Welcome to the Machine
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|"Welcome to the Machine"|
"Welcome to the Machine" cover
|Song by Pink Floyd from the album Wish You Were Here|
|Published||Pink Floyd Music Publishers Ltd|
|Released||13 September 1975|
|Genre||Progressive rock, electronic|
"Welcome to the Machine" is the second song on Pink Floyd's 1975 album Wish You Were Here. Penned by bassist Roger Waters, it is notable for its use of heavily processed synthesizers and acoustic guitars, as well as a wide range of tape effects.
The song describes the band's disillusionment with the music industry as a money-making machine rather than a forum of artistic expression. The plot centers on an aspiring musician getting signed by a seedy executive to the music industry (the "Machine"). The voice predicts all of his seemingly rebellious ideas ("You bought a guitar to punish your ma / You didn't like school / And you know you're nobody's fool"). His illusions of personal identity are further crushed with lines such as "What did you dream? / It's all right, we told you what to dream."
The track was built upon a basic throbbing sound made by an EMS VCS 3 followed by a one-repeat echo which Waters would have played originally on bass guitar (which he overdubs an actual bass part to the song which is more predominant on the Stereo Quad mix). On the original LP, the song segued from the first 5 parts of the suite "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and closed the first side. On the CD pressings, especially the 1997 and 2000 remastered issues, it segues (although very faintly) to "Have a Cigar". This segueing is a few seconds longer on the US version than the UK version. David Gilmour admitted that he had trouble singing one line of the song; saying, "It was a line I just couldn't reach, so we dropped the tape down half a semitone." He sang the part at a slightly lower pitch, then the tape speed was raised back to normal.
Like many Pink Floyd songs, "Welcome to the Machine" features some variations in its meter and time signatures. Each bass "throb" of the VCS synthesizer is notated as a quarter note in the sheet music, and each note switches from one side of the stereo spread to the next (this effect is particularly prominent when listened to on headphones). Although the introduction of the song (when the acoustic guitar enters) does not actually change time signatures, it does sustain each chord for three measures, rather than two or four, resulting in a nine-bar intro where an even number of bars might be expected. The verses and choruses are largely in 4/4, or "common time". However, on the line "It's all right, we know where you've been", a measure of 7/4 is inserted, shortening the sequence, and causing the left-right stereo panning to be reversed for quite some time. An instrumental section begins, with the acoustic guitar adding variations in its strum pattern, until it switches to 3/4 for a length of time, when a 12-string acoustic riff is introduced, ascending up the E minor scale until the chord changes to C major seventh. Finally, the instrumental section ends, and the second verse begins. With the lyric, "It's all right, we told you what to dream", once again a measure of 7/4 is inserted, and the stereo panning is finally returned to normal. Incidentally, these two phrases beginning with "It's all right ..." are the only parts to feature any chord other than some form of E minor or C major—these phrases go to an A bass in the first verse, and in the second verse, the acoustic guitar articulates the A as a major chord, with its C# in contradiction of the frequent C chords. The song remains in 4/4 from this point forward.
Gerald Scarfe created a music video, initially a backdrop film for when the band played the track on its 1977 In the Flesh tour. The fanciful video begins with a giant mechanical beast; a cross between a Triceratops and an armadillo. The creature slowly lumbers across an apocalyptic cityscape. The scene then shifts to show emaciated rats leaping around corpse-laden steel girders. Gleaming industrial smokestacks soon fade in, and disturbingly crack and ooze blood. A view of a barren desert is then immediately shown. In the background a small tower grows out of this desert, but then transforms into a screaming monster, which stops to pant for a few seconds before viciously decapitating an unsuspecting man in the foreground. His head then very slowly decays to a damaged skull as the sun sets. Finally, an ocean of blood washes away this scene, and the waves turn into thousands of hands waving in rhythm to the music (much like people at a rock concert). All of the surrounding buildings are swept away; except one. Despite being pulled at by the bloody masses, it survives and, synchronising with the sound effects at the end of the track, flies up and away, high above the clouds to where it fits snugly into a hole inside a gargantuan floating ovoid structure.
Music and lyrics by Roger Waters.
