"Another Brick in the Wall" is the title of three songs set to variations of the same basic theme, on Pink Floyd's 1979 rock opera, The Wall, subtitled Part 1 (working title "Reminiscing"), Part 2 (working title "Education"), and Part 3 (working title "Drugs"). All parts were written by Pink Floyd's bassist, Roger Waters.
Part 2 is a protest song against rigid schooling in general and boarding schools in the UK in particular. It was also released as a single and provided the band's only number-one hit in the United Kingdom, the United States, West Germany and many other countries. In addition, in the US, along with the tracks, "Run Like Hell", and "Don't Leave Me Now", "Another Brick in the Wall" reached number fifty-seven on the disco chart.
In the UK, Part 2 was Pink Floyd's first single since 1968's "Point Me at the Sky"; the song was also the final number-one single of the 1970s. For Part 2, Pink Floyd received a Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Rock Duo or Group and lost to Bob Seger's "Against the Wind". In addition, Part 2 was number 375 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". The single sold over 4 million copies worldwide.
That single, as well as the album The Wall, were banned in South Africa in 1980 after the song was adopted by supporters of a nationwide school boycott protesting racial inequities in education under the apartheid regime.
Each of the three parts has a similar tune, and lyrical structure (though not lyrics, aside from the "all in all" refrain), and each is louder and more enraged than the one before, rising from the sadness of Part I to the protesting Part II to the furious Part III.
Part 1 of the song is very quiet dynamically and features a long, subdued guitar solo. The vocals are softer and gentler in tone than in Parts 2 and 3, although there is a short, sharp rise in dynamics and tone for a brief period towards the end of the lyrical portion. Sniffing, shouting, wailing, calling, and children can be faintly heard in the background. The song's beginning coincides with the final chord of "The Thin Ice", and the echoing multi-guitar solo (after the lyrics) crossfades into the helicopter and yelling-teacher sounds of "The Happiest Days of Our Lives".
"The Thin Ice" discussed during the previous song breaks when Pink becomes older and learns of the death of his father. Pink is devastated by this reality and begins to build The Wall.
Pink's mother is seen praying in a church after the death of her husband overseas. Pink, however, is, at this point, oblivious of his death, and can be seen playing with a toy aeroplane. The song continues with Pink playing in a public park after his mother leaves him to go shopping. He sees a man who he takes a liking to in the absence of his own father. The man gives Pink a lift onto a ride, and it's clear Pink feels as if this man is his real father. Pink follows the man's son around, copying him, but doesn't understand why the other boy's father isn't paying attention to him. He grabs the man's hand but is shooed away, only to grab the man's hand again. The man pushes Pink away again, and dejectedly he sits on a swing (which is too far off the ground for him to swing himself). He looks over at the other parents swinging their kids, feeling even more alone.
In the album version of The Wall, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" segues from "The Happiest Days of Our Lives". The song has strong drums, a well-known bass line and distinctive guitar parts in the background with a smooth, yet edgy guitar solo. The song also features a choir of schoolchildren singing in the second verse: as the song ends, the sounds of a school yard are heard, along with a Scottish teacher who continues to lord it over the children's lives by shouting "Wrong! Do it again!", and "If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?!", and "You! Yes! You behind the bikesheds! Stand still, laddie!", all of it dissolving into the dull drone of a phone ringing. It trails off into the next song, ending with a deep sigh.
Producer Bob Ezrin had immediately recognised the hit potential of this song, but it took some manoeuvring behind the band's back until "Part II" took its eventual form. Waters originally rejected the idea, saying "Go ahead and waste your time doing silly stuff."
The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it. When we played it with the disco drumbeat I said: "Man, this is a hit! But it's one minute 20. We need two verses and two choruses." And they said, "Well you're not bloody getting them. We don't do singles, so fuck you." So I said, "Okay, fine", and they left. And because of our two [tape recorder] set up, while they weren't around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.
