Test of the Boomerang: Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” at 30

The double album turns 30 this year. In upcoming installments of Test of the Boomerang, ‘ll be taking a look at the album’s creation, live spectacle, aftermath and legacy. In this first installment we’ll be looking at the long-storied origins of the album and sharing the band’s original demo recordings.

I. Origins

It’s one of the most repugnant tales in rock history: The final show of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” tour, July 6th, 1977 in Montreal. Roger Waters had had quite enough. Floyd was performing in a stadium, fans were setting off fireworks during the quiet numbers, the sound was lousy, and finally, out of the roiling sea of people, a fan, imploring the band to play “Careful With That Axe Eugene,” clambered onto the stage, only to have Waters spit in his face.

Pink Floyd had come a long way from the spirited whimsy of “See Emily Play” just 10 years prior. 1977 saw the release of Animals – a visceral and venomous five-song diatribe on class and culture. After the worldwide success of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, the grislier Animals showed Roger Waters exerting himself more and more as band leader and the weightier themes on their new album suggested a pretension that was very unlike the zen parable simplicity of Dark Side’s best moments or Wish You Were Here’s built-in nostalgia.

Of course, after that summer day in Montreal, Roger Waters went home, horrified by his own behavior, picked up a guitar and began to write. He envisioned the alienation that he felt onstage as a wall separating the audience from the performers. Along with his burned-out rock star neuroses, Waters also added in a laundry list of other angst – his father’s death in World War II, his lonely childhood, his divorce from his wife, and some themes recalling Syd Barrett, again the missing muse.

Madness in all its forms has always been lyrical fodder for Pink Floyd. Even before it became the chief undercurrent of Dark Side of the Moon, Syd Barrett mused on his own dualism (and his leaving the band) on “Jugband Blues” back in 1968 (“…I’m wondering who could be writing this song…”), and Waters’ mournful “If” from 1970′s Atom Heart Mother featured the awkward confession, “If I go insane, please don’t put your wires in my brain.”

He brought two projects to the band – one would later become his 1984 solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, and the other would become The Wall. The band more or less agreed on The Wall and set about expanding on the project. This is The Wall in its infantile stages. Enjoy.

Pink Floyd – “The Wall” 1978 Demos

Disc One

In the Flesh, The Thin Ice, Another Brick in the Wall Part I, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, Another Brick in the Wall Part II, Mother, Goodbye Blue Sky, Empty Spaces Part I, Young Lust, One of My Turns. Don’t Leave Me Now, Empty Spaces Part II/What Shall We Do Now?, Another Brick in the Wall Part III

Disc Two

Is There Anybody Out There? Part I, Vera, Bring the Boys Back Home, Is There Anybody Out There? Part II, Is There Anybody Out There? Part III, Comfortably Numb, Hey You, The Show Must Go On, In the Flesh, Run Like Hell, Waiting for the Worms, Stop, The Trial, Outside the Wall

(files are zipped into .rar format)

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  • petegraham

    Great article, many thanks for putting it together.
    If anything I think the wall sounds better now, free of its cold war timeframe.

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    http://www.facebook.com/onecyprus

  • JMallon

    Adding to Waters' increasing dominance were Pink Floyd's tax problems. Their investment firms had pissed away most of their money just when the taxman came calling. They had little choice but to produce something to make money, and quick.

    Their manager got a big advance from Columbia. Waters, as the only member to write songs, would threaten to pull THE WALL's songs and make a solo album if the others didn't follow his lead, leaving the rest high and dry and owing money all over the place.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    It's funny. Over the years, The Wall has had a bit of a backlash, hasn't it? I mean, classic rock radio still plays the hell out of “Comfortably Numb”, “Run Like Hell” and of course “Brick Part 2″, and kids are buying t-shirts with Gerald Scarfe's imagery from Hot Topic – yet the two don't mingle so much. Like the AC/DC logo, that imagery has become a fashion statement apart from the music, like a precursor to Ed Hardy t's.

    Meanwhile Dark Side still gets respect, although I suspect that is viewed as the stoner album while The Wall is harsher, more rock-operatic and, in the eyes of some critics, more pretentious. It's a poor charge, as I marvel at the latter's construction. It is not a rock opera so much as it is a flat-out opera. Musical themes and leitmotifs are shared through almost every song, the structure has a clear narrative and three distinct acts. It's not like Tommy (which I love) where the audience is jerked back and forth between perspectives and the clear plotline is lost in order to accommodate songs.

