Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and Money. I loved all four songs and have for many years but for some reason I never went further into Floyd’s back catalogue or even the group themselves. I had never listened to an album, never bothered to delve into their history. I had heard the name, Syd Barrett, but knew nothing else of their story.
If you search for Pink Floyd on YouTube you’ll find their songs, albums, documentaries and hundreds of reaction videos. A new generation of music lovers are discovering their music and having their minds blown by what they hear. Thanks to them I have decided to begin my own journey – a Pink Floyd pilgrimage, you could say – to find out more.
What drew me towards Pink Floyd was the countless comments I had seen from other Floyd enthusiasts, the same messages and appreciation for the group. They insisted that nothing else sounds like Pink Floyd, that listening to an album in its entirety was essential, that their music could help you drift into an alternate plain and that you must, simply MUST, have headphones on when you do listen to the Floyd. It sounded cathartic and I wanted to try for myself as a form of meditation, something I’ve never been good at. I did see plenty of comments suggesting listening to Floyd while high is the way to go, well, I won’t be doing that, dear reader, you will be relieved to hear though I am sure it’s an interesting experience.
My Pink Floyd pilgrimage began earlier this year by reading two books – Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd and Martin Popoff’s Pink Floyd: Album by Album. This gave me an insight into the group’s often turbulent history as well as their extensive discography. I have also watched a few documentaries on YouTube so gained a further insight into their work. There is, however, one thing left for me to do.
Each month I will be listening to a Pink Floyd album in full and writing a reaction on this blog. I will listen multiple times – all the way through – and with headphones on. I will NOT be pausing during a David Gilmour solo and I’ll see if I can figure out which one is Pink! I will begin with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and conclude with The Endless River (2014). In all, there are 15 studio albums to get through. By November 2020 I will have been through the early days of the band with Syd Barrett as the leader, the middle years where a close-knit quartet gradually fell apart as Roger Waters seized control, and the later years when a more democratic David Gilmour led the group in its twilight years.
One final thing, dear reader. As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I am a novice, a mere apprentice and know very little so what I offer here are just my opinions of their music as I take it on board. I will attempt, and likely fail, to rank the albums in order of preference and try – big emphasis on try – to select the best song from each record even though I know they are to be treated as one long piece of music. If you have insights of your own to help me, or just want to share your own love and appreciation of these music legends then please throw a comment my way.
Time to grab the headphones and go on a journey…
Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #10: Animals (1977)
For the next part of Pink Floyd’s journey we’re entering 1976 and continuing into 1977. The onset of the Floyd’s tenth album is a clear indication of a group beginning to crumble with some hostilities beginning to brew. It would never be the same again from this point on. The unity that had withstood the departure of Syd Barrett in 1968 and battled through the next five years to The Dark Side of the Moon was now gone. Mainstream success would ultimately lead to the downfall of Pink Floyd.
Having been lost in the wilderness of riches and fame with The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd had battled through a barren period of uncertainty and a lack of inspiration to produce the superb album, Wish You Were Here. If this was a Hollywood movie, you would now see a band working well together once more, having overcome the antagonist that was the separation and absence between the four members. However, this was not Hollywood. In 1975 the band purchased a building that they turned into their own recording studio. A previous contract with their record company had now expired, having previously given them unlimited recording time in exchange for reduced takings from album profits. By early 1976, the studio was completed leaving Pink Floyd to turn their attention to the tenth album in their career. It had been 10 years since the group first made their breakthrough with Syd Barrett at the helm and See Emily Play was riding high in the UK Top 10. A decade on, the four bandmates were now in their 30s, older, wiser and not as tolerant about one another’s shortcomings and idiosyncracies as they once were. Something was about to give.
Britain in the late 1970s wasn’t a great place to be both socially and politically. Unemployment was high, the economy was struggling and strikes were prevalent. In this harsh climate, the punk rock movement was also in full flow, the rebellious dress and hairstyles complemented by a new wave of music from the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, that rejected rock music consumed by the masses and sought to carve a new musical path. Pink Floyd were one of many groups dismissed by this movement with Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols famously donning a Floyd T-shirt with the words “I hate” scrawled on it to precede the band’s name. The Floyd were now being dismissed as archaic, old news, and this challenge, coupled with the political, social and economic turbulence of 1970s Britain resonated strongly with Roger Waters.
Unlike Wish You Were Here when the band had nothing in terms of new material, two songs were left over from the 1975 record – You’ve Got To Be Crazy and Raving and Drooling. These two tracks were at the heart of an argument between Waters and David Gilmour, the latter wanting them both on Wish You Were Here but Waters won the debate which proved to be the best decision. The two songs had been performed live and were now picked up again, reworked as tracks called Dogs and Sheep, respectively, to meet a new concept in Waters’ mind. Having written all the lyrics for the previous few albums, Waters now assumed greater control of Pink Floyd with Nick Mason and Richard Wright contributing little this time round. David Gilmour, who had played a big part on Wish You Were Here, was now married and focused on his baby daughter, so he too did not offer as much as before. This left the onus on Roger Waters to take charge of a Pink Floyd album, for better or worse, more than ever before.
