Wednesday 20 August 2008

Killer Opening Songs (David Gilmour - Shine On You Crazy Diamond)

The first CD I bought in my life was in 1998. January 1998 to be more precise. It was ‘Maestra Vida (Primera Parte)’ by the Panamanian salsa musician Rubén Blades and I purchased it at the now defunct Tower Records shop in Piccadilly Circus, London’s West End. Before that I had been given CDs by my wife, but I had never had the pleasure to walk into a music store and come out holding a record bought with my own money. I chose to make that shopping trip then because my son was about to be born and I had always identified myself very strongly with one of the tracks in the record, ‘El Nacimiento de Ramiro’ (‘Ramiro’s Birth’).

The reason why I am recalling this memento is that in an era defined by downloads and digital music I am one of those few souls around who are still in love with CDs, cassettes and vinyl records. I am not a Luddite, no, if you have a look at the right-hand section on my blog you’ll see a website called Trama Virtual that showcases new and up-and-coming Brazilian music. That’s where I first heard ‘Cansei de Ser Sexy ’ a few years ago before they went on to achieve world fame. And I spend quite a lot of time listening to internet radio stations, downloading tracks from various websites (as long as they’re free) and doing compilations based on the music I come across on the web.

However I am still fond of music that comes with the seal of a record label and original cover artwork. Digital downloads might give customers easy and instant access to music, but they fail to provide the listener with the treasures that you can only acquire in a record shop. Like for instance, lyrics.

The words to a song are like a rite of passage. They draw you in and invite you to be part of its brother- or sisterhood, or both combined. They are the initial step to possessing a song, caressing it and taking it to bed with you. How many times have we woken up in the middle of the night with a tune wandering aimlessly in our heads, lost in the corridors of our brains, how many times have we smiled later on at the recollection of that moment? And lest I forget, lyrics are also the source of much speculation, especially when performers refuse to explain their meaning (and quite rightly so, I would add, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ anyone?)

Sometimes when we finally get to read the lyrics, after years of listening to the record (an experience not alien to Cuban music fans as I will explain later) we realise how meaningless and ordinary some of them can be. And of course, some refrains from famous songs have been endorsed by politicians on various occasions, only to bring them shame and embarrassment after a close reading of the words. ‘Born in the USA’ and Ronald Reagan spring to mind.

Yet, despite these minuses I still prefer ready-made tapes, CDs and vinyl records (admittedly I have not bought much of the latter lately) to digital downloads. The pleasure of unwrapping the CD, for instance, playing it for the first time and exposing yourself to the Killer Opening Song is unmatched by any other experience. And what of the lyrics? I still remember the day when I got that Ruben Blades’ album and sat on a Picadilly Line tube carriage, placed the record inside my CD player and put my headphones on. I opened the booklet (ah, booklets!) and scanned the lyrics until I got to the track I wanted. The same happened the first time I heard ‘Gorillaz’, Damon Albarn’s alter ego band. I was still commuting to West Hampstead in those days and I remember being on the tube, peeling the CD covering film off and putting the record on my Discman. The first chords of ‘Re-hash’ kicked in and the funky, sultry music enveloped me in a sweet blend of blithe, je-ne-sais-pas-qoui mood. It has remained one of my favourite Killer Opening Songs ever.

There’s another reason why I favour CDs, tapes and vinyl over digital downloads. And that is related to history and my being Cuban. When I was growing up in the 80s it was hard to get hold of pop and rock music. The government had a silly hard line against music sung in English and we, youngsters, were left to bear the brunt of this policy. So, most of the records we acquired in those days were out of date by a few years, but we did not complain. Cassettes were hard to come by so the majority of my music collection was handed-down tapes exchanged endlessly in networks that sprung up almost as spontaneously as they folded. It was through one of these unofficial channels that I struck up a friendship with one of my classmates, Duhamel Núñez Jiménez in year 10 at the Saúl Delgado College. He and I had similar tastes in music; consequently it was not strange to either of us that we ended sharing a lot of tunes together. Thus, in year 11 we both went for it and decided to record all Pink Floyd albums that we could find available. It was a huge task in the Havana of 1987 as at the times blank tapes were priced between 5 and 10 Cuban pesos. Ready-made tapes, that is, cassettes that were recorded from albums were worth up to 15 Cuban pesos, depending on the artist. Neither of us had a penny (or a quilo prieto, rather) and pocket money was not a concept we were familiar with. Still, we persisted and by the summer of ’88 we had almost all albums released by this British band in our hands. The only ones missing were the collectors’ items, obscure records like ‘Picnic’, one side Floyd, one side Deep Purple. All in all, both Duhamel and I could declare our mission to be over.

Out of all the records we got hold of, put on tapes and shared, too, there was one that stood out from the word go. It was ‘Wish You Were Here’, Pink Floyd’s 1975 album dedicated to their former colleague Syd Barrett. There was such a delicacy and vigour at the same time running through the entire record that it made the listener sit up and pay attention to both music and lyrics. And what lyrics! I will never forget a summer afternoon in 1988 in Havana and me sitting in the park across from my college reading the hand-written words to all the songs. I was good at English so the lyrics did not pose any difficulty to me. Saying that, though, it was only when I relocated to London that I found out what the phrase ‘Gravy Train’ meant (‘Have a Cigar’, track 3). That was one of the reasons why I grew to love ‘Wish You Were Here’ so much and why after all these years I play it only occasionally, like photos in a forgotten album that one only gets out every now and then when nostalgia makes its presence known.

