Wish You Were Here, The London Orion Orchestra Takes On the Pink Floyd Classic With Help From Alice Cooper, Rick Wakeman

New Music Friday: I almost skipped it. Reading the list of new releases last Friday, I got several albums beyond Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here Symphonic before it sunk in and I went back to check it out. In the back of my mind, I feared that this might be another exercise in self-importance by Roger Waters, similar to what he's done with The Wall over the last twenty years. I dialed it up on Spotify and began to play track one. Maybe it was my lowered expectations, but this version of the title track sounded really good. Seeming to come out of nowhere, Alice Cooper did a great job with the vocal, and they've got Rick Wakeman on piano, sweet.

My curiosity now piqued, I listened to the album in its entirety, and I am not only amazed at how good the music is, I am finding that it adds another dimension to the venerable Pink Floyd classic. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I sat down and listened to the entire Pink Floyd original, followed by another complete listen to the Symphonic version.

In 1975, Pink Floyd had the enviable task of following up Dark Side of the Moon, the breakthrough album that went immediately to #1 on the Billboard album chart upon its 1973 release. It remained on the chart for a remarkable 741 weeks, amassing worldwide sales of over 50 million copies. Wish You Were Here proved to be a worthy follow-up, with its set piece "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" spread over half of side one and all of side two. Musically it was a proper successor to Dark Side, while lyrically it paid tribute to Pink Floyd founding member Syd Barrett who left the band in 1968 with mental issues. In between the two sections of "Diamond" were three more songs that sound like a jab at the record business.

The new symphonic Wish You Were Here takes the original five songs and adds three tracks. Track one is the vocal version of the title track, which provides a nice introduction to the album. Track two is "The Orchestra Tunes" which gives you the sound you hear right before an orchestra plays. Tracks three through seven are the orchestra's version of the five original album tracks. All are done instrumentally except "Welcome To The Machine", which adds some Alice Cooper vocals. The arrangements of the vocals for orchestra are artfully done; in "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", for example, Pink Floyd's vocal melodies are carried by the woodwinds and sometime the brass. Track eight is the third new track, a bonus orchestra performance of "Eclipse", which is the last song from Dark Side of the Moon.

The opening track sounds utterly fabulous, and we can look at the players to understand why. Alice Cooper did the vocals, Rick Wakeman played keyboards, and guitar work was handled by Dave Fowler & Stephen McElroy. That they sound so perfect playing this material doesn't come as a surprise when you learn that Fowler and McElroy are from the Australian Pink Floyd. The Aussie Floyd is a world class tribute band on the order of the Fab Faux (Beatles) and The Musical Box (Genesis). This new version of the title track adds a beautiful piano part played by Wakeman that is not in the original. Listen to the beginning of it on the following video which nicely samples every track on the new album.

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The symphonic Wish You Were Here celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Pink Floyd release. It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, the same place that Pink Floyd recorded the original. The London Orion Orchestra is conducted by Peter Scholes, who also wrote the arrangements. This was no small feat, as the success of the project totally depends on the arrangements. I have to say that Scholes did an amazing job and the symphonic Wish You Were Here succeeds on every level. Scholes has conducted orchestral interpretations of rock before including Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd (1995).

Alice Cooper had a successful band by the same name in the early 70s. He injected a needed sense of humor into his brand of hard rock by way of a very theatrical presentation largely drawn from horror movies. Cooper demonstrated his range as a singer on his solo debut, Welcome To My Nightmare, 1975. He has been recording as a solo act ever since, as well as doing some acting and becoming known as a golfing celebrity. With a total of 26 studio and 11 live albums to his credit, he also has a bit of history with Pink Floyd. In the video below, Cooper talks about his relationship with Pink Floyd and the making of this album.

Keyboardist Rick Wakeman is no stranger to fans of progressive rock. He has spent over thirty years as an on and off member of Yes, including the recording of their seminole albums in the early seventies. A prolific player, he has had an active solo career racking up a total of ninety albums.

The Australian Pink Floyd's website informs us that, "Having sold over four million tickets to concerts that have taken place in 35 countries, The Australian Pink Floyd Show is rightfully hailed as one of the most in demand touring entities currently operating. The Times Newspaper in London described them as “The Gold Standard”. This act are so good they were even engaged by David Gilmour to perform at his 50th birthday celebration!"

The London Orion Orchestra Website
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Peter Scholes Website
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Alice Cooper Website
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Rick Wakeman Website
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The Australian Pink Floyd Website
The Australian Pink Floyd Facebook
The Australian Pink Floyd Twitter

Pink Floyd Website
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