Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) (7/5/79) #1 HT, #1 UK, #42 AR
Run Like Hell (5/10/80) #53 HT
Comfortably Numb(live version) (12/3/88) #24 AR
Young Lust(live version) (4/8/00) #15 AR
The Wall has been released in various incarnations since the original 1979 album. A concert recording of the 1980-81 tour was released in 2000. Along with a batch of guest artists, Waters put on a production of it in 1990 in celebration of the fall of the Berlin wall. Although The Wall was made into a movie in 1982, no official soundtrack was released, as the music would have been so similar to the original album.
Pink Floyd’s “The Wall has become synonymous with, if not the very definition of, the term ‘concept album.’” BU It is “a narcissistic, double-album rock opera” AMG whose “overriding themes are based upon the causes and implications of self-imposed isolation, symbolised by the metaphorical wall of the title.” WK The main character “an emotionally crippled rock star” AMG “cleverly named ‘Pink’” AMG “who is largely based on the band’s bassist and lyricist Roger Waters.” WK The story traces the protagonist “from his boyhood days in war-torn England to his self-imposed isolation as a world-renownedrock star, leading to a climax that is as questionably cathartic as it is destructive.” BU
The album’s concept “germinated during the band’s 1977 Animals tour when frontman Roger Waters, growing disillusioned with stardom and the godlike status that fans grant to simple rock stars, became disenchanted with the seemingly mindless audience and spit in the face of a concert-goer.” BU The tour was Floyd’s first experience “playing in large stadiums” WK and Waters was “depressed about playing to such large audiences.” WK He experienced a “sense of alienation on the tour…and…sometimes felt like constructing a wall or a barrier on the stage to separate himself from the audience.” WK
The Wall unravels a series of events in the life of Pink, “beginning with the loss of his father during World War II,” WK and the “overprotective mother who lavishes equal measures of her love and phobias onto her son” BU which leads Pink “to build a mental wall between himself and the rest of the world.” BU Every trauma he endures, such as “abuse from his schoolteachers, …the desertion of his wife,” WK “the superficiality of stardom, …[and] even the very drugs he turns to in order to find release,” WK become more bricks in his wall. “As his wall nears completion, each brick further closing him off from the rest of the world,” WK “Pink’s crisis escalates, culminating in an hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes that he is a fascist dictator, and that his concerts are like Neo-Nazi rallies, where he sets his men on fans he considers unworthy.” WK “Pink begins to realize the adverse effects of total mental isolation” BU and, “tormented with guilt, he places himself on trial, his inner judge ordering him to ‘tear down the wall’, opening Pink to the outside world.” WK “Whether it is ultimately viewed as a cynical story about the futility of life, or a hopeful journey of metaphorical death and rebirth, The Wall is certainly a musical milestone worthy of the title ‘art’.” BU
When Waters first presented his concept to the band, “Mason and Gilmour were initially cautious, as Waters as yet had offered only a basic outline” WK of “the new concept (26 tracks across four sides).” WK Bob Ezrin, who “had recently worked on Peter Gabriel’s debut solo album.” WK “Ezrin, Waters, and Gilmour read Waters’ concept, keeping what they liked…Ezrin then wrote a forty-page script, and presented it to the rest of the band: ‘The next day at the studio, we had a table read, like you would with a play, but with the whole of the band, and their eyes all twinkled, because then they could see the album.’ Ezrin broadened the storyline to distance it from the autobiographical work that Waters had written, and instead based it on the central character of Pink.” WK
There was definite friction in the recording process. “Recording sessions were placed on a tight schedule, dictated by Waters; however, Ezrin’s poor timekeeping caused problems” WK and “the band were rarely in the studio together.” WK Ezrin “found Waters’ demeanour similar to that of a ‘bully’” WK while keyboardist Richard Wright was “worried about the effect that the introduction of Ezrin would have on the band’s internal relationships, was keen to have a producer’s credit on the album (their albums up to that point had always stated ‘Produced by Pink Floyd’).” WK “Waters’ relationship with Wright had broken down completely” WK as he “felt that Wright was not doing enough to help complete the album,” WK which had fallen behind schedule. Waters even “insisted that Wright leave, else he would refuse to release The Wall. Several days later…Wright quit…His name did not appear anywhere on the finished album,.” WK but he “returned to perform during later concert performances as a salaried musician.” WK Ironically, his diminished status meant he “was the only ‘member’ of the band to profit from the venture, which lost about $600,000.” WK
