The Great Gig in the Sky
|"The Great Gig in the Sky"|
|Song by Pink Floyd from the album The Dark Side of the Moon|
|Published||World Copyrights Ltd|
|Released||1 March 1973|
|Recorded||June 1972 – January 1973|
|Genre||Progressive rock, instrumental|
|Writer||Richard Wright, Clare Torry|
|The Dark Side of the Moon track listing|
The song began life as a Richard Wright chord progression, known variously as "The Mortality Sequence" or "The Religion Song". During 1972 performances of The Dark Side of the Moon song cycle (prior to the album being recorded), it was simply an organ instrumental accompanied by spoken word samples from the Bible and snippets of speeches by Malcolm Muggeridge, a British writer known for his conservative religious views. By the time the band came to record the song for Dark Side, the lead instrument had been switched to a piano rather than an organ. Various sound effects were tried for the track, including recordings of NASA astronauts communicating on space missions, but none were satisfactory. Finally, a couple of weeks before the album was due to be finished, the band decided to try having a female singer "wail" over the music.
Clare Torry's vocals
As the band began casting around for a singer, album engineer Alan Parsons suggested Clare Torry, a 25-year-old songwriter and session vocalist. Parsons had previously worked with Torry, and had liked her voice on a compilation album of covers. An accountant from Abbey Road Studios contacted Torry and tried to arrange a session for the same evening, but she was initially unenthusiastic. Torry was not a particular fan of Pink Floyd, and she had various other commitments, including, she later admitted, tickets to see Chuck Berry that evening. Eventually, however, a session was scheduled for the following Sunday.
The band played the instrumental track to Torry, and then with very little further direction asked her to improvise a vocal. At first, Torry struggled to divine what the band wanted, but then she was inspired to pretend that she herself was an instrument. She performed two complete takes, the second one more emotional than the first. David Gilmour asked for a third take, but halfway through Torry stopped, feeling she was getting repetitive and had already done the best she could. The final album track was assembled from all three takes. The members of the band were deeply impressed by Torry's performance, but were so reserved in their outward response that she left under the impression that her vocals would never make the final cut. She only became aware they were used when she saw the album at a local record store, spotted her name in the credits and purchased it.
Quotes from those involved
Great Gig in the Sky? It was just me playing in the studio, playing some chords, and probably Dave or Roger saying "Hmm… that sounds nice. Maybe we could use that for this part of the album." And then, me going away and trying to develop it. So then I wrote the music for that, and then there was a middle bit, with Clare Torry singing, that fantastic voice. We wanted something for that bit, and she came in and sang on it.
It was something that Rick had already written. It's a great chord sequence. "The Great Gig in the Sky" and the piano part on "Us and Them," in my view, are the best things that Rick did – they're both really beautiful. And Alan [Parsons] suggested Clare Torry. I've no idea whose idea it was to have someone wailing on it. Clare came into the studio one day, and we said, "There's no lyrics. It's about dying – have a bit of a sing on that, girl." I think she only did one take. And we all said, "Wow, that's that done. Here's your sixty quid."
She [Torry] had done a cover album; I can remember that she did a version of "Light My Fire." I just thought she had a great voice. When the situation came up, they started head-scratching, saying, "Who are we going to get to sing on this?" I said, "I've got an idea – I know this girl." She came, and in a couple of hours it was all done. She had to be told not to sing any words: when she first started, she was doing "Oh yeah baby" and all that kind of stuff, so she had to be restrained on that. But there was no real direction – she just had to feel it.
Clare Torry didn't really look the part. She was Alan Parsons' idea. We wanted to put a girl on there, screaming orgasmically. Alan had worked with her previously, so we gave her try. And she was fantastic. We had to encourage her a little bit. We gave her some dynamic hints: "Maybe you'd like to do this piece quietly, and this piece louder." She did maybe half a dozen takes, and then afterwards we compiled the final performance out of all the bits. It wasn't done in one single take.
I went in, put the headphones on, and started going 'Ooh-aah, baby, baby – yeah, yeah, yeah.' They said, 'No, no — we don't want that. If we wanted that we'd have got Doris Troy.' They said, 'Try some longer notes', so I started doing that a bit. And all this time, I was getting more familiar with the backing track. […] That was when I thought, 'Maybe I should just pretend I'm an instrument.' So I said, 'Start the track again.' One of my most enduring memories is that there was a lovely can [i.e headphone] balance. Alan Parsons got a lovely sound on my voice: echoey, but not too echoey. When I closed my eyes — which I always did — it was just all-enveloping; a lovely vocal sound, which for a singer, is always inspirational.
Chris Thomas, who was brought in to assist Alan Parsons in mixing the album mentions that they were actually in mixdown at the time. On the DVD Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, various members mention that they had this song and weren't quite sure what to do with it. Wright further mentions that when she finished, she was apologetic about her performance even though those present were amazed at her improvisation.
In 2004, Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution to "Great Gig in the Sky" constituted co-authorship with Richard Wright. Originally, she was paid the standard Sunday flat studio rate of £30. In 2005, a settlement was reached in High Court in Torry's favour, although terms were not disclosed. Thus, all pressings after 2005 list the composition to Richard Wright and Clare Torry.
And I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do, I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it – you've got to go sometime.
(At 3:33, faintly)
I never said I was frightened of dying.
