It starts with a long fade in as the synthesizer builds. That synthesizer is soon joined by another, and then by a guitar.
As they fade to silence — ending the first part of the song — a four-note guitar theme echoes, once, twice, three times. Another repetition leads into the crashing of bass and drums as Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” truly takes off.
A nine-part song that bookends Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” pays homage to Syd Barrett, one of the band’s founding members.
Pink Floyd is remembered as perhaps the pre-eminent progressive rock band. 1979’s The Wall and 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon are two of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling albums of all time; the former is often cited as one of the first rock operas, while the latter is one of the most iconic records in music history.
In addition to its music, the band is also remembered for being led by three different men in three different eras. At the height of its success in the 1970s and early 1980s, Pink Floyd was led by Roger Waters, its bassist, co-lead vocalist and principal songwriter. When Waters departed the band in the mid-’80s amid creative difficulties, guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour took the reigns and led the band for the remainder of its time together.
But the first leader of Pink Floyd is the one most often forgotten. Before The Dark Side of the Moon, international fame and massive critical success, Pink Floyd was a group of young Brits playing blues covers and experimental rock, led by Syd Barrett.
Roger Barrett — known by the nickname Syd everywhere but his boyhood home — was an outgoing young guitarist who, along with Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright, formed a band that he eventually dubbed the Pink Floyd Sound.
Barrett would become the band’s leader and principal songwriter, leading the recording of Pink Floyd’s debut album, 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
But by 1967, Barrett was becoming less and less attached to reality. Excessive LSD use, combined with the already-taxing realities of success in the music business, made Barrett distant and near-impossible to work with.
Eventually, the remaining band members saw no other alternative than to replace him. Gilmour was brought on board in the hopes of having Barrett work as a songwriter only. Even that proved impossible, and Barrett’s time in Pink Floyd ended when someone responded, “Nah, let's not bother,” when asked if the band should pick him up.
The specter of Barrett haunted the band for years as he disappeared but his band shot to stardom.
But that ghost manifested itself when Barrett showed up at Pink Floyd’s recording of Wish You Were Here — some sources even say during the recording of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a song about him. Overweight, hairless and erratic, Barrett was unrecognizable, and his appearance drove Waters to tears.
The rest of the band never saw Barrett again. He hid away from the public eye before his death in 2006.
But his absence — and its effects on his former band — is clear on Wish You Were Here. Lyrics like “Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky” and “You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom” on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” describe Barrett and his rapid rise and fall.
And that four-note sequence that sets the theme of the massive song holds within it all the sadness, regret and incompleteness — a final mark of honor toward the man that was the force behind the start of Pink Floyd.
Alex McCann is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you know the story of Syd Barrett? Tweet Alex @alexrmccann.