    Well, that was a lot of chatter, wasn't it? Let's just say “Yay Wall” then.

  • jack

    My problem with The Wall is that it's such an ingrained memory of my early college years, I can't pick it up and listen to it objectively or in a detached manner. And the lyrics are so front and center on most of the songs, it's hard not to pay attention to them (and they're not the most cheerful in the world). Plus, Wile Dark Side had Dave and Nick singing some nice harmonies, Roger's voice dominates 99.5% of The Wall, and he's not a lullaby singer, if you know what I mean.

  • Name

    AWESOME!!

  • Rich

    Great article, Ben! Very elucidating recap of its history/context. & thanks for posting the files!

  • Ed_Munson

    Excellent article, Ben.

    I think that the band's music reflected the rising alienation of paranoia and cynicism (resulting from disappointed optimism) that a generation of post-war seekers found after living through the late 60's and early 70's. Pink Floyd's material was amped up by the social and economic state of Great Britain and the rest of the world during those days. Perhaps Pink Floyd's work could be described as anticipating (in a much trippier, wordier way) many of the attitudes of Punk Rock which were in a state of birth during the days of Dark Side of the Moon.

    I am eager to see more of your thoughts on the website.

  • Arend_Anton

    A lot of music snobs look down their noses at The Wall. I don't listen to it much anymore, but it's a remarkable achievement. It's so rare for double albums to feel necessary, but The Wall does a pretty good job of that.

    For years I've heard David Gilmore's complaint about The Wall being too cold. “Where's the soul?” he always says. What I find ironic is that once Waters left, Pink Floyd's soul disappeared. Roger Waters, though the least talented musician and singer in the group, was the soul of that band, especially after Barrett left. Floyd treaded water (no pun intended, but that would make a great headline) for over a decade until finally shutting it down (mostly).

    With all that said, I still like Animals quite a bit more than either Dark Side or The Wall. It's just not very commercial.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I sort of get Gilmour's point. Dark Side, for all its trippiness is full of moments, sax solos, etc. that has plenty of “soul” and it suits what they were shooting for. In a very real sense, The Wall is about someone losing their soul, or giving it away, in order to cloak themselves in a facade that blocks away pain. There really is no room for an “Us And Them” saxophone solo on that album.

  • Arend_Anton

    Oh, I definitely get his point. I just think he's forgetting that “soul” isn't just a style of music. The Wall might be about someone who has lost his soul, but there is 10 times more genuine soul in that cry for help than in A Momentary Lapse of Reason or The Division Bell.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    The only Floyd song I can tolerate, “Take It Back,” is from Division Bell. I'm not saying it's a good album, but there you go.

  • jim

    Pink Floyd was the group i respected the most growing up in the seventies.They were able to bring issues to the fore in their music all wrapped in a rocknroll approach.
    i was turned on the them in 1970 by my older sister and every release from that time on was eagerly anticipated by me and all my friends as we grew.They were a staple.
    The Wall was a departure and while most of my peers were into it, it didn't do much for me.
    It did have a soul but i thought it was dark. depressed and without optimism i had a hard time equating it with thier earlier releases.
    Still you have to give credit where credit is due. who wants to buy tapes of my therapy sessions?

  • jim

    Pink Floyd was the group i respected the most growing up in the seventies.They were able to bring issues to the fore in their music all wrapped in a rocknroll approach.
    i was turned on the them in 1970 by my older sister and every release from that time on was eagerly anticipated by me and all my friends as we grew.They were a staple.
    The Wall was a departure and while most of my peers were into it, it didn't do much for me.
    It did have a soul but i thought it was dark. depressed and without optimism i had a hard time equating it with thier earlier releases.
    Still you have to give credit where credit is due. who wants to buy tapes of my therapy sessions?

  • jim

    Pink Floyd was the group i respected the most growing up in the seventies.They were able to bring issues to the fore in their music all wrapped in a rocknroll approach.
    i was turned on the them in 1970 by my older sister and every release from that time on was eagerly anticipated by me and all my friends as we grew.They were a staple.
    The Wall was a departure and while most of my peers were into it, it didn't do much for me.
    It did have a soul but i thought it was dark. depressed and without optimism i had a hard time equating it with thier earlier releases.
    Still you have to give credit where credit is due. who wants to buy tapes of my therapy sessions?