Drawing inspiration from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Roger Waters came up with a critique of British society using animals to represent certain types of people. While Orwell’s book was an allegory of the Russian Revolution and how ultimately Communism fails when power changes hands, as most are corrupted by it, Waters’ concept attacked the capitalist world with the rich and those in government/high positions controlling all aspects of society, while the majority are carried along in the dictatorial wave that comes rushing towards them. Waters’ idea decreed that pigs are at the top of the hierarchy, the politicians and influential figures so to speak. Next up are the dogs, power hungry and cutthroat corporate businessmen whose self-serving motto is the only way to survive. At the bottom are the sheep, representative of the majority, the working classes especially, who do as they are told and are at the mercy of the dogs, acting at the behest of the pigs or in competition with them. Even the cover, the concept thought up by Waters and designed by Storm Thorgerson, depicts an inflatable pig floating by Battersea Power Station with dark, foreboding skies in the background. A marksman was on hand during photography to shoot down the inflatable pig in case it escaped, which it apparently did at one stage, grounding planes at Heathrow, before landing in a farmer’s field in Kent and scaring the cows. You couldn’t make it up! In many ways, this new album was a change of direction for Pink Floyd and would ultimately prove to be far darker and angrier than anything they had recorded before.
Animals was released in January 1977. The Dark Side of the Moon had been a phenomenal success and Wish You Were Here was a stunning follow-up, but would Pink Floyd continue their pattern of success with this latest work or would the internal divisions and tensions now festering within the band lead to the release of a subpar piece of work?
Pigs on the Wing (Part 1)
The opening track on the album is Pigs on the Wing (Part 1) which was written by Roger Waters. The song lasts for around 1½ minutes and bookends the three main tracks on the Animals album, with Pigs on the Wing (Part 2) being the concluding segment to the record. The opening part has a handful of lines and the overall mood of the song is quite bleak. The song was inspired by Waters’ then wife, Carolyne Christie, and is a love song addressed to her. In the lyrics, Waters imagines a scenario where he and Carolyne have no feelings or emotions for one another and throws in various images to emphasise this distance such as “boredom”, “pain” and “rain”, giving one the impression of gloomy and threatening skies. The song concludes with Waters stating that they would consider who to blame for this distance and sit watching for the pigs on the wing of the title, linking to the idea of pigs might fly and also to the album cover. This feeling of gloom and uncertainty lingers as the opening track comes to an end and we move onto the second song.
Pigs on the Wing (Part 1) is unusually short for a Pink Floyd song and the execution here is quite simple. We simply have Roger Waters on vocals and he plays an acoustic guitar with no input from the other band members. It’s an intriguing opening song, offering a spot of mystery and providing a contrasting intervention for the three main songs that follow. There is a bleakness here but the acoustic guitar and Waters gentle vocals do evoke the love that comes through as he conveys his feelings for his wife at the time, Carolyne. This is more Roger Waters in If or Grantchester Meadows mode. What follows is anything but.
The second track on the album and the one that completes Side One is Dogs, which was written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. This is the first of the trio of songs that describes how Waters viewed society at this time with three distinct groups being imagined as metaphorical animals. The track is 17 minutes long, easily the longest on the album, and indeed one of Pink Floyd’s lengthiest compositions after Echoes and the Atom Heart Mother suite. We start with the dogs who are the ruthless businessmen, self-serving and pursuing riches and glory at the expense of all those around them. The vocals are divided here between Gilmour and Waters. The song opens with Gilmour singing and the opening verse appears to be from the perspective of a wise old dog handing out advice on survival in this brutal corporate world. He tells us such things as being able to identify the weak and vulnerable, how to look in appearance and manner, essentially donning a cunning masquerade to lure in the unsuspecting and when opportunity comes along you can stab them in the back when they least suspect it. The opening verse pulls no punches about how cruel and selfish one has to be to make it as a dog.
In the second verse, the theme changes somewhat, things become very bleak. Gilmour now tells us that essentially every dog has his day and that even the cruellest will start to age, their senses will numb and they have to be on their guard as younger dogs will be waiting to strike and take them down. You can certainly buy into this powerful metaphor and the use of animals is apt. The comparison to Animal Farm is clear with a similar idea being explored in Orwell’s book for at least one of the characters there. I won’t say which in case you haven’t read the book. As Dogs continues, we hear that the unrelenting passage of time takes over; we learn that the dog can no longer survive on the corporate battlefield and that they have to reluctantly retire. They head south to a distant place, far from the higher echelons of a greedy society and become anonymous in their retirement. This is not a rewarding experience though. There are no relaxing and unwinding visits to the golf course, travelling the world, or enjoying their lives. No longer in the competitive world of business, they are just a “sad old man all alone and dying of cancer”.
