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Pink Floyd The Wall: Happy 30th Anniversary Print E-mail
Written by Christopher Hughes   
Monday, 30 November 2009

Pink Floyd The Wall, 1979With "Pink Floyd The Wall" being released thirty years ago today (November 30th), Brain Damage regular Christopher Hughes takes a detailed look at the album in this special article.

With the album being Christopher's favourite, along with many other people, it seemed the ideal time to share his thoughts and thorough analysis of the album, track by track...

Unlike many things in life that can be and are doubted, many truths that are questioned, many beliefs that come asunder, a few things in my life have stood the test of time. They have never wavered, never been questioned, never been tested. Pink Floyd The Wall is for me the greatest album of all time, and then some. After I heard it and fell in love I never thought otherwise.

If one is to have lists, favourite albums and the like (and many folks know I do so love a good list), I can clearly picture it sitting atop a very large pile of albums I love.

When the album came out, my part of the world consisted of about 5 record stores that I knew of. The lucky one that I bought it from was in Brisbane, the city part, not the suburbs shopping mall part. It was a good 20 minute drive from my home, and I clearly remember sitting in the back seat of the family car staring at the inner gatefold of the album, marvelling over the characters that danced before me to music unheard.

They were simply entrancing. So small and yet larger than life. I knew Another Brick in the Wall pt2 very well by this stage. I had heard side one of the album just the once, rather loudly at a school dance sound check that I was helping set up. From that rather loud introduction I decided that it was an album worth owning.

All that said, and all the history that The Wall has for me, I don't actually remember playing it for the first time. Which makes me wonder how it all unfolded and how my thinking went between listening to it and deciding it was the best. Or if in fact it was one and the same moment. The other non-Floyd albums I do clearly remember listening to for the first time, even to the exact place I was sitting and all of that. Just as I have clear memories of when I first heard DSotM, WYWH, TFC, Works, AHM, More, Animals, DSoT, Pulse, ITAOT, About Face, P&Cs, Kaos, AtD, OaI. One does wonder why I remember some and not others.

Anyhoo, I slowly indoctrinated my friends into the music of Pink Floyd at large and I remember many an hour spent arguing which was the best side on the album. This argument usually came down to two evenly split camps fighting over side one and side three; I've always said side one.

Likewise, as there is a storyline in the album, many a time was spent discussing it at length. What was happening, to who, by who, because of who. For me the story was always straight forward, making perfect sense.

One point I've always held firm was that Pink commits suicide at the end of the album. But I haven't seen that as a slit wrist kind of suicide, more of a "oh I give up!" and he just sits down and dies, metaphorically crushed by the weight of his own mental breakdown; maybe 'he kills himself' is a better wording than 'he commits suicide' if you can see the difference.

However, the cyclic nature of the record ... "isn't this where we came in" ... and the fact that no one from the band has ever said it was, have always been pretty good arguments against such a point of view. But then I saw footage from the concerts, and irrespective of whether they meant it or not, or even if Pink was meant to survive, doesn't phase me, because when the wall comes down, Pink is sitting at the base of it... and as such, is crushed by the destruction of his own mind.

Because of the characters, for this bored student, being able to draw The Wall over and over was a very nice way to pass the time. As a matter of fact, I kept up the practice all my life and even now I continue to do it when work drags me off to board rooms and conferences, where I sit numbed into submission ... and out comes the teacher, the judge, the wife and little old Pink, all happily being recreated in my notebook; or better still, on the cover of the glossy they invariably give you at those things. A wonderful way to pass the time I feel.

Unaware of the whole spitting incident ... probably for years, maybe in 1988 or some such when I read Miles' book ... I have the pleasure of having the whole album unfold before me without such influences. In fact, I had no idea about the band at all, or even that it was a band. All I did know was what was on the cover; or not as the case in hindsight may be. So I had no clues to their history, Syd, prog-rock, psychedelia, DSotM, World domination and anything else. They were a band (the album solved that argument about whether it was a person or band at least) and they put out a brilliant album. That I did know.

Since then, without digging through my cupboards to look for stuff I've forgotten about, I've been inspired to collect all sorts of goodies from the obvious t-shirts, singlets, badges, stickers, hats, postcards and posters and the not so obvious. I asked for and was given an acoustic guitar and the song book of The Wall, with Mother being the first song I learnt to play. I picked up the models of the characters that came out a few years back, I have stubbie coolers, fake tattooes and a real one, mounted Scarfe drawings and concert photos, a screenplay for the film, countless magazines where the imagery on the cover was enough to get me to buy it, a hanky with the hammers embroided into it, boxer shorts; a silver Wall ring that I wear on the wedding finger of my other hand (yes, it is the other great love in my life) and along the way from where I sit I can see I've managed to pick up at least 52 copies of it. I'm guessing I have more hidden away, but probably only a handful more.

