Animals: A Personal/Historical View
[Editor’s note: this is the onset of what will be on occasional, ongoing series
that focuses on individual’s reactions with notable albums. Dan Greenhaus selected
Animals in part because Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade covered it in its entirety
(and later recorded it) and partly because of his own great affection for the
work. If you have an idea for a spotlight album or wish to submit a piece, please send
one our way- firstname.lastname@example.org
Every person has their own favorite Pink Floyd album, and everybody has a different
reason why they like it. With an entire Les Claypool tour based around Animals
a number of people took another look and listen (or perhaps an initial one) to this legendary album.
For me, Animals was almost immediately my favorite. Going back to my own high school days
sitting in my friends’ houses and working a buzz (or not), this album would
always be my choice. It reaches out and grabs hold of me and
doesn’t let go until the very last moment. I have found, though, that many people have no idea
exactly what, if anything, Animals is about. Although the Animals concept
is overshadowed by the Wall, its own story is no less compelling.
Jan 23, 1977-London, England
Theoretically, you can mark that date as the beginning of the end of
one of, if not the most important and influential progressive
bands in rock history. On that date, Pink Floyd released Animals,
the follow-up to Wish You Were Here. And while the
album went immediately to #1 in England and, eventually, #3 here in the
States, it was not your typical "#1" album. Possessing only five songs, two
of which are extremely short acoustic ballads, and three long opus rockers, I feel that
the album signaled the end of the perfect symmetry that previously existed
between Roger Water’s lyrics and David Gilmour’s music. In order to
understand fully the importance of the album and the significance it holds
in the lore of Pink Floyd, one must first briefly acquaint himself with some prior events.
Prior to releasing Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, Pink Floyd, "the darlings
of the underground," had barely any exposure to the mainstream media. They
were underground the same way that The String Cheese Incident, The Disco
Biscuits and moe. are today. However, after that album achieved such acclaim and
renown in both England and America, the lives of the four members would be forever
changed. And those transformations would shape the next three albums.
Following the worldwide success of Dark Side, when the band entered the studio
to record what would become Wish You Were Here the group had Syd
Barrett on its mind. Barrett, the band’s original guitar player "officially" left the band on April 6,
1968, even though he was long gone before that thanks to his excessive
consumption of LSD. Barrett had been the driving force behind the group
at a time prior to the influx of music executives and hangers-on who had their
own views about what the band represented and how its new album should sound.
The pressures imposed by those outside the band surface on "Have a Cigar":
"Everybody else is just green, have you seen the chart?
It’s a hell of a start, it could be made into a monster if we all pull
together as a team".
It was those pressures, in addition to many other factors, that contributed
to Waters’ increasingly introverted behavior and growing views on London society and
people he was meeting in general. These Views led him to lump those people
into three categories: Dogs, Pigs and Sheep….......
By the time Floyd went in to record the album that would later be called
Animals, they had already been performing live two pieces of music entitled
"Raving and Drooling" and "You Gotta Be Crazy", which were the groundwork
for, and would later become "Sheep" and "Dogs" respectively, when the
concept for the album came to fruition. They were long musical pieces, with some
fantastic improvised passages, a style the band had perfected
with earlier tunes such as "Shine On" and "Echoes." However, unlike those
earlier songs, the two new ones rocked with an attitude that could not be
found in virtually any Pink Floyd release up to that date. Fueled by
Roger’s growing frustration towards the people he was meeting and
interacting with, the lyrics for the three centerpiece songs were less
"round-a-about" or abstract than prior Waters compositions, giving fans
less room for interpretation and more of a specific message. The songwriter would
later go on to say he was making a conscious effort to be more direct with
his audience. He even goes so far as to name names on the album when he
singles out Mary Whitehouse, who at the time was to rock music, and
specially to Pink Floyd, what the Rev. Calvin Butts was to rap music in the
early ’90’s. So when it came time to make the album, the band took the
songs they were doing live and put together their next concept album:
"Dogs" were the overachievers, the people who step on anyone to get what they
want. While the whole song describes these people perfectly, no part of
the song is more appropriate than the last three lines of the second verse:
"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"
But at the end of the album, the "Dog" dies from cancer, "dragged down by
the stone," the stone of course being the weight he puts on himself to
achieve the most, to be the best. "Pigs" are the self-absorbed tyrants who
take advantage of the "Sheep," but who are extremely shallow, hence the
repeating line "Ha ha charade you are," and the "Sheep" are the people
doomed to toe the line, to be abused by both the "Pigs" and
"Dogs." The sheep are caught unaware by the treachery of the
other two groups in the second verse:
"What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes
Now things are really what they seem
No, this is no bad dream"
The ensuing tour, dubbed Pink Floyd: In the Flesh, played a major role in
the later development of "The Wall" concept. This was the
first time Pink Floyd was forced to play stadiums in order to accommodate
everyone wanting to come see them, further pushing the band away from its
fans. Perhaps more significantly, this tour was the first time Roger took it upon himself to
take full control over the band’s live performances. Many critics did not enjoy the shows,
which were essentially comprised of the first half of Animals and the second half of Wish You Were Here. At one point in the show, Roger
had the crew to cover the entire stage in smoke so dense that the
audience would not be able, as was not able to see a thing on stage. This
move typically was blasted by reporters who saw it as an
insult to the paying audience.
The album, while not Pink Floyd’s most popular or best-selling, is still a
lingering testament to the power of the Waters/Gilmour combo. There is no
doubt that after this album, Roger took complete control of the band, which
of course resulted in The Wall. However, this also yielded
The Final Cut, which in my opinion, is a Pink Floyd album in name
alone. However, Animals that sits as a benchmark for every band who seeks
a balance between well-crafted lyrics and beautifully-written music.
Gilmour’s guitar work is some of the best of his career, and the "Dogs" guitar
solos should be learned by every young guitar player. Nick Mason’s
drumming, never the band’s strong suit, sounds fresh on this album, as if
he’s excited to be playing songs in this style. And although this album
features relatively few of Rick Wright’s piano and organ parts, the spacey
mid-sections where he dominates are as good as anything he’s done. This
album is the last time we find Roger Waters’ brilliantly-written lyrics with
some aura of mystery surrounding them. After this album, whether it be _The
Wall,_ The Final Cut or his solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking
(the concept that Pink Floyd rejected in favor of The Wall), Roger’s lyrics
took on a different role, becoming more didactic, almost lecturing his audience.
If you don’t have this album in your collection, I recommend you pick it up as it ranks among
the "essential albums" in the genre of progressive rock.