Classic Retro Album Review – Pink Floyd, The Wall

 

Classic Album Review – Pink Floyd – The Wall

When you see those memes about… “If you had to choose one album to listen to for the rest of your life, what would it be?” My choice would be The Wall by Pink Floyd. Released in 1979 this album was the first album to fully get me into being addicted to music and eventually led to me learning how to play the guitar. This review of The Wall is not going to be a history lesson on how the album was recorded or what it is actually about. It’s my recollection of having a single speaker cassette player and a well worn Maxell XLII cassette recorded from the album on my friend’s father’s Kenwood stereo system when I was 11 years old. Just like my small memory details of when I listened to only this constantly for the better portion of a year this album contains so many small details that leave you wondering how Roger Waters ever completed this album. 

This is a bold statement, but, to me this album is total perfection!

 

 

                                     Inside the gatefold sleeve of The Wall (1979). Source: Pink Floyd Archive

 

If you have never listened to The Wall I suggest you do while reading my synopsis here. I want to point out some of the memorable points to this album that I always remember and some quotable lyrics and other small album details to pick up on. Join me along this journey through time with some headphones on and I hope you will not be disappointed. 

 

Pink Floyd is: 

David Gilmour –  Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Synthesisers

Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Synthesisers

Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Richard Wright – Keyboards, Piano, Organ, Synthesisers, Vocals

 

 1. “In the Flesh?”

“So ya, thought ya, might like to go to the show”

The Wall has a few of what I like to call “themes” when it comes to the music. This first song opener is one of those themes that you will hear repeat itself a number of time during the album and each time just a bit different than before. The very beginning is a really low volume piece of music playing that you can really hear with headphones on. This small piece of music actually ends up closing out the whole album so if you had it on repeat you’d remember hearing it before. You’ll also notice that this song title appears twice as song #1 and song #21. But, you’ll hear that these are two different songs with the same “theme” but what I really like is that they added the “?” At the end of the first version. It kind of makes you think about how #1 and #21 relate to each other in the long run. 

This song features Roger Waters on vocals and lots of great drums by Nick Mason, great organ by Richard Wright and of course, guitar by David Gilmour. It really sets up the whole album and ends with a crazy plane crash… 

 

2. “The Thin Ice”

“If you should go skating on the thin ice of modern life…”

This song brings on the more smooth sounding vocals of David Gilmour and then turns to the more cutting vocals of Roger Waters. Throughout The Wall you’ll find that these two great vocalists interchange their vocal timbre at just the perfect time and you maybe wouldn’t even notice that it is another lead singer. You’ll hear the “theme” of “In The Flesh?” Repeated again at the end of this short song bringing home a certainly now familiar melody. 

This track starts to show off the awesome guitar work of David Gilmour. I will say that his guitar playing throughout this album gets better and better. David Gilmour knows how to work his tone and his phrasing to make each track incredible. 

 

3. “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1”

“A snapshot in the family album. Daddy what else did you leave for me?”

This the first of three different versions of the next “theme” of the album. This is a great beginning of hearing and appreciating how David Gilmour and Rogers Waters could work well together, at least musically. The delayed guitar line in this is first part of the “Another Brick in the Wall” series is so incredible to listen to with headphones and hear all of the layers of guitars all working together. The bass of Roger Waters adds a lot to this musical masterpiece. It’s so simple yet so complicated at the same time. You’ll also hear a bunch of the small audio subtleties in the background that Roger Waters and producer, Bob Ezrin added to the album. No drums on this track which will totally differentiate it from Pt. 2!

 

4. “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”

“… when they got home at night their fat and psychopathic wives would trash them within inches of their lives.” 

This is a short song that that sets up “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” from “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1”. It’s a very syncopated song with some great delayed guitar at the beginning leading into a helicopter flying over and then into some great drum hits with some cool delayed bass parts. This is one of Roger Waters’ crazy, what I like to call, “bridge songs” on this album that keeps the musical themes moving from one to the other. This song ends with a great climax that brings you into one of the most well-known songs on the album. 

 

5. “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” 

“…how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

This was the first “single” off of the album and what I remember so well from 1979. The song was a huge hit on the radio and most everybody knows The Wall from this particular track. This song features one of the most iconic guitar solos from David Gilmour which is so simple and so complicated at the same time. The one and a half step bends are such a signature style of his along with this rather clean and slightly overdriven guitar sound. This solo had me hooked on wanting to pick up learning the guitar. 

 

 

6. “Mother”

“Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls?”

Another possible single off of The Wall, Mother takes it down a bit with some acoustic guitar and vocals in the verses by Roger Waters followed by a chorus sung by David Gilmour again showcasing how their different vocal sounds blend together in one song seamlessly. Some cool keyboard playing in the background from Richard Wright on this one. The solo section is one of the best on the album with Nick Mason coming in on the drums and the eloquent phrasing of David Gilmour. Not a hard solo to play but as tasteful as it gets. The whole band continues until the final acoustic guitar is heard and Roger Water’s asks the question, “Mother did it need to be so high?”. 

 

 

7. “Goodbye Blue Sky”

“Look mummy, there’s an airplane up in the sky.”. 