Then the question is what do you do with the second verse, which is the same? And having been the guy who made Alice Cooper's School's Out I've got this thing about kids on record, and it is about kids after all. So while we were in America, we sent [recording engineer] Nick Griffiths to a school near the Floyd studios [in Islington, North London]. I said, "Give me 24 tracks of kids singing this thing. I want Cockney, I want posh, fill 'em up", and I put them on the song. I called Roger into the room, and when the kids came in on the second verse there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record.
Though the school received a lump sum payment of £1000, there was no contractual arrangement for royalties from record sales. Under a 1996 UK copyright law, they became eligible for royalties from broadcasts, and after royalties agent Peter Rowan traced choir members through the website Friends Reunited and other means, they lodged a claim for royalties with the Performing Artists' Media Rights Association in 2004.
The idea for the disco beat came likewise from Ezrin. As David Gilmour explained in 2009:
It wasn't my idea to do disco music, it was Bob's. He said to me, "Go to a couple of clubs and listen to what's happening with disco music," so I forced myself out and listened to loud, four-to-the-bar bass drums and stuff and thought, Gawd, awful! Then we went back and tried to turn one of the [song's] parts into one of those so it would be catchy.
Of the final outcome, Roger Waters has commented:
It was great—exactly the thing I expected from a collaborator.
David Gilmour said:
And it doesn't, in the end, not sound like Pink Floyd.
After being insulted by the teacher, Pink dreams that the kids in his school begin to protest against their abusive teachers. The song talks about how he had a personal wall around him from the rest of the world, and the teachers were just another brick in the wall.
Following "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" Pink starts to daydream during his class. He imagines several students marching in unison to the beat of the song, following a path until they enter a steamy tunnel section to re-emerge as putty-faced clones void of individual distinction and proceed to fall blindly into an oversized meat-grinder. Starting with Gilmour's guitar solo, the children destroy the school building using hammers (foreshadowing the subsequent neo-fascist Nazi-like animated sequence with its marching hammers) and crowbars, creating a bonfire, dragging their teacher out of the burning school kicking and screaming while chanting "We don't need no education." The song ends with Pink rubbing his hand, which the teacher slapped with a ruler in the song previously.
During the song, the teacher's "meat and pudding" lines are folded into the first few lines of the school choir's lines (with the instrumental breaks between shortened by a bar in 2 places), and are performed by the teacher in the film, played by Alex McAvoy.
Prior to the film, the first video for the track, directed by album/concert/film art designer Gerald Scarfe, depicted students running in a playground (Kings Square Gardens, Islington) and the teacher puppet from The Wall concerts was used. The video also mixed in some animated scenes later used in "The Trial" and "Waiting for the Worms". The opening shot, a pan across the London skyline was filmed from the top of Turnpike House in Islington, both St Lukes Church and St Clements Church (the one overlooking the playground) are both clearly visible in the shot. After the media furore surrounding the song, the Islington Green school head teacher Margaret Maden refused permission for the children who sang on the song to appear in the video or on Top of the Pops, although at the time they were told it was because they didn't hold Equity Cards.
Once the film was completed, the actual scenes of "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" and "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" were combined into a new video, which now represents the music video for "Another Brick in the Wall".
When performed as part of the various live shows of The Wall, the teacher is represented by a giant inflatable puppet, based on the figure from Scarfe's animations. This puppet duly becomes the focus of the song's anger and frustration.
This song is louder than the previous two parts, expressing Pink's rage. It is also the shortest part of "Another Brick in the Wall", and cross-fades into "Goodbye Cruel World". On the live version the song gets an extended ending seguing into the instrumental "The Last Few Bricks" which continues its keyboard staccato.
Pink decides to finish this wall as a result of his rage after his wife's betrayal. He states that he has seen "the writing on the wall". He concludes that he no longer needs anything at all, dismissing the people in his life as just "bricks in the wall". The song also contains the line "I don't need no drugs to calm me", possibly foreshadowing what is going to happen in the song "Comfortably Numb", although Waters has stated that "Comfortably Numb" is not about drugs.
In the film, the song is accompanied by a montage of events that contributed to the construction of the wall. This version was also completely re-recorded with a faster tempo.
The song, part number unspecified, won Waters the 1983 British Academy Award for 'Best Original Song' from the movie of The Wall.
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