The Wall (1979)
"Mother, did it need to be so high? ..."
The Floyd's next album after 1977's "Animals" could very well have been "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking." Roger Waters had approached the band in July 1978 with rough demos of both albums, and the band, wisely, chose "The Wall" as its next project. Waters would eventually release "Pros and Cons" as a solo effort shortly after departing Pink Floyd following 1983's appropriately titled "The Final Cut."
Waters, credited with writing nearly the entire album, conceived "The Wall" to be a multimedia event from the beginning. Eventually, the album would result in an elaborate, though financially unsuccessful tour, as well as a major motion picture, directed by Alan Parker ("The Commitments," "Avita," "Fame," "Shoot the Moon"). Waters had originally envisioned himself in the lead role — an opinion that in the broader sense was creating increasing friction within the band — as well as genuine concert footage of the Floyd, used in the film. In the end, the band would be relegated to appearing only on the film's soundtrack, and a then-little-known singer named Bob Geldof would play the part of Pink. Geldof was lead vocalist of the Boomtown Rats at the time, and would go on to fame as the organizer of the Live Aid concert a few years later.
If previous Floyd albums had been examples of involved, elegant productions, "The Wall" would take the cake. Most of the recording was performed at Superbear in the French Alpes, while pieces, parts, overdubs and mixing were performed at Miravel, not far from Superbear; Britannia Row, the group's recording studio in England; CBS in New York, N.Y.; and Producers Workshop in Los Angeles, Calif.
The band recorded from April to November 1979, with songs being dropped and rearranged on the double album right up until the 11th hour. In fact, some changes were made to the recording after the inner bags were already printed, accounting for incongruities between the actual recording and the lyrics on the inner sleeves. For example, "What Shall We Do Now?" appears on the lyric sheet, but is absent from the album. It would appear later in the film "Pink Floyd The Wall."
Waters' story of a Oedipal rock star's delusions of grandeur, comparisons of rock concerts to wartime, a biographical account of a father killed in World War II, and of a disturbed young man swallowed up and spit out by his own fears, is disturbingly effective.
The album's long, uninterrupted stretches of songs segued together with layers upon layers of sound effects, ambient noise, and voices was a fertile playground for imaginative (or drug induced) fans. More than a few listeners risked damaging their LPs by running "Empty Spaces" backwards on their turntables to hear, "Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont." Some fans read this as a reference to long-departed band co-founder Syd Barrett. The Floyd would neither confirm nor deny.
The album stayed at number one in the United States for 15 weeks, after debuting at number 51 on Dec. 15, 1979 — a numerologist would have a field day with those figures! — and climbing to the top position in a matter of weeks. In fact, it reached number one in every country in the world, except Japan, and, oddly enough, the U.K. "The Wall" went platinum (a million units sold) on March 22, 1980.
"Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)," backed with "One of My Turns," went to the top of the singles chart on both sides of the Atlantic in 1980. It has since become the best known Floyd song anywhere, rivaled only by 1973's "Money" from "Dark Side of the Moon." In the States, "Run Like Hell"/"Don't Leave Me Now" as well as "Comfortably Numb"/"Hey You" were also released as singles. "Run Like Hell" nearly broke the top 40, peaking at number 53.
"When the Tigers Broke Free," backed with an extended version of "Bring the Boys Back Home," was issued as a 45 in 1982 from a planned but never officially released soundtrack album to the film "Pink Floyd The Wall." Collectors were clever enough to snatch it up, as "Tigers" doesn't appear on "The Wall" album.
"The Wall" album was successful, but the band was clearly coming apart. During the recording of the album, Waters forced keyboardist Rick Wright out of the group, citing Wright's lack of contribution to the project. Wright was removed from the business enterprise that was Pink Floyd, and paid a salary like any other musician. Actually, most of the keyboard work on the recording ended up being courtesy of producer Bob Ezrin, and session player Peter Wood, who went uncredited.
Ironically, Wright's firing would end up working in his favor when it came time to tour the album. With an elaborate stage show that included the building of an actual (as well as symbolic) wall between the band and the audience throughout the show, only to be blown to bits near the end, "The Wall" tour only played four venues, starting at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, N.Y., and Los Angeles Sports Arena in California in February 1980; moving to Earl's Court in London, in August 1980; Westfallenhalle, West Germany, in February 1981; and back to Earl's Court in June 1981. With a massive budget to support, the members of the band all lost money. Wright, an "employee" of the Floyd at Waters's insistence, simply drew his salary.
The artistic difficulties among the band members began to be known publicly during the making and release of the album. The writing was on the wall, so to speak. Pink Floyd's next album, 1983's "The Final Cut," would be its last to include Waters.
The version of "The Wall" we play on "Floydian Slip" is the gold Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc pressing, which is the version pictured.
In spring 2000, Columbia released "Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81," a live, two-CD set culled from Floyd's Earl's Court concerts.