 What an incredible guitar piece this is with some dark and sinister sounding keyboards in there. It goes from bright and cheery to really dark and scary and back again. This is another of those songs that connects parts of the album together. The droning D string is something you hear throughout the whole album. A fun and challenging guitar part for sure! 

 

8. “Empty Spaces”

“…how should I complete the wall?” 

Another short song to lead into something bigger, “Empty Spaces” has a hint of the “theme” from the beginning of the album and then leads into some crazy sounding keys and Roger Waters’ very dark vocals leading into the next song. I consider this an intro to “Young Lust” but it stands on its own on the album. 

 

9. “Young Lust”

“Take this rock and roll refugee. Ooo, babe, set me free!”

Right from “Empty Spaces” into this track you’ll get a more straight ahead rock song and David Gilmour on vocals. But, not his normal buttery sounding vocals but a more raspy rock sounding vocal. Then, of course, an incredible guitar solo that fits the song perfectly but is different than his other solos on the album. This, to me, is the most straightforward rock song on the whole album. I love the ending phone operator when she says, “There must be someone else there besides your wife sir to answer.” 

 

 

10. “One of My Turns”

“Are all these your guitars?” 

This is where the album gets weird. But, what a great tune! Another brain child from Roger Waters where the album’s character simply goes crazy. I love his vocals when the whole band comes in. He is singing in such a strained manner that it really fits the lyrics… “Would you like to learn to fly? Would ya? Would you like to see me try?” Then some great layered guitars by David Gilmour and cool drum fills from Nick Mason. Then it ends and leads you into another odd one… 

 

11. “Don’t Leave Me Now”

“I need you, babe. To put through the shredder in front of my friends, oooo babe.” 

Very eerie song. The music, lyrics, vocal melodies, bass notes… all working together to bring you into a really dark space. Roger Waters continues on with the overly strained vocal style found in “One of My Turns”. A cool base line with funky delayed guitar leads you into what I would consider a chorus of the song with the whole band bringing this musical piece to a heightened conclusion. Then it ends with the TV channels changing and someone smashing the TV. 

 

12. “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3”

“I don’t need no drugs to calm me.” 

Going back to the previous two versions of this song, this is a short ending to that theme of the album. It has a continuation of the lyrics from earlier and the chorus is the same but a bit darker than Pt. 2. 

 

13. “Goodbye Cruel World”

“Goodbye all you people. There’s nothing you can say to make me change my mind. Goodbye.” 

This track actually ends the second side of the double album and has a great and simple bass line by Roger Waters. This song sums up the first half of The Wall real well. Take a break here and then let’s get into the second half! 

 

14. “Hey You”

“…and the worms ate into his brain.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album and a great way to start the second half of The Wall. The opening guitar and keyboards are so simple but I really love the fretless bass line that Roger Waters plays in this track. The second verse’s doubled vocals are a great way to build the whole melody. Then the song builds and kicks in with our original “theme”  which is so familiar by now. The guitar line turns into a solo but it still stays true to the “theme”. Then you have Roger Waters taking over the vocals again bringing in a totally different feel to the song. This whole album does this so many times and I can assume that was a direction of producer, Bob Ezrin. The song ends with Roger Waters’ strained vocals singing, “United we stand, divided we fall.” With a really well placed echo that fades out. 

 

15. “Is There Anybody Out There”

This short track starts rather dark and sinister sounding but then breaks into a really great classical guitar piece that builds with the keyboards and serves as simply a great piece of music to enjoy. 

 

16. “ Nobody Home” 

“I’ve got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to chose from.” 

I love the Richard Wright piano playing in this song. The Roger Waters’ vocals with the echo after each line is a great production touch. We start hearing some of the orchestration on the album in this song. I believe that Michael Kamen had a lot to do with this from what I’ve read. One of the subtleties of this song is Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show on the TV in the background saying, “Surprise, surprise, surprise”. Just love that sound bite and another example of what makes this album perfect in my opinion. 

 

17. “Vera”

“Vera, Vera, what has become of you?” 

When this came out in 1979 I lived two doors away from a girl named Vera Lynn. She thought that this song on The Wall was written for her and it was a popular topic of conversation at school! I love the classical guitar is great, the bass lines are great and the keys in this song are incredible. The orchestration is amazing and it is such a simple and short song. 

 

18. “Bring the Boys Back Home”

“Time to go.” 

Now we start getting into the war memories section of The Wall. This is another connecting song and another brain child of Roger Waters. This song is actually what I feel is a part of a larger song starting with “Is There Anybody Out There?”… and ending with the line, “Is there anybody out there?” The last four songs could actually be one big song. The over-the-top orchestration and the crazy strained vocals of Waters almost make you want this song to end. And, it does into one of the greatest songs ever written! 

