With the exception of Revolver, Pink Floyd’s 1967 debut album Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is the single most influential psychedelic rock album ever recorded. Syd Barret is the man responsible for Piper’s genius, but unfortunately Syd was a paranoid schizophrenic, and his massive hallucinogen abuse exasperated his condition. Barret left Pink Floyd in 1968 and lived in self-imposed exile as a mere shell of his former self until his death in 2006.
The loss of Syd Barret was a huge blow to Pink Floyd. Not only was he a close friend, but he was also the primary creative force behind Pink Floyd and responsible for most of their success. Pink Floyd’s next six albums would try in vain to replicate what made Piper At The Gates Of Dawn so wonderful, but failed miserably. It wasn’t until their eighth studio album, 1973s Dark Side Of The Moon, that Pink Floyd would cement themselves once more as an influential creative force in the modern day rock scene. Dark Side Of The Moon is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time and their biggest commercial success to date. Widely regarded as their magnum opus, the band asserts that its best album is 1975's Wish You Were Here.
Wish You Where Here is a loose concept album mainly centered around Syd Barret’s life. The title track is quite possibly the most haunting thing Pink Floyd’s ever written. Barret was still alive in 1975, but the band mourns him as if he was dead. It’s an incredibly emotional song, and one of Pink Floyd’s most overlooked. Recording the song "Wish You Were Here" was incredibly difficult for Pink Floyd, and they spend the song desperately trying to keep their composure instead of pouring that pain into their performance.
Flash forward to 2005, where Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse recorded a cover of "Wish You Were Here" with Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke for the ending credits of skate movie Lords Of Dogtown. Aside from the production, both songs are nearly identical. What makes Sparklehorse’s version better is that Linkous’ vocals perfectly capture the emotion of the song. Linkous acts as the conduit for the raw emotion on "Wish You Were Here". I can’t listen to it without misting at the eyes a little.
When I first heard Sparklehorse’s cover of "Wish You Were Here" back in 2005 my eyes would mist up in empathy for the loss of Syd Barret. Now I can’t listen to it without transforming into a sobbing wreck thinking about Linkous’ suicide and Barret’s mental collapse. May both musicians rest in peace. In the words of Roger Waters, “Oh how I wish, how I wish you were here”.