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Roger Waters wrote this song about his views on formal education, which were framed during his time at the Cambridgeshire School for Boys. He hated his grammar school teachers and felt they were more interested in keeping the kids quiet than teaching them. The wall refers to the wall Waters built around himself because he wasn't in touch with reality. The bricks in the wall were the events in his life which propelled him to build this proverbial wall around him, and his school teacher was another brick in the wall.
Waters told Mojo, December 2009, that the song is meant to be satirical. He explained: "You couldn't find anybody in the world more pro-education than me. But the education I went through in boys' grammar school in the '50s was very controlling and demanded rebellion. The teachers were weak and therefore easy targets. The song is meant to be a rebellion against errant government, against people who have power over you, who are wrong. Then it absolutely demanded that you rebel against that."
The chorus came from a school in Islington, England, and was chosen because it was close to the studio. It was made up of 23 kids between the ages of 13 and 15. They were overdubbed 12 times, making it sound like there were many more kids.
The addition of the choir convinced Waters that the song would come together. He told Rolling Stone: "It suddenly made it sort of great."
Pink Floyd's producer, Bob Ezrin, had the idea for the chorus. He used a choir of kids when he produced Alice Cooper's "School's Out" in 1972. Ezrin liked to use children's voices on songs about school.
There was some controversy when it was revealed that the chorus was not paid. It also didn't sit well with teachers that kids were singing an anti-school song. The chorus was given recording time in the studio in exchange for their contribution; the school received 1000 pounds and a platinum record.
The Disco beat was suggested by their producer, Bob Ezrin, who was a fan of the group Chic. This was completely unexpected from Pink Floyd, who specialized in making records you were supposed to listen to, not dance to. He got the idea for the beat when he was in New York and heard something Nile Rodgers was doing.
Pink Floyd rarely released singles that were also on an album. They felt their songs were best appreciated in the context of an album, where the songs and the artwork came together to form a theme. Producer Bob Ezrin convinced them that this could stand on it's own and would not hurt album sales, and when the band relented and released it as a single, it became their only #1 hit. Two more songs were subsequently released as singles from the album: "Run Like Hell
" and "Comfortably Numb
The concept of the album was to explore the "walls" people put up to protect themselves. Any time something bad happens, we withdraw further, putting up "another brick in the wall."
The Wall was one of 2 ideas Waters brought to the band when they got together to record in 1978. His other idea was The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, which he ended up recording as a solo album.
Water's original demo for this was just him singing over an acoustic guitar, and he saw it as a short interstitial piece for the album. He explained in Mojo magazine: "It was only going to be one verse, a guitar solo and out. Then the late Nick Griffths, the engineer at Britannia Row, recorded the school kids, at my request. He did it brilliantly. It wasn't until I heard the 24-track tape he sent while we were working at Producer's Workshop in Los Angeles that I went, 'Wow, this now a single.' Talk about shivers down the spine."
When they first recorded this song, it was one verse and one chorus, and lasted 1:20. Producer Bob Ezrin wanted it longer, but the band refused. While they were gone, Ezrin made it longer by inserting the kids as the second verse, adding some drum fills, and copying the first chorus to the end. He played it for Waters, who liked what he heard.
This is often paired with "Happiest Days of Our Lives" when played on radio stations, and it follows "Happiest" on the album. "Happiest Days of Our Lives" depicts how childhood was great and there was nothing to worry about, until the teachers came along and tried to oppress and suppress the children. Waters then describes that the teachers must have it rough in their own homes, and take out their frustration on the students. (thanks, Patrick - Conyers, GA)
To make this album, they came up with the concept of the character "Pink." Bob Ezrin wrote a script, and they worked the songs around the character. The story was made into the movie The Wall, starring Bob Geldof as "Pink." Many people believe you have to be stoned to enjoy the film.
For the stage show, a giant wall was erected in front of the band using hidden hydraulic lifts as they played. It measured 160x35ft when completed, and about halfway through the show, the bricks were gradually knocked down to reveal the band.
Waters sang lead. When he left Pink Floyd and the band toured without him, Gilmour sang it.
The original idea for the concept of the actual Wall they wanted to create came from a problem Roger Waters was having during their concerts. When he started thinking about the show, he wanted to isolate himself from the public because he couldn't stand all the yelling and shouting. "The Wall" was not just a symbol and a concept, but a way of separating the band from their audience. (thanks, raul - Buenos Aires, Argentina)
The line "We don't need no education" is grammatically incorrect. It's a double negative and really means "We need education." This could be a commentary on the quality of the schools.
On July 21, 1990, Waters staged a production of The Wall in Berlin to celebrate the destruction of The Berlin Wall.
The 1998 movie The Faculty has a version of this song remixed by Class Of '99. (thanks, Riley - Elmhurst, IL)
In England, this was released in November 1979 and became the last UK #1 of the '70s. (thanks, Alan - Blackpool, Lancs, England)
Part 1 of this song is often overlooked. It is saying that because Pink's father went off and died in WWII, he built The Wall to protect him from other people. In the movie you see him at the playground with the other kids and their fathers, then one of the kids leaves with his father and Pink tries to touch the father's hand. The father pushes him away quite aggressively then leaves. (thanks, Andres - Santa Rosa, CA)
In 2004, Peter Rowan, a Scottish musician who runs a royalties firm, started tracking down the kids who sang in the chorus, who were by then in their 30s. Under a 1996 copyright law, they were entitled to a small amount of money for participating on the record. Rowan was no so much interested in the money as in getting the chorus together for a reunion.
On July 7, 2007, Roger Waters performed this as the Live Earth concert at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Live Earth was organized to raise awareness of global warming, and the slogan for the event was "Save Our Selves" (S.O.S.). Waters poked fun at Pink Floyd and the event by flying a giant inflatable big overhead, which was a classic Pink Floyd stage prop, except this one was emblazoned wit the words "Save Our Sausages." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Roger Waters did the Scottish voices on the track. He told Mojo magazine December 2009 laughing, "I can do mad Scotsman and high court judges."
The teacher character in this song shows up again in Pink Floyd's next album, The Final Cut
(1983), notably in the song "The Hero's Return
." He is based on the many men who returned from war and entered the teaching profession, as they had no other opportunities.