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 #11: The Wall (1979)
The next phase of the Pink Floyd journey takes us through the remainder of the 1970s. The premise for the group’s eleventh album all came down to Roger Waters. His increasing alienation and maladjustment with the audience and indeed the rest of the band led to the conception of a new album, a longer and hugely ambitious undertaking that required not just all of Waters’ drive and energy but the rest of the group as well. At this point you were either with Waters or you were against him. The prior democracy of Pink Floyd was on the brink of oblivion.
Although Animals had not been as commercially successful as The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, the tour in support of the album was in terms of profit. Covering the first half of 1977, the In the Flesh tour saw Pink Floyd playing huge stadiums for the first time and this ultimately had a negative impact on the band, especially on Roger Waters. Before The Dark Side of the Moon, the Floyd’s audiences were smaller and they listened quietly and intently as the group played their music. In the stadiums, the group had to contend with noisy and effusive crowds, especially those closest to the stage. Waters observed the stadiums were so big that many people couldn’t really see anything. As the tour progressed, Waters began to struggle with the shows and with the audience, not to mention issues with the road crew who had the unenviable task of setting up complex shows and lighting. The Floyd were not ones for settling on a simple show. The audience was the main issue though. Instead of letting the music do the talking, fans would scream while the band were playing quieter songs, prompting Waters to frequently lose his temper and shout at them. Even worse were fans setting off firecrackers which, again, led to Waters stopping the show to admonish his audience. Whereas before the Floyd had played to respectful and quiet audiences, they were now having to contend with raucous crowds, screaming and shouting for certain songs, and not wanting the group to leave the stage. When the tour finally ended in Montreal on 6 July 1977 the closing show was a summation of all the frustrations the band were having. At one stage, Waters was involved in an altercation with one fan and spat in his face. The crowd rioted at the end of the show and David Gilmour sat out the second encore, unhappy with the group’s performance and how it all led to this point. Financially it was a successful tour, but physically and emotionally it was damaging, most of all for Roger Waters. The sad thing is that this alienation he was feeling appears to have been from the rest of the band as well. That absence that engulfed the group after The Dark Side of the Moon, which they visited on Wish You Were Here, had not abated, it had continued to grow. Waters’ band members were no longer people he was in harmony with. You feel that if the group had maybe sat down and talked openly with one another, shared their frustrations at what was happening amongst them and on tour it might have been different. Sadly, communication was not Pink Floyd’s strong point.
After the Montreal show, Roger Waters began sharing his feelings of alienation from the audience and a desire to build a wall between himself and the audience. These lamentations became the spark for a new concept in Waters’ mind. Both David Gilmour and Richard Wright headed for France, taking a break from Pink Floyd, and working on solo albums. This could be a nod to their restricted involvement in Animals. In the midst of a break from touring, Waters began writing frantically and by the time the group reunited in July 1978 there were two ideas on the table. Waters’ pitched the idea of an individual that isolates himself from an unforgiving society with the title Bricks in the Wall. The other idea was a man dreaming of various things in one night such as family, marriage and monogamy. The rest of Pink Floyd favoured Bricks in the Wall but Waters’ vision was a huge project and they would not only need to work together to achieve it, they were going to need some help.
Producer, Bob Ezrin, came into the Pink Floyd fold and his contribution to what became The Wall would be vital. Roger Waters had produced a storyline, largely autobiographical, about a jaded rock star named Pink who was a composite of both Syd Barrett and Roger Waters, his life an amalgamation of Waters’ and Barrett’s own experiences. Having endured many painful blows in his life, Pink builds a metaphorical wall brick by brick, between himself and the rest of the world as a coping mechanism. Waters had a rough recording for The Wall weighing in at more than an hour. Both Ezrin and David Gilmour looked through the initial concept, with Richard Wright and Nick Mason once again sidelined, their exclusion from the inner circle of Pink Floyd having started back on Animals. Ezrin worked Waters’ vision into a 40-page storyline for the rest of the band to read through and tap into the overall idea behind The Wall. While Ezrin offered creative input and support for Waters, he also ended up acting as the mediator within the band. By this point, Waters was increasingly distant from his bandmates and everything was purely business now. This was his concept and although help was appreciated from Ezrin and the other members of Pink Floyd, Waters made it clear that the credit for the new album was primarily his and his alone. Only David Gilmour would manage to have any influence on The Wall.
The group began work on The Wall in December 1978 and this would continue until November 1979. A double album with four sides and 26 tracks, The Wall was a behemoth of a project and required a lot of work and commitment from all of those involved. This culminated in a dark chapter in the Floyd’s history. Despite the success of their three previous albums, the group found themselves financially in danger of bankruptcy. Significant amounts of their money had been entrusted to Norton Warburg Group (NWG) to invest in capital ventures and reduce their tax commitments. This backfired with many of the investments being failures and leaving the band with huge tax bills hanging over their heads. They relocated to Europe as tax exiles to work on The Wall but the pressure was now on. In need of money, the group needed the album to be a success and the accompanying tour had to be profitable to pay off their existing debts. Recording the album in the likes of France and Los Angeles, Waters demanded a strict schedule which brought him into conflict with Bob Ezrin and with his bandmates. Richard Wright, in particular, became a source of frustration for Waters with his lack of input and at one point demanding to have a producer’s credit on the album despite offering nothing production wise, an opinion both Waters and David Gilmour shared. Waters and Wright had often had a fragile relationship in Pink Floyd but they always found a way through their differences. Sadly, that was all about to change.
When the record label, Columbia, offered the group a bonus if they completed The Wall in time for Christmas 1979, Roger Waters was even more driven towards a rigorous schedule. The group had arranged for holidays in August 1979 but Waters suggested cutting short this break by 10 days to reconvene in Los Angeles and push on with the album. Conflicting stories about what happened next emerged but Richard Wright was allegedly loathe to cut short his holiday with family. His marriage was falling apart and he wanted to spend time with his children during this difficult period. The rest of the band had their families with them, but Wright was isolated from his children and missed them greatly. Waters decided that enough was enough and he wanted Wright gone. Although David Gilmour tried to mediate and support Wright, the final straw came when Waters threatened to not release The Wall as a Floyd album. Pink Floyd were in dire straits financially and Wright realised he could not afford to jeopardise anyone’s future so he reluctantly agreed to leave the band. He did request to do the tour for The Wall as a session musician to which Waters agreed but his time in the Floyd was over. This turbulent separation was kept quiet from the media as the band, now just three members in Waters, Gilmour and Nick Mason, pushed on with the aid of Bob Ezrin and session musicians to complete the album. Relationships broke down between Waters and his bandmates with even Ezrin finding Waters a nightmare to work with at times. Not only was the album a big ask to finish, the accompanying tour that came with it was also set to be one of the most ambitious ever performed.
The Wall was released in November 1979 just in time for the Christmas market. Columbia’s deadline was met but it had come at a heavy price. Initially concerned about a double album, Columbia tried to cut Roger Waters’ percentage of royalties but he cited his ownership of the material, forcing the record label to reluctantly back down. While Animals had been a darker and more foreboding project than The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, it had still fared well thanks to the tour that followed. The Wall had been a monumental task to complete and had cost Richard Wright his place in Pink Floyd. The camaraderie the quartet once shared was now gone. Their financial future was in the balance. The question was would The Wall maintain the wave of success the Floyd were on or would this end up a damp squib in their discography and ultimately fail to recoup their previous fortunes.
In the Flesh?
The opening track on the album is In the Flesh? which was written by Roger Waters. The song is around 3 minutes long and forms the prologue to The Wall. The title was a nod to the In the Flesh tour that Pink Floyd undertook in support of their 1977 album, Animals, with the concluding show in Montreal forming the inspiration for this record. In terms of the story, In the Flesh? opens with a rock concert and the star attraction being Pink. He addresses the audience in a cryptic manner and speculates that his appearance is not what they were expecting. Pink then seems to challenge the audience to delve deep in search of who he really is and that they will have to burrow through his masquerade to get to the core of the real Pink. This sets the scene for the rest of the album, the peculiar rock star named Pink, but what is his story and what is all this business about a wall?
In the Flesh? begins strangely with a serene segment of music and the words, “…we came in”. What this means is not clear until we get to the very end of the album. After this harmonious opening, the track suddenly bursts into life with some stunning guitar and organ work. As soon as the music kicks in you get a great vibe and an overwhelming feeling that this is going to be a great album. The track is 1½ minutes in before Roger Waters delivers the vocals, taking on the role of Pink and addressing the audience. After a brief opening we switch back to that heavy music that offered such a blistering start. Waters proceeds to shout instructions, calling on the special effects, before we hear Nick Mason bringing the song to a thunderous conclusion with the drums. The music is suppressed by the sound of an out of control plane crashing to the ground before the devastation gives way to a baby crying.
In the Flesh? is an intriguing opening number, unusually short for Pink Floyd but with a 26-track album, that is to be expected. The music is stunning, Waters’ ambiguous opening lyrics are thought-provoking, and you want to begin the journey into the psyche of Pink.
The Thin Ice
The second track on the album is The Thin Ice which was written by Roger Waters. The song is around 2½ minutes and begins the story of Pink proper. In the opening track Pink wanted us to look through his mask and find the real him. Here we have a song with two perspectives, the first being Pink’s mother who assures her crying baby that she loves him and his father does as well. She also calls him “baby blue” and describes how Pink’s surroundings are seemingly pleasant with a blue sky and a warm sea all around him. In the second verse, we switch to the perspective of Pink who describes the “thin ice of modern life” and the precariousness of walking on it. The burden is greater for carrying “a million tear stained eyes” which is unclear at this point but clarity is coming up shortly. Although Pink’s mother seems to describe an idyll upbringing, her son is clear not is all as it seems and wandering the thin ice, it is liable to break and the plunge into the icy depths promises to be one of both fear and, by the sound of things, madness.
The Thin Ice opens with the sound of a baby crying, a seamless transition from In the Flesh? and something done exceptionally well back on the likes of The Dark Side of the Moon. The song is divided into two verses and for the opening section from the perspective of Pink’s mother, we have David Gilmour taking the vocals. His voice is sweet and gentle, singing reassuring words from a mother to her baby boy. A calm piano accompaniment is included here from Richard Wright, complementing Gilmour’s voice which is barely a whisper. This covers the opening minute of the song before we switch to the second verse and to Roger Waters as Pink. The piano gathers urgency as Waters’ insistent vocals dominate the piece. Musically, this is still fairly quiet but once the second verse is finished we enter the closing minute and the melody ramps up. Gilmour’s guitar comes in with a heavier sound, drifting into the opening riff we had from In the Flesh? The music starts to ease down in the closing seconds before a seamless transfer into the next track.