Moving into the third verse, Gilmour continues to describe the dog unravelling in old age and retirement. He informs us that with a loss of control, all the decisions made and all the people cast aside in the pursuit of power now come back to haunt the dog. With nothing but time on his hands, all he can do is dwell on what he has done. In a clever line, we hear that the dog cannot “lose the weight you used to need to throw around.” Finally, in the song’s most powerful moment the dog is told to have a “good drown” and that it is “dragged down by the stone.” The metaphorical stone is a theme that Roger Waters has touched upon previously on the More album in Crying Song which spoke of the need to move a stone. In Dogs the stone sounds like something sinister, perhaps our mistakes and regrets, or even a sense of mortality itself. The imagery here is brutal. I can picture a large stone, chained around the ankle of an individual and dragging them helplessly into the depths of water to a slow and painful drowning. The stone is clearly something that resonates strongly with Waters, it is a force beyond his control and it is to be feared. Whatever the answer, Gilmour closes out the third verse by having the stone drag the dog to its death in the water. It is a cold and unpleasant demise.
Moving into the fourth verse, Roger Waters now takes over on vocals and the song takes a slight change of direction. While Gilmour described what it takes to be a dog and how they all ultimately fall, Waters seems to tap into a vulnerability one has while in this guise. In the fourth verse he describes things such as confusion and “malaise”, a clear maladjustment at how one is supposed to acquire the traits of being a dog. The idea is that “everyone’s expendable” and friends are nowhere to be found. Waters surveys this world of corporate greed and survival and doesn’t seem to like what he sees. The blueprint for being a dog seems to suggest that one’s own worth and needs are paramount, while everyone else around you is to be kept at a safe distance and thrown aside whenever the moment dictates. This verse alone in the song gives us the impression that one’s own humanity is at stake before they can ascend to being a dog.
In the fifth and final verse, Waters relays a series of questions, each one preceded with the words, “Who was.” In this final section, we return to the image of the dog and the song cleverly extends the metaphor by comparing the businessman’s own behaviour with traits of a canine. We hear such lines as “Who was told what to do by the man”, giving one the image of a dog following its master’s commands. Other examples include being “fitted with collar and chain” and “given a pat on the back”, ideas of control over the dog but also the reassurance of a reward of sorts for good behaviour. The closing lines are among the strongest with reference to being a “stranger at home”, clearly referencing the many hours the dog devotes in the corporate world and how even their family are an afterthought when it comes to the pursuit of power. Finally, Waters ends the song with the horrifying image of a dog “found dead on the phone”, building on that prior idea of working too many hours, essentially being chained to the desk, under restraint and control, as every good dog should be. The song ends with a revisit to the metaphor of the stone dragging the dog down beneath the surface of the water to its death. It ends with a repetition of that line to close a lyrical epic from Roger Waters.
Dogs is a 17 minutes’ journey that is essentially made up of three main sections. It begins with a fade in of what sounds like an acoustic guitar. There is also an accompaniment of Farfisa organ which sets the unpredictable mood of the track. Gilmour then starts the first verse and his vocals here are somewhat different to what we have come across before with Floyd, demonstrating his versatility, but also engaging with the darker material being offered by Roger Waters. The acoustic guitar joins with Gilmour at the outset but heavier guitar begins to creep in as he works through each of the opening lines. After the first verse we get a brief but sumptuous piece of guitar work from Gilmour, and he throws in what sounds like a scream before some distant laughter, before launching into the second verse. The tempo increases, the track has more urgency now. There is guitar and organ evident here, working in unison and accelerating the piece along. When the second verse ends with the line “dying of cancer”, Gilmour’s vocal fades out before a stunning guitar solo comes in past the 3 minutes mark that leaves one completely breathless. It’s a truly intense piece and some of the best Gilmour has played up to this point on my Floyd journey. Suddenly, the urgency begins to recede and in the background we can hear the sound of dogs barking and then they howl ominously in the distance. The businessmen – the dogs – are on the horizon and they feel like they may close in on us for the kill if we are not careful. We revert back to the acoustic guitar for a time before a different solo from Gilmour comes in, just as powerful as what we have had before. It sounds like he is really fighting the guitar at times, as if the sound is almost strained under the relenting pressure of his playing. We’re now 7½ minutes in when the third verse comes in. Gilmour’s vocals are now backed by Richard Wright as he sings of the dog and the stone that drags him to his watery death. The mood of the section is unnerving and quite chilling with some long drawn out, even echoey vocals now from Gilmour. As the verse ends, we hear that word “stone” which stays and begins to repeat as we move to the midpoint of Dogs.
