The Wall is the eleventh studio album by the English progressive rock group Pink Floyd. Released as a double album on 30 November 1979, it was subsequently performed live with elaborate theatrical effects, and adapted into a feature film, Pink Floyd – The Wall.
As with the band’s previous three LPs, The Wall is a concept album and deals largely with themes of abandonment and personal isolation. It was first conceived during their 1977 In the Flesh Tour, when bassist and lyricist Roger Waters’s frustration with the spectators’ perceived boorishness became so acute that he imagined building a wall between the performers and audience. The album is a rock opera that centres on Pink, a character Waters modelled after himself, with some aspects based on the band’s original leader, Syd Barrett. Pink’s life experiences begin with the loss of his father during the Second World War, and continue with ridicule and abuse from his schoolteachers, an overprotective mother and finally, the breakdown of his marriage. All contribute to his eventual self-imposed isolation from society, represented by a metaphorical wall.
The Wall features a notably harsher and more theatrical style than Pink Floyd’s previous releases. Keyboardist Richard Wright left the band during the album’s production but remained as a salaried musician, performing with Pink Floyd during The Wall Tour. Commercially successful upon its release, the album was one of the best selling of 1980, and as of 1999, it had sold over 23 million RIAA certified units (11.5 million albums) in the United States. Rolling Stone magazine placed The Wall at number 87 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh Tour was their first playing in large stadiums, and in July 1977—on the final date at the Montreal Olympic Stadium—a small group of noisy and excited fans near the stage irritated Waters to such an extent that he spat at one of them. He was not the only band member who felt disaffected at the show, as guitarist David Gilmour refused to perform the band’s usual twelve-bar blues encore.Later that night, while returning from hospital to treat an injury sustained to his foot while play-fighting backstage with manager Steve O’Rourke, Waters spoke with music producer Bob Ezrin, and a friend of Ezrin’s, a psychiatrist sharing their car, about the feelings of alienation he was experiencing on the tour. He articulated his desire to isolate himself by constructing a wall across the stage between the performers and the audience. He later said, “I loathed playing in stadiums … I kept saying to people on that tour, ‘I’m not really enjoying this … there is something very wrong with this.'” While Gilmour and Wright were in France recording solo albums, and Nick Mason was busy producing Steve Hillage’s Green, Waters began to write new material. The spitting incident became the starting point for a new concept, which explored the protagonist’s self-imposed isolation after years of traumatic interactions with authority figures and the loss of his father as a young child. To execute The Wall concept was to attempt to analyse the performer’s psychological separation from the audience, using a physical structure as a metaphorical and theatrical device.
In July 1978 the band reconvened at Britannia Row Studios, where Waters presented two new ideas for concept albums. The first was a 90-minute demo with the working title Bricks in the Wall. The second, a project about a man’s dreams across one night that dealt with marriage, sex, and the pros and cons of monogamy and family life versus promiscuity. The first option was chosen by the group for the new Pink Floyd project and the second idea eventually became Waters’s first solo effort, a concept album titled, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.
By September, the band were experiencing financial difficulties. Financial planners Norton Warburg Group (NWG) had invested £1.3–3.3 million (up to £16 million in contemporary value) of the group’s money in high-risk venture capital to reduce their tax liabilities. The strategy failed as many of the businesses NWG invested in lost money, leaving the band facing tax rates potentially as high as 83 per cent. Pink Floyd terminated their relationship with NWG, demanding the return of uninvested funds. The band thus urgently needed to produce an album to make money. Because the project’s 26 tracks presented a challenge greater than the band’s previous albums, “Waters decided to bring in an outside producer and collaborator.” He later said, “I needed a collaborator who was musically and intellectually in a similar place to where I was.”