 

19. “Comfortably Numb”

“Okay, it’s just a little pin prick…”

I want to say that I feel this is one of the greatest songs ever written. When I was a senior in high school 7 years after this album was released “Comfortably Numb” was actually a choice to vote on for my senior prom song. I, of course, did vote for it but it didn’t win, unfortunately. I don’t even remember what song did win. But, I was happy to have that choice! This song features Roger Waters on lead vocals for the verses and David Gilmour on the choruses. Like other songs on The Wall this technique proved perfect for this song. I do believe that this song is the reason why I play the guitar today! It features two distinct David Gilmour guitar solos. The first is an appetizer for the second one. I got to see Pink Floyd on the Pulse Tour at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida in 1995. When the huge disco ball was raised up in the middle of the stadium just before the final guitar solo I was wondering what was about to happen. Then as the extra measure of four that builds into that solo and brings the tension up, all of the spot lights in the stadium hit that disco ball on the first note and sent stars circling the whole stadium. That was the single greatest concert moment I’ve ever experienced!  I will say that the second solo of “Comfortably Numb” is the greatest guitar solo ever written. 

 

 

20. “The Show Must Go On” 

“Where has the feeling gone? Will I remember this song?”

What’s interesting about this track is the “do-wop” vocal style that is incorporated. Then is sort of has a Beatles sounding part and into an oddly times part that David Gilmour sings. It’s only a minute and a half long but there is a lot to this little song. 

 

21. “In the Flesh”

“Who let all this riff-raff into the room?” 

This is the same song theme as the opening song, “In the Flesh?” With the “?” At the end of the title. It’s interesting to see how this song was brought back later in the album with a different feel to it. I will say that this song probably couldn’t be written today since it isn’t exactly politically correct. But, it is part of history and part of this classic album. The main musical theme to the whole album is brought back into a really large crescendo. 

 

22. “Run Like Hell”

“If they catch you in the back seat trying to pick her locks, they’re gonna send you back to Mother in a cardboard box!”

Okay… this track has the greatest delayed guitar and the best chord progression ever! I remember seeing a band in New Jersey called Edgar Cayce (part of the band Prophet) play this song as part of a Pink Floyd medley with Ken Dubman doing all of the guitar parts live and it was incredible. “Run Like Hell” is just a great song and it really features a great keyboard solo section by Richard Write. If you play the guitar and you don’t know how to play the chord progression to this track do yourself a favor and learn it. It is a great lesson on inverted chords. 

 

 

23. “Waiting for the Worms” 

“Waiting to smash in their window and kick in their doors…”

Another brain child of Roger Waters, this is a very disjointed and odd track and it goes back to the original “theme” from “In the Flesh” at different points. It also features some very theatrical builds that lead into the next song. David Gilmour also offers up some of the contrast vocals against Waters’ megaphone sounding vocals. Did I say this song was disjointed? 

 

24. “Stop” 

“Have I been guilty all this time?” 

As a 31 second masterpiece of Roger Waters’ vocals and some interesting dissonant sounding Richard Wright piano playing. This short track leads you into the big dramatic conclusion to the whole album. 

 

25. “The Trial”

“They must have taken my marbles away.” 

This is the “Broadway Show” part of the album for me. It is a lot of layers of Roger Waters’ characters and voices. Lots of orchestration and drama to this track. I do love the piano in it as it builds. Then in the middle it erupts into the original “theme” to the album with the awesome guitar riff of, “In the Flesh?”. The they “tear down the wall” which gets really intense and in concert that’s when the whole wall comes down! 

 

26. “Outside the Wall” 

“The bleeding hearts of the artists make their stand.” 

Remember at the beginning of all of this I mentioned a piece of music that would come back again. This is it. Spoken word by Roger Waters brings this epic album to conclusion. 

 

Track Listing: 

 

Side One Disc One

1.) In the Flesh? 

2.) The Thin Ice

3.) Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1

4.) The Happiest Days of Our Lives

5.) Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2

6.) Mother

 

Side Two Disc One

1.) Goodbye Blue Sky

2.) Empty Spaces

3.) Young Lust

4.) One of My Turns

5.) Don’t Leave Me Know

6.) Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3

7.) Goodbye Cruel World

 

Side One Disc Two

1.) Hey You

2.) Is There Anybody Out There?

3.) Nobody Home

4.) Vera

5.) Bring the Boys Back Home

6.) Comfortably Numb

 

Side Two Disc Two

1.) The Show Must Go On

2.) In The Flesh

3.) Run Like Hell

5.) Waiting for the Worms

6.) Stop

7.) The Trial

8.) Outside the Wall

9.) In the Flesh

 

Why do I love this album so much? Well, it is that it is unpredictable and so much attention to detail has been paid to how it was written and produced. You could not make this album today. There would have been too many barriers and I don’t believe there is this level of creativity to be this original in this day and age. I hope I am wrong about that. I read the Wikipedia article about how this masterpiece came to be, or almost never came to be. I’m surprised it happened at all. But, I am eternally grateful that it did. I am eternally grateful that this album gave me one of the greatest gifts ever… my love for music. 

So, sit back… put some headphones on and simply get lost in The Wall. Cheers! 

 

I rate this album 10/10! It is just perfect! 

 

 

 

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Scott Diussa is a photographer, guitarist, bassist, videographer and audio engineer based in the Nashville, Tennessee area. Scott has been photographing concerts since 1994 and has a degree in commercial photography. You can follow Scott on Instagram at @sdiussa. www.scottdiussa.com

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