The Story Behind Pink Floyd’s Bookending Opus to Syd Barrett: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

On June 5, 1975, Pink Floyd was near the end of recording their 1975 album Wish You Were Here at Abbey Road Studios in London, and had a special guest. Unannounced, the band’s co-founder, former singer, songwriter, and guitarist Syd Barrett, who had been fairly reclusive for several years following his departure from the band in 1968, visited the studio just as they were working on the final mix of a song they had written for and about him.

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Bookending Wish You Were Here, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a nine-part tribute to Barrett, written by David Gilmour, Rogers Waters, and Richard Wright.

“‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ is just completely about Syd,” said Waters in a 2022 interview.

In 1968, Barrett was dismissed from the band following the release of their first record, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, because of his mental deterioration, presumably brought on by his drug use.

Up until his studio visit, Barrett had cut off contact with the band and was removed from the music industry completely. His head shaven and slightly overweight, Barrett was nearly unrecognizable to his former bandmates, including his childhood friend Waters, who was moved to tears upon realizing it was him. (Aside from Waters seeing Barrett at Harrods in London several years later, his Abbey Road visit was the last time the members of Pink Floyd ever saw Barrett, who died in 2006 at the age of 60.)

“Syd went crazy in 1967,” said Waters. “By ’69, we weren’t seeing him anymore. He’d disappeared completely.” He continued, “It was a huge loss. And I did love him.”

Through their sentimental and plaintive oeuvre, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was a letter to Barrett and his light, innocence, delusions, and legacy within the band.

Following the instrumentals filling Parts I-III, by Part IV, Waters comes in Remember when you were young, you shone, before a resounding refrain of Shine on you crazy diamond with Gilmour.

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky
Shine on you crazy diamond
You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze
Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine

And the song continues in this pattern with Waters singing the verses and chorus, along with the refrain by Gilmour and other verses with Wright.

By Parts VI-IX, the story continues and closes in its Parts VIII and IX instrumentals.

Waters and Wright: Nobody knows where you are / How near or how far
Waters and Gilmour: Shine on you crazy diamond
Waters and Wright: Pile on many more layers / And I’ll be joining you there
Waters and Gilmour: Shine on you crazy diamond

Waters: And we’ll bask in the shadow of yesterday’s triumph, and sail on the steel breeze
Come on, you boy child, you winner and loser
Come on, you miner for truth and delusion, and shine!

Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage

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