The Thin Ice takes us back to the start of Pink’s life yet we still have more questions than answers at the moment. The song acts as a warning for the challenges life can throw our way and certainly Pink’s existence doesn’t sound like it will be pleasant. I loved the contrast between David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Gilmour is always reliable as a singer and does a great job here. Waters is clearly more confident than ever now and you can sense derision in his voice as he takes on the role of Pink.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1
The third track on the album is Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1, which was written by Roger Waters, and lasts for just over 3 minutes. This was of particular fascination for me. I’ve known Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 for many years but knew nothing of Part 1, nor was I aware there was a Part 3 on The Wall album. In the song, we now have Pink as a child and describing how his father has gone across the ocean and does not come back. This is autobiographical for Roger Waters’ father, Eric, served in the Second World War but was killed at Aprilla during the Battle of Anzio in 1944 when Roger was only five months old. Waters’ clearly taps into his fatherless upbringing here with Pink lamenting all he has of his father are photographs. Pink cries out and demands to know what else his father has left for him but there is nothing. In the end he concludes with the line, “All in all, it was just bricks in the wall.” I am familiar with this line from Part 2 but here my understanding is better of the bigger picture and what that line truly means. This is our first mention of “the wall” and it becomes a metaphorical barrier that Pink begins to build to shield himself from life and all the pain and suffering that it brings. The wall is not bricks and mortar though; each brick seems to represent something that has hurt Pink, each memory adding layer upon layer to the construction work. The first bricks he lays here are the absence of his father, a man he never knew, someone he was deprived of and this is something that deeply affected Roger Waters as well. He had his mother and an older brother but had no memory of his father. I can’t imagine such a reality but it is one that many children would have experienced around the time of the Second World War. Growing up in such a way must be very hard. I have seen suggestions of a dual meaning about the bricks here. On the one hand we have the bricks in Pink’s wall but the reference could also be to the idea of soldiers being mere numbers, just bricks in a wall, no individuality or identity as they are sent off to war. We knew from the outset of the album that Pink has problems but now we begin to see his story unfold. From his earliest years, the world is against Pink and he needs to protect himself from it. The wall seems the only way he can.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part I leads on from The Thin Ice which transitions directly into it. We have a persistent guitar rhythm coming in that continues throughout the song. Waters soon comes in with the opening vocals, his voice quite gentle and lamenting. When he asks what his father has left behind, his vocals rise and sound tinged with anger. Moving to the refrain of a “brick in the wall”, the vocals are quieter again and sorrowful. We’re only 1½ minutes into the song but Waters’ vocals are completed and the music continues. Some additional guitar comes in, changing the tempo slightly, but generally the track moves along with the same pattern as it began. We start to discern distant voices and then some whistling. 2 minutes are on the clock when we can make out children’s voices in the distance and they are shouting inaudibly. After 2½ minutes additional music comes in, we sense we’re reaching the conclusion, but the song continues. The children’s voices are becoming more persistent and the music goes on, transitioning into the next track.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part I is a key track on the album, being our first mention of “the wall” and we begin to understand Waters’ concept and what Pink is doing from a young age. It was interesting to hear Part I and find it is similar to Part 2 with the music and Waters’ vocal delivery, a clear connection evident between the two and I’m assuming the same will happen when we reach Part III. The story is building slowly but carefully, one brick at a time if you will, but the pacing so far has been excellent.
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
The fourth track on the album is The Happiest Days of Our Lives which was written by Roger Waters and is just under 2 minutes. Having delved into Pink’s troubled childhood with his absent father killed in the Second World War, the story now moves on to Pink’s days at school. He recounts how the teachers were cruel with the children, critical of everything the students were doing and they were ruthless in sniffing out weaknesses in individuals. In the second verse, Pink’s anger seems to intensify but he gleefully tells us that the whole town knows when said teachers go home, they too are subjected to ridicule and abuse at the hands of their merciless wives. Karma, people, karma.
Another short track from Pink Floyd, The Happiest Days of Our Lives continues on from the previous track before introducing the sound of a helicopter hovering overhead. From inside we hear an angry teacher ordering a student to “stand still laddy!” No sooner have these words been spoken than the music kicks in followed closely by Roger Waters. As the embittered Pink, Waters’ vocals are angry but subdued in the opening verse, lamenting the sad plight of the school children. There is even the sound of manic laughter, perhaps emphasising the satisfaction the teachers take from their domineering roles. When we move onto the second section his voice rises, revelling in the taste of karma the abusive teachers get when faced with their wives at home. When Waters’ vocals end we build to the next track with harmony vocals and finally a scream from Waters. This final section was familiar to me and I have read that some radio stations would play the last few seconds of The Happiest Days of Our Lives to accompany and lead into Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.
Pink paints an unpleasant image of his school days and this echoes Roger Waters’ own experience where he has reflected that some teachers were fine but others could be very unpleasant indeed towards the students. It has clearly left a mark on Waters and is conveyed well here.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2
The fifth track on the album is Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 which was written by Roger Waters and is around 4 minutes long. This was one of the few Floyd songs I knew prior to starting this pilgrimage. It’s a well-known track and was a surprise no.1 hit in the UK, topping the charts in December 1979 and shifting more than a million copies. Not bad for a group that tended not to release singles and focused on albums instead. In terms of the concept, Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 builds on The Happiest Days of Our Lives with its condemnation of teachers and education. The song has often been misinterpreted as anti-education in general but the reality is Waters was lambasting methods of educating children rather than education itself which is a valuable privilege for all of us. Pink is rebelling here against how school education is delivered with mention of “thought control” and “dark sarcasm in the classroom.” This isn’t beneficial. It is damaging to children and Pink cites his school days as more bricks in the wall he is constructing in his mind. The lost father, the difficult school days; this is a young boy who has already endured a lot. The song switches to a choir vocal, a collective remonstration from the schoolchildren, their thinking in line with Pink though this is likely a fantasy element in his mind, a desire for the protest that never came against the ruthless teachers.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 segues directly from The Happiest Days of Our Lives which ends with a scream from Roger Waters before we launch into the first verse of the next track. The first verse and chorus are sung by Waters and David Gilmour, with producer Bob Ezrin merging their vocals into one. The song is also notable for a disco beat that Ezrin brought in, having encouraged the Floyd to go and visit some discos and see what young people were getting into at this time. After Waters/Gilmour have sung the opening verse and chorus, we have a repeat of the same lines but this time performed by students at the time from Islington Green School. This was an addition Ezrin made as well as the desire to release the track as a single. Waters was dismissive of the idea so Ezrin worked on the track in their absence. When Waters heard the extended track with the school choir he was delighted with the results. The addition of the school choir is a great touch to the song, further emphasising Pink’s disillusionment with his education but finding support from his peers against a common enemy in the teachers. Once the choir vocal is over we get a much-needed Gilmour guitar solo to spice things up. Oh yes! Heading into the song’s final minute, we hear Waters as one of the teachers shouting at the schoolchildren about their dinner and ordering one poor soul to “stand still laddy”. This section loops as the track concludes before we discern the interloping sound of a telephone beeping and gradually rising in volume. You could argue there is a minor pause here between this track and the next one but the transition is still smooth.
Back to back, The Happiest Days of Our Lives and Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 are the perfect combination. Pink lays bare his troubled childhood in school and his difficult dealings with the teachers. As stated in the previous track, Roger Waters based this on his own school days, ones he does not look back on fondly. Compared to my own school experience, this does sound very unpleasant indeed and I can’t begin to imagine how damaging, physically and psychologically, it may have been to many children.
The sixth track on the album and the closing song for Side One is Mother which was written by Roger Waters and is one of the longer efforts at around 5½ minutes. With Pink having divulged the bricks in the wall of an absent father and tough schooldays, he now moves closer to home and offers us an insight into his relationship with his mother. The song plays out as a conversation between Pink and his mother. Pink asks her a series of questions in the opening two verses about life and the world such as whether he should aim to be the President, whether “they” will like the song he is singing but, most importantly, whether he should build the wall. Pink’s mother responds with a reassuring voice but her words are perplexing, telling Pink such things as all her fears will be transferred to him, however, this doting woman assures her baby boy that she will help him build the wall he has already begun. In the third verse we see how much Pink has been domineered by his mother. He starts to ask her about girls and how to find the right one for him. His mother is only too happy to help with this and assures her son that she will essentially audition the girls for him, dismissing any that are “dirty” and worryingly telling Pink that she will stay up late when he is out with said girls and that she always knows where he is. She concludes with the crucial line that “you’ll always be baby to me,” which emphasises the mindset of Pink’s mother and that her son is still just a child to her and that she needs to wrap him in cotton wool. What better way to keep her precious boy safe than to help him build the wall. The song concludes with one final question Pink has for his mother and it’s a chilling end to Side One, “Mother did it need to be so high?” If Pink’s mother is helping with the wall, she is going to make sure no one gets near her son. Pink has clearly grown up being smothered by his mother and though she sees no wrong, her son has become resentful. Not only is Pink’s mother a manifestation of more bricks in the wall, she has willingly helped him to place them in the hope of protecting him.
While the previous tracks have segued into each other, there is a brief pause between Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 and Mother. The track opens with Roger Waters taking a deep breath. As Pink, he has a lot to get off his chest here and must compose himself. The song has a simple acoustic accompaniment while Waters asks a series of questions across the opening two verses. His voice becomes increasingly strained and desperate as the questions continue. When we reach the chorus, David Gilmour resumes his role as Pink’s mother and delivers a gentle and soothing vocal. The sinister nature of the lyrics are in stark contrast to the tone in which they are delivered. It’s a great juxtaposition. There is even a gentle bit of organ work here to accompany the mother’s voice. No Richard Wright here. Instead, Bob Ezrin took on piano and organ duties. Nick Mason is also absent, unable to get to grips with the time signature of the drums so session musician, Jeff Porcaro, filled in to keep the project running. After the chorus, the music expands with a Gilmour solo on electric guitar coming in while the drumming from Porcaro gathers pace and intensity. There is more urgency to the track now and in Verse 3 Waters’ voice starts mild but gradually rises as he contemplates finding a girlfriend. The drums and piano remain this time in the verse rather than just the acoustic guitar. Again, when we switch back to Gilmour the mother’s voice is kind and gentle, the organ music in the background is equally serene and soothing, the mother reassuring her little boy who is actually now a young man. Gilmour seems to have the last say with 5 minutes or so on the clock and the music begins to fade, leaving behind just the acoustic guitar. The final words are actually Waters’ though with Pink lamenting the height of the wall.