In case you haven't figured it out, I love The Wall. I love everything about it, its cover, imagery, the feel of it, look of it, the ideas and ideals. I love how it makes me feel when I listen to it. I love its humanity and humility, how it makes me feel human, how it has made me better understand myself and those around me. I love its raw simplicity and its overblown pomposity. I love its complete storyline and the individuality of each track. I love listening to it as whole, yet again being moved by it, and instantly completing the loop by plaing it again, and again... and again.

I also love its music, its lyrics, its musicians and singers, its sound effects, its production, engineering, editing, tracklisting and so on...

SIDE ONE

The music nutter in me loves the excitement, and a little bit of fear, I get when I put on The Wall at the beginning. Knowing full well that the opening accordian sound is so soft by comparison to the opening notes of In the Flesh? that when those opening notes are quite loud to begin with, 18 seconds later the speakers may very well explode. They never have, but jeez I love that thrill when it kicks off. Likewise, the end of it, Outside the Wall, is painfully quiet, leaving you to physically strain to enjoy those last moments as well as physically drained after listening to the album for the last 80 odd minutes. In between, the volume jumps up and down as do the emotions, the trials and tribulations of the characters, and little old me listening along.

I can happily listen to each and any track as a stand alone piece of music and enjoy it for what it is; a song to sing along to, or hum, or whistle or whatever. But as with Pink Floyd themselves, stick them all together and The Wall becomes something far more magical than 26 great tracks. But I don't think there is a way to explain it that will make it make sense. Like all art, some folks will listen and it will click, some folks will listen and it won't. With me it clicks.

I do so like side one as a complete package. It covers a definite period in Pink's life, neatly packaging his childhood. Even though side two ends with Goodbye Cruel World, giving it an ending, for sides 2, 3 and 4 seem to flow as a whole and can be looked at that way. Side one is a set era. But, and here is the cleverness of having In the Flesh twice, the whole album is opened with not just In the Flesh?, but the whole cyclic nature of the piece with the "isn't this where we came in". So even if you want to take side one as a one off piece of twenty minutes, Pink Floyd very cleverly arranged it that you couldn't.

The other highlight of side one is the edginess of the music and vocals. In my 11 year old world full of one hit wonders, a family set on Abba and Andrew Lloyd-Webber and the height of disco everywhere else, the rawness of it all made all the difference. In the Flesh? attacks from the outset and doesn't let go, bringing in a stuka just to make the point; which I knew instantly based on a healthy diet of British war movies... The Dam Busters being a favourite without doubt helped me link with The Wall so much better, especially the film.

After In the Flesh? there is a little respite with the beginning of The Thin Ice, soon torn down with Roger's vocals and some of the best rhythm guitaring by DG in all his work. ABitW pt1 sounds quieter, but it has this undercurrent of menace, accentuated by the lyrics and the background sound effects, the school yard cleverly dragging you into the next two tracks. Back on the attack, Happiest Days smashes you about the head, expertly linked to ABitW pt2. Any hint of a disco tune and No1 world wide smash is stripped away with this editing. It's also here that the drums really click in their simplicity for the whole album, as well as that "I'm in the studio, standing next to the drum kit". Like ABitW pt1, pt2 sounds calmer, but has the menace in tone that sets it up perfectly.

With Pink's childhood now well and truly ripped apart, both lyrically and musically, up pops Mother. The music and vocals are beautiful, calm, quiet, comforting, just like a mother should be. But the lyrics tell us that his one port in a storm is shite as well. The poor little bastard didn't stand a chance.

My Dad didn't die in a war, my schooling was ok (I had my fair share of nasty teachers, but most were fine, some even good) and my mother was what a mother should be (although slightly barking mad). But from the first time I heard it, side one clicked musically and as part of a story. I listen to that and feel compelled to go on.

SIDE TWO

The beauty of Side 2 is it's personal harshness. A sort of one to one delivery of all that is crap about Pink's adult life. But it is delivered in a continual flow of opposites. When folks describe Pink Floyd as depressing, they usually mean the music. But side two of The Wall could very well be the most depressing 20 minutes in music history. Not because of the sound, as it right fairly rocks it up in places. But the plot line, the lyrics, the woeful existence of our main character is made all the more pitiful by how his life, already quite crap, turns to complete crap.

Goodbye Blue Skies is delicate, harmonious, whistful even, yet describes the end of the world. Empty Spaces and Young Lust are rocking numbers that sound like good RnR fun, yet describe the pointlessness of everything that Pink has become.

