Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#MySummerJam: ANIMALS by Pink Floyd

His face is blue from holding his breath.
They are that bad.
Pink Floyd is easily the most misunderstood band of the Classic Rock era. They were misunderstood when they were rolling at their peak from 1973 to 1980. Beginning with Dark Side of the Moon, they were largely considered a stoner thing. You dropped a Pink Floyd record onto the turntable and listened with the headphones for all those sound effects going left-to-right-to-left. You laughed at the farting helicopter zipping through your head on “On the Run,” you giggled along with the lunatic in “Brain Damage.” Good times.

Whoa!
For years, it seemed like that one album would define them forever. When Wish You Were Here came out in 1975, it was of momentary interest listening to the thickly muffled sounds of machinery pounding away, but I found the album as a whole the sonic equivalent of watching paint dry. I remember listening to it at a friends’s house on his state-of-the-art stereo, and struggling to keep from passing out. It wasn’t just that famously awful ditchweed we smoked back then. Wish You Were Here needed fewer four-note riffs languishing in ambient synth washes and more farting helicopters. And a roomful of chiming clocks all going off at once. Cash-register noises mixed into a rhythm track. Giggling lunatics.

As a prog-loving, pseudo-intellectual stoner kid, I respected Pink Floyd, but I would never think to own their albums. Nearly everyone else I knew already did and, bless their hearts, they were likely to play them when it was time to “burn one.” (Spark a jay, bowl, etc.)  Come to think of it, maybe the reason I never came to properly hate them was I associated them with getting stoned. That, and the wacky sound effects. They were the band with all those trippy noises and old people muttering in between their music. Only this, and nothing more.

And then, in the Last Summer of My Childhood, 1977, my 15-year-old ears beheld something wondrous. It was pure, hate-you-die rage such as I never heard anywhere else, sung in what might as well have been all-caps:

BIG MA-AAN, PIG MA-AAN — HA-HAAAHHHHH, CHARADE, YOU ARE!

He was describing nearly every male authority figure I knew growing up in South Carolina, and on the same radio station that played Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” ad nauseam the summer before. It was a true mix of genres on the radio in the mid-to-late 1970s, though, when you could hear Blue Oyster Cult back-to-back with Neil Diamond, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise.

The surprise was that this was Pink Floyd. There’s the freaky sound effects, okay, grunting pig noises — but that sinister organ! The seething anger of that echo-boxed guitar! Holy shit, did this guy just call someone, “YOU FUCKED-UP OLD HAG, HA-HAAAHHHHH, CHARADE, YOU ARE!” He just described nearly every female authority figure I knew, using language one did not dare use in front of a woman, no matter how much the evil bitch pissed you off. (These were very different times.) 

This guy is so angry he sounds like Yoda gone full Dark Side three years before we’ll even meet that syntactically challenged Muppet. It’s a good thing its after 10 p.m. and maybe only a few thousand people listen to FM radio in 1977. Its a better thing that Im one of those people. I need to hear this:

Pigs (Three Different Ones)


There is passion here, something Id never heard in Pink Floyd before. You might have heard it in the fade as the bass line runs furiously up and down the fretboard while the guitar screams in rage. Guitarist David Gilmour likely handled all these parts, as he’s credited with the bass on this song, too—and, frankly, Roger Waters, while a decent concept-and-story guy, isn’t known for being a great bass player.

As with most concept albums, it’s best to hear the thing in its entirety, but if time is a factor, I’ve got the tracks broken down after this embed:

Animals by Pink Floyd
Full Album



The album is bracketed by halves of one song Roger Waters supposedly wrote for his then-girlfriend. It’s a theme most of us should relate to, i.e., we live in a world of animals, most of them mean and stupid, and while love doesn’t necessarily conquer all, it damn sure makes the barnyard a more tolerable place.

Pigs on the Wing, Part 1


Next up, listen to an anxious acoustic guitar chugging along like a man fleeing for his life, limping, and running out of breath as “Dogs” fades in. Blame that for this post. As I got deeper and deeper into rooting out bad passages from my novel I kept hearing these chords in my head, along with Rick Wright’s spooky keyboard. No groovy sound effects, at least not until the first part of this album-side-long piece is over. No, just several minutes of weapons-grade tension and fear until the sobbing release. It makes a great musical backdrop for any post-apocalypse you’re reading, and especially if you’re composing and editing one.

I remember being struck by these lyrics on the record sleeve:

      And in the end you’ll pack up, fly down south
      Hide your head in the sand
      Just another sad old man
      All alone and dying of cancer.

It was the first time I ever saw this cruel fact of life mentioned in a song, anywhere, that people die of cancer. If I’ve seen anything like that since then, I don’t remember it.

Dogs


For all the fear and dread and sadness of “Dogs,” it is at least sympathetic. The song that opens side two of the album, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is the hatred one wishes people would learn to cultivate against the real-life pigs making our lives miserable in 2014.

Alas, the revolution that happens in the final verses of “Sheep” shall never come to pass. Still, Gilmour’s guitar fanfare at the coda is a joyous relief after so much fear and rage, and if you need a little poignancy to cut your cynicism with, remember that this album came out in the first year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The long, sloping road to the pens and slaughterhouse that began with Reagan and Thatcher at either end of the pond was years off.

Sheep



Nothing left to do now but take your lover’s hand and skip off into the sunset, always keeping an eye out for the...

Pigs on the Wing, Part 2



Whereas Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here were musically bombastic, when not altogether emotionally removed from their themes of alienation and loss, Pink Floyd’s Animals is where the band grows a real beating heart. A little less than three years later, Pink Floyd would ditch the albatross of Dark Side of the Moon and become forever identified with the double-album epic that is The Wall, but I’ll argue the passions that enliven that album first found their voices with Animals.