The majesty of Pink Floyd's The Wall
It's no surprise to me that Pink Floyd's the Wall is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. 23 million copies to be exact, and it spent nearly four months at #1 when it came out in 1979.
Yes, it's a very dark album that was born of tremendous pain, but for many generations, it's an album we felt deeply. It's easy to feel isolated and alienated from the world when you're young, and for a lot of people, myself included, we could turn to The Wall for solace.
The Wall was such a personal project for Roger Waters, it almost became a solo album, but it was producer Bob Ezrin who worked very hard to make it a group effort. Ezrin also produced most of Alice Cooper's 70's albums including Love It To Death, and Welcome to My Nightmare, as well as Kiss's '76 classic Destroyer. (Ezrin also co-wrote the Kiss classics Detroit Rock City, and Beth.)
One of my favorite experiences as a young journalist was talking to Ezrin about his career, and I could have listened to his stories about The Wall for days. Here's an excerpt from our talk, in Bob's own words:
"The Wall was a concept Roger first talked to me about in '76 or '77 when they were going through North America on the Animals tour. We were on our way to a show, and he was saying, 'You know, I hate them,' meaning the audience. 'I want to spit on them. I want to piss on them. I feel like there's such a separation between me and them, I feel like I should build this wall between us. In fact, I'm going to do this show where I play on the other side of a wall.' Then I got the call asking if I'd like to work on it.
"I went to Roger Waters' place in England, and he played me the original demo for The Wall which was like a 90 minute long song. Started, just kept going, but at that time, it didn't really have any sort of commercial potential. In fact, it wasn't even really organize-able in its form, but it was the genesis of a great idea.
"It became quite apparent that there were some holes in the storyline, some shortcomings in the concept, certainly some musical holes in that we had no Gilmour at this point. Roger really wanted it to be his baby, his project, his thing.
"David Gilmour and I immediately hit it off. I lobbied for Gilmour to be more involved and got more of his stuff in there, plus I'm trying to make Roger's stuff more musical. I really lobbied to fill holes in the structure with Gilmour material because my feeling was we had a lot of Roger's angst and intellect at that point, what we were really missing was the Gilmour influence and heart.
"I knew 'Another Brick in the Wall Part Two' was a hit the first time I heard it. At first, there were no kids on it. It was one verse, one chorus and out. I said to the band, 'That's too short, we need it as a single.' Roger didn't want any singles. 'It's a smash and we have to have it. We need two verses and two choruses,' and they said 'Nope.' I copied it, and if you listen, it's the same verse and chorus twice.
"We went to the Arts High School around the corner of the studio, and recorded these kids in the stairwells. Having done 'School's Out' with Alice Cooper, I knew the effect of kids, particularly in anything that has to do with school! I played it for Roger as a surprise, the grin on his face was unbelievable. From that point on, he not only got it, but I think he probably believed it was his idea in the first place (laughs)!
"The helicopter on the album was a real helicopter that we recorded out at Edwards Air Force Base. We put a couple of pzm mics out on the tarmac, and got some seriously good stereo! We didn't do anything by half measure, and I loved that about Roger. He never opted for the easy way, or rather, you'd be surprised because he'd go for easy things on some of the stuff that other musicians would drive themselves crazy over, like a harmony part. He'd sing it, 'Close enough! Great! Next!' But, if you wanted a sound effect, you went for the real thing. If you wanted the sound of English school kids, you went to an English school.
"The Wall was the hardest album I've ever done from the point of view of just sheer work and bulk. It was a very difficult job, but it was thrilling because it was such a pure vision, and it worked. When I finally got all four sides of the album done and I could play them 1,2,3,4 in order, I broke down and cried because it was such a release. So many months in construction, pounding away, fighting with things, bending, adapting, and going without to get that final product."