— Patricia 'Puddie' Watts, wife of road manager Peter Watts
An early incarnation of the song, titled "The Mortality Sequence" and lacking the vocals later contributed by Clare Torry, was performed by Pink Floyd throughout 1972. In its final version, "The Great Gig in the Sky" was performed live from 1973–1975, and from 1987–1994. During the band's 1974–1975 tour, David Gilmour played both pedal steel guitar and the Hammond organ, allowing Richard Wright to concentrate solely on piano (his keyboards were arranged where he couldn't play both). Gilmour's pedal steel for "Great Gig" was located accordingly beside Wright's Hammond. Starting in 1987, additional touring keyboardist Jon Carin took over the Hammond parts. Up to three singers performed the vocals, each taking different parts of the song. On the 1974–75 tour, vocal duties were handled by Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams, both former members of The Blackberries.
On the Delicate Sound of Thunder video, the vocals are shared by Rachel Fury, Durga McBroom and Margret Taylor. Clare Torry returned for the Knebworth '90 concert. The 1994 live album P•U•L•S•E features a version sung by Sam Brown, Durga McBroom and Claudia Fontaine. When the Floyd's manager, Steve O'Rourke, died in 2003, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason played "Fat Old Sun" and "The Great Gig in the Sky" at O'Rourke's funeral.
A short clip of the song was used in a 1974 TV advertisement for Dole bananas. A re-recorded version was used as the backing music in a UK television advertisement for the analgesic Nurofen in the early 1990s. The band was not involved in this version, but Clare Torry again did the vocal.
'Rick wrote that music. He remade it for them. It's down to the writer. If my name had been on that track too it wouldn't have happened. I wouldn't do it. But that's Rick's business. I didn't approve of it, but I have no control over it.'
An orchestrated version, arranged by Jaz Coleman and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Peter Scholes, appears on the 1995 instrumental album Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd.
Seattle local band The Squirrels did a full-length parody "tribute" of The Dark Side of the Moon in 1999 entitled The Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon. Their version of "Great Gig" has vocalist Baby Cheevers singing after guitarist Joey Kline says "Sorry, the girl didn't show up!"
The Flaming Lips have covered the song in their 2009 remake of The Dark Side of the Moon, with singer Peaches performing Clare Torry's vocal segment of the track and Henry Rollins recreating the original interview samples.
In their "Official Bootlegs: Covers" series, progressive metal band, Dream Theater, performed this song, as part of their full-length cover version of the entire album, with Theresa Thomason taking over vocal duties.
- Richard Wright – piano, Hammond organ
- David Gilmour – pedal steel guitar
- Roger Waters – bass guitar
- Nick Mason – drums, percussion
- Clare Torry – vocals
- Povey 2007, Discography: The Dark Side of the Moon
- Harris 2006, p. 142; Mabbett 1995; Blake 2008, pp. 198. See also Nerpil, Hannah (19 September 2008). "Richard Wright’s Greatest Hits: 10 Pink Floyd Classics". The Times Online (London). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Most of the material in this paragraph is compiled from Blake 2008, pp. 198–199; Harris 2006, pp. 141–144; Mason 2005, pp. 174.
- Blake 2008, pp. 198
- Harris 2006, p. 143
- Kendall, Charlie (1984). "Shades of Pink – The Definitive Pink Floyd Profile". The Source Radio Show. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "'Dark Side' at 30: Roger Waters". Rolling Stone. March 12, 2003. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "'Dark Side' at 30: Alan Parsons". Rolling Stone. March 12, 2003. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "'Dark Side' at 30: David Gilmour". Rolling Stone. March 12, 2003. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- Harris, John (October 2005). "Clare Torry - Brain Damage exclusive". Brain Damage. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- Nick Wright interview, Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon
- "Seventies Singer". 2005. Retrieved 23 January 2009. "A female vocalist may have become the first British artist to win an out-of-court settlement for a piece of music recorded over 30 years ago. Clare Torry was paid £30 to perform on Pink Floyd's 1973 album 'Dark Side of the Moon' and was given a written credit at the time. Yet the session singer, who contributed to the track The Great Gig in the Sky, has taken her claim to the High Court where she has won a half-share on copyright ownership on the song performed. Although most details of the case are secret, the Daily Telegraph has reported the singer secured a cash payment with Pink Floyd and their label, EMI."
- Harris 2006, pp. 135
- Sutcliffe, Phil; Henderson, Peter (March 1998). "The True Story of Dark Side of the Moon". Mojo (52). Retrieved from http://www.pinkfloyd-co.com/band/interviews/art-rev/art-mojo98.html on 23 December 2010. There is confusion in this article over who "Puddie" or "Puddy" Watts is. For clarification see Harris 2006[page needed] or David Gilmour's response to the Mojo article, retrieved from http://pinkfloyd.1accesshost.com/artic/letter.htm
- Mason 2005
- Manning, Toby (2006). "Which One's Pink?". The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd (1st ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 147. ISBN 1-84353-575-0.
- "Dole Bananas Commercial". Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- "Echoes FAQ". Retrieved 29 August 2006.
- Phil Sutcliffe (July 1995). "The 30 Year Technicolor Dream". Mojo Magazine. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
- Blake, Mark (2008). Comfortably Numb—The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-81752-7.
- Harris, John (2006). The Dark Side of the Moon (third ed.). Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-00-779090-6.
- Mabbett, Andy (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of Pink Floyd. London: Omnibus. ISBN 0-7119-4301-X.
- Mason, Nick (2005). Philip Dodd, ed. Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd (Paperback ed.). Phoenix. ISBN 0-7538-1906-6.
- Povey, Glenn (2007). Echoes. Mind Head Publishing. ISBN 0-9554624-0-1.