Dogs is now 8 minutes old as we move into the middle section of the track. Gilmour’s vocal of “stone” echoes throughout but the guitar disappears and is replaced by a slow accompaniment of gentle drums and dominant organ work from Richard Wright. It has an atmospheric and peculiar feel to it, uneasy and uncertain. You can’t help but admire the Floyd here. In 8 minutes you could have listened to at least two chart friendly songs, maybe three, but here they slow everything down. They don’t care about taking their time here. They want the journey to go on and if we’re willing to stick with them we’ll be in for quite a ride. It feels like they are setting the mood of the second half of the song. It’s almost as if Gilmour has been on stage to do his part, now there is a brief interval before we switch over to Roger Waters for the second part. The “stone” vocal continues for around a minute, gradually becoming more distorted before fading completely into the background. Wright continues on the organ. Some of the sounds here are akin to whistling as if a master (pigs?) are calling to the dogs to come to them. We then hear the dogs barking again, then they start to howl. In the distance, we can just about discern the sound of “stone” being repeated but it’s farther away than before. Now, the barking of the dogs seem to resonate in harmony with the music, it all blends seamlessly together. Then Richard Wright’s organ melody begins to change and take over the piece. The sound of dogs barking and howling, as well as the echo of “stone”, are muffled in the background. Pink Floyd keep us locked in this hostile microcosm. Why rush? They’ll let us out when they are good and ready.
The final section begins to come in around 11½ minutes into the song. It’s hard to believe we’ve been listening this long but there’s still more than 5 minutes to go. The acoustic guitar now returns, signalling a change in the piece. We now know something is about to happen but we don’t know what yet. Verse 4 then begins with Roger Waters now singing and sounding vulnerable as he conveys the confused perspective of the would-be dog, his eyes open to this self-serving and seemingly violent business world. The acoustic guitar is dominant now, following Waters’ vocals but heavier guitar and more forceful drumming from Nick Mason begin to make their presence known. Verse 4 draws to a conclusion and around 13½ minutes into Dogs, Gilmour is back with heavier guitar work, before we revisit one of his stunning guitar solos from earlier in the track around 14 minutes into the song. This continues for a minute or so before a very brief respite on the 15 minutes mark. Are we finished? Not yet. Mason hammers the drums, the fifth and final verse kicks in. Waters’ vocals are harder and more purposeful. Gilmour and Mason’s heavy accompaniment on guitar and drums respectively back their singer well. Waters fires off a series of questions, layering the metaphor of the businessman as a dog before the final repetition of “he was dragged down by the stone” brings the song to its crashing conclusion. No gentle fade out here, just a thunderous conclusion to a 17 minute epic.
We are just two tracks into Animals but Side One already draws to a conclusion. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t sure what to make of Dogs when I first listened. It’s a track that warrants multiple listens to fully appreciate it in all its majesty. It began life as You Gotta Be Crazy but the song was reworked to fit the theme of Animals and it is a stunning introduction to Waters’ dark vision of UK society at this time. The metaphor of the ruthless dogs is very apt, for while they are brutal in their conduct, they themselves are also controlled by a higher force. The contrasts in the song are quite remarkable with Gilmour building an image of what a dog is and how to survive before revealing that they all ultimately face their own ending and it is a sad and lonely demise, the price one must pay for being a dog. Waters’ section of the song is intriguing, capturing the vulnerability and doubts a dog may have about their path, but concluding with that incredible extension of the metaphor. It is graphic and hard-hitting, combining man and animal into one, just as Orwell did in Animal Farm. It’s amazing to think that this song is 17 minutes long. When you listen to it, you cannot believe your attention has been held for that long and Pink Floyd really do keep you hooked for that long. This is a dark song, one of the darkest there has been so far, channelling the same sinister nature as Welcome to the Machine, but this world is far more violent than that song conveyed. Waters has ramped things up several notches here. As with Wish You Were Here, Waters and Gilmour have combined together to forge another masterpiece with Dogs. Waters’ stunning lyrics are beautifully matched by Gilmour’s exceptional work with the music, especially those guitar solos which are simply incredible. I did find myself wavering between this song and Time as my favourite Floyd moment but Dogs slips a smidgen behind in my opinion. As it stands, this is the second best song Pink Floyd have created. I’ll be surprised if anything else comes close to matching this but I felt with Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here that Floyd couldn’t get any better yet they continue to surprise. All I can say to round off is that Dogs is an unquestionable masterpiece.
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
The third track on the album and the opening song on Side Two of Animals is Pigs (Three Different Ones), which was written by Roger Waters. The track is just over 11 minutes and continues the main theme of the album.. Previously, we focused on the dogs who are the cutthroat businessmen, self-serving and in the hunt for easy prey to backstab and use for their own gain and advancement. Our attention now switches to the pigs who, in Waters’ mind, were figures that occupied the higher echelons of society in the form of politicians and other figureheads who wielded enormous power that impacted on many of those beneath them. The structure of Pigs (Three Different Ones) was to lambast three different types of pig with one being named specifically, while the other two remain open to debate and speculation to this day.
