1979 – Pink Floyd – The Wall
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The Wall is a rock opera presented as a double album by the English progressive rock band Pink Floyd, released in late 1979. It was subsequently performed live, with elaborate theatrical effects, and made into a film.
Following in the footsteps of their previous albums, The Wall is a concept album — specifically, it deals largely with the theme of isolation from one’s peers. The concept was largely inspired by the band’s 1977 tour promoting the album Animals, with regards to an incident where Roger Waters’ frustration with the audience reached a point where Waters spat in the face of a fan who was attempting to climb on stage; this, in turn, led him to lament that such a wall exists. With its significantly darker theme, The Wall featured a notably harsher and more theatrical sound than their previous releases.
The Wall is a rock opera that centres on the character “Pink”. Largely based on Waters’ personal life, Pink struggles in life from an early age, having lost his father in war (“Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)”), abused by teachers (“The Happiest Days of Our Lives”), nurtured by an overprotective mother (“Mother”), and deserted by his wife later on (“Don’t Leave Me Now”) — all of which factored into Pink’s mental isolation from society, figuratively referred to as “The Wall”.
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine listed The Wall as #87 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In 1977, Pink Floyd were promoting Animals with their In The Flesh tour. On the final night of the tour in Montreal, Canada, Waters spat in the face of a fan who was trying to climb over the netting between the audience and the stage, and get up with the band. The incident later helped inspire Waters to develop the idea of The Wall. The album was recorded at four studios over eight months, owing to English tax laws and to benefit from the cheaper recording costs in the South of France. Tensions between Waters and the band were increasing significantly, largely to do with his dominance over the rest of the band. During the recording, Waters dismissed Richard Wright, and told him to leave immediately after The Wall was finished, arguing that Wright was not contributing much,in part owing to a cocaine addiction. Waters claimed that David Gilmour and Nick Mason had supported his decision to fire Wright, but in 2000, Gilmour stated that he and Mason were against Wright’s dismissal. In his book Inside Out, Nick Mason claims that Wright was fired because Columbia Records had offered Waters a substantial bonus to finish the album in time for a 1979 release. Since Wright refused to return early from his summer holiday, Waters wanted to dismiss Wright. However, he returned for their live performances as a paid musician.
For “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)”, Pink Floyd needed to record a school choir, so they approached music teacher Alun Renshaw of Islington Green School, around the corner from their Britannia Row Studios. The chorus was overdubbed twelve times to give the impression that the choir was larger. The choir were not allowed to hear the rest of the song after singing the chorus. Though the school received a lump sum payment of £1000, there was no contractual arrangement for royalties.
Choir Members Claim for Royalties
Under 1996 UK copyright law, they became eligible, and after choir members were tracked down by royalties agent Peter Rowan of RBL Music, through the website Friends Reunited, they made a claim for their royalties. The money became payable under the new copyright law for their performances, and was purely an administrative claim. The money came from broadcast licences, not from PF or EMI. They continue to receive annual payments from continued broadcasting of the track, and in 2008 they received extra payments under the same scheme as a result of Eric Prydz’ sampling the record for his single ‘Proper Education’
Originally released on Columbia Records in the U.S. and Harvest Records in the UK, The Wall was then re-released as a digitally remastered CD in 1994 in the UK on EMI. In 1997, Columbia Records issued an updated remaster in the United States, Canada, Australia, South America and Japan. For The Wall’s 20th Anniversary in April 2000, Capitol Records in the U.S. and EMI in Canada, Australia, South America and Japan re-released the 1997 remaster with the artwork from the EMI Europe remaster. The Wall was the first Pink Floyd album since 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn whose cover was not done by Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis. Instead, Gerald Scarfe designed the cover and gatefold sleeve. David Gilmour recalls Storm Thorgerson falling out with Roger Waters over issues such as the credit for the Animals sleeve design.
Concept and Storyline
The album’s overriding themes are the causes and implications of self-imposed isolation, symbolized by the metaphorical wall of the title. The album’s songs create a very loose storyline sketching events in the life of the protagonist, Pink. Pink loses his father as a child (Waters’s own father was killed in Anzio during World War II), is smothered by his overprotective mother, and is oppressed at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers, each of these traumas becoming “another brick in the wall”. As an adult Pink becomes a rock star, but his relationships are marred by infidelity and outbursts of violence. As his marriage crumbles, Pink finishes building the wall and completes his isolation from human contact.
