When Clare Torry went into the studio to record her now-legendary vocals for Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky,” the centerpiece of 1972’s Dark Side of the Moon, neither the singer nor the band were particularly impressed with each other. David Gilmour remembered the moment in an interview on the album’s 30th anniversary:
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 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.
Asked the follow-up question “what did she look like?,” Gilmour replied, “like a nice English housewife.”
Torry, for her part, was hardly starstruck. “If it had been the Kinks,” she later said, “I’d have been over the moon.” She also remembers the session very differently. “They had no idea” what they wanted,” she says. Told only “we don’t want any words,” she decided to “pretend to be an instrument.” She remembers “having a little go” and knocking out the session in a couple takes.
This Rashomon scenario involves not only faulty memory but also the legal question as to who composed the song’s melody and vocal concept—a question eventually decided, in 2004, in Torry’s favor, entitling her to royalties.
She clearly wasn’t about to become a touring member of the band, even after the album’s massive success and two subsequent tours. Still, while Torry may not have suited Gilmour’s physical preferences for female singers, and while she may not have thought much of Pink Floyd, she has appeared live with their different iterations over the years, including a show at the Rainbow Theatre in London just months after the album’s release (further up). Later, in 1987, Torry appeared again, this time with Roger Waters at Wembley Stadium on his K.A.O.S. on the Road Tour.
Torry would then join the David Gilmour-led Pink Floyd in 1990 for “Great Gig in the Sky” at Knebworth. I do not think she resembles an English housewife in the concert film at the top—or at least no more than the rest of the band look like middle-aged English husbands. But she still pulls off the soaring vocal, more or less, seventeen years after she first stepped into the studio, having little idea who Pink Floyd was or what would become of that fateful session.