Released in November 1979 is Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the album that told us all that “we don’t need no education.” The double album, consisting of a huge 26 tracks, is a rock opera that narrates the life of the fictional character Pink (modelled after bassist and lyricist Roger Waters and the band’s original leader, Syd Barrett) and was recorded with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The album’s epic journey takes us through the loss of Pink’s father during WWII, his struggles with abusive schoolteachers and an overprotective mother, and the breakdown of his marriage. It is the direct inspiration for Alan Parker’s 1982 musical film The Wall, about a rocker driven to insanity. With such themes of isolation, madness and abandonment, Pink Floyd’s epic album is not for the faint hearted.
The Wall’s opening track, ‘In the Flesh?’, acts as something of a prelude to the album and makes direct reference to its format by welcoming listeners to the show. The imagined opera progresses as listeners are plunged into the psychedelia associated with Pink Floyd, and told that “you’re just another brick in the wall” as per the album’s title. The running theme of the wall in the album metaphorically presents Pink’s self-imposed exile isolation from society, allowing a dissection of the album to bring forth as rich a body of themes and motifs as an English student’s analysis of a novel.
We are presented with the most notable track from the first half of the album, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, in three parts. ‘Part 2’ includes the band supported by school children shouting back at teachers, and elevates the theatrical construction of The Wall. ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ later inspired Eric Prydz’ track, ‘Proper Education’. ‘Mother’ allows us insight into the young mind of Pink as he questions the war, the government- and also whether or not he should run for president. Pink Floyd’s representation of the inner thoughts of their character allows for a height of characterisation that is a rarity in an album. The first half soars through fast paced tracks offset by those more melodic like ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ which describes the war through the sky, and the heart wrenching ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’. The very short ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3’ gives a promise of breaking free from the wall as the hero shouts that he “don’t need anything at all” – but the half’s conclusion of ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ plunges listeners once more into the depths of Pink’s turmoil.
The end of WWII is signified by the significantly operatic ‘Bring The Boys Back Home’ before we are graced with the famous ‘Comfortably Numb’ which looks back on Pink’s childhood and is perhaps one of the more lucid tracks of the album. Length-wise, the six minutes of the track breaks the flow of the album and allows listeners to concentrate on the track that simply combines vocals and the album’s orchestra in isolation. In creating an album so heavily charged in narrative, it is a great feet that Pink Floyd continue to draw attention to their unsurpassable musical talent too. The album ends with Pink breaking ‘Outside the Wall’, which opens with the distant rumble of explosions and soft strings, and sung accompanied by a choir, to conclude his journey.
The Wall is so ground-breaking and important because it is not just an album. It has full bodied characters, dialogue, and a narrative that undoubtedly sets it apart from all other music. It is the album that produced ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’, songs often regarded as some of Pink Floyd’s greatest. When released, it reached No.3 in the UK charts- something that certainly could not be achieved now given the current genres that reign among them. The emotional journey of The Wall is as epic as Homer’s Odyssey and tells a narrative that is so well constructed that the opera is easily imaginable in the listener’s headspace.
Narratives and operas aside, musically, it is a very cool album and holds a great stance in Pink Floyd’s repertoire. The Wall is an album that is deserving of your care and attention, so set aside a couple of hours, listen, and enjoy.
The Wall was released on the 30th of November, 1979 via Harvest/EMI records.