Making of the 1979 rock opera Pink Floyd Wall full of the kind of rock star irony exploited years later by This is Spine Beats. Their fall into disunity and bloating began when Roger Waters established himself as captain in 1977 Animal, his tribute album to George Orwell. The stage performances became more grandiose, leading keyboardist Richard Wright to fear they were “in danger of becoming slaves to our equipment.” Certain moments during 1977 In the Flesh touring in support of the album seems to have come out of Christopher Guest’s brainstorm.
One night in Frankfurt, “the stage was filled with so much dry ice that the band was almost completely covered,” wrote Mark Blake on Comfortable Numb. Fans throw bottles. The crowd felt even more alienated as Waters began wearing headphones on stage, trying to harmonize the music and visuals. During a five-night run at London’s Wembley Empire Pool, “officials from Greater London Council descended on the venue to check that the inflatable pig band had been fitted with a safety line” (due to the minor panic caused by the earlier runaway pig). “Roger Waters oversees inspections, gives orders to pig operators… “’Stop the pigs! Spin the pig!’”
Moments like these can add levity to Alan Parker’s 1982 film about Wall, starring Bob Geldof as the main character, the disgruntled rock star Pink. Waters hated the film at the time, though later said, “I actually liked it quite a bit, although I’m very sorry there was no humor in it, but that’s my fault. I don’t think I’m in such a jolly state. A prisoner of his own success, Waters resented drunken fans who were (understandably) distracted by stage performances that threatened to overwhelm the music. Seeing fans singing along in the front row instead of listening intently infuriated him, leading to the infamous spitting incident, as touring guitarist Snowy White recalls: “It was a hilarious show. It was a very strange vibe… looking across the stage and seeing Roger spit at the man in front… It was a very strange performance. The vibe isn’t that great.”
This is still just the backdrop for the upcoming album and tour — you can learn all about the creation of it in the three-part Vinyl Rewind video series here. Waters based a jaded Pink on himself and former Pink Floyd vocalist Syd Barrett, who didn’t return from his own stage crash. Waters found himself wishing he could build a wall between himself and the fans. The band liked the idea of a demo and chose to continue with the project. Then things got really sour. Pink Floyd started falling apart during the recording sessions. As engineer James Guthrie recalled, at first, “they were still playing together, not one person at a time, that’s how we ended up recording in France.” The split between Waters and Richard Wright would eventually lead to Wright’s dismissal from the band.
Mostly personal disputes was erected before the Wall. Of course Roger’s relationship with Rick, but things only got worse at that level during the making of the album. There were some really tough moments, but I don’t think there’s ever been a question of Roger not finishing the album. He’s a very strong person. Not easily blocked from the path. If everyone left, he would still finish it.
Waters will also tour the album on his own — as he did after he left the band after 1983 Last cut, a Pink Floyd album in name only. Like that, Wall the tour eventually sent the band into debt. Only Richard Wright made a profit, playing with the band as a salaried musician. For all the stage accidents and interpersonal strife—despite it all—Pink Floyd did what they wanted to do. “We knew when we made it,” says David Gilmour, in a memory softened by time and age, “that it was a great record.” It still stands, some forty-three years later, as one of the best. Learn how it made a difference, and how much the band that made it had to pay.
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Pink Floyd Adapted George Orwell’s Animal Farm into Their 1977 Concept Album, Animals (Criticism of Late Capitalism, Not Stalin)
Pink Floyd’s First Work: Audio/Video Exploration of the 23 Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971)
Pink Floyd’s Whole Studio Discography Now on YouTube: Live Studio & Album Streaming
Pink Floyd Releases First New Song in 28 Years to Help Support Ukraine
Josh Jones is a writer and musician living in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagness