On their best album for Columbia, Pink Floyd give George Orwell a Rock ‘n’ Roll makeover
The dark side of Dark Side, Pink Floyd’s Animals, turned out to be as prescient in its content as it was an easy to spot red flag about the band’s ultimate future.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Bassist and main songwriter Roger Waters’ disaffection had already shown itself. As much as 1975’s Wish You Were Here is remembered as an album about the loss of the group’s first leader Syd Barrett from the band and their lives (due to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Wish You Were Here”), it was also about Waters’ growing distaste for the music business. While that distaste took a sardonic turn in “Have a Cigar” (“And by the way, which one’s Pink?”), it became more disquieting in “Welcome to the Machine,” in which its made clear that the character being wooed is just a disposable cog.
As time to record Animals approached, Waters cast his eye farther out, as he looked at machines beyond the music business one that employed him. He had a head start, as the band didn’t go into the sessions cold.
Two of Animals’ three core tracks (which collectively made up 93 percent of its runtime) dated back to the 1974-75 shows of the Dark Side tour, when they also unveiled “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
“Sheep”, originally titled “Raving and Drooling”, appeared in the setlists first.
AUDIO: Pink Floyd “Raving & Drooling” Live at Wembley 1974
Listening to a 1974 performance of it from Wembley, the once-bootlegged and now best-available version, it sounds not dissimilar from the eventual studio version that would arrive a little over two years later, although its outro is two-thirds shorter, turning the ending anti-climatic.
“Dogs,” which went by “You Gotta Be Crazy” followed. At Wembley, in a different key than where it would wind up, the song leans more towards the folkier side of space rock, with the song being played more quickly than it was on Animals.
During the sessions, Waters decided Animals should be a concept album, with George Orwell’s Animal Farm providing loose inspiration with its other animals standing in for humans idea. The spark coming from rising unrest in England.
But whereas Orwell used the farm and its residents as a metaphor to criticize the oppression of Stalinism, Waters inverted it to look critically at unfettered capitalism and the growing right-wing in Britain — particularly Margaret Thatcher, who was three years way from being elected prime minister — and self-appointed morality crusader Mary Whitehouse.
“Sheep” and “Dogs” had already been recorded, but were redone with changed lyrics to better fit the concept.
“Dogs”, the first of the three extended pieces, is pretty much a song about yuppies before the term was coined — about accumulating wealth and status, no matter who you step on to get it.
Gilmour sings of those stepping eagerly into the machine — “And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight/You got to strike when the moment is right without thinking/And after a while, you can work on points for style/Like the club tie, and the firm handshake/A certain look in the eye and an easy smile/You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to/So that when they turn their backs on you/You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.”
VIDEO: Pink Floyd “Dogs” (Animal Farm edit)
All the go-go, corporate ladder climbing only goes so far, the awareness creeps in during the third verse, in which its harder to keep up the pace, and the narrator sees becoming an old man and dying of cancer.
By the song’s end, there’s no way to deliver the firm handshake and easy smile, the ever-disposable go-get-’em management cog has served his masters well and winds up dead, “ground down by the stone.” The willing participant in harming others has met their own sad fate.
“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” moves up the ladder to the controlling forces (and those that wish to be) — those at the top of the class system.
Thatcher and Whitehouse are the most obvious targets, with Whitehouse specifically named in the third verse.
If the second verse is about Thatcher, who’d begun leading the Conservative Party in 1975, it would make sense. Waters moves from the sarcastic anger of the first verse into real vitriol — singing of a “bus stop rat bag” and “fucked up old hag” who radiates “cold shafts of broken glass.”
Whitehouse was an anti-equality crusader, who went beyond admirably seeking to stop pedophilia and child porn to attacking things like Dr. Who, the Gay News and basically anything between consenting adults that didn’t fit her vision of state-enforced Christianity. In a retrospective horrific irony, her organization, the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, gave an award for “wholesome family entertainment” to Jimmy Savile, who’d later be exposed as a serial sexual predator of girls as young as eight.
VIDEO: John Oliver on Jimmy Savile
The year they gave him the award? 1977 — the same year Animals was released.
Waters has as little use for Whitehouse’s desire to control consenting adults — snarling the lines, “You’re tryin’ to keep our feelings off the street/You’re nearly a real treat/All tight lips and cold feet.”
“Sheep” begins with those who are the targets of the dogs and pigs still in complacency before realizing that this is their reality, that they aren’t dreaming it.
Spoken through vocoder, Waters turns one of the most well-known Bible verses — Psalm 23 — from being about depending on God to the oppressed taking matters into their own hands:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by
With bright knives He releaseth my soul
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places
He converteth me to lamb cutlets
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger
When cometh the day we lowly ones
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate
Lo, we shall rise up
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water”
With that, the sheep rise and take control, the oppressors paying the price — “Wave upon wave of demented avengers/March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream.”The sheep are on their way to becoming the new dogs, with threat of “get out of the road if you want to grow old” going into Gilmour’s joyous-sounding outro, intentionally at odds with the song’s dark lyrical conclusion.
For all of the dark rage, Waters doesn’t let things become completely subsumed by nihilism, thanks to “Pigs on a Wing.” The song was broken up into two halves, with the halves bracketing the album.
It was a rarity in the band’s catalogue — a love song for Waters’ new wife Carolyne, who he’d married in 1976. Placed in Animals, it’s about finding love and comfort with someone else who has their back in a world where others might only have their back long enough to plunge a knife into it.
