The Wall by Pink Floyd needs no real introduction. The 1979 concept album by the British prog titans can be viewed as their last great work and is considered by many to be their magnum opus. It tells the tale of a burnt-out rock star who turns his back on organised society and civilisation to become a recluse.
This theme of isolation is explored through the imposing structure of the titular wall, making the record one of the most complex that a rock band has ever produced. The songs combine to create a storyline in the protagonist, Pink, and his life journey. The Wall is a total reflection of Roger Waters’ vision of societal strife and the proliferation of neoliberalism, and 43 years later, the rock opera remains as gripping and as pertinent as it was back then, leaving us with my questions about the nature of the society we inhabit.
However, it isn’t just the musical prowess that makes The Wall so fabled. Behind the band’s own iron curtain, things were less than peachy, and it would prove to be a devastatingly strenuous journey that the band never recovered from. All the personal and creative problems that had been simmering under the surface for the past nine years were brought to the fore in the making of the album. It set the wheels in motion for the next chapter of their career, and in many ways, would spell the end of Pink Floyd. In 1983, Waters left the group permanently, in one of the most bitter departures in music history.
It was such a miserable time that even Alan Parker, the director of Pink Floyd – The Wall, the famed 1982 psychological drama of the same name, found the tension palpable. Added to this, he had to deal with two notoriously unwavering artists in their dedication to their artistic vision, Roger Waters and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.
Parker told Louder: “On first meeting it was obvious that Roger wasn’t the typical zonked-out rock star, as we sat in his kitchen talking over the history of the piece and he demonstrated the evolution of the work with snippets of original demo tapes he’d made alone locked behind the wall of his previous house in the country. These were raw and angry – Roger’s primal scream, which to this day remains at the heart of the piece.”
It is well-known that Parker and Waters clashed on set. Parker labelled Waters as “autocratic” and said that he exercised “control over the entire proceedings”. Although the pair clashed, Parker was proud of the film and felt that it stood “the test of time”. However, one thing is clear. Waters made a lasting impression on him. The director maintained: “You [cannot] escape Roger’s… black heart at the centre of the original work.”
On the raw demos that Waters showed Parker, you can hear his “black heart” beating loud and clear, and the themes of the album are brought into a chilling focus. There’s a real frost to the songs, reflecting the bleak period the band and wider society were enduring. The tracks also provide interesting foils to the exquisite cuts that made it onto the final product. His vocals are indeed primal, and at points, they send a shiver down the spine. ‘Vera’ is particularly affecting.
Listen to a selection of Waters’ bleak demos for The Wall below.