“Engineer Nick Griffiths later said… ‘Ezrin was very good in The Wall, because he did manage to pull the whole thing together. He’s a very forceful guy. There was a lot of argument about how it should sound between Roger and Dave, and he bridged the gap between them.’” WK
On the album’s brief tour, which opened on February 7, 1980, in Los Angeles, “a 40 feet…high wall, built from cardboard bricks, would gradually be constructed between the band and the audience. Gaps allowed the fans to view various scenes in the story, and the wall was also used as a screen upon which…animations were projected. Several characters from the story were realised as giant inflatables, including a new pig replete with the crossed hammers logo.” WK
“One of the more notable elements of the tour was the performance of ‘Comfortably Numb’. While Waters sang his opening verse in front of the wall, Gilmour waited in darkness, for his cue, at the top of the wall. When it came, bright blue and white lights would suddenly illuminate him, astonishing the audience. Gilmour stood on a flight case on castors, a dangerous set-up supported from behind by a technician, both supported by a tall hydraulic platform. At the end of the concert, the wall would collapse, once again revealing the band.” WK
A film version, directed by Alan Parker, was also released in July 1982. “The film was originally to be a mixture of live concert footage and…animations; however, the concert footage proved impractical to film.” WK Parker kept the animation, but filled in other parts with “professional actors in each scene, with no dialogue.” WK The role of Pink was played by musician Bob Geldof, who fronted the band Boomtown Rats and would later organize Live Aid.
But now, back to the album. It kicks off with In the Flesh?, which highlights a rock concert in which Pink has already built up his wall and is losing his sanity. “Pink, in the role of demigod, dictates a set of instructions and clues to the mindless audience.” BU However, the song also uses the beginning of a show as a metaphor for Pink’s birth. By the song’s conclusion, when we hear a baby’s cry following the sound of an airplane dropping a bomb, we’ve been introduced to the first brick in Pink’s wall – when his father is killed. BU
To perceptive ears, the song ties to the album closer, “Outside the Wall.” If one were to play the album on a continuous loop, the end music of “Outside” and a cut-off message saying “Isn’t this where…” segues into the opening of the album where a faint voices says, “…we came in?” “Why the disjointed message? Put simply, it introduces us to Roger Waters’ fascination with cycles.” BU
The Thin Ice suggests simplicity, “yet despite the seemingly straight-forward music and lyrics concerning birth and innocence, there are little disturbances in the first half of the song.” BU “The inclusion of such words like ‘may’ and ‘but’ (‘and the sea may look warm to you, babe’…‘But oooh babe’) may seem casual, [but] they…plant seeds of doubt and false-appearances.” BU
As that song introduces the idea of “the hardships of life (the cracks beneath one’s feet), mental alienation has most likely already started.” BU The song transitions into Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1, where “the metaphor of ‘the wall’ is first introduced” BU as young Pink goes “straight from the realization of life’s burden…into an awareness of his wall” BU as he deals with the resentment he feels toward his absent father.
Another Brick in the Wall Part II
In The Happiest Days of Our Lives and Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 which are generally played together on radio, “Pink proceeds to grade school, a period in life in which most, if not everyone, can sympathize with the downtrodden protagonist.” BU It was Ezrin who pushed to have this released “as a single, but with a disco-style beat, a suggestion that initially did not find favour with Gilmour; however, Mason and Waters were more enthusiastic. Waters was originally opposed to the idea of releasing a single at all.” WK However, when a multitracked vocal of a group of schoolchildren was added to the mix, “Waters was ‘beaming’ at the result, and the song was later released as a single.” WK “It proved controversial, however, and although the parents of those children involved were generally ambivalent, the press pursued the story, claiming that the children had effectively been ‘ripped off’ by a multi-millionaire rock band. The children were eventually given copies of the album, and a £1,000 donation was made to the school.” WK
The next brick added to the wall comes in Mother, in which Pink displays the inquisitiveness of a young child through his questions to his mom. Her responses, however, are overprotective and smothering (“Mama will always find out where you’ve been”) and as the song progresses his questions become more paranoid (“Mother, do you think she’ll tear your little boy apart?”). Of course, Pink’s most dramatic query is the final, unanswered question in the song, an obvious reference to ‘the wall’: “Mother, did it need to be so high?”