Duhamel and I went our separate ways when I started Uni in the autumn of 1989. I still popped by his house once in a while but he decided to pursue a career in graphic design (he was a superb painter and illustrator!) and my visits grew more scarce.

So, it is to the memory of that friendship and to my love for CDs, vinyl records and cassettes that Killer Opening Songs dedicates this week's introductory track, 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' (Parts 1-5). It is the first tune of the album ‘Wish You Were Here’ and it was recently performed at the Royal Festival Hall by none other than David Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s guitarist. It also boasts one of the most thoughtful and vivid lyrics ever (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). I’m not too sure whether the saxophonist that comes on stage at the end of the song in the clip below is Dick Parry, who played in the original record. So, if you can clarify this matter for me, it would be great.

Apologies to all for the long and verbose intro, I just felt that I had to explain very clearly why this Killer Opening Song has such a special place in my heart. Enjoy.

Copyright 2008


  1. I agree in that there is something special with hard copies of music that we lose with downloads, but I don't think it is the lyrics. Some vinyls, cassettes and CDs don't come with the lyrics and we still love them. I think it is the touch, the sight, and in some cases also the smell. With vinyl we used to feel the music. Now we only hear it.
    There was no need of any introduction to SOYCD: Simply play it and it will introduce itself.
    There was absolutely no need for the apology of being too long in the intro: it was a pleasure to read.
    Al Godar

  2. Thanks, Al, I forgot to mention that indeed many CDs and vinyls do not come with lyrics (not even in the inlay!) and one has to search the net to find them.

    Of course there's no need to introduce SOYCD, it's an timeless melody.

    Merci beaucoup mon bon ami.

    Greetings from London.

  3. man, what a timely post.
    i can relate to your text im so many ways, even if the song list varies a little.
    at some very important (and as it turned out later, also pivotal) point in my life, i was able to claim property of wish you were here, going for the one, fragile and zep IV albums at once.
    so music influences and changes lives in so many levels.
    thanks for the post.

  4. Thanks, garri, man. Zep IV (the one with no title) also became a pivotal time in my life, especially 'When the Levee Breaks' (yes, I also liked 'Stairway to Heaven' but even Plant alledgedly said afterwards that the song had become his nemesis).

    Thanks for popping by.

    Greetings from London.

  5. "The words to a song are like a rite of passage." I love that. :)

    Willow x o

  6. When the Levee Breaks was one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs too! The favorite guy and I have quite a music collection, some vinyl, some CDs, some digital tracks. I don't really have a strong preference-but some artists' works, like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Nina Simone and all of my Fania All Stars tunes need a special safe place...something I trust more than my hard drive.

  7. Thanks to all for the comments. Yes, agree, that Ray, Nina and the Fania must be kept as far away from computers' hard drives as possible!

    Greetings from London.

  8. Wish you were here era algo así como la canción que me identificaba entre mis amigos. Siempre que se armaba una descarga, me la dedicaban.

    You know they are my favorite, so I don’t need to tell you how much I enjoy this post and the clip, yes, once again and never tired of it.

    La música de Pink Floyd me pone la piel de gallina, una sensación tan fuerte que no tengo casi con ninguna otra, o al menos no con tantas canciones de un mismo grupo. Haber ido al concierto de Roger Waters, aunque no es Pink Floyd como tal, fue una experiencia inolvidable. Cuando fui a ver Rush, que me gusta pero no tanto como PF, pensé que quizás repetiría un poco la experiencia, pero no fue así.

    Para mí no hay nada como ellos, a pesar de toda la música buena que hay por ahí.

    Gracias, London

  9. Gracias a ti, liset, por pasar. I don't think that Gilmour, Waters et al will ever know how much of an influence they had on the youth of the largest island in the Antilles.

    Greetings from London.

  10. Music is the soul of mankind, I always say.

    I've been working on this song for years. Reading the lyrics and trying to perfect it; make it sound and read really cool with splendid meaning to it. And I think it takes real time.

    Music, like writing, is a hard-slog. If the musician doesn't put much effort into it, he isn't going to achieve anything.

    I enjoyed the post and hope to keep in touch with you.

    Oh, yes, thanks for your comments on my blog.

  11. Thanks, onyeka, I will be puttinh a link to your post on mine in no time, man. Thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  12. >>Syd is 25 now, and worried about getting old. "I wasn't always this introverted," he says, "I think young people should have a lot of fun. But I never seem to have any." Suddenly he points out the window. "Have you seen the roses? There's a whole lot of colours." Syd says he doesn't take acid anymore, but he doesn't want to talk about it... "There's really nothing to say." He goes into the garden and stretches out on an old wooden seat. "Once you're into something..." he says, looking very puzzled. He stops. "I don't think I'm easy to talk about. I've got a very irregular head. And I'm not anything that you think I am anyway."<<

    From: Rolling Stone's 1971 interview with Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's founding lead singer. The Madcap Who Named Pink Floyd : Rolling Stone

  13. GA, thanks a lot for that link. Funny enough, I never got into Syd's solo career. I dont' think I've ever heard anythingby him, although I could be wrong as I have digested so much music in my life, both intentionally and unintentionally.

    Cheerio, man.

    Greetings from London.



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