The song was conceived and written as a tribute and remembrance to their former band member Syd Barrett, a founding member of Pink Floyd. Barrett was ousted from the band by the other members in 1968 due to his drug use and (partly-related) mental health problems, which had affected his ability to integrate with the rest of the band and perform and create as a musician.
"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is a nine-part Pink Floyd composition written by David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Rick Wright. It appeared on Pink Floyd's 1975 concept album Wish You Were Here.
Syd Barrett visiting Abbey Road Studios on 5 June 1975
One day during recording, Barrett (now heavyset, with a completely shaved head and eyebrows) wandered into the studio (although Mason has since stated that he is not entirely certain whether "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" was the particular work being recorded when Barrett was there). Because of his drastically changed appearance, the band did not recognize him for some time. When they eventually determined the withdrawn man in the corner was Barrett, Roger Waters became so distressed about Barrett's appearance he was reduced to tears. Someone asked to play the suite again for Barrett and he said a second playback was not needed when they had just heard it. When asked what he thought of the song, Barrett said it sounded a "bit old". He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour's wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which took place later that day. Gilmour confirmed this story, although he could not recall which composition they were working on when Barrett showed up.
The episode is resumed by Wright as follows:
Roger was there, and he was sitting at the desk, and I came in and I saw this guy sitting behind him – huge, bald, fat guy. I thought, "He looks a bit... strange..." Anyway, so I sat down with Roger at the desk and we worked for about ten minutes, and this guy kept on getting up and brushing his teeth and then sitting – doing really weird things, but keeping quiet. And I said to Roger, "Who is he?" and Roger said "I don't know." and I said "Well, I assumed he was a friend of yours," and he said "No, I don't know who he is." Anyway, it took me a long time, and then suddenly I realised it was Syd, after maybe 45 minutes. He came in as we were doing the vocals for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", which was basically about Syd. He just, for some incredible reason picked the very day that we were doing a song which was about him. And we hadn't seen him, I don't think, for two years before. That's what's so incredibly... weird about this guy. And a bit disturbing, as well, I mean, particularly when you see a guy, that you don't, you couldn't recognize him. And then, for him to pick the very day we want to start putting vocals on, which is a song about him. Very strange.
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 on 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! You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond. Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light. Shine on you crazy diamond. Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, Rode on the steel breeze. Come on you raver, you seer of visions, Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!
Songwriters: David Jon Gilmour / Richard Wright / Roger Waters
Shine On You Crazy Diamond lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management, Concord Music Publishing LLC