Stephen Coyle

Black Holes in the Sky

A couple of lines from Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond have been in my head for the past few days, due in equal parts to their subject matter and their harmonic content.

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun


Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky

The chord sequence here is deceptively simple:

G minor – G-flat minor – B-flat major

It's a reasonably unusual progression for the genre, and has an interesting property that I think makes it particularly effective. In terms of functional harmony, G-flat major1 is a long way from G-minor, and it's rather striking to go straight from one to the other. Geographically, though, the chords are about as close to one another as they could be; the firsts and fifths of the chords differ only by a semitone, and the third, B-flat, is common to both.

This juxtaposition of remoteness and adjacency is what creates such a strong effect. The lyrics evoke the same sense of familiarity contrasted against otherworldly oddness; the jarring moment of experiencing something familiar and comfortable, altered in a disconcerting way. Which of course captures the subject matter of the song so perfectly.

  1. Which is what I'd call it, as opposed to F-sharp major. ↩︎