Goodbye Blue Sky is positioned earlier in the lineup in the movie version. On the original vinyl album, however, it opens side two of disc one. “in an interview around the album’s release, Waters described the song as being a recap of the first side of album one summing up Pink’s life to that point…In this position, the song acts as the transition between ‘Mother’ and the more grown up, more world-weary Empty Spaces.” BU
In that song, “the young-adult Pink [is] setting out into the world on his own.” BU The lines “What shall we use to fill the empty spaces/ Where we used to talk?/ How should I fill the final places?/ How should I complete the wall?” suggest that Pink might be talking to his wife about how they are drifting apart and that he “will fill the ‘final places’ and ‘complete the wall’ with his wife’s infidelity.” BU Another interpretation, however, is that “having ventured out from his mother’s protective wing, Pink is finally experiencing the real world and discovers it to be more desolate and unfriendly than he was expecting. By this reading, he is asking his mother how he should fill the void of her protection, of her companionship.” BU
One could then posit that Young Lust, which introduces Pink as “a stranger in this town” who is looking for good times and a dirty woman, is about Pink’s attempt to enter young adulthood by filling his emptiness with sex. This adds “yet another Freudian spin to Pink’s relationship with his mother and the influence she's had on his sexuality.” BU Of course, the phone call in the song, which “is a direct reference to an incident…when Waters telephoned his ex-wife Judy, only to be answered by the voice of a man,” WK still works on the suggestion in “Empty Spaces” that Pink is growing apart from his wife. His incommunicability, it would seem, has driven his wife into the arms of another man.
One of My Turns offers the “first extensive view of the present turmoil teeming beneath the surface of Pink’s detached persona.” BU He “lapses into a trance-like state of personal reflection sparked by the recognition of his wife’s infidelity as well as his inability to connect with the young girl he’s brought to his hotel.” BU By the song’s conclusion, Pink has flown into a violent outburst while the groupie flees in fear (“Would you like to call the cops?/ Do you think it’s time I stopped?/ Why are you running away?”).
“Having finally come to the realization that he is absolutely alone in the world…Pink lapses into the depressive bout of Don’t Leave Me Now.” BU His words “How could you go?/ When you know how I need you/ To beat to a pulp on a Saturday night” suggest he was abusive to his wife, but it may be a more symbolic expression of violent anger than an actual act.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3 “explodes with the culmination of years of repressed rage and mental anguish. The recurrent guitar riff is no longer the soft drone in the background as it was in ‘part 1’ nor the lively anthem of youthful anarchy in ‘part 2.’ Rather, the riff has been transformed into a savage declaration punctuated sharply both by the outbursts of guitar throughout and Pink’s own unrestrained statements of personal disconnection” BU (“I don’t need no arms around me/ And I don’t need no drugs to calm me/ I have seen the writing on the wall/ Don’t think I need anything at all”).
“Though a cursory listen to Goodbye Cruel World might lead one to believe that Pink is on the verge of committing suicide, the song is actually more about metaphorical rather than physical death. Having decided to isolate himself completely from the external world, Pink sings his final farewell to the world outside and the life he knew as he arranges the last few bricks in their places.” BU
Hey You opens disc 2, but is arguably out of place. The two songs that precede it and the two that follow it both lyrically and musically suggest a more depressed helplessness or apathy. Certainly Is There Anybody Out There? seems to precede it as Pink seems to be asking the question without expecting any answer, but “Hey You” is a desperate plea for someone to hear him. Similarly, in Nobody Home, Pink is “locked away in his hotel room with the realization that he needs help but uncertain as to whether he truly wants it or how to even get it.” BU The “naïve and sexually driven rock star first making it in the business [in “Young Lust”]” BU is now a “drugged up, worn out celebrity.” BU
“Nobody Home” can also be taken as “references to former band-member Syd Barrett…[The song] hints at Barrett’s condition during Pink Floyd’s abortive US tour of 1967, such as ‘wild, staring eyes’, ‘Hendrix perm’, and ‘elastic bands keeping my shoes on’.” WK
The seeming displacement of “Hey You” is also emphasized by the song’s lines “Open your heart/ I’m coming home” which could be taken as him wanting to return to his childhood or actually returning to the overprotective cocoon of his mother. In any event, one could interpret those lines as an attempt to try to break free from his wall, while the songs that surround “Hey You” imply that Pink has no fight left.
Vera, a reference to popular singer Vera Lynn, also deals with a sense of wanting to return to one’s past. By referencing her song “We’ll Meet Again,” there is a suggestion of optimism and a “reassurance that the dark times will eventually pass.” BU Referencing her is a means of recalling a simpler time while simultaneously bringing back the theme of war, since she was popular during World War I.
