'Another Brick in the Wall' by Pink Floyd: The making of the protest song and unlikely hit single
8 June 2023, 13:27 | Updated: 15 September 2023, 14:35
Pink Floyd- The Wall – movie trailer
Pink Floyd hadn't released a single in the UK for over a decade when they absorbed some disco influence and hit gold.
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While it's easy to pick out a couple of dozen incredible Pink Floyd songs, the band are best remembered for their run of 1970s concept albums, including the likes of Dark Side of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall.
For reasons we'll get into, they went over a decade without releasing a single in the UK, but when they eventually returned to the 7" format it was definitely worth the long wait.
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Despite its unwieldy title, 'Another Brick in The Wall, Part Two' was an absolutely massive hit for the band.
The Wall album it came from was the last full studio work to feature the Roger Waters–David Gilmour–Nick Mason–Richard Wright lineup. Wright would be temporarily forced from the lineup soon after, while Waters would leave for good in 1985.
The storming single was the final hurrah for this foursome, and had remained one of their very best-known songs. Here we take a look at the classic hit.
Who wrote 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two'?
If you look at the label, 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' was written solely by Roger Waters. "On the demo I made it was just me singing to an acoustic guitar," he later told Guitar World.
That's no surprise, as Waters wrote all the lyrics of The Wall album by himself and the vast majority of its music, sharing co-writing credits with Gilmour on just three of its 26 songs ('Young Lust', 'Comfortably Numb' and 'Run Like Hell') and with producer Bob Ezrin on one ('The Trial').
Rog was Pink Floyd's bassist, occasional singer and de facto leader after Syd Barrett's departure, until his own exit, when guitarist/singer David Gilmour took over the band.
Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two (Official Music Video)
But while the song's solely credited to Waters, there are others who probably deserve a shout at this point.
It was Ezrin who decided to add the dancier elements to the song that made it such a strange (and possibly successful) addition the Floyd back catalogue.
"It wasn't my idea to do disco music, it was Bob's," Gilmour revealed to GW.
"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 'Another Brick in the Wall' parts into one of those so it would be catchy. We did the same exercise on 'Run Like Hell'."
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2/Another Brick In The W...
With that disco beat Ezrin was convinced he had something special. Pink Floyd weren't bothered.
"I said, 'Man, this is a hit! But it's one minute 20. We need two verses and two choruses'," Ezrin said. "And they said, 'Well, you're not bloody getting them. We don’t do singles, so f**k you.'.
The producer took matters into his own hands, duplicating the first verse and chorus and borrowing a drum fill, and – acknowledging his own love of having kids on choirs (Ezrin produced Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' and Lou Reed's 'The Kids' from Berlin) – Ezrin got a gaggle of local schoolkids on board.
"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," Ezrin said.
Waters admitted: "It was great—exactly the thing I expected from a collaborator."
The song is sung by both Waters and Gilmour together, while Roger plays bass and Dave plays guitar.
Nick Mason is on drums, while Richard Wright plays Hammond organ and the Prophet-5 synthesiser.
Who are the children singing on 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two'?
Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)
Even beyond Ezrin's own previous work, pop is filled with kiddy choirs adding a little something. There's the Stockland Green School on Wizzard's 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday', the Henllan Boys Choir on Take That's 'Never Forget'.
As we've already noted, the chorus on 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' was a bit more last minute.
Engineer Nick Griffiths popped down to the local Islington Green School with instructions to record just two or three kids, but he suggested the idea of a whole choir.
Ezrin agreed: "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 viewed it as an interesting sociological thing and also a wonderful opportunity for the kids to work in a live recording studio," the school's head of music Alun Renshaw told the Evening Standard years later.
"We had a week where we practised around the piano at school, then we recorded it at the studios. I sort of mentioned it to the headteacher, but didn't give her a piece of paper with the lyrics on it."
Headmistress Margaret Maden said: "Alun Renshaw was a seriously good if somewhat anarchic music teacher.
"I was only told about it after the event, which didn't please me. But on balance, it was part of a very rich musical education."
Despite that, she banned the 13 and 14-year-olds from appearing on Top Of The Pops or filming a music video.
Only years later, the children, now grown up, decided to seek royalties for their all-important contribution to the record. At the time they received a copy of the single, the album and tickets to a Pink Floyd show.
What is 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' about?
Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall - Live - 1980
A concept album or rock opera (whichever you prefer), The Wall LP as a whole tells the story of a mentally and physically exhausted rockstar called Pink who ends up building a metaphorical (and possibly literal?) wall to cut himself off from society, before he ends up being trapped by the very same.
'Another Brick in the Wall' is actually a three-part song, spread over the album. Parts One and Two are tracks 3 and 5 of the first side of the album (split by 'The Happiest Days of Our Lives'), while Part Three is track 6 on the second side of the album.
Part 1 is all about Pink's father going off to war ("Daddy's flown across the ocean / Leaving just a memory"). Waters' own father was killed at the Battle of Anzio in 1944 when Roger was only five months old, leaving deep scars and inspiring much of his work since, especially 1983's The Final Cut.