As Pink Floyd did with Dogs back on the Animals album, we have a wonderful contrast in vocals from Roger Waters and David Gilmour here. Both voices capture their respective roles with Waters sounding increasingly pained and desperate as the song goes on, but Gilmour continues to have that same calm and comforting tone. One of the longer tracks on the album, Mother paints a fascinating picture of Pink’s upbringing which sounds like the thing of nightmares. While Waters based the loss of Pink’s father on his own experiences, he has stated his mother was the opposite and wanting him to find “dirty” girlfriends allegedly. He claims she was disappointed with his first wife. Waters also had an older brother so his mother had two sons to dote on, whereas Pink seems to be an only child and all his mother has left. Many of the bricks in Pink’s wall have been laid on Side One. I’m assuming many more will follow on Side Two.
Goodbye Blue Sky
The seventh track on the album and the opening song on Side Two is Goodbye Blue Sky, which was written by Roger Waters and is just under 3 minutes. This track forms the prologue to Pink’s adult years and leaving home. It begins though with a memory from Pink’s childhood of the Blitz in the Second World War. It offers a juxtaposition of people fleeing for shelter when the skies above are clear and blue but the planes have not yet arrived and when they do there is only fire and devastation left in their wake. In the second verse, we are reminded of the damage of the Blitz but then we learn that was long ago now but the pain remains real. The memories for Pink have clearly haunted him, saying goodbye to the blue sky as a child and it clearly hasn’t returned, or if it has he only associates it with those dark and terrible days of the war. I think it’s also notable that in building his wall, Pink would deprive himself of seeing the sky full stop but if the sight of it now only brings him pain then we have more bricks he’ll be placing in the overall structure. The song ends with the refrain of saying goodbye to the blue sky before segueing into the next song.
Goodbye Blue Sky begins peacefully with the birdsong of a skylark. It’s a pleasant scene but soon interrupted by a plane flying overhead. Then a child – the voice provided by Roger Waters’ son Harry – talks to his mother and says there is a plane in the sky. The track then begins with an acoustic guitar and a vocal harmony from David Gilmour, with Waters sitting out of the singing duties here. As Gilmour sings of the Blitz his words come out almost as a nervous stammer, reflecting of the fear raining down on the British citizens alongside the bombs. This section is accompanied by eerie synthesiser effects provided by Waters and Richard Wright. That takes us through the opening two verses before the chorus of Gilmour saying farewell to the blue sky, his vocals supported once more by an acoustic guitar. As the track begins to fade we hear what sounds like the commotion of an airport, presumably symbolic of Pink now on his travels and having left home.
Goodbye Blue Sky is an intriguing opening to Side Two, a nod back to Pink’s childhood covered on Side One but now steering us forward, presumably, into his adult years. Gilmour’s beautiful harmonies capture the fragility of Pink’s mental scars from his childhood, such innocence and calm in the voice here despite the horror being conveyed.
The eighth track on the album is Empty Spaces which was written by Roger Waters and is just over 2 minutes long. This track resumes the story of Pink and at this stage he is a musician on the road and is married though that relationship is on the brink of collapse. In the song there are only four lines with Pink asking questions about the wall and how he will complete it. There are still the “empty spaces” of the title in the structure and Pink debates what other dark aspects of his life will fill those gaps. Will it be his failing marriage or something else that ails Pink that will create the final bricks in the wall? We need to listen further to find out more.
The gestation of Empty Spaces is intriguing with the tracklist here originally being a song called What Shall We Do Now? This song was condensed down to form Empty Spaces though the previous version would be used in live sets. The track continues on from Goodbye Blue Sky with the sound of a bustling airport, presumably Pink on the road and on tour. As the music comes in we hear a careful but intense drumbeat beginning to build before an eerie sounding guitar creeping into the frame also. There is a sense of foreboding about the track as the introductory section plays out. Around 50 seconds into the song the music begins to build and we can discern a distant voice in the background though the words are inaudible. This is a hidden message in the track where Roger Waters was recorded and his voice played backwards. Those that have reversed this part find Waters congratulating them on finding the hidden message and instructing them to write to Old Pink (Syd Barrett?) at the funny farm (slang for a mental institution). The location is Chalfont in Buckinghamshire, England, but at this point Waters is interrupted with the message that his then wife, Carolyne, is on the phone. Most peculiar. From there we soon find ourselves 1½ minutes into the song and Waters begins singing the four torturous lines that convey the fragility of Pink’s mental and physical state. He sounds on the brink of plummeting into a dark place indeed. When Waters’ sings the final line, “How should I complete the wall?”, the track immediately switches to the next song.
Empty Spaces, like Goodbye Blue Sky, seems to be setting the scene of what is to follow. Both tracks work well but there is the feeling that the opening to Side Two caused much head scratching. This makes sense though if we are transitioning from Pink as a child to Pink as a man, and a musician at that. Certainly in the chronology of his life, we have made a big leap from one period to the next. As for the hidden message, it was interesting to learn more about it but I had no idea there were any secrets to uncover until I began researching for this blog.
The ninth track on the album is Young Lust which was written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour and lasts for around 3½ minutes. This is the first track on The Wall where Waters does not have sole credit. We resume Pink’s story and find him on tour and eager to sate his desire for sex. Pink talks of being a stranger in a new town and wants someone to show him where the good times are to be had in the first verse. In the second verse he directly pleads with a woman to take him on and satisfy all of his needs. The chorus has Pink expressing his need for a “dirty woman” and a “dirty girl.” No need for love here. Just pure unadulterated sex and plenty of it. Interestingly, this could be a form of rebellion for in the track, Mother, we heard how Pink’s mother would help him find suitable girls and clearly said no one “dirty” would be allowed near her son. Having listened to Pink’s yearnings for sex, we are then taken to a phone call he makes home to his wife. Pink is in the US and needs an operator to place a call home so he can speak to Mrs Floyd. Instead of Pink’s wife, another man answers the phone and the operator tells him that Mr Floyd is on the line. The man hangs up. The operator explains to Pink what has happened and tries again. The man answers a second time and as before hangs up when he hears the call is from America. The song ends with the operator going back to Pink and telling him a man keeps answering and hanging up. Pink now realises his wife is having an affair. We’d like to extend our sympathy to Pink but moments ago he was talking about sleeping with other women so he doesn’t make it easy. This scenario played out for Roger Waters when he rang his first wife, Judith Trim, while on tour and another man answered. I have read that the demise of this marriage was blamed on Waters’ numerous infidelities while on tour, something he came to regret deeply. On the one hand, it’s cold the way Pink finds out his wife is being unfaithful but, as I say, it appears he has committed numerous affairs as a rock star himself so perhaps Mrs Floyd has given up on their marriage as her husband seems to have as well.
Young Lust flows directly from Empty Spaces and we have a complete change of tempo here. While Empty Spaces had a cold, almost ethereal, feel to it, Young Lust begins with heavy guitar and powerful rock vocals from David Gilmour. It’s not often we have heard him sing this way but he really goes for it here. You can make out Nick Mason’s heavy drums and the bass is there as well, which Gilmour recorded for the track. Gilmour sings the opening verse alone before his vocals ease off slightly for the chorus where he is joined by Waters. They sing of Pink’s need for all things “dirty” before the second verse comes in with Gilmour’s vocals on the rise once more. It’s a terrific change to what we have had previously on the album. After a second rendition of the chorus, Gilmour takes over with a guitar solo as we approach the 2 minutes mark and that plays out for near the remainder of the track. With a minute to go we have the chorus revisited for a third time before the music begins to fade with 45 or so seconds to go. We hear the operator placing a call to Pink’s wife and her lack of success in the venture. This recording was actually genuine with the call placed from Los Angeles to London with co-producer, James Guthrie, ringing his neighbour, Chris Fitzmorris. Two calls were placed and recorded with the latter being the one that was used on the album, with the operator completely unaware they were assisting in a Pink Floyd album. I wonder what their reaction was when they did learn the truth. With the operator’s two failed attempts to put Pink through to his wife the track ends and immediately moves into the next one.
Young Lust is a heavy rock number and really jolts you when Gilmour first comes in at the start. It’s the last thing you expect with the transition from Empty Spaces which was more ponderous and eerie. Young Lust is hard and straight to the point in its subject matter. David Gilmour demonstrates once again his vocal versatility and it’s great to see him with a writing credit on The Wall which has been completely dominated thus far by Roger Waters. Pink’s story is gathering pace now and with his marriage on the rocks it’s becoming clear where those next bricks for his wall might be coming from.
One of My Turns
The tenth track on the album is One of My Turns, which was written by Roger Waters and lasts around 3½ minutes. Continuing the narrative from the prior track, Pink’s response to learning his wife is having an affair is to invite a groupie back to his hotel room. While she wanders the room admiring the decor, including Pink’s collection of guitars and the sizable bath, Pink sits watching the television, oblivious to the groupie’s questions such as offering him water or asking what he is watching. When she asks if Pink is okay he begins to sing his thoughts, the first verse devoted to a lamentation of the passage of time and the irrevocable gulf between Pink and his wife, he being “older” and she now being “colder”. There is a warning of what’s to come when Pink observes “one of my turns” is about to begin. Into the second verse, everything changes. Pink goes from singing quietly of his sadness to erupting in a fit of anger. He addresses the groupie and tells her to head to his bedroom and retrieve his “favourite axe” from the suitcase. Why Pink is carrying an axe is not explained but given that this is his favourite one, are we to assume he has a collection of these things amongst his itinerary? Some people collect stamps, Pink collects axes. Now shouting, Pink asks the groupie what she wants to do such as watch television with him or go to bed together; he tells her not to worry about this outburst now coupled with him smashing up the hotel room. It’s just one of his “bad days” so not to worry. The destruction and shouting goes on only so long before the groupie, thankfully, manages to make her escape leaving Pink to cry out pleadingly, “Why are you running away?” In less than four minutes Pink goes from quiet contemplation to outright rage and frenzy and we are relieved the groupie manages to get out of the room safely. While The Wall has thus far delivered the many bricks that trouble Pink’s life, we now see the impact of this unfinished structure and all who have contributed. Pink sounds desperate, in pain, but also a danger to others and potentially to himself. Things are becoming very worrying.
