448. ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II’, by Pink Floyd

Here we are then. The final #1 of the seventies, or the first of the eighties. Or both! And, well, at least we’re not ending with a whimper…

Another Brick in the Wall Pt II, by Pink Floyd (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 9th December 1979 – 13th January 1980

‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt II’ was of course, the Xmas #1 for 1979, and a couple of Christmas ‘must haves’ are present: a novelty element, and a children’s choir (of sorts)… It also acts as a bit of a ‘Best Of the Late-Seventies’, as musically it’s a blend of MOR rock, and disco. (The riff really puts me in mind of The Eagles’ ‘One of These Nights’… there are purists out there who’ll hate that comparison!)

And then there’s the band that put all this together, Pink Floyd: one of decade’s biggest, most successful, influential acts… scoring their first British hit since 1967. Like Led Zep, singles were beneath Pink Floyd, and they had to undergo some real persuasion to make this record. The disco beat, the children, releasing it as a single: all brainwaves from the song’s producer, Bob Ezrin.

We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control… Roger Waters wrote this record as a satire of his experiences at boarding school. The video features a giant cartoon teacher feeding hundreds of children into a meat grinder. The point is then literally ‘hammered’ home when the teacher turns into an, um, hammer… No dark sarcasm in the classroom…!

The best bit is when the kids take over for the second verse. Their Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone! is genuinely spine-tingling. We then exit with a long solo – again, I’m getting Eagles… – and you’re left kind of scratching your head. OK. That was… something. My uncertainty maybe comes from the fact that this is Pt II of III. The album version starts abruptly with a train screeching, and ends weirdly, with a telephone ringing, after some voice actors have yelled trippy lines like: How can have any pudding, If you don’t eat your meat…???

For those to potentially be the last words spoken on the final #1 of the 1970s is bizarre. I say ‘potentially’, for I don’t know if they were actually on the single edit. If you listen to all three ‘parts’ of ‘Another Brick In the Wall’ it does start to make a little more sense – Parts I and III are variations on the same riff – but, just to make things even more complicated, the tracks don’t even run concurrently on the album…

Another thing that the 168th #1 of the seventies brings back to the top, just in time, is prog rock. Or, at least, a prog band. It was one of the biggest genres of the decade, albums wise, but we haven’t seen much if it in the singles, for obvious reasons (like prog bands not bothering to release them!) You could make the case for 10cc’s ‘I’m Not in Love’, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ being prog #1s, but I’m struggling to think of others. Way, way back in my post on The Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now!’ I argued my ‘Problems with Prog’, and the same applies to Pink Floyd. As is pretty much the law, I bought a copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ aged seventeen, and listened to it… twice, maybe. I just didn’t get it; and didn’t have much inclination to try to get it.

Not that this isn’t an interesting song, though, and a fitting end to a rich and diverse year of chart-toppers. I’ve said it before: 1979 is the ‘best’ year of the ‘70s in terms of chart-topper quality (though 1973 would probably be my favourite year of the decade, just for all the glam stompers…) And it was a controversial Xmas #1, too. The London Education Authority labelled it a ‘scandalous’ slander on the teaching profession. Apparently the new Prime Minister, one Margaret Thatcher, wasn’t too keen on it either… Which is fitting, as quite a few of the biggest acts from this new and upcoming decade had plenty to say about her…

Listen to (almost) every #1 single from the 1970s here:

12 thoughts on “448. ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II’, by Pink Floyd

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    I first heard this in 6th grade…it was a perfect time to hear it. I’m with you…prog bands indulge a little too much at times. This was a great single from them.

  2. Bought by kids and also 21-year-olds at Uni (me) 🙂 Mum & dad & me holidayed that xmas with RAF friends, and the 2 daughters got a single each for Xmas (among other stuff) – one wanted Pink Floyd, one wanted Abba’s I Have A Dream. That’s why they both sold bucketloads, kids singing on 2 music icon tracks, both appealing to kids as well as the usual older fans.

    I also had a problem with the more self-indulgent end of Progrock and its sniffy attitude to the single. I remain firmly convinced that if at least one or two tracks on an album aren’t strong enough to stand up in their own right, apart from a bigger work, then it’s not a strong album. That applies to classical music too, and musicals. Money, off Dark Side Of The Moon, is great, works as a single (if it had been allowed to be one) and the album is very well-made – but like you I’ve never really got it either. Prog Rock can be fab, I’d say Tubular Bells, genius side 1, and tracks like Nights In White Satin (moody blues), Wondrous Stories (Yes), Fanfare For The Common Man (ELP), 10538 Overture (ELO) and this one are epic.

