The Great Gig in the Sky

"The Great Gig in the Sky" is the fifth track[nb 1] on The Dark Side of the Moon, a 1973 album by the English progressive rock band Pink Floyd. The song features music by keyboard player Richard Wright and improvised, wordless vocals by session singer Clare Torry. It is one of only three Pink Floyd songs to feature vocals from an outside artist. The Great Gig in the Sky was released as a digital single in February 2023 to promote The Dark Side of the Moon 50th Anniversary box set.[3]

"The Great Gig in the Sky"
Song by Pink Floyd
from the album The Dark Side of the Moon
PublishedWorld Copyrights Ltd
Released1 March 1973 (1973-03-01)
Recorded20 June 1972 – 9 February 1973[1]
GenreProgressive rock
Producer(s)Pink Floyd

Composition Edit

Fender 'Duo 1000' double-neck steel guitar (1962), purchased in Seattle in October 1970 by David Gilmour, and used on 'Great Gig in the Sky'; displayed at the Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition

The song began as a chord progression created by keyboard player Richard Wright, which was known in its early stages 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 extracts 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 with a slightly 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 was satisfactory. Finally, in January 1973,[4] a couple of weeks before the album was due to be finished, the band thought of asking a female singer to "wail" over the music.[5]

Clare Torry's vocals Edit

The band began casting around for a singer, and studio engineer Alan Parsons suggested Clare Torry, a 25-year-old songwriter and session vocalist he had worked with on a Top of The Pops covers album.[6] Torry was contacted to arrange a session for the same evening but she had other commitments, including tickets to see Chuck Berry, so a three-hour session was scheduled for the next day, Sunday 21 January. [7][8][6]

The band played the instrumental track to Torry and asked her to improvise a vocal. At first she struggled to find what was needed, but then she was inspired to sing as if she were an instrument herself.[6] Torry performed two complete takes, the second more emotional than the first, but when David Gilmour asked for a third take she stopped halfway through, feeling that she was becoming 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 did not tell her this,[9] and she left the studio, with a standard £30 flat fee, under the impression that her vocals would not make the final cut.[6] She only became aware that she had been included in the final mix when she picked up the album at a local record store and saw her name in the credits. In 2005, an undisclosed out-of-court settlement in Torry's favour included giving her vocal composition credit.[6]

Quotes from those involved Edit

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.[10]

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."[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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 [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.[14]

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 were not sure what to do with it. Wright recalls that when Torry finished, she was apologetic about her performance, even though those present were amazed at her vocal improvisation.[15]

Lawsuit Edit

In 2004, Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution to "The Great Gig in the Sky" constituted co-authorship with Richard Wright. In 1973, as a session singer, she was paid only the standard Sunday flat studio rate of £30 (equivalent to £400 in 2021[16]). She told Mojo in 1998, "If I’d known then what I know now, I would have done something about organising copyright or publishing."[17] 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.[18] On all pressings after 2005, the composition is credited to both Richard Wright and Clare Torry.[2]

Spoken parts Edit

On Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, it is stated 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").

(At 0:39)

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.

— Gerry O'Driscoll, Abbey Road Studios janitorial "browncoat"[19][20]

(At 3:33, faintly)

I never said I was frightened of dying.

— Patricia 'Puddie' Watts, wife of road manager Peter Watts[20]

Reception Edit

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".[21] Almost forty years later, in a readers' poll from the same magazine, the track was selected as the second greatest vocal performance of all time behind "Bohemian Rhapsody".[22]

Live performances Edit

Pink Floyd Edit

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 to 1975, and from 1987 to 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 positioned where he could not play both). Gilmour's pedal steel for "Great Gig" was accordingly located beside Wright's Hammond. Vocal duties were handled by Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams, both former members of the Blackberries.[23] 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 performed the song in 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 his funeral.[24] McBroom said Richard Wright liked her version best, and as he had requested, she sang it at Wright's funeral.[25]

Roger Waters Edit

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).

David Gilmour Edit

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.

Commercial re-use Edit

A short clip of the song was used in a 1974 TV advertisement for Dole bananas.[26] 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.[27] Gilmour said he did not approve of its use, but that Wright, as the writer, had the rights.[28]

Personnel Edit


Charts Edit

Weekly charts Edit

Weekly chart performance for "The Great Gig in the Sky"
Chart (2023) Peak
UK Rock & Metal (OCC)[29] 16

Certifications Edit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI)[30]
sales since 2009
Gold 25,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[31]
sales since 2005
Silver 200,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

References Edit

  1. ^ Some CD pressings merge "Speak to Me" and "Breathe".
  1. ^ Guesdon, Jean-MIchel (2017). Pink Floyd All The Songs. Running Press. ISBN 9780316439237.
  2. ^ a b Povey 2007, Discography: The Dark Side of the Moon: "…all pressings after 2005 bear the credit Richard Wright/Clare Torry."
  4. ^ "The Dark Side of the Moon Studio Documents". Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b c d e John Harris (October 2005). "Clare Torry - Brain Damage - Interview".
  7. ^ "The Dark Side of the Moon Studio Documents". Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  8. ^ Mark Blake (2007). Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Aurum Press. p. 198. ISBN 9781845137489.
  9. ^ "Clare Torry Interview and Great Gig - YouTube".
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "'Dark Side' at 30: Roger Waters". Rolling Stone. 12 March 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
  12. ^ "'Dark Side' at 30: Alan Parsons". Rolling Stone. 12 March 2003. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
  13. ^ "'Dark Side' at 30: David Gilmour". Rolling Stone. 12 March 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
  14. ^ Harris, John (October 2005). "Clare Torry - Brain Damage exclusive". Brain Damage. Retrieved 18 February 2009 – via
  15. ^ Wright, Nick. "Interview". Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon (Interview).
  16. ^ 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 11 June 2022.
  17. ^ Lewry, Fraser (20 April 2023). "The story of The Great Gig in the Sky and the best £30 Pink Floyd ever spent". Classic Rock. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ Harris 2006, pp. 135
  20. ^ a b Sutcliffe, Phil; Henderson, Peter (March 1998). "The True Story of Dark Side of the Moon". Mojo. No. 52. Retrieved from "Pink Floyd and Company - Pink Floyd Articles and Reviews". Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011. 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
  21. ^ Grossman, Lloyd (24 May 1973). "Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 16 May 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  22. ^ Stone, Rolling (5 September 2012). "Readers' Poll: The Best Vocal Performances in Rock History". Rolling Stone.
  23. ^ Mason 2005
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ ""Canto lo que no podía hacer con Pink Floyd", confiesa la vocalista Durga McBroom". La Capital. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  26. ^ "Dole Bananas Commercial". YouTube. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  27. ^ "Echoes FAQ". Retrieved 29 August 2006.
  28. ^ "The 30-Year Technicolor Dream". Mojo. July 1995.
  29. ^ "Official Rock & Metal Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  30. ^ "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".
  31. ^ "British single certifications – Pink Floyd – The Great Gig in the Sky". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 15 December 2021.