The track opens with the remnants of the phone call from the previous song before we hear a door slamming shut. We have a synthesiser making distant sounds while the groupie, voiced by Trudy Young, shows herself around Pink’s room. Her dialogue changes in volume as she disappears into rooms such as the bathroom, while Pink sits watching the television which we can hear faintly amidst the synthesiser accompaniment. The groupie tries in vain to engage Pink in conversation before Roger Waters begins the first verse. His voice is quiet and strained, reflective of a troubled man going through some serious motions at the revelation of his wife’s betrayal, though he seems unperturbed about his own infidelities including this latest one with the groupie he now has in his hotel room. When the second verse begins, Nick Mason comes in hard on the drums and we hear Gilmour on guitar. Waters switches from quiet and reserved, to raising his voice and conveying Pink’s complete breakdown of control. As he addresses the groupie we hear bangs and crashes in the room as Pink proceeds to destroy things before Waters cries out loud which is accompanied by piano work from Bob Ezrin. This then leads into a brief guitar solo from Gilmour before the sound of cars appears to be audible. It sounds like Pink has opened the windows and maybe stepped out onto a balcony. The song comes to a sudden end with Waters crying out to the groupie and wondering why she is running away. His desperate pleas carry over into the next track on the album.
One of My Turns again demonstrates the versatility of the Floyd and indeed the variety to be found on The Wall. We’ve had a mixture of tracks thus far with light, gentle numbers to hard rock pieces. I loved the dialogue to open this track. You could picture the groupie in the hotel room, awed by the many luxuries Pink enjoys as a rock star and we can imagine him there, glued to the television, oblivious to this young woman who assumed this would just be a one night stand with a musician. Waters cleverly switches from quiet melancholy to full on rage, the way he addresses the groupie shows us that Pink is emotionally fragile and unstable at this point. What starts as a serene track turns into something aggressive and quite frightening. Pink’s absorption in himself does not abate, perplexed why the groupie is leaving him even though he could well have seriously wounded her as he trashes the hotel room. Pink’s story continues and from the opening track to now it has not been pleasant. One suspects it’s only downhill from here.
Don’t Leave Me Now
The eleventh track on the album is Don’t Leave Me Now, which was written by Roger Waters, and is just over 4 minutes in length. With Pink having now learned of his wife’s infidelity and having frightened away a groupie after trashing his hotel room, we witness him sink into deep despair at his situation. The song is a desperate plea to his wife for things not to end but rather than a straightforward declaration of love, this one is a hybrid of love and hate. In the first verse Pink talks of sending flowers to his wife, that he needs her, but then he mentions how she is “put through the shredder in front of my friends” which sounds like some form of public humiliation. In the second verse, Pink questions where his wife will go when he needs her so badly, in fact he needs her so much for a Saturday night when he can beat her. This is not a loving marriage; it’s a dysfunctional and damaging one for both sides. In the third verse we don’t get the love/hate juxtaposition, just Pink once more asking why his wife is running away, just as the groupie ran away in the previous song. It’s clear that this broken and failing marriage is doing more harm than good to both Pink and his wife, but the way the song plays you’d almost feel as if Pink is the only one suffering.
The track opens straight on from the previous song with Waters’ vocal of “running away” fading. The piece is then taken over by slow, eerie music which sounds like a synthesiser with a piano accompaniment soon to follow. This continues for more than half a minute before Roger Waters’ vocals begin after around 45 seconds. His voice is pained and distant, his delivery slow and complementing the pace of the music. As Pink, Waters sounds pained and increasingly desperate, as the rock star tries to make sense of his wife’s betrayal, once again oblivious to his own infidelities. The track continues like this for near the duration but when we hit the 3 minutes mark it all changes. As Waters sings the last lines of the third verse, the music picks up with Nick mason coming in on drums and David Gilmour returns on lead guitar. While the music takes over, we can discern the distant voices of Waters and Gilmour singing, “Ooh babe”, in unison. The music abruptly ceases with around 15 seconds or so of the track still to go. We then hear the sound of the television in Pink’s hotel room, having clearly come out unscathed from his violent outburst in the last song. Pink can be heard frantically changing the channels, his pressing of the remote becoming quicker, his rage is clearly building, before the song ends with him yelling out in frustration.
Don’t Leave Me Now is the darkest track so far and we have plunged into the depths of Pink’s increasing despair and emotional instability. This is a man on the brink of a breakdown and looking through the window into his suffering is not easy. The song works well as a bittersweet reminiscence of Pink’s marriage but what he divulges is horrifying. This is a relationship that has been going on too long, one poisoned by domestic violence and infidelities on both sides. It sounds like a separation is long overdue. The album has now explored Pink’s marriage and the impact across the last three songs and this is clearly going to be additional bricks in the wall that remains incomplete. Will this be enough to finish the wall is the question?
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3
The twelfth track on the album is Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3 which was written by Roger Waters and is one of the shortest tracks lasting less than 1½ minutes. This is the concluding part of the trilogy of Another Brick in the Wall songs. Continuing with Pink’s story, we follow straight on from Don’t Leave Now which ended with Pink shouting and that continues here, followed by him destroying yet more of the decor in his hotel room. Pink is immediately resolute and bellows that he needs no warm embraces, no drugs to offer him comfort and with another clever play on words he has “seen the writing on the wall.” Pink reaches the conclusion that he now needs no one. He is alone and isolated in his hotel room. He now has the chance to shut out the world forever and complete his wall. The first part of this trilogy saw Pink lamenting his absent father killed in the Second World War. The second part railed against the cruel school system that Pink spent years navigating. The catalyst for this third and final part is the infidelity of Pink’s wife, the sense of abandonment that came with it and even with the groupie fleeing from the hotel room that Pink began to trash in his rage. All of these elements lay the final bricks in the wall and Pink now yearns for the structure to be complete, to shield him from the pain that the rest of the world inflicts upon him. Having now decided he needs no one and nothing, Pink concludes the track by saying everything is now bricks in the wall. It is nearly complete. The wall is almost built and all of us will soon be separated from Pink.
The track opens with Waters’ shouting, carried over from the previous track. Once we hear the sound of the hotel room being trashed once again, the vocals immediately kick in with the bass line returning from Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1 and Part 2. This is soon joined by David Gilmour’s rousing guitar and not far behind is Richard Wright with the synthesiser. Waters’ vocals are calm in the opening lines, reflecting Pink’s sense of closure in turning his back on all the hurt from the past. When we reach the final lines, Waters’ voice increases and Nick Mason has now joined in on the drums. The song is over though before we have even started to take it in, the short length perhaps conveying Pink making his decision for complete isolation from the world too hastily. As Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3 comes to a close we transition immediately into the next song.
Having only known Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 prior to beginning my Pink Floyd Pilgrimage, it has been mind blowing to finally have taken in all parts of the trilogy on The Wall. The overall meaning and context is completely beyond anything I could have imagined. I love how these three songs are directly pinpointing the bricks that Pink places to complete the wall. Though only a brief track, Part 3 hammers home the message and Pink’s deterioration into solitude.
Goodbye Cruel World
The thirteenth track on the album is Goodbye Cruel World, which was written by Roger Waters and is another short track weighing in at less than 1½ minutes. This is essentially a companion piece to Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3. Pink now says goodbye to everyone and to everything in society. He dismisses the outside as a “cruel world” and says as of today he will be cut off from everyone and everything. The mental wall has one last brick left to place as Pink locks himself in his hotel room. He admonishes us about trying to stop him. It’s futile now, Pink insists. He utters one final goodbye before the song concludes and brings an end to Side Two. So, there we have it. The wall is finally complete. All of the bricks have been laid, many years of anger, hurt, frustration and despair, severe pain inflicted by an unrelenting and malevolent world have now pushed Pink beyond the reach of anyone. The wall now stands to protect Pink from any further injury, be it physical or mental, but given that we’re only halfway through the album, the question is will Pink’s wall give him the sanctuary he craves or will it solve nothing?
The track opens with Richard Wright’s synthesiser fading out from the previous track and continuing into the opening few seconds here. Gradually, the mood of the synthesiser changes and we have a morose sounding piece. Roger Waters joins Wright with the bass but no other members of Pink Floyd feature here. Just two of them are enough. Waters, as Pink, soon begins to sing the track’s four lines. The music is deathly quiet, the pace ever so gentle. Pink sounds like he has reached a moment of calm after the anger and rage of the previous couple of tracks. The music continues before halting just moments before the end, leaving Waters alone to utter one final “goodbye”.
Pink is gone. He’s lost to us behind the wall now. The build up to this moment has been fascinating, intense and often emotionally harrowing. With nothing seemingly going right in Pink’s life, his conclusion that complete isolation from everything is the answer is profoundly sad. The last two tracks have been noticeably short but the length of each has been apt in capturing Pink’s state of mind and his quick resolution of how to end his own suffering and anguish. Side Two opened with a goodbye and ends with another goodbye. What will Side Three bring with Pink’s story?
The fourteenth track on the album and the opening song on Side Three is Hey You which was written by Roger Waters and lasts for around 4½ minutes. Having completed the wall at the end of Side Two, we now gain an insight into how Pink is doing, protected from the “cruel world” he could no longer stand. The answer is that Pink is not doing well at all. The refrain of “hey you” is Pink calling out to those outside the wall, to anyone, that might be listening. Now alone and isolated, Pink realises his mistake and yearns for human contact. He pleads with those beyond the wall, asking “can you feel me?” and “will you touch me?” The opening two verses explore Pink’s desperate pleas to the outside world. Before the third and final verse we have a section, not from Pink’s perspective, but from an omniscient third person narrator. We are informed that these people Pink is reaching out to are just “fantasy.” No can hear Pink, let alone get to him. The wall he has built is “too high” and he is left alone with the “worms” that devour his brain. The “worms” sounds like a reference to a decomposing body, the reality now facing Pink being alone and cut off from everyone and everything. In the final verse, Pink returns with that refrain of “hey you” but he sounds increasingly desperate now, calling out with greater volume and calling upon the need for unity with, “Together we stand, divided we fall.” It’s a stark contrast to the previous two songs where Pink was finished with the world and had no need of anyone. Now alone as he is, Pink knows he was wrong to build the wall but it’s too late. He is now trapped and there is seemingly no escape.
