The story of The Great Gig In The Sky and the best £30 Pink Floyd ever spent

A woman singing into a megaphone with the colours of the spectrum emerging from its horn
(Image credit: Future)

Pink Floyd first played The Great Gig in the Sky – then titled The Mortality Sequence – at the Brighton Dome in January 1972, more than a year before it was finally released on The Dark Side Of The Moon, and getting the song to the finish line was quite the journey. 

Built around a Richard  Wright piano solo, The Great Gig in the Sky was originally embellished by a reading of The Lord’s Prayer and a recording of author and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge pontificating. Work on the studio version began at Abbey Road as the middle of the year approached, but touring, holidays and other commitments kept the band distracted.

Eventually Roger Waters completed work on the song – a typically sensitive contemplation of death – which began with Wright's solemn keyboards and gave the unsuspecting listener little indication of the wild ride they were about to enjoy. And what a ride it was: one of The Dark Side Of The Moon's most memorable sections, provided by someone who wasn't even in the band. 

25-year-old singer Clare Torry was working as a staff songwriter for EMI when the call came. She wasn't a big Pink Floyd fan, but engineer Alan Parsons had worked with her before, having originally heard her sing on a Pick Of The Pops covers album, and brought her into the studio on January 21, 1973, to see what she might bring to the track. 

"When I arrived they explained the concept of the album to me and played me Rick Wright’s chord sequence," said Torry. "They said: 'We want some singing on it,' but didn’t know what they wanted. So I suggested going out into the studio and trying a few things. I started off using words, but they said: 'Oh no, we don’t want any words.' So the only thing I could think of was to make myself sound like an instrument, a guitar or whatever, and not to think like a vocalist. I did that and they loved it.

"I did three or four takes very quickly, it was left totally up to me, and they said: 'Thank you very much.' In fact, other than Dave Gilmour, I had the impression that they were infinitely bored with the whole thing, and when I left I remember thinking to myself: 'That will never see the light of day.'" 

Torry was wrong, of course, and the band knew they'd captured the purest of magic. The vocal you hear on the album was stitched together from those takes, and the result was a jaw-dropping wail that elevated the track to near-celestial heights.

“We wanted to put a girl on there, screaming orgasmically," Gilmour recalled. "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.’"

Torry was paid a £30 session fee, double the usual rate because it was recorded on a Sunday, and only became aware her parts were used when she saw the album at a local record shop and spotted her name in the credits. "If I’d known then what I know now I would have done something about organising copyright or publishing," she told Mojo in 1998. "I would be a wealthy woman now."

It's possible Clare Torry may well be a wealthy woman now. Six years after that interview she sued Pink Floyd – while remaining on good terms with the band – arguing that her contribution to The Great Gig in the Sky constituted co-authorship. She petitioned the High Court for royalties she believed were due, a half-share of copyright ownership, and a 50% share of past and future income. The band and record company EMI settled out of court – although details of the out-of-court settlement were never disclosed – and the song is now credited to both Wright and Torry. 

And that's gotta be a nice little earner. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.