- David Gilmour – six and 12-string acoustic guitars, lead and backing vocals
- Nick Mason – timpani, cymbals
- Roger Waters – bass, EMS VCS 3
- Richard Wright – EMS VCS 3, Hammond organ, ARP String synthesizer, Minimoog
The song was performed for the first time live on Pink Floyd's 1977 In the Flesh tour. Gilmour and Waters shared lead vocals, although in initial performances, Gilmour sang on his own with some backing vocals by Waters. Also for the 1977 live performances, David Gilmour played his acoustic guitar parts on his black Fender Stratocaster, Waters played an Ovation acoustic guitar, Snowy White played bass guitar, Nick Mason did his tympani parts on his drum kit with mallets and Rick Wright handled the Mini-Moog synths and VCS3 while Dick Parry (offstage) played the String synths. The live renditions of the song were complex because music had to be synchronized with the backdrop film and its sound effects. As a result, the band had to wear headphones and listen to a click-track which, in turn, meant that there was very little room left for jamming and improvisation. Pink Floyd would play the track again on its 1987/88/89 Momentary Lapse tours when Tim Renwick played lead guitar, while Gilmour played a 12-string acoustic guitar. These renditions were not synchronized to the film, which is why David Gilmour keeps looking at the screen on videos. The song was performed by Roger Waters during his Pros and Cons 1984/1985 tour, on the 1987 Radio K.A.O.S. tour, with Mel Collins as saxophone soloist. All of these performances were perfectly synchronized to the film. These live versions deviated significantly from the album version. It was also played on the 1999–2002 "In the Flesh" tour (only stills from the animation were used) and appears on the In the Flesh concert DVD and CD.
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- The song has been covered by metal band Shadows Fall on their album The Art of Balance.
- The song has been covered by progressive metal band Queensrÿche on their album Take Cover.
- The song has been covered by the progressive rock band RPWL on their live album Start the Fire (2005)
- Independent rapper Termanology sampled the song for use in his rap by the same name which also focuses on the song's original theme.
- The song has been covered by the progressive rock/metal artist Arjen Anthony Lucassen on his second solo album, Lost in the New Real (2012)
- The Pink Floyd tribute band The Machine are named after this song and they often use it as their opening number.
- Tim Footman used the title for his book, Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album (2007, ISBN 1-84240-388-5). The Radiohead Album "OK Computer" shares many musical and thematic elements with Pink Floyd's mid-70s oeuvre, although members of Radiohead have resisted the comparison.
- The penultimate level of the video game Ecco the Dolphin is a reference to this song.
- The song was covered by BEAK> on their 2013 single 0898/Welcome to the Machine
- The song was used in the Person of Interest season 4 finale episode, "YHWH"
The only time we've ever used tape speed to help us with vocals was on one line of the Machine song. It was a line I just couldn't reach so we dropped the tape down half a semitone and then dropped the line in on the track.— David Gilmour, 1975, WYWH Songbook
It's very much a made-up-in-the-studio thing which was all built up from a basic throbbing made on a VCS 3, with a one repeat echo used so that each 'boom' is followed by an echo repeat to give the throb. With a number like that, you don't start off with a regular concept of group structure or anything, and there's no backing track either. Really it is just a studio proposition where we're using tape for its own ends -- a form of collage using sound.— David Gilmour, 1975, WYWH Songbook
It's very hard to get a full synthesiser tone down on tape. If you listen to them before and after they've been recorded, you'll notice that you've lost a lot. And although I like the sound of a synthesiser through an amp, you still lose something that way as well. Eventually what we decided to do was to use D.I. on synthesiser because that way you don't increase your losses and the final result sounds very much like a synthesiser through a stage amp.— David Gilmour, 1975, WYWH Songbook
- Strong, Martin C. (2004). The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Edinburgh: Canongate Books. p. 1177. ISBN 1-84195-551-5.
- Mabbett, Andy (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of Pink Floyd. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-4301-X.
- Gary Cooper, Wish You Were Here songbook — 1975, The Pink Floyd Fan Club.
- Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975 Pink Floyd Music Publishers Ltd., London, England, ISBN 0-7119-1029-4 [USA ISBN 0-8256-1079-6])
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