Roger Waters takes the vocals here and in the opening verse he sings of the first pig who he seems to criticise for being overweight, possibly an indication of hearty living while the majority in society do not enjoy the same luxury. This pig sounds like they may be a politician. Waters cleverly derides them as being “a good laugh” when they stand with hand on heart. This sounds like an individual who makes many promises, as politicians do especially during elections, but ultimately do not deliver on these assurances that win them public votes. We also get the refrain here that Waters uses throughout the song, “Haha, charade you are.” I interpreted this as laughing at the individual and dismissing their appearance or “charade” as a clever disguise, but not clever enough to fool Waters who sees through them. I have also seen mention on the Internet that the phrase may mean, “you are wrong.” Perhaps well-versed Floyd fans could help me out a bit here! The opening verse has imagery of greed and avarice, a fully-fledged pig here that sounds filthy and gluttonous. It’s unclear which individual Roger Waters is targeting here and given the hundreds of politicians around in the UK in the 1970s it’s hard to narrow the list down. I would imagine this is a Conservative politician given Waters’ socialist leanings but I can’t say for sure. If anyone does know more I would be interested to hear. Waters ends the verse by saying this pig is almost a “laugh” but instead they are a “cry”.
In the second verse we move onto the next pig and as with the previous one, the identity of this individual is open to debate. In the song, Waters continues with the vocals and this pig is referred to as a “rat bag” and “old hag”. The use of the word “hag” suggests we are talking about a woman here but what her standing in society is is hard to ascertain. A powerful line used by Waters states, “You radiate cold shafts of broken glass”. This gives one the impression of a fantastical creature firing projectiles of shattered glass to pierce and maim the unsuspecting. It’s a powerful image. Later in the verse, Waters tells us this woman wears a hatpin and this makes her “hot stuff.” Hatpins are used to hold hats to one’s head and you get the image of a woman in higher society, the nobility perhaps. Waters goes further by describing how this pig likes the “feel of steel” and that she’s “good fun with a handgun”. Having access to a gun sounds pretty sinister but, again, an indication of someone wealthy and privileged to circumvent strict laws, certainly in the UK, where firearms access would require severe scrutiny and licenses. This adds to the image of an individual who is rich and powerful but also has an element of danger about them as well. They are not a person to be trifled with, nor do they sound like someone that would relinquish their privilege without a fight. As with the first pig, Waters closes by saying this one is a “cry” rather than a “laugh”.
The third and final verse to Pigs (Three Different Ones) sees Waters continue on vocals as he introduces the last of our trio of pigs. There is no ambiguity here. The identity of this pig is very clear as Waters refers to her by name: Mary Whitehouse. Whitehouse was an educator and Conservative activist, an often divisive figure who attacked the British media and socialist liberalism, believing such tenets as sexual freedom to be detrimental to the morality in the country. While supported by many, Whitehouse was also mocked and considered a figure of fun by some for her views. Roger Waters has stated in interviews that he did not agree with Whitehouse’s arguments and he felt that she was seemingly everywhere in the media in the 1970s. In the song, Whitehouse is our third pig and referred to as a “house proud town mouse”. Waters’ disdain comes through in the line, “You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street”, a clear nod to Whitehouse’s views that saw her clash with advocates of gay rights, feminism and even lovers of television who were incredulous at her lamentations of too much sex, violence and verbal vulgarity being beamed into people’s homes. Waters tells Whitehouse to keep her harmful feelings to herself and to let other people be. Although this final verse is the only one we are clear about in its subject matter, it has caused confusion for listeners outside of the UK, especially in the US. For American listeners, it’s an easy assumption to make that Waters is criticising the White House and with it the US president who was Gerald Ford at this time. Waters has always attested that Mary Whitehouse was the subject here but the misinterpretation remains common. As with the previous two verses, Waters closes out this section by saying Whitehouse is a “cry” but while the first two pigs were almost “a laugh”, Whitehouse is almost “a real treat”. It seems Waters had particular disdain for the third of the three pigs he lambasts.
This 11 minutes or so track begins with the snorting of a pig before Richard Wright comes into the fray on an organ. It has an almost fairground sort of feel to it, very different to Dogs, which is far darker. Pigs (Three Different Ones) is, lyrically, an angry song but musically it sounds more light-hearted in conveying Waters’ mockery. In an unusual adjustment to Floyd’s formation, David Gilmour does both lead and bass guitar here, while Waters switches over to the rhythm guitar. Nick Mason, as ever is on the drums, with Wright switching between organ, piano and synthesiser accompaniments. Roger Waters is alone on the vocals here and delivers the first two verses in the opening four minutes or so of the song. A sweep of the piano from Wright leads us into a musical interlude for the next four minutes with Mason tapping away on the drums to create a catchy beat in the background. The sound of snorting pigs returns before Gilmour makes use of a talkbox to mimic the sound of pigs as the music continues to play out. It’s an impressive representation of a pig noise, the persistent squealing giving the song a sudden uneasy feel after the opening verbal attacks on the first two pigs from Waters. About 7 minutes into the song, the music reverts back to that organ piece at the very outset though the pace is quicker and more urgent this time round. Another minute or so passes before Roger Waters launches into the third and final verse, his brutal dismissal of Mary Whitehouse. At one point during his vocals, Waters seems to sniff and uses a sharp exhalation when delivering the word, “You” to directly address Whitehouse. This seems to tie into the mimicking of the pigs throughout the track. After the final verse ends, we’re 9½ minutes into the track and we now enter the closing instrumental. David Gilmour comes forward now with a powerful guitar solo. This leads the rest of the group through to the song’s denouement. With around half a minute to go, the Floyd’s music begins to fade out and simultaneously fading in is the sound of birdsong and also the distinctive baas of sheep in fields.
