The Who's Tommy pioneered the "rock opera." Pink Floyd perfected it with The Wall.
Like Tommy, The Wall is a sprawling two-album work. Running more than 80 minutes, The Wall covers a lot of musical ground – ballads, pseudo-opera, rock, and even dabbles in disco. The Wall is Pink Floyd's, or at least Roger Waters', magnum opus.
Since The Wall came out when I was nine years old, it's hard to remember a world before it existed. It's just always been part of the classic rock canon, right? Even though it was ever-present on the radio, at least snippets of it, it wasn't until I was well into high school that I got a copy of the full album. And then I listened to The Wall over and over again.
The Wall is an ideal album for playing repeatedly. There's a lot going on here, from the drama of the story of Pink to the sheer musical and technical genius on display throughout the album. With 26 songs on The Wall, I won't attempt to pick through them all. But here are a few highlights…
Naturally, my introduction to The Wall came from "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)." As an adolescent, I really only grokked the rebellious overtones. But Waters wasn't really writing about some kind of "kids don't need education" stance, he's attacking the demons of his childhood. Note that the story behind this song, how the final product came about, is pretty interesting in its own right. It wasn't until recently I realized the common thread between this one and Alice Cooper's "School's Out."
It took me longer than I'd care to admit that when Waters sings about his "favorite axe" in "One of My Turns," he's referring to a guitar and not… an axe. Well, c'mon! He sounds positively maniacal here. As a teen I totally pictured someone trashing a hotel room with an axe.
In an album replete with stellar guitar work, "Comfortably Numb" stands at the top of the heap. The guitar solo in this cut is legendary. If you're not moved to air guitar this, even a little bit, man… I don't know.
While David Gilmour's crunchy, electric solos are well known, he can also elicit some damn fine music from an acoustic. Case in point, the acoustic piece on "Is There Anybody Out There?" This is another reason that The Wall remains one of my standout records of all time, more than any other Pink Floyd album. There are many, many sections of The Wall that make me lose my breath a little and just think "fuck, that's just incredible."
The skittering guitar and throbbing bass on the intro for "Run Like Hell" make me sad. Sad, that is, because there's not enough. I would have loved another minute or ten of those sounds. The entire song, of course, is great.
If you appreciate any of the songs on The Wall but haven't given the entire album a listen, you really should sit down and give the entire album its due. The effect of the album is much greater than a song or two on the radio. It's impressive how the mood shifts throughout the album. For bonus points you can watch the movie, which is a bit flawed but certainly a better interpretation than the movie for Tommy.
These days, I listen to Pink Floyd less, but only because my music collection is far larger – and because I keep searching for something that will give me the same rush as The Wall did when it was new. Music is a Hell of a drug.