At the suggestion of Waters’s then-girlfriend, Lady Carolyne Christie, who had worked as Ezrin’s secretary, the band hired him to co-produce the album. He had worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Kiss and he produced Peter Gabriel’s debut solo album. From the start, Waters left Ezrin in no doubt as to who was in charge: “You can write anything you want. Just don’t expect any credit”. Ezrin, Waters, and Gilmour read Waters’s concept, keeping what they liked, and discarding what they thought was not good enough. Waters and Ezrin worked mostly on the story, improving the concept. His 40-page script was presented to the rest of the band, with positive results: “The next day at the studio, we had a table read, like you would with a play, but with the whole of the band, and their eyes all twinkled, because then they could see the album.” He broadened the storyline, distancing it from the autobiographical work Waters had written, and instead basing it on a composite, or gestalt character named Pink. Engineer Nick Griffiths later said of the Canadian producer: “Ezrin was very good in The Wall, because he did manage to pull the whole thing together. He’s a very forceful guy. There was a lot of argument about how it should sound between Roger and Dave, and he bridged the gap between them.” Waters wrote most of the album’s material, with Gilmour sharing credit on “Comfortably Numb”, “Run Like Hell”, and “Young Lust”, and Ezrin co-writing “The Trial”.
The Wall is a rock opera that explores abandonment and isolation, symbolised by a metaphorical wall. The songs create an approximate storyline of events in the life of the protagonist, Pink, a character based on Waters, whose father was killed during the Second World War. Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother, and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers. Each of these traumas become metaphorical “bricks in the wall”. The protagonist eventually becomes a rock star, his relationships marred by infidelity, drug use, and outbursts of violence. As his marriage crumbles, he finishes building his wall, completing his isolation from human contact.
Hidden behind his wall, Pink’s crisis escalates, culminating in a hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes that he is a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to Neo-Nazi rallies, at which he sets men on fans he considers unworthy. Tormented with guilt, he places himself on trial, his inner judge ordering him to “tear down the wall”, opening Pink to the outside world. The album turns full circle with its closing words “Isn’t this where…”, the first words of the phrase that begins the album, “…we came in?”, with a continuation of the melody of the last song hinting at the cyclical nature of Waters’ theme.
The album includes several references to former band member Syd Barrett, including “Nobody Home”, which hints at his condition during Pink Floyd’s abortive US tour of 1967, with lyrics such as “wild, staring eyes”, “Hendrix perm” and “Gohills Boots”. “Comfortably Numb” was inspired by Waters’s injection with a muscle relaxant to combat the effects of hepatitis during the In the Flesh Tour, while in Philadelphia.
Mason’s early drum sessions were performed in an open space on the top floor of Britannia Row Studios. The 16-track recordings from these sessions were mixed down and copied onto a 24-track master, as guide tracks for the rest of the band to play to. This gave the engineers greater flexibility, but also improved the audio quality of the final mix as the original 16-track drum recordings were finally synced to the 24-track master, and the duplicated guide tracks removed. Ezrin later related the band’s alarm at this method of working—they apparently viewed the erasure of material from the 24-track master as “witchcraft”.
While at Super Bear studios Waters had agreed to Ezrin’s suggestion that several tracks, including “Nobody Home”, “The Trial” and “Comfortably Numb”, should have an orchestral accompaniment. Michael Kamen, who had previously worked with David Bowie, was booked to oversee these arrangements, which were performed by musicians from the New York Philharmonic and New York Symphony Orchestras, and a choir from the New York City Opera. Their sessions were recorded at CBS Studios in New York, although Pink Floyd were not present. Kamen eventually met the band once recording was complete.
“Comfortably Numb” has its origins in Gilmour’s debut solo album, and was the source of much argument between Waters and Gilmour. Ezrin claimed that the song initially started life as “…Roger’s record, about Roger, for Roger”, although he thought that it needed further work. Waters re-wrote the song and added more lyrics for the chorus, but his “stripped-down and harder” recording was not to Gilmour’s liking. The guitarist preferred Ezrin’s “…grander Technicolor, orchestral version”, although Ezrin preferred Waters’s version. Following a full-scale argument in a North Hollywood restaurant, the two compromised; the song’s body eventually included the orchestral arrangement, with Gilmour’s second and final guitar solo standing alone.