Pigs (Three Different Ones) has more of a comedic feel to it than the dark and violent imagery of Roger Waters’ lyrics in Dogs. That said, Waters’ takedown of the three pigs is itself unquestionably fierce. I have seen suggestions about who the first two pigs may be with Margaret Thatcher’s name being suggested for the second of the three pigs but this album was two years prior to her becoming the British Prime Minister so I have doubts. I’m not sure personally about the identity of the first two pigs and I quite like that the mystery about who they are remains a subject of debate. As for Mary Whitehouse, well, the Animals album predates when I was born so her influence and impact on society is not something I felt. This isn’t the time and place to share my views of her but from what I have read she could be a divisive figure in her lifetime but that description applies to pretty much anyone in the public eye. I know too little to pass any kind of judgement. Roger Waters clearly disliked her and that comes through strongly in the song. Elements of the song do ring true for individuals that are key to UK society today, more recent manifestations of the pigs to be found here. What I found interesting in Waters’ vision is that the dogs are described in quite a generic way, whereas the pigs are more complex and could fall into different categories. What unites them is a clear sense that they are too powerful for their own good and that they hinder rather than benefit society as a whole. Waters exposes the pigs here as the “charade” he comes back to in the song’s refrain. Although they are seemingly untouchable and in control, Waters sees through the masquerade and mocks their idiosyncracies and failures in the most ruthless fashion. Compared to previous songs in the Floyd canon, Pigs (Three Different Ones) is very political and of its time. Its underlying message does resonate to this day, especially in UK and US politics, but as with Dogs we have a very different Pink Floyd in Animals to the one we have had before. Still brilliant, but very different.
The fourth track on the album is Sheep which was written by Roger Waters and clocks in at around ten minutes. While Dogs originally began life as You’ve Got To Be Crazy around the time of the Wish You Were Here album, Sheep was known as Raving and Drooling. It was still a work in progress with Gilmour thinking it had too few lyrics while You’ve Got To Be Crazy had too many. With both tracks ditched for the previous album, Waters brought them back for Animals and Sheep was born. Slotting into the animal social mythology devised by Waters, the sheep are the mindless people who follow the leader and do not question those in power even if they do take advantage of them. The song is divided into three verses with a parody of Psalm 23 slotted in between Verses 2 and 3, and why not?.
In the first verse, Waters describes the sheep to us and the people he comments on are compared to the farm animals. We learn that the sheep are wandering around seemingly without a care in the world though they have to be alert to watch out for the dogs we learned all about in the second track. Despite this mindless existence dominated by subservience, there is some uncertainty in the air that Waters alludes to and the sheep are sensing not all is right.
In the second verse Waters builds on the idea of the sheep being aware things may be wrong but they choose to ignore it. You get the image of a political leader (a pig?) telling the sheep not to worry, all is well, and they go along with the affirmation. As with Animal Farm, Waters depicts these sheep as too clueless to question what is obviously staring them right in the face. As the verse continues, the sheep continue to obey their leader mindlessly until suddenly they are shown the reality of brutal deception. Their reservations from the first verse that they chose to ignore have now been realised but it looks like it is too late. We have the proverbial lambs being led to the slaughter here.
After the second verse we have the parody of Psalm 23 with reference to “the Lord is my shepherd” but Waters gives what follows a violent narrative. The sheep are now aware that their Lord (Shepherd? Pig? Dog?) are leading them to be slaughtered, their bodies hung on hooks and their meat ending up on dinner tables. It’s a harsh realisation for the sheep and they acknowledge that the master is simply too powerful for them to oppose. However, they do look to the day when they will rise up having learned…karate…of all things and once they have attained this mastery of martial arts they can rebel against their master and “make the bugger’s eyes water”. This element of this segment completes a tongue in cheek parody of Psalm 23.
In the third and final verse, Waters describes how the revolution has come for the sheep at last. They have risen up and are now fighting their masters. Waters describes them as “demented avengers” and how they are pursuing the dream of freedom from the violent servitude they were once subjected to. It’s a celebration all round as we learn that “the dogs are dead” but we’re not told what has become of the pigs. The final lines are a bit puzzling with Waters now ordering someone (the sheep?) to go home and be obedient. Are the sheep returning to subservient ways once more at the behest of a handful of individuals that have now seized power or are they telling other animals, not covered on the album, to obey instead? The final lines call on unspecified animals to stay out of the roads if they want to live long lives. This closing section is confusing and open to debate. The sheep have overthrown their masters but are still having to obey certain rules like avoiding roads so have they really attained the freedom they wanted? One of the powerful statements in Orwell’s Animal Farm is that power ultimately corrupts anyone that acquires it. Perhaps the same is happening here with the sheep or are they too afraid to seize power completely? Sounds like I need some enlightenment on this last part, Floyd fans. Perhaps I’m overthinking this.