Hey You opens with an acoustic guitar played by David Gilmour which is soon followed by a bass guitar, also from Gilmour. An electric piano accompaniment soon comes in before Gilmour takes us through the first two verses as Pink. When Gilmour moves to the second verse, it sounds like there are either backing or double-tracked vocals coming through, while Nick Mason has now joined in on drums, the song building now. When Gilmour ends the second verse, Mason’s drums lead us into a rousing guitar solo from Gilmour around 2 minutes into the track. This segment goes on for nearly a minute before the music comes down a few levels and Roger Waters now enters as the omniscient narrator, regaling us with details of Pink’s sad plight. Waters’ voice is calm here as the narrator but there also sounds of strain, tapping into the difficulties that Pink now finds himself in. When Waters completes this section, we return to the acoustic guitar that opened the song, soon followed by the bass and electric piano. When Hey You approaches 4 minutes, Waters comes back to sing the third and final verse. His voice is loud, louder than Gilmour’s during the opening two verses. Pink is now desperate and Waters’ increasing volume conveys this brilliantly. As the track nears its end we can hear Waters’ final words of “we fall” and they echo for the remaining seconds before we move into the next song.
Hey You is both a surprising turn in The Wall but also a brilliantly executed song. Pink was so adamant about completing the wall, no reservations, but now it has all been for nothing. He is alone but wants to touch and to feel again. Once more, we have Gilmour and Waters combining to great effect as they did so well on Mother. The lyrics are stunning here, reflecting Pink’s loneliness and futile desire to be free of the confinement of his own making. It’s an impressive opening to Side Three and unquestionably the best track on the album thus far.
Is There Anybody Out There?
The fifteenth track on the album is Is There Anybody Out There? which was written by Roger Waters and is just over 2½ minutes in length. Continuing on from Hey You, we find Pink still alone in his hotel room and behind his self-imposed wall. On four occasions in the track he reaches out and calls, “is there anybody out there?”, beyond the wall but no answers are forthcoming. Pink’s voice is quieter in this track. While it ended loud and desperate on Hey You, here Pink sounds weary and resigned to his fate.
The track begins with the sound of Pink changing the TV channel and we hear dialogue from an episode of Gunsmoke, an American Western drama that ran from 1955 to 1975. We next hear the sound of a synthesiser surmounting the TV show and that refrain of “is there anybody out there?” comes in. There are four repetitions of this in total, the piece gradually building with each expression. At one point we hear what sounds like a siren or whale in the background. It’s the same effect Pink Floyd used back on their 1971 album, Meddle, and the masterpiece of a track that is Echoes. Harmony vocals also begin to come in while Roger Waters sings the song’s only line with David Gilmour backing him. The song is around 1½ minutes in when the vocals cease and we switch to an instrumental piece fronted by a classic guitar. This was played by session musician, Joe DiBlasi, with Gilmour unable to complete the segment to his own satisfaction. There is an orchestral element that comes in as well, making the track sombre and somewhat ponderous. It feels like a small stop gap before we move into the next song, the chance to have a breather after the intensity of Hey You and the revelation of Pink’s significant mistake. As the track draws to a conclusion we hear the sound of the TV again which leads into the next track.
Is There Anybody Out There? Was familiar to me in the respect that this line appears in the track, Comfortably Numb, which I have known and loved for years. Hearing it here though as a song in its own right and in context of the album makes a lot more sense. Pink sounds physically and mentally fatigued, still reaching out for someone, anyone, but no one responds. His self-imposed isolation behind the wall is achieving exactly what he intended.
The sixteenth track on the album is Nobody Home which was written by Roger Waters and lasts for around 3½ minutes. It was the final song to be written for The Wall and came about after an argument Waters had with David Gilmour and Bob Ezrin. They felt the album needed another song and Waters stormed off home and came back with one which Gilmour later described as one of his favourites on the album. At this point in the story, Pink has now resigned himself to his isolation having heard no one call back when he pleaded for contact in Hey You and Is There Anybody Out There? With no one to connect with, Pink turns to his own personal possessions, listing each of them in turn, each one seemingly adding a sense of worth and value to him. Roger Waters once stated the song was a combination of how he felt during the In the Flesh tour in 1977 to promote Animals but there are nods in here to Syd Barrett as well with mention of a “Hendrix perm” and how Pink has elastic bands holding his shoes together. Other possessions of note are a book with Pink’s scrawled poems, “nicotine stains” on his fingers, a silver spoon hanging from his neck which sounds suggestive of drug abuse, and let’s not forget the television that has kept Pink company and he informs us it has thirteen channels, all of them “shit.” In the chorus Pink laments picking up the phone generally to speak to someone but he knows there will be no answer, there’ll be “nobody home.” The theme continues in the second run of the chorus but this seems a direct reference to his wife, she too will not be home when Pink calls. He is summing up not just life on the road but his own loneliness and isolation. His material possessions, for what they’re worth, are the only family and friends Pink seems to have left now. Everybody else that he could connect with is never home when he needs them. Pink himself is also not home, he’s on the road and now locked away in a hotel room, behind an impenetrable wall of his own design.
The song opens with the sound of the television once more, while cars are audible passing by outside. We hear a child screaming and someone telling them to “shut up.” Then a voice comes in muttering about having a “little black book with my poems in.” A piano segment soon comes in and soon after Roger Waters opens the song with that same line about the black book and the poems. As Pink, Waters’ voice sounds drained and weary. Some of his lines are repeated with distant backing vocals as he lists the possessions around him that still offer comfort amidst the complete isolation he has forced on himself. The piano melody continues before an orchestral arrangement comes in with a brass section discernible at one stage. The pattern of the song continues for the first two verses and the first chorus. When we get to the second chorus, around a minute left in the song, Waters’ voice has risen as Pink addresses his wife but it is quickly subdued as he laments how there is “nobody home.” The TV becomes audible again and Waters begins a third verse listing yet more items but he doesn’t complete it. Only two lines we are given before the song cuts off and we move towards the next track. It’s as if Pink himself has given up trying to reassure himself of the value his possessions have.
Nobody Home is one of the strongest tracks on The Wall. It offers further insight into Pink’s state of mind but it is also a commentary about life on the road for musicians and I am sure many will relate to elements conveyed by Waters here. It’s another track that demonstrates how confident Roger Waters was with his vocals at this stage. A man who had to be convinced to sing on The Dark Side of the Moon, is now without hesitation and his voice sounds better on this album than on any previous Pink Floyd record.
The seventeenth track on the album is Vera, which was written by Roger Waters and lasts for around 1½ minutes. Continuing on from Nobody Home, Pink remains in his hotel room with the television on and the only thing for company being his own thoughts. While the previous track saw Pink finding comfort in his personal possessions, Vera takes a different angle. Pink is watching the 1969 film, Battle of Britain, which triggers a memory in him that he expresses about Vera Lynn. Lynn was an English singer, who passed away last month at the age of 103, and was very popular during World War II, performing for soldiers overseas and offering some hope and inspiration. Thinking of Vera Lynn, Pink asks out loud if anyone remembers her and one song in particular, We’ll Meet Again, which struck a chord with those affected by the war, be it families or the soldiers in battle. The promise of a reunion after all the devastation is a hopeful one but from Pink’s point of view it is a promise unfulfilled for his father never came home from the conflict. Pink closes the song by asking where Vera is and what has happened to her, as if she too has broken the promise made in We’ll Meet Again. The song ends with Pink asking if anyone else feels as he does, but we know there will be no response for the wall cannot be penetrated.
Vera opens with the sound of the television Pink is watching. We hear someone exclaim, “Where the hell are you, Simon?” before gunfire is discernible. An explosion soon follows before Roger Waters begins his vocals. A bass accompanies him before an acoustic guitar comes in. This is soon followed by an orchestral arrangement. Waters sings the opening three lines of Vera before we have a brief musical interlude. Waters soon returns and, as Pink, his voice is steady and becomes increasingly fraught and desperate. With the last line sung, the music abruptly ends before we are transferred into the next song.
Vera is another brief song on The Wall, another sort of stop gap as we move from one key event to another it seems. So far on Side Three we have had Pink shut away in his hotel room, hidden behind the wall, and his grip on reality seems to be loosening. Possessions haven’t brought him solace in Nobody Home so now he has turned to perceived broken promises of Vera Lynn to voice his anguish. This track clearly demonstrates how pivotal the loss of Pink’s father was. The same seems to be true of Roger Waters with him having not known his father either. Vera feels like it is building towards something on the album but it’s not clear yet what it might be.
Bring the Boys Back Home
The eighteenth track on the album is Bring the Boys Back Home which was written by Roger Waters and lasts around 1½ minutes. Following on from Vera, Pink still clearly has thoughts of the war and those sent to their doom fresh in his mind. The song’s few lines call for the “boys” of the title to be brought home i.e. to take them off the front line, away from the barbaric conflict they are sent to and to return them safely to their families. Pink switches the perspective by calling for no children to be left alone as he was when his father left to fight in the war but never came home. Waters himself once described this track as a key one on the album with its message. There is some credence to this being a vital track as the song ends with a rush of prior dialogue we have been party to including the school teacher shouting at the children, the groupie asking if Pink is okay, the telephone operator unable to get through to Pink’s wife, some manic laughter and finally that haunting exclamation from Pink of “Is there anybody out there?” when he is now fully enclosed behind the wall. All of these moments reflect Pink reliving his life once more and picking out those key events we have been party to on the album up until now. However, he can’t be completely immersed in these memories as we also hear a knock at the door to Pink’s hotel room and the repetition of “time to go.” Pink is being summoned for some unspecified reason but presumably to go and perform in a show or attend to some media duty.