For all of Waters’ taking increased control, Animals is also one of Gilmour’s better showcases, especially in the fretless bass grooves early giving way to later fiery lead guitar soloing in “Pigs (Three Different Ones). Then the practically spit-out power chords earlier in “Sheep” before that aforementioned outro.
Mason and Waters are still a tight rhythm section and even if Wright was no longer involved as a writer, his keyboards provide the usual capable atmosphere in the album’s more languid sections that set the table for the explosive moments. Indeed, one of the albums strengths is in its construction, as passages set the tone, creating tension, allowing for release (even if it’s not happy release). For their length, there’s little wasted, from the music to the effects.
And in fairness to Waters, neither of the other two writers were bringing much material in at the time. Gilmour was understandably focused more on being a new father while Wright, less assertive than Gilmour in presenting material, was additionally dealing with problems in his marriage.
Gilmour’s sole credit would be on “Dogs”, which he wrote the bulk of the music for.
Coming out as it did during the punk explosion in England, the album wasn’t universally loved upon its release. Although given John Lydon’s later political statements, it’s easy to wonder if his doctored “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt on the Sex Pistols tour was less about anger at corporate rock bands that had the budget to take three days to shoot a 30′ by 20′ inflatable pig over Battersea Station (complete with a sniper if it needed to be shot down) and more about anger that Pink Floyd had been critical of Thatcher and Whitehouse.
It wasn’t just the punks. Rolling Stone’s Frank Ross seemed less than pleased with it — as adjectives like “brittle”, “bitter” and “self-pitying” appear — his objection being that it wasn’t somehow Happy Good Times Pink Floyd (or at least Dark Side of the Moon 2), concluding that the band had come down with a thud.
The audience disagreed as the album was another commercial success, one that would be followed by the first Pink Floyd tour since before Wish You Were Here came out. Thus, it became a tour in which the band played both albums in their entirety (albeit with the Animals half in different running order).
Waters became increasingly disaffected during the Animals tour. Booked into larger venues in North America, perhaps burnt out and bothered by technical problems with advanced technology that was still new, it culminated for Waters in the tour’s finale in Montreal. A group of rather loud fans, possibly fueled by hours of pre-show drinking, were closer to the front in a packed Olympic Stadium, not a regular music venue.This group had been loud and obnoxious, more noticeable during quieter passages. Some in their ranks, thought they were part of the show, thinking that lighting off fireworks in the crowd would be welcomed by both fans and other attendees.
Rather than having the offending parties thrown out (reports are that security wasn’t exactly adept at crowd control all day), Waters wound up spitting on one of them. That wasn’t exactly the best move, to say the least, but he wasn’t the only angered bad member. Gilmour refused to come out for the encore, which became a blues “jam” with the other three as roadies began taking equipment offstage, ending with Mason alone at his seat banging on the one drum left.
“Very soon after whatever happened that day, I realized I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, and I needed to express the fact that I didn’t feel human, and I wanted to feel human,” Waters told the National Post in 2016.
Waters’ experiences led him to come up with the concept for The Wall, about his own alienation from the audience, as well as how that alienation could go bad and throwing in anti-war and anti-authoritarian sentiment for good measure.
He offered the band the choice to record The Wall or another album he had in mind — The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking (which would go on to be his first solo album in 1984). They wisely chose the former.
By the time the band set about recording The Wall, Wright was the leading target of Waters’ wrath. This led to Waters threatening to take his ball and go home, issuing an ultimatum that he would kill the project if Wright weren’t fired.
Ultimately, Wright would be the only one of the four to avoid losing money on the Wall tour because he was brought back as a hired hand and not responsible for any of the losses those shows incurred. He’d also be welcomed back (although sadly banned by contract from being made a full member again) when Gilmour brought the band back in the ’80s for its final two albums as a proper group.
As for Waters, he stayed long enough for one more Floyd album — 1983’s Final Cut, which was the most de facto Waters solo album of any of them — before deciding he didn’t need to have his ideas filtered through Gilmour and Mason anymore. Of course, apparently thinking he WAS Pink Floyd, he unsuccesfully sued Gilmour and Mason for going on without him in 1986.
In the over 25 years since the band called it a day for good, the three surviving members have gone on to keep the band’s material alive (even if Waters and Gilmour still remain at odds with each other to the point where a new mix of Animals remains on the shelf because a 78-year-old man and a 75-year-old man can’t get along).
The acrimony between the two key players, which has been at varied heat levels over the years, ensured there was never serious talk of a reunion.
It’s been left to the three surviving members to keep the band’s musical legacy going in their own ways — Waters has done more than one Wall tour and performed shows leaning more heavily on his Floyd work than his solo material (which can still be strong when he does it as 2017’s This the Life We Really Want? showed). Gilmour, likewise, has kept a lot of his signature Floyd moments in setlists. Mason returned in 2018 with a new touring project, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, which has since performed (pandemic permitting) a show made up entirely of the group’s mostly pre-classic rock period from the Barrett-led debut album through Meddle.
Animals stands as Pink Floyd’s darkest work and thanks to its viewpoint remaining as relevant, if not moreso in recent years, thanks to everything from the Wall Street collapse to Brexit up to the rise in authoritarian right-wing nationalism across the globe.
It may not be the space rock escape some folks might have wanted, but it belongs in the discussion of the best albums Pink Floyd ever cut.