This 10 minute track carries on from Pigs (Three Different Ones) with the sound of sheep bleating. It’s a peaceful opening and the music comes in slowly and quietly with what sounds like Richard Wright on the organ. David Gilmour is on bass here, with Roger Waters on rhythm guitar, and comes in soon after. Pink Floyd build things slowly here and it’s only after a minute or so that the bassline starts to become more prominent. After 1½ minutes we first hear Nick Mason on drums and this is the cue for Roger Waters to launch into that opening verse introducing the sheep. The song has now gathered pace and the guitar is much livelier. There is a brief guitar solo after Verse 1 before Roger Waters returns and describes how the sheep are being led to the slaughter. His vocals are more intense here but the verse is brief before we launch into the song’s interval. This has a similar feel to the interval in Dogs when vocal duties switched from Gilmour to Waters. Making a nod to Dogs, we hear the distorted Gilmour vocal of “stone” while Wright continues to work his magic on the organ. Mason comes back in on drums and the piece continues the urgency and intensity. At around the 5½ minutes mark the bassline and organ are prominent with the rest of the music fading somewhat. This continues for another minute or so before we hear the sound of sheeps bleating, followed quickly by a robotic voice delivering Waters’ parody of Psalm 23. This voice is distant and the words are not easy to discern but they have a sinister feel to them. When the parody is done we continue to hear the sheep bleating and that bassline continues in the background also. 7 minutes into the song Mason returns on the drums and signals the start of Verse 3. Waters delivers the denouement of the sheep rising up against their oppressors before closing with that (for me) ambiguous ending. We’re 8 minutes into Sheep now and with the vocals over we launch into a sumptuous guitar solo from David Gilmour to takes us to the conclusion. When the song reaches 9 minutes, the music begins to fade out while fading in is the sound of birdsong and, once again, the bleating of sheep. There is still around half a minute left when the music is over but the sheep and the singing birds are still prevalent. It’s a pleasant and serene ending to a trio of songs that began so dark and violently with Dogs.
Sheep concludes an intriguing trilogy of tracks that form near the entirety of Animals. The song starts so pleasantly with the feel of the countryside but as you delve into the lyrics it continues the dark theme that is prevalent throughout the album. You can’t help but pity the people who are represented here as the mindless sheep, oblivious to how controlled they are. I do often feel that some people are ignorant when it comes to politics in the UK. I often roll my eyes at people that do not vote in elections but then complain about how awful the government is. I do feel that many of us are sheep in that our governments sucker us with promises they have no intention of fulfilling and we blindly go along with these assurances of better times to come. Brexit has dominated the UK for the last four years and, for many, there is the belief it will enrich their lives, while others see only disaster coming our way. Sheep offers sympathetic people compared to the pigs and dogs we heard about, especially when the sheep realise their purpose when led to the “valleys of steel” which is surely a slaughterhouse. The song does take a random turn with the clever parody of Psalm 23 but the sheep wanting to overthrow their masters by learning karate takes some of the seriousness away from the album’s theme. It’s still a strong track, well rescued from its status as a reject for the Wish You Were Here album, but it is inferior to both Dogs and Pigs (Three Different Ones) in my opinion.
Pigs on the Wing (Part 2)
The fifth and final track on the album is Pigs on the Wing (Part 2), which was written by Roger Waters. Following on from the album’s opening track, Waters completes the bookend of these halves of a love song for his then wife, Carolyne. In Part 2, the mood is somewhat more upbeat, especially after the emptiness of Part 1 followed by Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones) and Sheep. Waters captures the strong feelings he has for his wife here, stating that they both know they care for each other and are there to support one another as well. Waters talks about the safety that Carolyne provides and how she helps him bear the weight of the “stone” that was prevalent in Dogs and dragged those cutthroat businessmen into a watery grave of their own making. Interestingly, Waters sings of being a dog and that Carolyne provides shelter, something that all dogs ultimately need. This humanises the dogs, gives them some compassion and empathy, but even more interesting is that Waters identifies himself not as a sheep or a pig, but as a dog. Has his own experience of greedy and ruthless businessmen in the music industry rubbed off and made him similarly self-serving and brutal to those around him? With what’s still to come for Pink Floyd, you might argue Waters is befitting of a dog. The song ends with Waters saying that Carolyne offers shelter from the pigs on the wing of the title. We know the pigs are at the top of the hierarchy, above even Waters, and they are beyond his control though he can condemn them with words. Pigs on the Wing (Part 2) concludes the Animals album by offering us hope after the three dark and intense tracks back to back.