    Education is good though! Bad teachers and bad schools do not invalidate the concept, especially when your mum was a teacher – we can’t all be middle-class rock stars with bags of money, some of us have got to make the physical product and flog the music and tours of middle-class rock stars with bags of money. We can’t all rebel against the system to choose to live out our dreams, and for every Roger Waters there’s a hundred Kevin Johnson’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life” stories (great record summing up those that don’t win at the game)…. 🙂

    1. Both my parents were teachers, and I am one too, so I am going to come down on the side of education = a good thing.

      I will say though – and this is kind of the point that Waters was making in the song – too often governments and school boards, and sometimes teachers too, mistake ‘education’ for ‘remembering lots of stuff’ and doing well in exams, and those who aren’t the best at remembering things, or who do it in a different way, aren’t well served at school. Much better than it used to be, I think, but certain countries – and certain govts – seem determined to drag education back.

      1. Yes, you’re right, my brother for one left school with no qualifications and I went to Uni at a Teacher-Training College. School needs to cater for everyone, and mixed-ability classes were a bad idea, some kids need enthusing in other ways not feeling as though they arent as smart as some kids. We used to have training for practical skills in the olden days if you weren’t keen on staying on at school. Certain govts, cough, Tories, cough. oops! 🙂 I think Waters was more saying you are trained into becoming another brick in the accountancy/banker wall in his school, in my Comprehensives it was more a case of preparing you for the factory or the pit or whatever industry was local to the area. The idea of Careers Advice was pretty basic in those days, the only route out was government-supported further education or vocational training.

  3. I vividly recall this record getting a lot of criticism for its anti-education message…even prog rock bands can be just as anti-establishment as the punks who professed to despise them, it seems. Speaking as someone who spent most of his career as a library assistant in a College of Further Education, and is married to a very successful and highly respected music teacher, I have to admit unashamedly to being on one side! (And I always much preferred PF’s ‘See Emily Play’).

  4. In America, “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2” is technically a hit of the ’80s since it didn’t get to the top here until March 1980 with Billboard putting it as the #2 song of 1980 behind only Blondie’s “Call Me.” Like I mentioned in my album review of The Wall, the success that Pink Floyd had in 1980 is weird to think about since like many prog-rock acts they didn’t care about commercial singles and even their albums weren’t huge sellers like The Wall is. The only major single Pink Floyd had until this was “Money” from Dark Side of the Moon which reached #13 in 1973 which is still very impressive for an act like them. Those two big chart hits do feel representative to me in how I’ve known about Pink Floyd for the longest with those two songs getting played a lot on classic rock radio along with “Wish You Were Here.” They’ve always felt like a band you have to get into if you want to get into music. Despite all the acclaim, “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2” is a song that I just find okay in terms of its quality. The disco-like beat and guitars give it a nice groove and the children’s choir singing is definitely the highlight but outside of that, it doesn’t do much for me. Notably, the producer Bob Ezrin produced Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” that also featured a children’s choir knowing how to use kids voices to get a song’s message across. Tom Breihan even pointed out in his review how the choir makes the song’s message hit more since it’s one thing to hear a bunch of rich rock stars in their 30s sing about how bad education is but it’s another thing to hear kids singing about it in exaggerated Cockney accents and that the choir is akin to how a meme will launch a song to success today.

    1. I think this possibly gets acclaim thanks to the fact that it’s a rare hit single for one of the most respected bands ever, and one with a ‘message’. But upon repeated listens you start to find it pretty shallow. The school choir was used to much better, and more anarchic effect, on ‘School’s Out’, as you mention. (I didn’t realise they shared a producer.)

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  6. Seconded. ‘School’s Out’ was really on fire and still sounds just as powerful nearly 50 years later. ‘Another Brick…’ – I can see why people liked it, but I’ve never really been able to raise much enthusiasm for it either then or now and you’re right, it is shallow by comparison. It gets away with it to some extent by virtue of being by one of the major UK bands of all time and for the message.

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