War is certainly the most obvious reference in the title alone for Bring the Boys Back Home, but Roger Waters says it is much more than that. In a 1979 interview, he called “the central song on the whole album.” BU “‘It’s partly about not letting people go off and be killed in wars, but it’s also partly about not allowing rock and roll, or making cars or selling soap…not letting that become…more important than friends, wives, children, other people.’” BU In the context of the album, such a revelation could be seen as Pink’s answer – that “human connection is the very thing that Pink has missed, failed at, or rejected throughout his life. And it’s the only thing that can bring down his wall.” BU
While Waters considers “Home” the central song on The Wall, there are many fans who consider the album’s next song, Comfortably Numb, to be “the quintessential Pink Floyd song. The brilliant musical arrangements, haunting guitar solos, ethereal vocals and sweeping lyrics illustrate just why this band is considered one of the best in the history of rock music.” BU
In the context of the album’s story, the most literal interpretation of the song is that Pink has entered a drug-induced catonic state and a doctor is trying to revive him. The song’s origins come from Waters’ own experience “during the band’s 1977 In the Flesh Tour, where he was injected with a muscle relaxant to combat the effects of hepatitis.” WK
The song is also an important one in that it demonstrates the state of the band when recording The Wall. It “was the focus of much of the creative arguing between Waters and Gilmour.” WK “A compromise was reached where the body of the song would comprise the orchestral arrangement [constructed by Ezrin], with Gilmour’s second and final guitar solo standing alone.” WK
“Numb” is followed by a fairly straightforward declaration that The Show Must Go On. One wonders if Pink can possibly manage a performance in his current state. The answer, as given in the second In the Flesh song, is a resounding “no.” He takes advantage of his unquestioning followers and, in the manner of a fascist dictator, “orders the crowd to get various groups of minorities ‘up against the wall’.” BU He has taken on the authoritarian characteristics of the war machine that killed his father, the mother that domineered him, and the school system that abused him; his goal becomes spreading the very fear and paranoia that led to him building his own wall.
The next logical step is that Pink threatens anyone who would oppose him. The song Run Like Hell, one of the few penned by Gilmour, is a bit more open-ended, seeming to be just a simple message of “you better run.” Not surprisingly, it became one of the more successful songs at radio, considering one didn’t have to have the context of the album for the song to work.
Run Like Hell
Waiting for the Worms demonstrates a part of Pink that is prepared to succumb to his own death and decay, as symbolized by the worms, and he even commands his followers to do the same. However, the mix of voices, sometimes layered, suggests Pink is torn, that “there is still a slightly reasonable, somewhat cognizant self trapped beneath.” BU Indeed, in the next short interlude Stop, he declares “I wanna go home/ Take off this uniform/ And leave the show.”
This leads to The Trial which is Pink symbolically “putting himself on trial for the events of his life and coming to terms with the decisions he’s made.” BU A parade of his past influences march through the song, testifying as witnesses. Ironically, though, “while most ‘trials’ determine whether a person goes to jail or not, Pink’s trial will determine whether he will be freed from his own self-created prison cell.” BU In the end, the judge demands Pink to “tear down the wall,” leaving him Outside the Wall for the album’s conclusion. This piece serves more as an epilogue in which Waters essentially offers up his conclusion that people need each other and shouldn’t build up walls.
With such an involved and complicated story, it was no wonder that the album spurned dedicated followers as well as mixed reviews. “Robert Christgau wrote ‘The music is…kitschy minimal maximalism with sound effects and speech fragments. But the story is confused.’” WK A reviewer for “Melody Maker said, “‘I’m not sure whether it’s brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling.’” WK
The All Music Guide called the album “a series of fragments that are held together by larger numbers like ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Hey You’” AMG and said that while “the fully developed songs are among the finest of Pink Floyd’s later work, …The Wall is primarily a triumph of production: its seamless surface, blending melodic fragments and sound effects, makes the musical shortcomings and questionable lyrics easy to ignore. But if The Wall is examined in depth, it falls apart, since it doesn’t offer enough great songs to support its ambition, and its self-serving message and shiny production seem like relics of the late-‘70s Me Generation.” AMG
What is indisputable was the album’s commercial success. It topped the U.S. charts for nearly four months and, “according to The New York Times, between 1979 and 1990 the album sold over 19 million copies worldwide.” WK Since then, it has added another 10 million + in sales.