As with Pigs on the Wing (Part One), we have just Roger Waters singing and playing the acoustic guitar here. After the three previous tracks, it’s something of a relief to have a song slightly more mellow and upbeat to lose ourselves in. I read that Pigs on the Wing was added to stop Animals simply being an album that shouts at the listener. It does feel like both a prologue and epilogue to a longer narrative in between. As relationships within Pink Floyd deteriorated further, Pigs on the Wing became one element to cause friction between Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Royalties were earned on a song by song basis and with Waters taking the decision to split Pigs on the Wing into two parts, he doubled his earnings from it, much to Gilmour’s chagrin. On the one hand, I appreciate Gilmour’s frustration. Dogs, which Gilmour wrote with Waters, is around 17 minutes long and Animals is around 40 minutes so in terms of run-time, you can argue that Gilmour contributed to nearly 50% of the album. On the other hand, the whole concept is again from Roger Waters and using Pigs on the Wing to bookend the album rather than having it as a united song works better in my opinion. It feels more like two songs rather than one split into two parts. In essence, Part One prepares us for Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones) and Sheep, while Part Two offers some light at the end of the dark tunnel we have spent the last 40 or so minutes traversing.
Animals was a big departure from everything Pink Floyd had recorded prior to this. Looking at the writing credits, we now have an album strongly driven by Roger Waters. He has a credit on all five tracks with David Gilmour appearing on Dogs. Neither Richard Wright or Nick Mason are anywhere to be seen here, though their influence does come through in the music, with some still impressive work in particular from Wright. Although Waters has clearly been the creative driving force behind Pink Floyd, there is a clear change in the dynamic now. While the concepts for The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here began with Waters, the other members helped to shape those albums into what they became. With Animals, Waters has seized control of the writing and even the singing with Gilmour only having vocals on Dogs and even then they are shared with Waters. The overriding feel of this album is Waters had a concept and the others were along for the ride, though Gilmour’s work on Dogs makes the track the masterpiece it is and he deserves huge credit.
As for Animals itself, it is another great album from Pink Floyd though, for me, inferior to both The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Structurally, it resembles Wish You Were Here with the one song split in two to bookend the trio of tracks in between. Although the boosted royalties Waters received for splitting Pigs on the Wing in two caused consternation in Gilmour, the song works as the prologue and epilogue to the dark social and political explorations in the core. Dogs is a powerful epic, one of Floyd’s best by far, while Pigs (Three Different Ones) is a great track though its message is ambiguous and being so specific about UK society it will inevitably go over the heads of some listeners beyond UK shores. Sheep is the weakest of the three main tracks, for me, but it’s still a powerful piece. Roger Waters’ concept, inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, is a clever one and he deserves great praise for having his finger on the pulse of British society at this time. The extended metaphor is still applicable to the UK today. In conclusion, Animals is a fine album but it’s a different kind of Pink Floyd now, an angrier and contorted one. The ambience of earlier albums, still to be found on the poignant Wish You Were Here, is now gone and in its place is a heavier and more driven sound. For some Floyd fans, this is the last album they consider to be a true Pink Floyd record. Although a stark contrast to what we’ve had before, it’s still Floyd but the metamorphosis into domination by Roger Waters is now in full flow.
I can well imagine that Animals forms an interesting debate among Floyd fans for the best song especially with, like Wish You Were Here, so few songs to choose from. Personally, I do like Pigs (Three Different Ones) ahead of Sheep and both parts of Pigs on the Wing, but the best song by a long way has to be Dogs. This 17+ minutes behemoth shares credits between Roger Waters and David Gilmour and it seems when they pair up you get real magic. Gilmour’s guitar work is stunning here, some of his best by a long way, but I do love how the track is divided between first Gilmour and then Waters with the vocals. Gilmour’s lessons on being a dog are brutal while Waters offers both vulnerability and anger when he takes over for the song’s denouement. As with a song like Echoes, you cannot comprehend that you have spent more than 15 minutes listening to one track. It certainly doesn’t feel like it no matter how many times I listen to Dogs. Any song that can hold a listener’s attention for that long deserves praise. Musically this is incredible, lyrically it is powerful, ruthless and epic. A rival to Time for the best ever Pink Floyd song for me, though I’d have to give Dogs the runner up spot if pushed to decide.
Animals was received with a generally positive reaction by the critics, but many had reservations with some finding the album to be too bleak and morose compared to previous entries in the Floyd catalogue. Interestingly, the album has impressive sales in the present day but did not shift copies comparable to The Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here at anywhere near the same rate and it did not top the charts in the UK or US either. That did not stop many thousands of fans flocking to the band’s shows on their In the Flesh Tour in 1977. Despite the threat of punk rock, it seemed Pink Floyd’s star was still shining very brightly indeed.
On the surface, Pink Floyd had delivered three successful albums in a row with The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and now Animals, maintaining their fame and prestige. Behind the sell out shows, inflatable pigs and record sales though, the Floyd were unravelling. Roger Waters had dominated the Animals album with Richard Wright and Nick Mason essentially nowhere to be seen. David Gilmour was hanging in there for now but his grip on the edge was loosening. As the In the Flesh tour reached its conclusion, a new concept would come to Roger Waters and lead to the group’s eleventh album.
Pink Floyd Roll of Honour
1) Wish You Were Here (1975)
2) The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
3) Animals (1977)
4) Meddle (1971)
5) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
6) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
7) Atom Heart Mother (1970)
8) Obscured by Clouds (1972)
9) More (1969)
10) Ummagumma (1969)