Another twin set of One of My Turns and Don't Leave Me Now has a harsher sound in the music, yet a deplorably sad personal life unfolds as Pink destroys his last place of refuge.

Then ABitW Pt3 finally breaks out of the mould of it's two siblings by sounding menacing and being menacing. The music, the lyrics and the delivery all say "fuck-you"! This last act of anger and defiance is of course short lived as Pink gives up all hope and tops himself. This act obviously occurs in Goodbye Cruel World with a very predictable RnR overdose, and delivered in the ongoing pattern of peaceful music countered by tragic lyrics.

As a whole, Side 2 has been unfairly condemed by me, simply because it follows the wonder that is side one. I think this has been accentuated by the CD as they flow together now, where as before you consciously divided them, fully appreciating it as a stand alone side. (In case you haven't realised yet, I have always seen the album as a collection of sides as much as I have a whole and again as much as I have 26 seperate songs). But that is completely unfair of course. To understand and appreciate the plot, you need Side 2.

What's more, Side 2 contains some of Roger's greatest lyrics and vocals, particularly the alliteration and pronunciation in One of My Turns; I really love "dry as a funeral drum". Likewise, contrary to the image of the band themselves, DG's delivery of the sex, drugs and rock and roll in Young Lust is positively wonderful... you believe it. Don't Leave Me Now is basically perfect in its mysoginistic nature, completely utilising the same notion that fed ABitW Pt2 and it's 'don't take it literally or you miss the point'.

Musically it is also a wonderful collection of songs. Many folks cite Young Lust as a favourite because of the guitar, but I particularly enjoy the endings of both One of My Turns and Don't Leave Me Now as they continue the thread started by In the Flesh? and The Thin Ice, with a thumping ending stuck on the end; the drumming and guitar work on Don't Leave Me Now is particularly pleasing. Likewise, I love the delicacy of Goodbye Blue Skies and Goodbye Cruel World. They really do suck you in and make you listen.

And listen.

SIDE THREE

Side 3 is a fascinating propostion. I suspect I sell this side short simply because of so many discussions on whether it was better than Side 1. Although my up front argument was always Side 1 has ABitW Pt2 and Side 3 doesn't, I know it is much more than that. It's simply that Side 3 is nice. Of the four sides, Side 3 is the calmest, both lyrically and musically.

It certainly starts off a little roudy with the second half of Hey You being some of Roger's most bitter vocals; or maybe menacing is a better adjective. Either way, it drips with venom. But overall, its light guitaring sets the scene for a delightful twenty minutes of music. And I do so enjoy the repeating of the ABitW riff during the solo.

Musically, the peace gets into full swing with Is There Anybody Out There, delivering some of the finest acoustic guitar playing ever. Promptly followed by the playfulness of Nobody's Home, the simplicity of Vera, an almost dramatic BtBBH, but it's too short to take you away, then rounded off with the happy lolling of Comfortably Numb.

Lyrically, although it can be seen in many places as negative, depressing, frightening and threatening, I see it more in terms of "my life flashed before my eyes". Because I think Pink kills himself at the end of Side 2, in those last moments before the insanity of Side 4 and ultimately his death kick in, his life flashes by as the old cliche goes. As such, the lyrics are sad simply because the end is nigh. In other contexts they could be seen as angry as Pink has yet more things in his life pissing him off. Or in hindsight they can be seen as the motivation to go Nazi troppo on Side 4.

Whatever it is, the side has always come across as nicer than the other three. Lyrically Roger has again shone with numerous uses of illiteration, simile and metaphor, and a choice of words that highlight the precise pronunciation of the vocal delivery. It's also here there is a very good chance, though I can't remember, that the inclusion of Vera Lynn in the storyline helped me understand it a whole lot more. My very English upbringing and ancestory meant that apart from many other things, I was indoctrinated in English history, particularly WWII which my Mother and her parents lived through including The Blitz and air raids on Italy. Films like the Dam Busters were a staple in my childhood just as Vera Lynn was. Basically every time for the last three decades when Roger asks if I remember her, I happily say yes.

The other song of note on Side Three is Nobody Home. Famously written in one night and just as famously about various things Syd got up to in life are both hindsight thoughts. As a song in the context of Pink's life it is a deeply moving piece that says it all and then some about what Pink is going through and the one basic thing that is missing in his life, in so many people's lives. For me, Nobody Home is one, if not the, saddest song they recorded.