Part 3 unpicks Pink's alienation ("I don't need no arms around me / And I don't need no drugs to calm me"). It's Part 2 that's the pick of the bunch though, focusing on England's strict mid-century school system ("We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control / No dark sarcasm in the classroom").
This is illustrated in Alan Parker's 1982 movie version of The Wall, which starred Bob Geldof as Pink, and featured a dizzying mix of live action and animation, narrative and metaphor.
Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2 (The Wall) - 1080p Remastered
During the sequence for 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2' we see a bunch of kids enter a school before being marched through a meat grinder, being converted into blank-faced clones who then run riot.
The London Education Authority wasn't too keen on the song, apparently calling it "scandalous", while Islington Green School and its headmistress were hit by criticism.
"It became a sort of cause celebre and it just felt as though the whole world had crashed in on us, or on me particularly," Maden told the BBC News.
Alun later told The Sydney Morning Herald: "There was a political knee-jerk reaction to a song that had nothing to do with the education system.
"It was one man's reflections on his life and how his schooling was part of that."
"I saw the bigger picture. And the parents saw the bigger picture, because they went out and bought it. Mind you, they would have done that anyway."
When was 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' released, and where did it get in the charts?
While Pink Floyd released the odd single around the world during the 1970s, in the UK their last proper single was 1968's standalone Gilmour/Waters collaboration 'Point Me At The Sky'.
The track was a major flop, and not only did the band neglect to include it on any studio albums or the Relics compilation, they decided to stop releasing singles – in their native UK at least – altogether.
With Ezrin's disco-tinged edit in their back pocket, they decided to give it another go.
'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' was released on November 23, 1979, a week before The Wall album hit shelves. It was a massive, massive success.
Another Brick In The Wall part 2 - Pink Floyd - PULSE - 4K Remastered
The song was the UK Christmas Number 1 in 1979, and sold more than four million copies worldwide. It even reached number 57 on the US disco chart.
After The Wall movie was released, it won Waters the BAFTA for Best Original Song in 1983.
The original single mix of the song added a short instrumental intro and faded out during the guitar solo, while the band's most recent compilations have decided to use the album version, letting it segue in from the adjoining 'The Happiest Days of Our Lives'.
For The Wall film, the song was remixed with extra guitar and the children's chorus was cut down, with the teacher's lines being re-recorded by actor Alex McAvoy.
What happened when Roger Waters played 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' in Berlin?
Pink Floyd obviously played 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' as part of their massive tour of The Wall, and even after Waters's departure, the group played it at almost every live show.
With Waters gone, Gilmour sang with Guy Pratt, with the group shifting the arrangement over the years.
Despite his initial reluctance to play The Wall in full ("Indoors, it made no sense financially; it's too expensive. And, as it's partially an attack on the inherently greedy nature of stadium rock shows, it would be wrong to do it in stadiums), Waters left open the door to a special performance ("I might do it outdoors if they ever take the wall down in Berlin").
So, eight months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that's just what happened, when Waters, his backing band and a slew of guest stars played a remarkable show on July 21, 1990.
Joining him for 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' was one of the biggest popstars of the moment, Cyndi Lauper.
Roger Waters Pink Floyd The Wall Live In Berlin 1990 Another Brick In The Wall Feat Cyndi Lauper
Her vocal chops and mesmerising performance, not to mention the unique surroundings, make it one of the more striking versions of the song you're ever likely to hear.
It didn't hurt that sound was rounded out not just by guitar solos from Rick Di Fonzo and Snowy White and an organ solo by Peter Wood, but also a keytar solo from Thomas Dolby.
Since that performance, Roger has been much more open to playing The Wall in concert.
Not only did he open his 1999 In the Flesh tour with six songs from the album, but from 2010 to 2013 he properly toured the record with The Wall Live, taking in over 200 dates.
David Gilmour even dropped by at London's O2 to join Waters on 'Comfortably Numb' and 'Outside the Wall' in 2011, with Nick Mason joining them for the latter on tambourine.
There was a smattering of songs from The Wall – including 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two' on Waters' Us + Them tour and his more recent controversial This Is Not a Drill jaunt.
Who has covered 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two'?
Another Brick in the Wall (2012 Remaster)
If you ignore all the various post-Waters Floyd versions and Roger's solo takes, there's been a few high-profile covers of Pink Floyd's biggest single.
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine covered the song in 1992, with their recording included on the NME's Ruby Trax compilation.
Korn - Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1, 2, 3 (Official Audio)
Nu metal pioneers Korn covered all three parts of 'Another Brick in the Wall' as a seven-minute epic for their Greatest Hits, Vol 1 compilation.
Meanwhile, Swedish DJ Eric Prydz released 'Proper Education' in 2007 credited to Eric Prydz vs Floyd, which was part cover, part remix, part interpretation of the song that heavily sampled the original.
Eric Prydz VS Pink Floyd - 'Proper Education' (Official Video)