As Vera concludes we are thrust quickly into Bring the Boys Back Home. The sound of drums comes in and it is akin to a marching band in a military parade you might get through the centre of your hometown to commemorate those brave souls loved and lost in the many wars of our turbulent past. The vocals soon start with Waters shouting for the boys to be brought back home. We have an orchestral background and even operatic sounding vocals to accompany Waters. Approaching one minute in the run time, the music ceases and we hear the knock at Pink’s door and the repetition of “time to go.” This is interspersed with the audio segments from previous tracks already mentioned above. Finally we hear the closing line of “Is there anybody out there?” before moving onto the next track. This final 30 seconds is well-known to me as it often acts as the precursor to our next song, Comfortably Numb, which I am very familiar with.
Bring the Boys Back Home is another brief song on the album but still manages to pack a punch with its message. It’s a nice build up to the majesty of what is to come next.
The nineteenth track on the album is Comfortably Numb which was written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour and lasts for around 6½ minutes, comfortably (sorry!) the longest song on The Wall. Following on from Bring the Boys Back Home, we heard a knock at the door to Pink’s hotel room and now a group of people have entered to find him in a dreadful state. A doctor is consulted to help and the song opens with said doctor speaking to Pink and trying to get to the bottom of what is wrong with him. After struggling to get through to Pink, the doctor informs the musician that he has just the thing to help him, an injection of some sort it seems. In the chorus, which sounds like it is from Pink’s perspective, he observes that the doctor is distant and his words cannot be discerned. Pink recalls being ill as a child and the feeling he had back then is now manifest once more with the injection the doctor has given him. Pink now feels “comfortably numb” and looking on, the doctor seems satisfied with his work. He informs Pink that he should now be fine to go and perform a show before his fans. A gig is clearly the last place Pink should probably be at this point but his manager or other personnel that work with him have prioritised money over Pink’s health here. They just want him to do the show, regardless of what state he is in. Better that than to cancel a gig at the last minute and deal with the repercussions. Pink reflects once more about the doctor being distant and he refers back to his childhood with a somewhat mysterious reference to a dream he once had, one that has now died with his maturity and is no longer within reach. This part is somewhat ambiguous and could refer again to Pink’s lost father or perhaps to a longing for something better and more fulfilling than what he grew up with, a completely different path to the one that was subsequently taken. Part of the inspiration for the song came from Roger Waters’ own experience of being administered tranquilisers when the In the Flesh Tour was in Philadelphia in 1977. Waters needed the injections for stomach cramps and later reflected that the two-hour show was nothing short of hell.
Comfortably Numb opens with David Gilmour on guitar and he is soon followed by Roger Waters on bass, Richard Wright on the organ and Nick Mason on the drums. We have another pairing up between Waters and Gilmour here, similar to Mother, in that they take on different roles. Waters comes in first in the role of the doctor, enquiring of Pink with a series of questions and observations. As we approach the first minute, Gilmour suddenly comes in (presumably as Pink) and sings the chorus. It remains one of Gilmour’s most memorable vocals in the Pink Floyd canon. When we reach 2 minutes, Gilmour plays his first guitar solo which is the stuff of dreams for any aspiring guitarist. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. This first solo is quite brief as Gilmour repeats the chorus around the 2½ minutes mark before Waters comes back into the fore as the doctor, continuing to administer drugs to Pink that will get him on his feet and temporarily fit enough to do a rock concert. During the doctor’s piece we hear the sound of a needle being prepared and Pink screaming as it is delivered into his veins. We’re past the 3 minutes mark when Gilmour comes back and sings the chorus for the second time. Having delivered one final refrain of “comfortably numb” around 4½ minutes in, we are then blessed with Gilmour’s second guitar solo which carries us through to the end of the song. This one is to be savoured. He is ably supported by the rest of the band here but it’s the guitar that most listeners tend to remember. This second solo is much louder than the first and Gilmour’s guitar skyrockets when the song reaches the 6 minutes back before the music begins to fade and we are brought to the end of Side Three. As with Mother, there is no seguing into the next track here. We don’t need it. We have just listened to perfection.
As one of only four Pink Floyd songs I knew prior to this pilgrimage, Comfortably Numb remains one of the group’s unquestionable masterpieces. The hard working peeps that post YouTube reactions to music tend to start with this song when first sampling Pink Floyd. I have only ever known it as a self-contained song but now experiencing it in the context of The Wall, the feeling is very different. It’s another chapter in Pink’s journey and a beautiful but harrowing one at that. I never imagined any Floyd songs would top this or Wish You Were Here when I first picked up The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to begin my Floyd journey, but I have been left stunned by the amount of tracks comparable to this and, dare I say, some are better in my opinion. Comfortably Numb remains a quintessential Pink Floyd song, another great collaboration between Roger Waters and David Gilmour, with Waters providing the lyrics and Gilmour responsible for much of the music. Even if the two of them argued viciously over how the song’s final shape would be, this is another testament to how exceptional works of art can emerge from severe conflict. With only Side Four left to go, it’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of Pink’s story plays out.
The Show Must Go On
The twentieth track on the album and the opening song on Side Four is The Show Must Go On, which was written by Roger Waters and lasts around 1½ minutes. This is the only track on The Wall where Waters does not have a vocal or play an instrument. Having ended Side Three with people bursting into his room and a doctor administering drugs, Pink is now about to take to the stage and perform his latest show. He sounds full of doubt though. He talks of losing his soul, feeling old and worrying about whether he will be fit enough to remember the next song he is playing. Despite these overwhelming reservations, Pink can only conclude with the song’s title that “the show must go on.” With that, he does indeed take to the stage and the show begins.
The story behind The Show Must Go On is that Roger Waters wanted harmonies akin to The Beach Boys for the background and the group themselves were set to help only to cancel at the last minute. The song still opens with the backing harmony along with guitar, drums and piano accompaniments. David Gilmour takes the lead vocal here, capturing Pink’s weariness. The backing vocalists seem to reflect some of Pink’s inner thoughts with expressions of “take me home” and “let me go.” After an introductory segment with Gilmour and the backing vocalists, we have the song’s only verse with Gilmour once again on lead vocal and now demonstrating the magnitude of Pink’s confusion and maladjustment with all around him. In the outro we have the harmonies return and one more refrain of “the show must go on” comes in before the track closes with the sound of a cheering crowd.
The Show Must Go On acts as a brief but useful introductory segment for Side Four, preparing us then for the show that Pink is about to perform. One does wonder at this stage whether Pink will be fit enough to get through the whole thing. I guess we’ll soon find out.
In the Flesh
The twenty-first track on the album is In the Flesh which was written by Roger Waters and is just over 4 minutes in length. We now come full circle on the album with In the Flesh? having started us on this journey into Pink’s life. In the opening track, Pink called on the audience to dare to dig deeper and find the real him behind the mask. In this latest track, Pink begins the same way by observing the audience have come to watch the show. However, he takes a different turn, a far darker one, informing the audience that Pink is ill and the person they are seeing is the head of a “surrogate band”. In the narrative of The Wall Pink appears to be both out of touch with reality but also displaying potential signs of mental illness. He is imagining one persona still behind the wall i.e. back in the hotel room, while a second manifestation begins to address the crowd. What follows is controversial indeed as the concert descends into a Nazi/fascist rally. Pink puts his audience to the test, singling out the likes of “Jews”, “queers” and “coons”, with each one being ordered against the wall. Pink works his way through the crowd, singling out minorities and what he perceives as undesirables. As the song concludes, Pink informs the crowd he’d gladly have all of them shot. I think he means those he has singled out, not the entire crowd, but the brutality of the sentiment remains undiminished. Pink’s story has taken a more horrific turn than anything we have been subjected to thus far. Who saw this coming?
The song opens with dialogue at the concert as Pink shouts, “Three, two…fire!” We then revisit the music from In the Flesh? With that gorgeous guitar work and accompanying music promising one hell of a show to come. It’s a privilege to get to hear it a second time. As the music recedes, differences begin to appear with this track compared to its counterpart that opened The Wall. Whereas In the Flesh? saw Roger Waters come in on vocals as soon as the music receded, we have a longer pause here with In the Flesh as backing vocal harmonies come in. Around 2 minutes into the track, Waters sings for the first time as a very ill and deeply troubled Pink. The lyrics begin the same as In the Flesh? but then switch as Pink reveals to the crowd that he is an alternative persona standing there in Pink’s stead. 2½ minutes into the track Pink addresses the crowd and picks out the minority groups that are not welcome there. The music has eased at this point, with Waters’ voice being dominant while backing vocals echo some of Pink’s commands, calling on the unworthy to be put up against the wall. Just after 3 minutes of the track, Pink makes his final statement about having the crowd shot, before we return to the opening guitar riff and music. This plays out the remainder of the track and as we approach 4 minutes, Nick Mason’s heavy drumming leads to the denouement. The music halts and in the background we hear a joyous crowd cheering for Pink.
In the Flesh takes us on a dark and surprising turn in this fascinating story. Pink’s mental health, exacerbated by drug abuse, has pieced together a truly frightening and deplorable narrative of a Nazi rally. It’s uncomfortable to listen to in places but obviously does not advocate such views, more demonstrates to us just how far beyond reality Pink has now gone. Desperate to shut himself away from the outside world, he then longed to be back and have contact, and now summoned for a show, he can only picture himself as one of the vilest stains on the fabric of history. It sounds like Pink is lost completely and there may be no way back for him now.
Run Like Hell
The twenty-second track on the album is Run Like Hell which was written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour and lasts around 4½ minutes. Pink’s concert/imagined Nazi rally continues and the violence and threats reach new levels. In the first verse Pink addresses the crowd and calls on them to wear their best disguises and to always be on the run if they wish to survive. If the authorities, perhaps Pink’s imagined fascist police or militia, catch up with those that do not adhere to his rules then the outcome is not worth thinking about. In the second verse the theme continues with Pink now using the example of a young couple potentially meeting for an illicit liaison on the back seat of his car. Pink’s advice is to park somewhere out of sight for if this guy is caught with his girlfriend then his mother will be welcoming home his body. It’s hard to say where Pink is at this stage. Is he still in his hotel room simply imagining all of this in his drug-addled brain, or is he actually performing the show, potentially well but so tanked up on the drugs from Comfortably Numb that he is hallucinating the Nazi rally? In the Flesh and Run Like Hell both have Pink completely out of touch with reality and indeed morality. Surely, there is no turning back from here?