SIDE FOUR

The end of Pink's story takes all of Side 4 to unfold and his demise is just as dramatic and eventful as his various life stages had been. For Pink it is no surprise that his reinvention, even if only mentally, is in the guise of a fascist; the most powerful thing in his own life. Of course, just as the real bad guys failed, Pink fails as well, but again, it's no surprise that this is what he chose. For him the war wasn't about the Allies fighting and winning, it was about the Axis killing his father, destroying his mother and stealing away his childhood. England may have won the war, but Pink lost it.

How all this happens is plainly magnificent. The Show Must Go On is delivered with perfect harmonies. In the Flesh, again, not only reaffirms the anger and contempt for his audience, but it goes way beyond the acceptable to basically insult the known world; and I so love the extra piece of guitar and vocals between the intro and verses. Now that he's scared the lot, he goes further still, making them literally run like hell before gathering together the true believers that stay behind to march once more.

Then it stops, he crumbles, his inner demons finally kick the crap out of him, and that's it. The moral of the story... well, learn from Pink's mistakes and don't let shit get you down. Simple really.

But the really good bit is the music. All the different sorts. Harmonies, heavy rock, dance rock, drama, spoken word (almost), musical and folk. Then there is the contrast of Roger's anger in In the Flesh and Run Like Hell with DG's effort in Waiting for the Worms, which for me is one of, if not the best singing performance by him. The other highlight is the characterisation in The Trial where as a rock opera, the storyline all comes together in a superbly contructed play that musically drips of 60's musicals such as Oliver.

All up, Side 4 is a grand finalle indeed making the whole album well worth sitting through over and over and over.

...and over.

Musically many folks who love the album could go on at length about just one part of it, such as DG's solos or Roger's vocals, the wonderful drumming throughout along with the delicate piano work and acoustic guitaring. Again, the clever use of various bass techniques, the addition of harmonies and choirs or the well placed and suitably subtle use of background noises and spoken word are all noteworthy. The wonder that is The Wall means that so many seperate things are worthy standalone topics. But the one I want to highlight is the numerous examples where Roger and DG sing with vocally opposite styles to such great effect.

The Thin Ice, Mother, Hey You, Comfortably Numb and Waiting for the Worms are better songs because of it, making the album so much better because of them. Even within these songs, they don't stick to an obvious verse for Roger, chorus for DG. I've happily said it before, and will say it again and again, much to many folks surprise, but to me for both Roger Waters and David Gilmour, their greatest asset is their singing (or at least it was ;-) ). Sticking their voices together on record makes it all the more wonderful. And there is no better way to illustrate this than to suggest how many emails, reviews, texts, letters, comments and day dreams have occured over Comfortably Numb being performed by Pink Floyd without Roger, or by Roger without Pink Floyd ... and how the proof of how good they do sound together was shown at Live 8.

Best of all, unlike Pink Floyd's other albums, the situation of having so many songs with both of them singing occured just as they were at their best vocally. As brilliant as they are elsewhere, before and after, in that one moment they were even better. Each and every song is nailed, but the handful of duets are beyond that, the best example of the often quoted "sum of the parts".

These parts make me particularly happy.

The other thing I want to describe that I alluded to earlier is what it all means to me and how I relate to it. I'm not really sure why it should hit home with an 11 year old very far removed in time and space from the character of Pink, but for whatever reason it did. The plot always made sense to me. A few years later when the movie came out it made perfect sense. Unlike so many others, I didn't sit and wonder what the hell that was all about.

I suspect it was because of my family life, my English mother talking of the war and all that followed and my history teaching father making his passion in life all the more real for our family. So WWII, the English and the Germans, stuka bombers and the people left behind were familiar territory. Likewise, I had enough issues at school to make it ring true. I knew enough about girls, (and learnt more over the next few years, some good some bad), rock-n-roll excess and partying until you puke to understand. I could understand how and why the character felt the way he did, and could sympathise, even empathise with how bad it feels when it doesn't work out. Then, when it all goes pear shaped, I can see how folks who know no better, feel that oblivion in a bottle (be it of booze or pills) is a better place to be than the real one. And lastly, I am moved by the sadness when Pink gives up.

I know the story backwards, as they say. I've listened to it, thought about it, discussed it so many times. I never get tired of it. I never get tired of the music that propels it along. Every time I listen to it all the way through I sit and think of Pink, not Pink Floyd, and I choose to learn by his mistakes. His mistakes, although set in a certain time and place involving a rock star are real mistakes we can all make. They are simple human errors in relationships with family and friends.

Learning from them for 30 years I know has made me understand me better and those around me better. It's helped me get through shit better and celebrate glories better. It is a wonderful record made by a talented group of people who came together to create history.

I thank them. I thank Pink Floyd. Happy 30th to you, The Wall.

 
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