In June of 1980 I marched in cap and gown on to the football field of my Long Island High School for graduation ceremonies. As I sat on a folding chair with my classmates in the pre-summer heat, our principal introduced former Herricks’ graduate and celebrity guest speaker, Carol Miller.
Yes, Carol Miller, the popular DJ from New York radio station WPLJ, went to our school. She began her talk that day reciting the now infamous refrain, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall album which was released just 6 months earlier.
I remember thinking that it was a cool way for her to address 450 teens, but as with most graduation ceremony speeches, I honestly can’t remember much more of what was said that day.
Two months later, The Wall seemed to follow me 400+ miles north to college at the University of Buffalo. When I pulled up to the Porter dorm entrance to unload my stuff freshman year, there it was again blaring out the window of an upper class-man who arrived early and already had set up their stereo. For most of that first semester the sound of The Wall album would be omnipresent in hallway after hallway throughout the dorms. Inside the rooms college students would hang out on their beds discussing the story and analyzing the lyrics printed on the sleeves of this 2 record set.
This 26 song opera takes you inside the head of this frustrated and confused rock star as he battles his internal struggles with the world after the loss of a father, the effects of a controlling mother, an abusive boarding school headmaster, adoring fans and bouts with heavy drugs. From “The Thin Ice”, to “Mother”, to “Hey You”, to “Comfortably Numb” we feel how dark and tortured he is. In the end, these songs lead you through his journey to break free.
Waters and Gilmour deliver an amazing performance on this album. The production creates indelible imagery that brings this music to life. We see the rise of the metaphoric wall right in front of us as our main character isolates himself from the world. Amazing bass lines, clever riffs, harmonies and well produced sound design pull you into this story. Punctuated by sounds of a children’s choir (that I still can’t seem to get out of my head) the music touches you on many levels. It is a true theatrical experience and one I that has had me coming back since I popped the cassette in my first car 37 years ago.
There is honestly too much to say about The Wall. It’s an incredible album; grand with loud instrumentals and eerie lead vocals. Multiple guitars layered over each other utilizing a wide assortments of effects ranging from reverb to distortion. Intricate drum fills are sprinkled throughout – but most importantly the lyrics tell a great story.
This rock opera portrays a man named Pink and how he becomes isolated through emotional abuse and abandonment that occurred throughout his life. His experiences as a young boy have left him mentally scared and damaged. As he moves into adult life, it is apparent that the effects of the events of his youth have stayed with him as illustrated in a number of different songs. “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 1” shows us how his father went off to war and left him no fond memories. “Mother”, an acoustic song, is about how his mom tries to control her child through terror and fear. It has lines like, “Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry. Mamma’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true. Mamma’s gonna put all of her fears into you.” The mother, through her manipulative ways, contributes to this “Wall” he is building in his mind that will later separate Pink from everyone else.
There are a number of themes that unfold in this album: insanity, rebellion, control, hatred. In “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” it’s almost as if an army of children are rising against their teachers while they all sing in perfect unison, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control. ” BUT the voices are so perfectly in time and organized with Waters’ voice looming in the background that it ultimately creates an unsettling feeling of a terrifying new power taking control, instead of a righteous group of children doing what is necessary. This idea appears again in “In the Flesh”, with the use of Nazi like imagery, the band goes onstage and sings to the cheering of the crowd
“Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get them up against the wall!
There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me,
Get him up against the wall,”
and so on. Waters is trying to create a dark atmosphere by taking this rock concert and transforming it into a hateful demonstration where the crowd is hypnotized and clinging to his every cruel word. Here Pink shows his utter intolerance to those that are different; perfectly demonstrating the themes of insanity, rebellion, control, and hatred.
My favorite track is “Goodbye Blue Sky” which has very ominous, keyboard heavy verses in a minor key, but choruses in a major key. This is really interesting to me since the choruses have beautiful harmonies, but talk about The Wall becoming so tall that the skies aren’t visible anymore. It’s a cool juxtaposition of the tone and the meaning behind it –I can really visualize The Wall closing above Pink as the sky becomes darker and darker.
This album is the most intricate collection of songs that my dad and I have covered so far. With all of the album’s different sound effects, diverse musical techniques, political and emotional themes to consider and pick apart, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of analyzing this work. It was both interesting and cool to listen to one of the most famous albums of all time and experience something so important to the history of rock and roll .
One final thought: Max and I are diametrically opposed to Roger Water’s positions on Israel. We find his comments and statements on this matter extremely disturbing. While we respect his art, we do not in any way endorse or support any of his opinions.
The Wall was released in November of 1979, sold over 20 million copies worldwide, inspired a full-length movie and is #87 on the Rolling Stone Magazine 500 Greatest Album list.
If you don’t eat yer meat, you cant have any pudding!
How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat!