly every song ever recorded can be found on genius.com, often with accompanying discussion on the meanings of each line. In addition, physical copies of music generally come with liner notes or a book which will contain the album’s full lyrics and maybe even a few illustrations. Developing the skills to pick apart lyrics and understand their meaning is a remarkably important skill to a music listener, and it will radically change your experience of some of your favorite records.

1. Listen to New Music!!

   This is, without a doubt, the most important part of being a good listener. The most uninformed statement I hear and read on a daily basis is some form of “there’s no good music these days.” The modern music industry faces several issues, mainly dealing with artist pay and copyright questions, but the one problem it absolutely does not have is scarcity! It’s impossible to adequately enjoy the work of someone like Tupac without hearing his heavy influence on an artist like Kendrick Lamar, you can’t fully appreciate the violent intensity of Pantera without hearing the way modern hardcore groups like Code Orange have brought their sound roaring into the 21st century, and ignoring changes in current music leaves you alienated as a listener and removed from the world of music as a whole.

   Finding new music is a question I get often, and so let me list a few suggestions. The most obvious and affordable may be Spotify, which takes your weekly listening habits into account to create a 30-song playlist for you every Monday, made up of songs you haven’t heard. Spotify also has playlists like “new releases,” which can give you a taste of what’s coming out now. On top of this, websites like nme.com or billboard.com have yearly lists of upcoming albums. If you have certain bands you enjoy, follow their social media accounts to keep updated on upcoming work and the work of their label-mates. As a reviewer, I also sign up for mailing lists for several labels I enjoy, which means I get weekly emails with updates about upcoming music from their rosters. Virtually every genre of music is thriving in an exciting way today, and sitting out on this exciting era is simply not an option for true lovers of music.

Highlights of My Vinyl Collection

I’ve been collecting vinyl for awhile now. A few years and a few hundred albums later, here’s five highlights from my collection!

5. Richard Edwards – Pity Party LP

R-11145459-1519071279-3636.jpeg     On first glance, this may not seem like much. It’s been kept in relatively great condition, the cover is minimalistic and interesting, and the lightning blue vinyl is striking. What makes it special, however, is it’s status. The record only sold about 500 copies, and hasn’t been reprinted since. It was produced as a collectors edition, and as a place holder between Edwards’ excellent solo debut, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, and his even better follow up, Verdugo.

   The album itself is a combination of tracks from the two aforementioned projects, each performed solo on an acoustic guitar with minimal production. Edwards has such a gorgeous voice and talent for commanding attention to stripped back performances. In most cases, the less barrier between him and the listener, the better. In the end, this is one of his best projects to date, and I only wish it was in full circulation for those who weren’t able to procure it on it’s first and only print.

4. Tool – Lateralus LP

tumblr_n55pmsbyt01rgojw1o1_500_600x   Turning from one of my favorite folk artists to may absolute favorite hard rock group of all time, my second choice has got to be my Lateralus by Tool. The design on the case is gorgeous enough, sporting the colorful spirals associated with the record’s theme, but the picture discs on the inside are even more impressive. They show the upper half of a human body, removing one layer for each side of the two discs. It’s a purely Tool design, and it sets the mood before the record has even played.

   Musically, what is there to say? It’s a Tool album. It’s fantastic. Lateralus is the band’s most technical work, mixing in complex mathematical elements and executing polyrhythms with a rare precision. Instrumentally, this album is a peak, especially for Justin Chancellor’s bass work, as he begins to find his footing with the group in a major way. Maynard’s vocals and lyrics are, of course, incredible, and overall, the album is just a pure master work.

3. Pink Floyd – Collection

  From progressive metal to pure progressive rock, we’ll turn to my personal choice for the greatest band of all time, Pink Floyd. My collection is missing only a few entries, namely Wish You Were Here and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, but the bulk of their massive discography sits comfortably near the front of my record box. The designs are breathtaking in their simplicity, one of my favorite qualities of Floyd’s album covers. Dark Side of the Moon and Atom Heart Mother in particular create so much meaning with basic covers.

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   When it comes to content, as I said, I consider Pink Floyd the greatest rock band of all time. Listening to their discography in order, you’ll hear them grow and breathe as a group with very few stumbles along the way. Their prime period, from Dark Side of the Moon in ’73 to The Wall in ’79, is nothing short of perfect. However, their earlier, more experimental work is fun and exciting and their later work is expansive and powerful. They’re simply the best to ever do it.

2. Kendrick Lamar – Autographed Damn. LP

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 8.42.39 AM.png   Though rap music doesn’t have nearly the tradition in the vinyl world that other genre’s do, I just can’t resist including this gem. The blood red vinyl references one of the best tracks on the album and Kendrick’s enigmatic face peaks out irresistibly as one flips through their stacks of records. Above all, however, the autograph elevates this LP above the rest of my Kendrick collection.

   Musically, DAMN. certainly isn’t my favorite album from Lamar’s discography. That being said, it’s still one of the best records of 2017 by a mile. The heavy trap influences and simple aesthetic is a notable difference from To Pimp a Butterfly’s jazzy, maximalist style. Kendrick’s flow is blistering, and his lyricism is second to none in modern hip-hop. He’s one of the greats, and it is a pleasure to be alive during his run.

1. Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s – Broadripple is Burning/Holy Cow SINGLE

R-745551-1518276605-9152.jpeg   This was my white wale, and last year, I finally caught it. The debut single for one of my favorite bands is the reason I started collecting vinyl in the first place and it was brutally hard to get my hands on. I eventually got my hands on it for less than $100, a score as far as I’m concerned, and it now sit’s proudly atop my collection. The cover is simple and hand-drawn, the disc is a basic black, and the packaging is fairly worn, but it still stands as my crown jewel.

   The lead track is beautiful, as one would expect from a band fronted by Richard Edwards. His voice is youthful and the instrumentation is full in a way that it wouldn’t be on later releases. Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time, as evidenced by the line from it’s second verse which rests permanently on my arm. The B-side, “Holy Cow,” is fun as well, sounding much more like the band’s later work, but nothing tops “Broadripple is Burning.” I’ve collected nearly 200 records at this point, but none of them have given me the feeling of excitement I got from this single.

What the Hippies Did For Music

I wrote this piece a few years ago while working as the A&E Editor with Vernois News! I stand by the statements, but it’s fun to see how much I’ve grown as a writer!

     Music is a changing world. Soundcloud, Spotify, and iTunes have made it possible for listeners to have any music they could imagine at their fingertips. Today’s teens come to school with headphones more often than they come with pencils, and new records have the ability to reach the entire world in seconds. But has anything truly changed about the listener? Music fans, especially younger ones, still consume music at incredible rates, feverishly scouring all outlets for something new, but having the entire world at our fingertips has, in my opinion, come with it’s costs. To understand the world’s changing view of music, let’s go back about 47 years.

   In mid August of 1969, the music world, and the entire world for that matter, changed forever with the start of the Woodstock festival. 400,000 people traveled from all around the nation to a dairy farm in Bethel, New York for a three day musical experience, one of the first of its time.

   Music in the 60’s and 70’s progressed incredibly. Many critics would say that music changed more in these 20 years than it had in the past hundred. So what was so different about this time?

   One of the biggest differences was the drug and counterculture movements who had come out of the dark for the first time in American history. Being pro-marijuana and anti-war was no longer a position to be held only in your home and never discussed. Rebelling against the established culture was finally socially excepted, which led to a feeling of disconnect for the younger generation, translating to the music of the time. Young people no longer felt that Frank Sinatra and swing jazz accurately represented how they felt. They were looking for something new, something more rebellious. That hole was filled, first, by The Beatles, and later by heavier acts like Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. But those artists have long since left the forefront of music. The world moved on to newer sounds and enjoyed countless new genres through the years, but, for some reason, the hippies are never forgotten. The hippie movement never truly died, and its effects have proven to be permanent. So what’s so special about the hippies? What makes them so different from all movements before and all those that followed?

   The biggest difference, as far as I can see, was the love, not just for each other, but more so for the music. No generation before them had put together a festival like Woodstock, because no earlier generation had truly been in love with its music the way the hippies were. No movement to come would change the face of music the way they did, because no movement would ever accept all music the way they did. Today’s bands lose their fan base from small changes in sound, but Hendrix was able to reinvent himself each time he stepped on a stage because the massive crowds were not only hungry for the songs they knew, but desperately craved something original, something challenging to the form they’d been taught. The hippie movement explored the sonic world of music bravely, because they loved all they discovered.

   The hippies changed music because they loved music and, because of this, the subculture will be studied and remembered for years to come.

Understanding Pink Floyd’s Masterpiece in a Classical Sense

image      1973 was a big year. The Sears Tower was officially completed that summer, the Winter saw the infamous Roe v. Wade verdict handed down in the supreme court, and Billie Jean King won the battle of the sexes tennis match. And in March of 1973, Pink Floyd released their titular Prog-rock masterpiece to rave reviews and unprecedented commercial success, and the world of music would never be the same.

It’s fitting that Pink Floyd chose the prism as the cover for Dark Side of the Moon, as the visual fits almost all meanings one could derive from the piece. Many see the image as a representation of the beauty in diversity, others as a metaphor for the change the record could produce in the listeners life, and a few fans even see the prism as a metaphor for acid and how the drug would change one’s perception of the world. An undoubtedly accidental manifestation of the image can be found in the effect which the album had on the bands career, propelling them from underground visionaries to absolute superstardom. Myself, I see the cover as a representation of the many ways which listeners may view the album. As a piece of performance, Dark Side showcases four of the greatest musicians to ever live in their primes, along with a multitude of guest artists who fill out a well versed instrumentation pallet with wonderful performances of their own, most notably “Great Gig in the Sky.” From a lyrical standpoint, Waters and Gilmour are at their best, writing on massive topics with perfect precision. During a recent lecture on what makes a piece of music “Classical,” however, my Professor presented me with a brand new prism through which to examine this record when he stated that a piece of “classical” music conveys emotion through its form, not through lyrics. So lets take yet another look at the record that changed the world, removing lyricism, and instead focussing in on the underlying musical composition that makes this album so memorable.

While Dark Side delves into a multitude of topics, some of the overarching themes it covers are life, death, stress, and change. Of course, none of these topics are new to Pink Floyd’s discography, but the album frames them in a very different way than previous efforts, most notably pitting life and death against each other and drawing up opposing sides on which every other topic falls. There’s a reason that the album begins and ends with a singular heart beat, but just like in life, it’s what happens in the middle that matters.

As the first heartbeat enters, its quickly drowned out by chaos. Screaming, loud instrumentation, dissonance. It’s often said that this chaos could represent birth and the first breaths of life, which could very well be true, and if it is, even more power is found in the song “Breath” for its soft, enjoyable music. This is our first much needed break from chaos and its very enjoyable. As with many tracks on the album, I’d be perfectly happy to listen to this melody for the entirety of the album, but it’s brought to a close by the hectic follow up, “On the Run.”

image    Here, much like the opening track, what we hear isn’t necessarily pleasant. Instead, it’s a fast-tempo, repetitive synth piece that, by most interpretations is meant to represent the stresses of touring and a busy lifestyle. It’s fitting that the song is devoid of lyrics, because the band doesn’t want you to hear about their stress, they want you to feel it, and you do. The track is effective, but its groove is eventually disrupted too, this time by a painfully loud chorus of alarm clocks. This pattern continues throughout the album. Long tracks which establish a groove which listeners would love to stay in as long as possible, always disrupted by unpleasant, and often dissonant explosions of sound which cause stress and even sometimes can be painful to listen to. When people say that this album is visceral, this is what they mean. You feel the record as much as you hear it. So why? What does this pattern of comfort and discomfort mean? Well, its life.

There’s an overall purpose to this masterpiece. There’s a reason that the record resonates so well with listeners, even 44 years later. There’s an explanation for the unprecedented commercial appeal of the record. That is that Dark Side of the Moon is meant to, in its lyricism comment on life, and in its instrumentals, mimic life. The album begins with chaos, as does life, but quickly fades into comfort and predictability. We, as listeners, want to stay in these comfortably moments, but we aren’t aloud to for very long. Constantly, we’re disrupted by jarring dissonance and painful chaos. Just when it seems like we don’t want to listen any longer, the record finds something in all the madness to latch onto and creates a brand new groove that brings us in to our next stage of life.

This is why everyone who hears it can connect to this album. For the young man who’s just beginning college and living on his own, the chaos can represent his worry and fears. For the middle aged woman, the chaos can represent divorce, or death of a parent. Listeners feel this album because it mimics life at its most basic level, as a series of long, blissful grooves, interrupted by loud and dissonant moments of chaos, from in which one can become lost, but the important part is that the album, like life, doesn’t grind to a halt in these moments or dwell on them for too long, but instead, it keeps moving, and it invites its listeners to do the same, because regardless of the power in the moments of tension, there’s always something great just around the corner.