When the completed album was played for an assembled group of executives at Columbia’s headquarters in California, several were reportedly unimpressed by what they heard. Matters had not been helped when Columbia Records offered Waters smaller publishing rights on the grounds that The Wall was a double album, a position he did not accept. When one executive offered to settle the dispute with a coin toss, Waters asked why he should gamble on something he owned. He eventually prevailed.The record company’s concerns were alleviated when “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” reached number one in the UK, US, Norway, Portugal, Israel, West Germany and South Africa. It was certified platinum in the UK in December 1979, and platinum in the US three months later.
The Wall was released in the UK on 30 November 1979 and about a week later in the US. Coinciding with its release Waters was interviewed by veteran DJ Tommy Vance, who played the album in its entirety on BBC Radio 1. Critical opinion of its content ranged from Robert Christgau’s “too-kitschy minimal maximalism with sound effects and speech fragments” and Rolling Stone writer Kurt Loder’s “a stunning synthesis of Waters’s by now familiar thematic obsessions”, to Melody Maker’s “I’m not sure whether it’s brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling.” Nevertheless the album topped the Billboard charts for 15 weeks, and in 1999 was certified 23x platinum. It remains one of the best-selling albums of all time in the US, between 1979 and 1990 selling over 19 million copies worldwide. In this sense The Wall is second only to 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Engineer James Guthrie’s efforts were rewarded in 1980 with a Grammy award for Best Engineered Recording (non-classical). Rolling Stone Magazine placed The Wall 87th on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
The album was originally released as a double LP, but was re-issued in the UK as a double CD in 1985. A remastered version with new artwork was issued in 1994, followed in 1997 by a digitally remastered double-LP. A half-speed master vinyl double-LP was released in the US in 1981, and a double-CD followed in 1983. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab released the album on their Ultradisc format in 1990. The album was re-issued as a double-CD for its 20th anniversary by Columbia in 1997, and reissued by Columbia in 2000.
Following the end of Sony BMG’s rights to most of the band’s catalogue, EMI released its own version in 2000. The album was reissued in three versions as part of the Why Pink Floyd…? campaign, which featured a massive restoration of the band’s catalogue with remasterings by producer James Guthrie: in 2011, a “Discovery” edition, featuring the remastered version with no extras; and in 2012, both the “Experience” edition, which adds a bonus disc of unreleased material and other supplementary items, and the “Immersion” version, a seven-disc collection that also adds video materials.
All songs written and composed by Roger Waters, except where noted.
|1.||“In the Flesh?”||Waters||3:16|
|2.||“The Thin Ice”||Gilmour, Waters||2:27|
|3.||“Another Brick in the Wall Part 1”||Waters||3:21|
|4.||“The Happiest Days of Our Lives”||Waters||1:46|
|5.||“Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”||Gilmour, Waters||3:59|
|1.||“Goodbye Blue Sky”||Gilmour||2:45|
|3.||“Young Lust”||Waters, Gilmour||Gilmour||3:25|
|4.||“One of My Turns”||Waters||3:41|
|5.||“Don’t Leave Me Now”||Waters||4:08|
|6.||“Another Brick in the Wall Part 3”||Waters||1:48|
|7.||“Goodbye Cruel World”||Waters||0:48|
|1.||“Hey You”||Gilmour, Waters||4:40|
|2.||“Is There Anybody Out There?”||Waters||2:44|
|5.||“Bring the Boys Back Home”||Waters||1:21|
|6.||“Comfortably Numb”||Gilmour, Waters||Waters, Gilmour||6:23|
|1.||“The Show Must Go On”||Gilmour||1:36|
|2.||“In the Flesh”||Waters||4:15|
|3.||“Run Like Hell”||Gilmour, Waters||Gilmour, Waters||4:20|
|4.||“Waiting for the Worms”||Waters, Gilmour||4:04|
|6.||“The Trial”||Waters, Ezrin||Waters||5:13|
|7.||“Outside the Wall”||Waters||1:41|