Pink’s mindset deteriorates behind his freshly completed wall, with his personal crisis culminating during an onstage performance. Hallucinating, Pink believes that he is a fascist dictator, and his concerts are like Neo-Nazi rallies where he sets his men on fans he considers unworthy, only to have his conscience rebel at this and put himself on trial, his inner judge ordering him to “tear down the wall” in order to open himself to the outside world, and apologizing to his closest friends who are hurt most by his self-isolation. At this point the album’s end runs into its beginning with the closing words “Isn’t this where…”; the first song on the album, “In the Flesh?”, begins with the words “…we came in?” – with a continuation of the melody of the last song, “Outside the Wall” – hinting at the cyclical nature of Waters’s theme.
The LP’s sleeve art and custom picture labels by Gerald Scarfe tied in with the album’s concept. Side one had a quarter of the wall erected and a sketch of the teacher. Side two saw half of the wall erected and a sketch of the wife. Side three had three-quarters of the wall erected and a sketch of the character of Pink, while side four had the wall completely erected and a sketch of the prosecutor. Bob Ezrin played a major part in taking Waters’s demo material and clarifying the storyline by writing a script, which even called for additional songs to complete the plot.
A film version of The Wall was released in 1982 entitled Pink Floyd The Wall, directed by Alan Parker and starring Bob Geldof. The screenplay was written by Roger Waters. The film features music from the original album, much of which was re-recorded by the band with additional orchestration, some with minor lyrical and musical changes.
Originally the film was intended to be intercut with concert footage and a few of the live shows were actually filmed, but subsequently not used in the film at all. Footage from these concerts has appeared on different websites from time to time and on YouTube. However, an official release of this footage by Pink Floyd has not been authorized other than what was used in the documentary Behind the Wall.
Immensely successful upon release, The Wall quickly jumped to #1 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S in its fourth week (it debuted at #53) and #3 in the U.K.. Its worldwide sales are estimated at 15 million copies (30 million units), and in the U.S. it has achieved 23 times platinum (for sales of 11.5 million double-disc sets; statistics mistakenly identifying The Wall as the best selling multiple-disc album of all-time in the U.S. and third best-selling album by any artist in the U.S. do not take into account that double albums count as two platinum sales), and is their second best-selling album in the U.S. after The Dark Side of the Moon. It was among the most popular albums of the early 1980s, to the extent that film director Alan Parker created a film based on it. The album had a string of hit singles, with “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” being their only song to hit #1 on the Billboard.
In addition to its commercial success, critical reception of The Wall was, and remains, mostly positive. Carlo Twist of Blender gave it 5 stars out of a possible 5, stating that, “For all its pomp and lofty ambition, there’s a streak of almost punk-rock venom within, not to mention some of the band’s best humping, thumping heavy rock.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic Guide was slightly more critical, but nevertheless said that, “its seamless surface, blending melodic fragments and sound effects, makes the musical shortcomings and questionable lyrics easy to ignore.” Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone remarked, “The Wall is the most startling rhetorical achievement in the group’s singular, thirteen-year career.” That same magazine later ranked The Wall at #87 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The Wall would also be included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
After Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985, a legal battle ensued over the rights to the name “Pink Floyd” and its material. In the end, Waters retained the right to use The Wall and its material, as his name has been most closely associated with the album. This meant the sole ownership of all The Wall tracks except for the three Gilmour co-wrote the music for (“Young Lust”, “Comfortably Numb” and “Run Like Hell”) and images relating to The Wall on the later 1987–1990 and 1994 tours by the three-man Pink Floyd required payments to Waters.
Waters staged a concert performance of The Wall at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin on 21 July 1990 both to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and as a fundraising effort for the World War Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief. This performance featured guest artists including Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper and Van Morrison. This performance also differed from previous shows in that some songs from the original album and Pink Floyd concert version were omitted, others were slightly modified, and one Waters solo song, “The Tide Is Turning” was substituted for “Outside The Wall” as the concluding song.
- “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”/”One of My Turns” – Harvest HAR 5194; released 16 November 1979 (UK, U.S., France and Italy [with One of my Turns as a B-Side])
- “Run Like Hell”/”Don’t Leave Me Now” – Columbia 1-11265; released April, 1980 (Holland, Sweden and US)
- “Comfortably Numb”/”Hey You” – Columbia 1-11311; released June, 1980 (US and Japan)