Run Like Hell opens with the crowd treated to In the Flesh now chanting “Pink Floyd.” Clearly, they’re loving the show. As the chanting continues, we hear Gilmour’s guitar coming in before Nick Mason kicks the song into life on the drums. Gilmour’s guitar riff, repeated throughout the track, now comes to the fore. This is followed by Gilmour and Roger Waters’ shared vocal of “run” repeatedly. As we hit the first minute, Waters takes the lead vocal and guides us through the first verse. Though Waters’ voice is clear, the music merges with it here and not all words are easy to discern. After the first verse ends, we have a brief musical interlude where Gilmour’s guitar is particularly pronounced. A repetition of “run” by Gilmour and Waters comes in around the 2 minute mark and a handful of seconds later we are back with Waters and that second verse. When the song is three minutes in, Gilmour takes over once more on guitar and what sounds like Richard Wright on synthesiser also supports him. Interestingly, around 3½ minutes in we hear heavy footsteps, presumably someone running, followed by manic laughter. Is it Pink or someone else? A few moments later there are the screeching tyres of a car, someone giving chase perhaps or making their getaway? We hear more laughter before another squeal from Roger Waters, similar to the one that ended The Happiest Days of Our Lives and led us into Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2. Gilmour comes back in once more with that same guitar riff but the music drifts away now as the chanting crowd can be heard saying “hammer” repeatedly and this leads us into the next song.
Like Comfortably Numb, Run Like Hell is another example of the magic to be found when Roger Waters and David Gilmour work together. Here Waters wrote the lyrics and Gilmour the music, so definitely a collaboration with Gilmour’s music selected over Waters’ original suggestion. In some respects, the music feels more important here than the lyrics. It’s an apt track to follow In the Flesh, continuing the disturbing theme introduced there. Once again, we’re building towards a major event it seems and with four songs to go a resolution to the narrative and to Pink’s situation must be close.
Waiting for the Worms
The twenty-third track on the album is Waiting for the Worms which was written by Roger Waters and is around 4 minutes in length. Following on from In the Flesh and Run Like Hell, Pink is clearly in a terrible state, an alternate persona having taken over and he now imagines himself leading a fascist rally through the streets of London instead of playing a concert. Waiting for the Worms demonstrates the full extent of Pink’s shattered mental health. It opens with Pink chanting to the crowd in German before seemingly taking us back to the other Pink we have spent the majority of the album with. He tells us he is beyond our reach and once again says goodbye to the “cruel world” he can no longer bear and thus has taken refuge behind the wall. Alone and isolated, Pink waits for the “worms” of the title which reference was made to in Hey You and how they would devour his brain. I interpreted this purely as a slow death and Pink’s remains being devoured, but here the metaphor becomes something more substantial. Waiting for the Worms suggests that having now isolated himself, Pink blames the world for all of his woes and in him now festers a dangerous hatred, one that the likes of fascism could gladly groom to create a merciless monster. When one thinks of Nazi Germany, hatred against the Jews was stoked by blaming them for Germany’s ills, an idea that millions came to embrace. Pink still takes no responsibility for his own problems. Everyone and everything else is to blame. He hates all of them and everything. Not only is he described as behind the wall here, he is also in a bunker, which makes one think of Hitler in April 1945 as Berlin was being destroyed all around him as the Russians advanced from the east and the war in Europe was close to ending. In “waiting for the worms”, Pink then demonstrates what such bubbling hatred becomes. The song switches to announcements on a megaphone, summoning people to fascist rallies, and listing a series of frightening atrocities straight out of the Holocaust with mention of breaking windows and doors, a final solution, rounding up Jews and homosexuals, and the showers and ovens to be found in the concentration camps. It’s horrifying and brutal imagery, the staple of relentless fascist regimes and this is now what Pink is seemingly embracing, something that, ironically, his father fought against when he went to war and did not return. In the song’s second verse we are given another grim reminder of history with questions posed about whether we want “Britannia Rule again?” and, even more disturbing, to send “our coloured cousins” home, which sounds like aspirations of white supremacy, a truly sickening and unwanted ideology. We’re now being asked if we want the UK to revert back to the days of the so-called glorious empire, built on slavery and colonialism. All of these frightening images we are given, and Pink tells us if we “follow the worms” then that’s what we’ll have. Pink returns to the megaphone, working the crowd up but his words are difficult to discern at this point. The crowd seems to like it though. They chant “hammer” back at their idol. In The Wall live show and the 1982 film, imagery of walking hammers was used as a symbol of fascist oppression. Pink is now envisioning a room full of like-minded individuals, their minds having welcomed the worms into their brains and the decay within this vital organ rendering them full of violence and hatred. Pink is now deplorable at this point with the words coming out of his mouth. He is gone for good, a twisted individual behind the wall, but then, all of a sudden we hear him shout: “Stop!”
Waiting for the Worms opens with Waters, as Pink, chanting in German to his faithful crowd before harmony vocals from David Gilmour and a selection of backing vocalists come in. They sing of Pink’s isolation and contentment with it. Around 30 seconds in, the first verse begins with Gilmour and Roger Waters exchanging lines. Halfway through, the verse is broken up by a brief drum solo from Nick Mason before Gilmour and Waters return once more to trade lines. As we approach 1½ minutes in the song, Gilmour’s guitar leads us into the rally section with Waters’ voice sounding like it is coming out of a megaphone. Backing vocals follow him saying “waiting” before Waters joins in to sing, “waiting for the worms.” Waters’ voice is hard to discern here, it’s distant, as if we’re standing at the back of the rally and he is but a small figure on the stage shouting out to us. The song is more than 2 minutes in when the second verse kicks in. As with the first, Gilmour sings the opening line then Waters and they trade lyrics for the remainder of the verse. Halfway into the verse it is a guitar interlude rather than drums that breaks things up, coupled with laughter from Gilmour. The remainder of the second verse plays out around 2½ minutes into the song and as we near the third minute, Waters comes back on the megaphone to rally the crowd once more. His words are even harder to make out now and the cause is not helped by the crowd whose chant of “hammer” increases in volume until Waters is drowned out. The song builds and builds towards the end before suddenly halting with that final word of “Stop!”
Waiting for the Worms builds on In the Flesh and Run Like Hell but this track’s lyrics are the darkest of the trio, reminding us of the Holocaust and the atrocities that took place there against millions of innocent people. The song cleverly continues to make Pink as unsympathetic as possible. In fact, we may well despise him at this point with the ludicrous and offensive propaganda he is spouting. He comes across as a lost cause until that final crushing word of “Stop!” We are suddenly given hope. The humanity that remains in Pink is has come to the fore. Maybe the drugs he was given in Comfortably Numb have worn off and he has more clarity, it’s hard to say. What is certain, is that Pink has halted the fascism and hatred of these last three tracks with one simple word. Is there still a way back for him?
The twenty-fourth track on the album is Stop which was written by Roger Waters and is the shortest song on The Wall at a mere 30 seconds. After the dramatic conclusion to Waiting for the Worms, where Pink’s fascist rally threatened turn the UK into a white supremacist global empire, Pink suddenly shouted, “Stop”, an end to all of it, an acknowledgement that all of this has now gone too far. As we begin Stop we hear a fragile Pink telling us he wants to go home, to remove the uniform (presumably fascist attire from the rally, or maybe his troubled identity in general) and to simply go home. Unfortunately, Pink can’t go home yet as he tells us he is in a cell. This may be part of his delusion with the rally, that maybe he was arrested for inciting a crowd to violence and hatred, but the cell could easily be the wall that Pink still remains behind. For the first time on the album, Pink begins to ask the question whether he is the one who has been at fault all this time, not his lost father, his cruel schoolmasters, his domineering mother, his unfaithful wife and all the other bricks in the wall. Could it be that only one brick was ever needed and it was Pink all along? The song ends with him desperate to find the answer.
Stop follows straight on from the end of Waiting for the Worms and is made up solely of Bob Ezrin on piano and Roger Waters on vocals. The piano melody is gentle and complements Pink’s own voice which also seems bereft of the hatred and anger that we have heard in previous tracks. He sounds broken at this point. The piano continues throughout the 30 seconds as Waters delivers his lines, the final words of “time” and “have to know” repeated until they gradually fade out into the next track.
Stop is an important track on The Wall, the turning point for Pink it seems. The previous 23 tracks have carried the idea of the world against Pink and how he has not been at fault for any of this mess he finds himself in. Having become so ill and debilitated to imagine himself as a fascist dictator, Pink finally has clarity and his mind opens. It’s a brave question to ask of himself whether he is the one who is guilty after everything that has happened. The question is how does Pink decide whether he truly is guilty? There seems to be only one solution.
The twenty-fifth song on the album is The Trial which was written by Roger Waters and Bob Ezrin and is one of the longest tracks weighing in at nearly 5½ minutes. With Pink spiralling out of control in Waiting for the Worms he managed to regain some semblance of control leading us into Stop where we found Pink in a cell, his fate uncertain. Wanting to know if he has been guilty all this time, we now find Pink putting himself on trial. It’s the real deal as well. The track opens with a prosecutor entering the courtroom and informing the judge that the accused is guilty of “showing feelings of an almost human nature.” Pink’s desire was to cut himself off from the rest of the world, to feel nothing for anyone or anything, but he clearly cared all along and not just beginning with the desperation we saw in Hey You. The prosecutor has to build a case so first he summons the schoolmaster, one of the early bricks in Pink’s wall from his damaging schooldays. The schoolmaster tells the judge that he was restricted in helping Pink, that had he been able to discipline the disobedient schoolboy he could have whipped him into shape and he asks the judge for the chance to do so now. The dynamic has changed. The bricks in the wall are not the issue here. The problem is Pink. After the schoolmaster’s testimony, we hear from Pink who cries out in lamentation that he is “crazy” and uses such phrases as “they must have taken my marbles away.” When court proceedings continue it is Pink’s wife who now comes forward, the one that was unfaithful to him and became another of the bricks, even though Pink was frequently cheating on her. Pink’s wife lambasts him as a “little shit” and blames him for not talking to her, this lack of communication presumably contributing to her loneliness and need for emotional and physical comfort elsewhere. She asks the judge for five minutes alone with Pink but there are more witnesses still to come. Next up, we have Pink’s domineering mother that wouldn’t let him breathe. She pleads with the judge that she never wanted her son to get into trouble and begs for the court to let her take him home. If Pink’s mother is guilty of anything it is loving her son too much perhaps, if that is possible of course. Once more, Pink despairs at his failing mental health saying he is “over the rainbow” and “crazy.” With the witnesses having testified, it is the turn of the judge to address the court. He tells those gathered that the jury does not need to retire to debate the verdict. The judge informs Pink that he has “never heard before of someone more deserving of the full penalty of law.” He points in particular to the suffering Pink has inflicted on his wife and mother. Up until now, we have only had Pink’s word that all of these bricks in the wall were damaging him and that he was not doing them any harm. In turns out, they too have suffered for loving Pink. The judge is in no doubt that Pink is guilty. Therefore, what punishment does one give to an individual that has treated others so appallingly and then isolated himself beyond the reach of the entire world? The answer is simple: “Tear down the wall.” The judge orders the metaphorical wall to be brought down and Pink is silent as the structure he built to protect himself, the insurmountable structure that then trapped him and threatened to twist him into a fascist monster, now comes crashing down. The world can now reach Pink again and he too can reach the world once more.
