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||September 1972 – January 1973|
"The Great Gig in the Sky" is the fifth track[nb 1] on The Dark Side of the Moon, the 1973 album by the English progressive rock band Pink Floyd. The song features music by Richard Wright and non-lexical vocals by Clare Torry.
The song began life as a Richard Wright chord progression, known variously as "The Mortality Sequence" or "The Religion Song". During the first half of 1972 it was performed live as a simple 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 September 1972, the lead instrument had been switched to a piano, with an arrangement very similar to the final form but without vocals and a slighty different chord sequence in the middle. Various sound effects were tried over 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 thought of 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 Top of The Pops covers album. An accountant from Abbey Road Studios contacted Torry and tried to arrange a session for the same evening, but she had other commitments, including tickets to see Chuck Berry that evening, so a session was scheduled for Sunday evening between 7 and 10pm.
The band played the instrumental track for Torry and 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, yet she left the studio with a standard £30 flat fee under the impression that her vocals would never make the final cut given the general lack of response from the band. 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. A 2005 out-of-court undisclosed settlement in Torry's favour included giving her vocal composition credit.
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 done. Here's your sixty quid."
She [Torry] had done a covers 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 a 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 had been paid the standard Sunday flat studio rate of £30 (equivalent to £400 in 2019). In 2005, prior to a hearing in the High Court, an out-of-court settlement was reached. Although the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, on all pressings after 2005 the composition is co-credited to both Richard Wright and Clare Torry.
On Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, it is pointed out that during the recording of the album, in which death and life had been a consistent theme, the members of the band went around asking questions and recording responses from people working inside Abbey Road at the time. Among the questions, they were asked "Are you afraid of dying?" The responses of doorman Gerry O'Driscoll and the wife of their road manager Peter Watts were used, as well as other spoken parts throughout the album ("I've always been mad", "That geezer was cruisin' for a bruisin").
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
In a contemporary review for The Dark Side of the Moon, Lloyd Grossman of Rolling Stone described "The Great Gig in the Sky" as a track [Pink Floyd] could have "shortened or dispensed with". However, in a readers poll from the same magazine, the track was selected as the second greatest vocal performance of all time behind "Bohemian Rhapsody".
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. Vocal duties were handled by Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams, both former members of the Blackberries. The 16 November 1974 performance can be found in the Experience 2-CD and Immersion box set editions of The Dark Side of the Moon.
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 Delicate Sound of Thunder video, with footage from June and August 1988, the vocals are shared by Rachel Fury, Durga McBroom and Margret Taylor. Clare Torry returned for the Knebworth 1990 concert, released in 2021 live album Live at Knebworth 1990.
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. According to Durga McBroom, Richard Wright liked her version the best. As per his wishes, she sang the song at Wright's funeral.
Torry joined Roger Waters to perform the song live during three dates of K.A.O.S. On the Road in 1987. In the 1999 leg of Waters' In the Flesh tour, only the piano intro was played between Breathe (reprise) and Money.
In the 2006–08 The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour, The Dark Side of the Moon was played in its entirety and the song was performed by Carol Kenyon. "The Great Gig in the Sky" made a return in Us + Them Tour (2017-18), performed by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig and documented in the concert film and live album Roger Waters: Us + Them (2019).
The song was occasionally performed in the final legs of Rattle That Lock Tour, most notably in the Amphitheatre of Pompeii on 7 and 8 July 2016, with Lucita Jules, Louise Clare Marshall and Bryan Chambers sharing the vocals. The Pompeii performance is part of Gilmour's Live at Pompeii live album and film.
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 1990. The band was not involved in this version, but Clare Torry again did the vocal with Rick Wright on keyboards, Neil Conti on drums and Lati Kronlund on bass.
'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.'
Use in films
Seattle local band The Squirrels did a full-length parody "tribute" of The Dark Side of the Moon in 1999 titled 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 Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps, from Canton, Ohio, played an arrangement of the song with multiple trumpets performing the vocal part for their Drum Corps International world championship winning 2016 show "Down Side Up."
- David Gilmour – pedal steel guitar
- Richard Wright – piano, Hammond organ
- Roger Waters – bass
- Nick Mason – drums
- Clare Torry – vocals
sales since 2009
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.
- Povey 2007, Discography: The Dark Side of the Moon: "…all pressings after 2005 bear the credit Richard Wright/Clare Torry."
- 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.
- John Harris (October 2005). "Clare Torry - Brain Damage - Interview". brain-damage.co.uk.
- Mark Blake (2007). Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Aurum Press. p. 198. ISBN 9781845137489.
- "Clare Torry Interview and Great Gig - YouTube". www.youtube.com.
- Kendall, Charlie (1984). "Shades of Pink – The Definitive Pink Floyd Profile". The Source Radio Show. Archived from the original on 27 September 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "'Dark Side' at 30: Roger Waters". Rolling Stone. 12 March 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "'Dark Side' at 30: Alan Parsons". Rolling Stone. 12 March 2003. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "'Dark Side' at 30: David Gilmour". Rolling Stone. 12 March 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. 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
- UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
- "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 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) 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
- Grossman, Lloyd (24 May 1973). "Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
- Stone, Rolling (5 September 2012). "Readers' Poll: The Best Vocal Performances in Rock History".
- 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.
- ""Canto lo que no podía hacer con Pink Floyd", confiesa la vocalista Durga McBroom". La Capital. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
- "Dole Bananas Commercial". Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- "Echoes FAQ". Retrieved 29 August 2006.
- Phil Sutcliffe (July 1995). "The 30 Year Technicolor Dream". Mojo Magazine. Archived from the original on 11 July 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
- "Italian single certifications – Pink Floyd – The Great Gig In The Sky" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 26 November 2020. Select "2018" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "The Great Gig In The Sky" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
- Blake, Mark (2008). Comfortably Numb—The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Da Capo. ISBN 978-0-306-81752-6.
- 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 978-0-9554624-0-5.