The track opens with a clattering sound before a creaking door painfully opens leading the way for a backing orchestra to come into the proceedings. The orchestral accompaniment is said to be why Bob Ezrin has a writing credit on this track. As the orchestra plays out we hear heavy footsteps, increasing in volume. Just 30 seconds in we have the prosecutor, voiced by Waters, delivering his opening statement. The schoolmaster (Waters) comes in less than half a minute later to put forward his testimony. After a minute of the track has passed we switch to Pink who addresses his insanity, his voice sounding frighteningly desperate. This is followed by a vocal choir that repeats some of Pink’s words back at him. 2 minutes in we hear from Pink’s wife (Waters) and a short moment later his mother (Waters again). All the time we have the orchestra playing faintly in the background as the trial unfolds. It’s nearly 3 minutes in when Pink comments a second time on his delicate mental health with the same choir echoing his words back at him moments later. Past the 3 minutes mark we have a guitar riff precede the entrance of the judge (voiced by Waters) and the guitar continues to support the judge as he delivers his verdict to Pink. Just after 4 minutes have passed, the judge orders the wall to be torn down and the music intensifies. A brass section is briefly discernible after 4½ minutes and as we close on the five minutes mark the sound of the wall crumbling and crashing down takes over. All the music is drowned out as the wall comes down and amidst the devastation we are led towards the final track on The Wall.
The Trial is completely different to the other tracks on the album. Of all the songs heard on this rock opera, this is the one that plays out as if we are listening to a musical. The concept here of Pink putting himself on trial is very clever and Roger Waters does an excellent job as the various characters. On the one hand it is a shame that David Gilmour wasn’t involved here, having previously sung as Pink’s mother, but I have read one argument that these characters are manifest in Pink’s brain, the bricks he chose to build the wall with, and as they are all in his mind it is apt that we only hear Pink’s voice as he battles within himself. Having listened to an album where Pink blames everyone else for his misery, it is refreshing in this track to see his eyes opened and the revelation that he has hurt others with his actions, just as they have hurt him. No one comes out of this innocent and the final judgement on Pink of tearing down the wall is brilliantly executed. Bob Ezrin clearly had a big impact on this track and it plays out wonderfully as we reach the denouement of the album. After all Pink has been through maybe, just maybe, he has found his way home after all.
Outside the Wall
The twenty-sixth and final track on the album is Outside the Wall which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just under 2 minutes. In this closing segment we don’t find out what becomes of Pink having torn down the wall. Instead, we hear briefly from him a general observation about those loved ones we have – friends and family – and how they can be found outside the walls of those they care for. Pink tells us they remain there for some time though it’s harder for some than others. He concludes by saying “it’s not easy banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.” This could be purely a reference to Pink or perhaps to any one of us that build a wall to separate us from those that hurt us. Throughout this long journey Pink has changed a lot and appears to have had an epiphany at the end about the danger of the walls we ourselves build. The song and the album seemingly ends with hope for a better future for Pink and for those of a similar mindset if they can make this change. However, the final lines, barely audible, are “Isn’t this where…” The appearance of these words now helps us to make sense of the very start of The Wall where the opening track, In the Flesh? began with the words, “…we came in?” We have a complete sentence here beginning at the end of the album and ending at the beginning. This seems to form a universal cycle, perhaps just another bookend from Pink Floyd, as they did with Animals and Wish You Were Here, but does it point to something more sinister instead? Although at peace at the end, is Pink destined to cycle back through the same issues once more? Or could this be a warning to others that Pink’s tale is just one of many that play out across the world and we not only need to avoid it happening to us, but also to not give up on those such a fate does befall. For those we love who form such barriers, we have to remain outside their wall, always knocking and always reaching for the precipice in the hope of bringing them back to us.
Outside the Wall begins with the last of the wall crashing down. We suddenly hear a clarinet playing a tranquil melody. It is the same sound we heard at the beginning of In the Flesh? before the heavy guitar work of David Gilmour took over. Here, there is no such interruption. The music remains serene and when Roger Waters’ vocals begin nearly 30 seconds in his depiction of Pink is calmer than at any point we have experienced. He sounds content and at peace. A vocal choir backs Waters, repeating some of his lines back. As the vocals continue we can hear an assortment of other instruments including an accordion and mandolin. It’s a stark contrast to a lot of the music we have heard on the previous tracks. The last of Waters’ vocals come in as we approach 1½ minutes. The melody continues for a few seconds more until we hear a voice saying, “Isn’t this where…” and then the track and The Wall comes to an end abruptly. The journey is over.
Outside the Wall brings an end to the story of Pink although it might suggest it’s just the beginning with the potential of the sorry cycle continuing once more. Does Pink find redemption in the end or is he forever doomed to a purgatory of his own making behind the wall? The song does not give us the answers. We are left with questions unanswered but perhaps that is the most appropriate way to end the album. Both the music and Waters’ vocals give us a sense of serenity we have experienced nowhere else on the album and gives me the impression that Pink has found an inner absolution and a new path forward though it will not be an easy destination for him.
The Wall is an epic piece of work and it has taken me a long time and many listens to reach this point of summation. Considering the album on its own, it is undoubtedly a masterpiece and Roger Waters must be given a lot of kudos for coming up with the concept and spearheading the efforts to bring his ideas to fruition. That said, there is no question that The Wall would not be the album it is today were it not for David Gilmour and Bob Ezrin. Although Waters had isolated himself from his band members at this time, Gilmour’s presence can still be felt even if his songwriting credits on the album are restricted to just three songs and I understand he played a big part in the tour for The Wall which was a complex and expensive affair. Bob Ezrin took a co-writing credit on one other song and acted as mediator and producer here, somehow finding a way to get the rest of Pink Floyd to work through the album with Waters even though it cost Richard Wright his place in the band. In the end, the sound quality is excellent and you would be forgiven for not knowing the Floyd were being ripped apart while this album was under production.
One of the discussions I have read about between avid fans of the group is whether The Wall is truly a Pink Floyd album. Roger Waters had started seizing control of the group with Animals but with The Wall he dominates completely with only David Gilmour showing to have any lingering influence. Richard Wright and Nick Mason were completely sidelined. I would argue that because of Gilmour’s contribution this is still a Floyd album and not a Waters solo album but the difference between this and their previous work is staggering. The ambient Pink Floyd of Echoes and Shine on You Crazy Diamond have subsided. The Wall is raw, angry and double the length of most of the group’s other albums, making it a challenge for some listeners and a tester of patience to work your way through all 26 tracks back to back. Personally, although the length is long I think this is a terrific album but in terms of the Floyd canon it does not compare to Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon.
With 26 songs to choose from this is a difficult one to break down but I have accomplished the feat…just. For me, the strongest songs on the album are Mother, Hey You, Nobody Home, Comfortably Numb and The Trial, though it’s hard eliminating all of the others songs though some are stronger than others. I’m a sucker for the tracks where Roger Waters and David Gilmour combine with their vocals, as they did with Dogs, and although I feel the need to go along with the crowd and nominate Comfortably Numb as the standout track, I am going to slip that one into second place…narrowly. Considering the concept of The Wall as a whole, the track that hit hardest was Hey You. We have the Gilmour/Waters combination here which is welcome but what makes this song the best for me is how it represents a key turning point in the story. Pink’s embittered and determined stance on building the wall quickly dissipates as he realises the gravity of the isolation he now finds himself in and his need for human contact is poignant and brilliantly depicted. It’s a truly powerful track and the highlight of The Wall for me.
Although The Wall divided the critics upon release it became Pink Floyd’s second best selling album after The Dark Side of the Moon and helped to ease a lot of the financial worries that had plagued the group during its production as they lived outside of England as tax exiles. The Wall has since become renowned as a masterpiece by critics and is considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time. A film adaptation, starring Bob Geldof, would follow in 1982 which I haven’t seen but do intend to watch at some stage. The tour for The Wall was an expensive but impressive affair where the group performed the album in its entirety with the first half seeing a wall constructed, separating Pink Floyd from the audience. This ultimately came crashing down at the end with the conclusion of The Trial. Although he was fired from the band, Richard Wright returned with the group to support on the tour as a salaried musician and, ironically, ended up being the only member of the four to profit from the tour which lost money, whereas the album had fared very well.
Relationships between the four members deteriorated even further while touring and Waters isolated himself even greater from his bandmates. The Wall tour was completed and the trio of Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason that now made up Pink Floyd were still together. The problem was that with Richard Wright’s departure and Roger Waters’ increasing control over the group, the cracks that had been appearing as far back as Wish You Were Here were beginning to become irrevocable chasms. Wright was gone, Mason was drifting along in the background, but Gilmour was still putting up a fight. A new Floyd album would not materialise for another three years but would there be any way back from the volatile strain that was now engulfing the band?
Pink Floyd Roll of Honour
1) Wish You Were Here (1975)
2) The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
3) The Wall (1979)
4) Animals (1977)
5) Meddle (1971)
6) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
7) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
8) Atom Heart Mother (1970)
9) Obscured by Clouds (1972)
10) More (1969)
11) Ummagumma (1969)